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

Polynesian Communities in Melanesia

Polynesian Communities in Melanesia.

In the account of Mendana's sojourn at the Marquesas occurs the following passage: “The natives of Santa Christina, on seeing a negro in one of the Spanish ships, pointed towards the south, and made sings that in that direction there were people of the same kind, who fought with arrows, and with whom they were sometimes at war.” Quiros, who relates this circumstance, acknowledges that the natives were very imperfectly understood.

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Quiros noted in 1606 that the island he calls Taumaco, near Santa Cruz, was inhabited by people of different kinds: “Some were of light copper colour with long hair, some were mulattoes; and some black with short frizzled hair.” The same remarks are made of the natives of Santa Maria, one of the New Hebrides.

According to Quiros, the natives of Taumako possessed large sailing-canoes, in which they made voyages to other lands. A chief of this island gave Quiros the names of about sixty islands, including that of Manicolo. These seem to have included the Santa Cruz, Ellice, and New Hebrides Groups. The voyagers also learned that a drift vessel from Guaytopo (? Vaitupu) had arrived at Taumako with six white men, three white women, and one dark-coloured man on board. These so-called white folk were probably Polynesians. At Chicayana (? Sikaiana), an island four days' sail from Taumako, a double canoe containing 110 “white and handsome” people had arrived. It is to be noted that early Spanish voyagers described Polynesians as caras blancas (white faces), owing to their light skin-colour.

Forster tells us that when Cook was at Tana, in the New Hebrides, during his second voyage he was astonished to hear a native speak in Maori. Evidently this man had visited the island of Futuna, at no great distance from Tana, where a dialect of the Polynesian language is spoken by the descendants of immigrants from that region. Forster's statement is as follows: “We met with some natives who told us that one of our people had killed two pigeons, but this intelligence was only valuable to us on account of the language in which it was conveyed, which was exactly the same as that spoken at the Friendly Islands. It appeared to us that he made use of this language in order to be more intelligible to us, having frequently observed that we pronounced several words of it. We expressed some surprise at his knowledge, and he then repeated the same meaning in the language of Tana, which was totally distinct from the other. He added at the same time that the former language was spoken at the island of Irronan, which lies seven or eight leagues to the east of Tana. He likewise acquainted us that Irronan was sometimes called Footoona.”

Dr. McDonald found in the New Hebrides “… a people in all respects agreeing with the inhabitants of Fotuna (? Futuna), near the Fijis, who used the same numerals, and called their island Fotuna, after the parent island.” (From a paper on the Andamans, by G. E. Dobson. Journal of the Anthropological Society, Vol. iv, p. 461.)

In his account of New Caledonia, Labillardiere, of the expedition in search of La Perouse, makes the following remarks on a canoe seen on the coast of that island in May, 1793: “I observed along the coast a double canoe with two sails. It was constructed like those of the islanders of New Caledonia, but the men who were in it spoke the language of the natives of the Friendly Islands. They were eight in number, being seven men and one woman, all very muscularly built. They told us that the island from whence they came was a day's sail to the east of our moorings, and that the name of it was Aouvea [Uvea, or page 48 Uea, one of the Loyalty Islands. These islanders appeared much more intelligent than the natives.” This was in 1793. This Uvea, or Uea, was named alter Uvea, or Wallis Island, lying west of the Samoan Group. Pritchard, in his Polynesian Reminiscences, tells us that these Polynesians at Uea, 1,100 miles west of Tonga, are descendants of a party of Tongan castaways that arrived there in a double canoe. Their own traditions maintain that their ancestors came from Wallis Island. (See Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 31, part 3.)

In a paper entitled “The Origin of the Polynesian Races,” published in the Report of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, 1893, the Rev. S. Ella gives some interesting information concerning drift voyages: “Evidences have been obtained of the manner in which some Polynesians have been carried to islands at considerable distances from their native lands, and where they have settled among other races and maintained their distinctiveness for several generations. I may mention some instances which have come under my own observation. About forty years ago we discovered a tribe of Samoans occupying a district on the island of Efate (Sandwich Island), in the New Hebrides Group, with whom easy intercourse was held through the medium of the Samoan language. The account of their immigration was to this effect: Before Christianity was introduced into Samoa, in one of their sanguinary conflicts a canoe party effected an escape from the conquered district and fled to seek refuge in Tonga. Owing to adverse winds the natives missed their intended destination, and were carried to the New Hebrides and reached the island of Efate. Here, after several conflicts with the natives, they were able to establish themselves. Many years afterwards they were visited by the missionary ship ‘John Williams,’ and some returned in that vessel to Samoa. The islands of Aniwa and Futuna, in the New Hebrides, are peopled by natives originally belonging to Tonga and Futuna proper, west of Samoa, intermixed with the natives of Tana…. On the island of lai (Uvea), in the Loyalty Group, some castaways from Tonga and Wallis Island (the latter is also named Uvea) have long been settled; one party. Uveans of Wallis Island, occupying the northern end of the island, and the other the southern extremity, which they call Tonga. The original inhabitants occupy the central district.”

The isle of Tikopia, lying north of the New Hebrides, is also occupied by Maori-speaking Polynesians. These western isles suffered from raids by Tongans in former times, such raids extending for over a thousand miles westward.

Another far-western island inhabited by Polynesians is Ontong Java, or Leua-niua, also known as the Lord Howe atoll or group, situated 120 miles north-east of Ysabel Island, in the Solomon Group. The Rev. G. Brown tells us in his Melanesians and Polynesians that these natives speak the Polynesian tongue, a mixed Tongan-Samoan dialect. “The inhabitants of this atoll are undoubtedly Polynesians, and their language is very closely related to the Samoan…. The probability is that the people came from the Ellice Group, about a thousand miles to page 49 the eastward. It is certain that the people of the Ellice Group drifted from Samoa. They count twenty-seven generations since that event took place.”

Basil Thomson, in a paper on Niue published in the Anthropological Journal, speaks of the above folk as “a Melanesian race speaking a Polynesian tongue, the result of intercourse with the crew of a single canoe which drifted thither from Tonga in the latter half of the eighteenth century.” This sounds somewhat doubtful, and presumably the Rev. Brown was the best authority.

Morrell speaks of Bergh's Group (apparently in the Carolines) as being populated by two peoples, one resembling negroes and the other a light-coloured folk. Nukuoro, or Monteverde, an island in the far-away Caroline Group (longitude about 155° E.) is peopled by Polynesians speaking a Maori dialect.

In his account of a voyage through the Carolines, F. J. Moss states that a Nukuoro native was able to converse with a native of Penrhyn Island when they chanced to meet at Ponape.

A Nukuoro vocabulary, compiled by Mr. F. W. Christian, was published in Volume 7 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society. In his preface Mr. Christian states: “Some two hundred miles to the south of the Mortlock Group, and some six hundred miles from the coast of North New Guinea, lie two little coral islands, Nuku-oro and Kap-en Mailang, inhabited by a small number of light-brown natives speaking a remarkably pure Polynesian dialect, akin to the Maori, Tahitian, and ancient Samoan…. The grammar is pure Polynesian, and the numerals also.”

D'Urville spoke of natives in the vicinity of New Ireland as being voyagers to some extent. They made voyages of ten to twelve days to some land inhabited by people of a much lighter colour than themselves, and there obtained garments covered with designs. On one of these occasions they brought back one of these light-skinned folk, a woman, who tallied her days of absence from home by tying knots in some fabric that she wore round her neck. We know that the natives of the Caroline, Pelew, and Hawaiian Groups formerly employed the quipu, or knotted cords, as mnemonic aids to memory, and that the same aid was in use among Polynesians generally. The Rev. G. Turner remarks in his Samoa a Hundred Years Ago, “Tying a number of knots on a pice of cord was a common way of noting and remembering things, in the absence of a written language amongst the South-Sea-Islanders.” We also know that the Maori of New Zealand has a traditional knowledge of the quipu, known to him as aho ponapona.

Fornander wrote that “In olden times joint and singular expeditions of Fijians and Tongans frequently invaded New Caledonia and conquered tracts of land for themselves.”