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Polynesian Voyagers. The Maori as a Deep-sea Navigator, Explorer, and Colonizer

Quiros and Colenso

Quiros and Colenso.

When Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, pilot of Mendana's expedition in 1595, applied to the Viceroy at Lima for means to prosecute a further voyage of discovery in the Pacific, his arguments were, we are told, “diffuse and sometimes quaint, but they appear to be the result of reflection.” He remarks that the natives of the islands in the South Sea, having no knowledge of the compass, nor any instrument of navigation but their eyes, would not undertake voyages of greater length than they were enabled with safety to do by obtaining sight of other land before or as soon as they ventured beyond sight of the land they had departed from. For though it is not difficult to find the way to a large land, where the distance is not great, yet it is not to be admitted that without science they could seek small or distant lands. Hence, he infers, either the islands which have been discovered inhabited in the South Sea are connected by others which are so-many links of the same chain extending quite across that sea, or that towards the south there existed a continent extending from New Guinea towards the Strait of Magalhaens, as otherwise the islands could not have been peopled without a miracle. Quiros instanced the Azores, Madeira, and Cape Verde Islands, which, being far in the sea, were without people when first discovered, whereas the Canary page 30 Islands, being near the continent, were inhabited. Had Quiros obtained water at Gente Hermosa, he intended to have sailed to higher latitudes in search of the “mother of so many islands,” as Torquemada quaintly puts it.

The Rev. W. Colenso has written in support of his belief that the Maori never came to New Zealand—they could not make the voyage from Polynesia against the prevailing winds in their frail canoes. Again he wrote: “I note you seem to adhere to the myth of the Maoris coming to this land; I had thought I had fully exposed that many years ago.” Another local writer, W. T. L. Travers, expressed his belief that the traditions of voyages to New Zealand made by the Maori were absolutely fictitious.

These are samples of the statements, beliefs, or theories of persons who deny that the Maori ever came to New Zealand. Curiously enough, these writers do not explain how it is that the Maori speaks the same language as do the natives of so many northern groups, and of those of certain isles in Melanesia and Micronesia; nor do they remark on the numerous traditions, myths, &c., held in common by these far-scattered peoples. Also, we know that the natives of the Society and Cook Groups have preserved the names of some of the vessels that came from those parts to New Zealand. There is abundant evidence to show that these islands were settled by immigrants from Polynesia. Moreover, a considerable number of return voyages were made from these shores.

The series of voyages to New Zealand appears to have commenced about thirty generations ago, though these isles had been discovered by Polynesians apparently long before. For about ten generations the voyages to and fro were apparently numerous, after which they became less frequent, and finally ceased. The last voyagers to leave New Zealand for Polynesia, so far as we are aware, were two parties of east coast natives that sailed some ten generations ago—say, 250 years. One, under Pahiko, sailed from Reporua; another, under Mou-te-rangi, left Whare-kahika. Sixteen generations ago a party under Tuwhiri-rau sailed from the east coast for Rarotonga. Other parties that returned to Polynesia in earlier times were those under Tumoana, Rongokako, Tama-ahua, and Nuku.

In the account of Cook's first voyage published by T. Becket in 1771 occur the following remarks concerning the Maori folk. This far-away observer of 1769 showed powers of discernment lacking in some writers who have resided many years in these isles: “It deserves to be remarked that the people of New Zealand spoke the language of Otahitee [Tahiti] with but very little difference, not so much as is found between many counties in England, a circumstance of the most extraordinary kind, and which must necessarily lead us to conclude that one of these places was originally peopled from the other, though they are at near two thousand miles distance, and nothing but the ocean intervenes, which we should hardly believe they could navigate so far in canoes, the only vessels that they appear to have ever possessed; for as there is no natural relation between sounds page 31 and the ideas they are made to convey by speaking, so it must be evident that neither the suggestions of reason or of nature would ever lead two distinct separate people, having no communication with each other, to affix the same meaning to the same words, and employ them as the medium of communication. It must therefore be inferred that the inhabitants of one of these islands originally migrated from the other, though, upon comparing the manners, dress, arms, &c., of the people of Otahitee with those of New Zealand, as far as they have fallen under our observation, we shall find them disagree in several important particulars, but in several others they have an apparent analogy.” This anonymous writer concluded that Tahiti had been settled from New Zealand because the natives of the former place were acquainted with the bow and arrow, while those of New Zealand were not.

Mr. White has recorded some of the places in New Zealand from which vesseles started on the long voyage to Polynesia. These places were Whanga-te-au, Te Au-kanapanapa, Manga-whai, and Waka-tuwhenua, all of which are on the east coast of the North Auckland district. An old native of the Nga Rauru Tribe remarked: “The men of old possessed much knowledge of ocean navigation. They were acquainted with the prevailing winds of the different seasons of the year, also the stars visible in each month. When sailing from New Zealand for Hawaiki, they started from certain places in the north. One such starting-place was at Whanga-te-au, another at Whangarei.”