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

The Hidden Homeland

The Hidden Homeland.

Into the question of the original homeland of the Maori I do not propose to enter at any length, but will here remark that the evidence points to their having entered the Pacific Ocean from the westward. Legends assert that, when leaving the homeland, as also divers lands they sojourned at during their wanderings, they ever directed their vessels towards the sun; and when a Maori makes use of that expression he means the rising sun. It is highly probable that the ancestors of the Polynesian folk passed through Indonesia and Melanesia on their way eastward, settling on various islands as they advanced, and thus reaching the Polynesian area by means of a series of migratory voyages; indeed, such movements are recorded in their oral traditions.

Maori tradition tells us that their ancestors, in times long passed away, migrated from a hot country named Irihia (ef. Vrihia, an ancent name for India), and crossed the ocean in an easterly direction. They sojourned in two lands, named Tawhiti-roa and Tawhiti-nui, after which they again voyaged eastward until they reached the isles of Polynesia, which were gradually discovered page 7 and settled by them. As to the length of time occupied in these voyages we know little, and they may have extended over centuries, owing to long sojourns in various islands. A glance at the map shows how numerous are the island stepping-stones that occur on an eastward voyage across the Pacific Ocean. Mr. S. Percy Smith thinks that one party of the adventurers passed through the Caroline Group and reached the Hawaiian Isles, but probably other parties took a more southerly route. One party under the leadership of Ira-panga is said to have left Tawhiti-nui (an unlocated island) and sailed in a north-easterly direction to Ahu, Hawaiki, and Maui, identified with the Hawaiian Isles by Mr. Smith, who places the date of this voyage about A.D. 450. In the next generation after Ira-panga some of these wanderers are said to have been located in the Fiji Group: presumably this was a different migration.

Regarding the islands named Ahu, Maui, and Hawaiki, we also find all these names applied to isles in eastern Polynesia. Tahiti Island was formerly known as Hawaiki; Ahu was also called Ahuahu, and was said by one of our old native authorities to have also been known as Tuhua, while it is shown in Volume 20 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society that Tuhua was an old name of Me'e'i'a (or Meketika) Isle, now marked as “Maitea” on some maps, and which lies south-east of Tahiti Island. As to Maui, there are several small islets of that name (Maui-taha, Maui-ti'iti'i, &c.) situated near Tahaa and Raiatea. Tamatea of Takitimu is said in tradition to have been a chief of influence in seven islands—Ahu, Nga Mahanga o Maui (the Twin Isles of Maui), Hawaiki, Rangiatea (Ra'iatea), Rarotonga, and another, the name of which our informant had forgotten. However, Mr. Smith was probably correct in identifying the isles reached by Ira-panga as those of the Hawaiian or Sandwich Group. The name “Tahiti” has also been preserved by the Maori of New Zealand in the form of Tawhiti, also Tawhiti-nui. Again, Hawaiki is also used in a general sense by our Maori folk, and may be applied to any or all the isles of Polynesia, or to the original homeland, as the following passage from an account of the advantures of Kupe, the Polynesian voyager, shows: “Ka mea a Kupe ki nga tangata o nga motu o Hawaiki i haere atu ai ai, ki Tawhiti-nui, ki Rangiatea, ki Tonga, ki Rarotonga, me era atu motu, tae atu ki Hawaiki, ara ki Titirangi, ki Whanga-ra, ki Te Pakaroa, ki Te Whanga-nui-o-marama, e, tera tetahi whenua e tauria ana e te kohurangi, kei tiritiri o te moana.” &c. (“Kupe said to the people of the islands of Hawaiki he visited—that is to say, Tawhiti-nui, Rangiatea, Tonga, Rarotonga, and others, including Hawaiki: that is, Titirangi, Whanga-ra, Te Pakaroa, and Te Whanga-nui-o-marama—‘O, there is a mist-moistened land in a far-away ocean region,”’ &c.).

Here Whanga-ra and Te Pakaroa are names of places, but not of islands. Te Whanga-nui-o-marama, or Great Expanse of Marama, is presumably the Tai-o-marama, or Sea of Marama, near Tahiti.

The cause of the exodus from the homeland, which is said to have been a great country, was a disastrous war with a darkskinned page 8 folk, in which great numbers were slain. It is possible that the scattered colonies of Polynesians found occupying islands in Melanesia and Micronesia are descendants of settlers left at such places during the eastward movement, or such colonies may have been an ethnic backwash of later centuries—some assuredly were.

Mr. Percy Smith, who has written much on the origin of the Maori, tells us that ancestors of these Polynesians probably entered Indonesia about the commencement of the Christian era, and reached central Polynesia about the fifth century A.D. He traces them back to India. Mr. R. S. Thompson, in his paper on the “Origin of the Maori,” comes to the conclusion that the migrants reached Samoa not later than 1000 B.C. We now proceed to say something about their movements in the Polynesian area.