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The Stone Implements of the Maori

XII. The Introduction of Iron Tools

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XII. The Introduction of Iron Tools

When Captain Cook reached the shores of New Zealand, he and his companions made known the use of metals and metal tools to the Maori people, and so commenced a remarkable change in the domestic economy of that neolithic people, a change accentuated later on by the introduction of fire-arms.

In the journals and narratives of Cook, Banks, Parkinson, Crozet, Savage, Nicholas, and many other early voyagers and writers, are found many references to the introduction of iron and iron tools into New Zealand. We propose to give here some extracts from such narratives, as an illustration of the passing of a neolithic people into the culture of the iron age, so far as relates to the use of implements. That change was one of singular abruptness, and soon left its mark in a great alteration in the mode of life and industries of the Maori people.

There were three remarkable things connected with this introduction of metals among a people hitherto ignorant of their uses. The first was an attitude of indifference on the part of the Maori, in some cases, until he discovered the superiority of iron tools over those made of stone. This discovery he was not long in making. The next was the intense eagerness with which he demanded and acquired any piece of iron, however formless, as also such crude forms as spike-nails, gridirons, &c. The third stage was reached when such crude items had lost much of their value, and only finished tools, such as axes, adzes, hoes, &c., were highly prized.

Forster was of the opinion that the Spanish were the first people to make the Polynesians acquainted with iron. This is quite probable. We know but little of early Spanish voyages in the Pacific. When Oliver van Noort visited Guam, in the year 1600, the natives eagerly demanded iron, called by them hierro, in exchange for their produce. It is quite possible that this was their pronunciation of the Spanish word ferro (iron). Forster says, "When we landed at Tonga-tapu one of the natives sold a very small nail carefully fastened in a handle of hard wood, and tied to it by strings of coco-nut core. This nail was undoubtedly left by Tasman, who was there in 1643, and consequently had been preserved 130 years, and is now lodged amongst other curiosities in the British Museum." So little do we know as to what islands were visited by Spanish and other ships, that it does not seem safe to assume that Tonga-tapu had not been so visited during that period of 130 years.

When first visited by European voyagers, the natives of the various islands of the Pacific did not understand the use and advantages of page 326iron, and thus at first sometimes held it in slight esteem. While at the Tonga Group in October, 1773, Cook writes, "Their working-tools are made of stone, bone, shells, &c., as at the other islands. When we view the work which is performed with these tools we are struck with admiration at the ingenuity and patience of the workman. Their knowledge of the utility of iron was no more than sufficient to teach them to prefer nails to beads, and such trifles; some, but very few, would exchange a pig for a large nail or a hatchet. Old jackets, shirts, cloth, and even rags were in more esteem than the best edge-tool we could give them; consequently they got but few axes from us but what were given as presents…. The only piece of iron we saw among them was a small broad awl, which had been made of a nail."

These nails spoken of by early voyagers were the old-fashioned flat-sided spike-nails, which were wide enough to make very good chisels when ground to an edge.

Cook is said to have given an axe and tomahawk, also some spike-nails, to natives at Turanga when he landed there, but the nails were thrown into the sea by the Maoris, who did not understand their utility.

When Cook came into contact with a family of Maoris at Dusky Sound (7th April, 1773) he notes that they received many of his presents "with a great deal of indifference, except hatchets and spikenails; these they most esteemed."

Sydney Parkinson mentions that when Cook was at Tolaga Bay "The natives were very indifferent about most of the things we offered them, except white cloth and glasses, which suited their fancy, so that we found it difficult to trade with them." While at Turanga (Poverty Bay) he says, "They have also some bracelets; necklaces they well know the use of, but they did not like our iron wares."

When Marion came in contact with the natives of Tasmania he found that they placed no value on European products. In Crozet's account of the voyage we read, "We endeavoured to gain their good will by means of presents, but they rejected with disdain all that we offered, even iron, looking-glasses, handkerchiefs, and pieces of cloth."

Again, of the Maoris of the Bay of Islands district in New Zealand, Crozet says, "They were more contented when we gave them sugar, bread, or meat, than when we made them presents of useful articles such as axes, chisels, or other implements." This was in 1772.

However, in other cases the Maoris were eagerly desirous of obtaining metal tools, as the following account from Crozet will show: "We showed them various implements, such as axes, chisels, and adzes. They appeared very anxious to possess these, and made page 327use of them at once in order to let us see that they understood their use; these articles being given them, they went off shortly afterwards, highly satisfied with their reception."

When the expedition under D'Entrecasteaux, in search of La Perouse, had communication with Maoris near the North Cape, in March, 1793, they found the natives eager to obtain iron: "Iron they decidedly preferred to everything else that we offered them. This metal is so valuable in the eyes of these warlike people that expressions of the most lively joy burst from them when they found we had some. Though at first we showed it them only at a distance, they knew it perfectly well, from the sound two pieces gave when struck against each other. In exchange for our articles (iron and coloured cloths), these people gave us almost everything they had in their canoes; and, which we considered as a mark of their greatest confidence, they made not the least difficulty at disposing of all their weapons to us…. These savages even stripped themselves of their clothes in order to barter with us."

The natives of New Zealand and other isles of the Pacific Ocean were not long in finding out the superiority of metal tools over those of stone, and soon showed their eagerness to acquire axes, hatchets, iron spikes, &c., the latter being ground to an edge at the lower end, and used as chisels in wood-carving, piercing holes in timber, &c. Cook mentions the value of such items in the eyes of the natives of Dusky Sound. On the 19th April, 1773, one of these natives went on board the ship, and received more presents, of which Cook says, "Of all the various articles I gave my guest, hatchets and spike-nails were the most valuable in his eyes. These he would never suffer to go out of his hands after he had once laid hold of them; whereas many other articles he would lay carelessly down anywhere, and at last leave them behind him." This native became rich beyond the dreams of avarice, for, on the 20th April, Cook notes, "From one or another he did not get less than nine or ten hatchets, three or four times that number of large spike-nails, besides many other articles."

Of the natives of Queen Charlotte Sound, Parkinson says (1770), "They were not desirous of anything we had except nails, which they soon discovered to be useful."

When Captain Cook was at Queen Charlotte Sound he gave an axe to a native named Tama-renga, which axe was named Te Mana o Rongo by the natives.

family tree

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Nicholas, in his "Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand," gives some amusing accounts of how Pomare, a Bay of Islands chief, attempted to obtain chisels, axes, spades, and hoes from the Rev. Marsden and others. He was at last comforted by a promise of three hoes, an axe, a few nails, and a gimlet.

In an appendix to "Turnbull's Voyage Round the World" (1813), occurs the following: "A short piece of iron, sharpened at each end, from 6 in. to 8 in. in length, and fastened to a handle so as to serve them as a kind of adze, procured as much fish as served the whole ship's company of a hundred men for a day." This was at the Thames. But a double-bladed adze sounds rather anomalous.

"Having got from one of the officers a small bit of iron … he threw it into his canoe, which lay alongside. So anxious were two of his followers to seize the prize that in the struggle they lost their temper, and came to blows with their paddles." (Cruise, "Ten Months' Residence in New Zealand," 1823.)

Cruise says (1823), in speaking of the Maoris of the shores of the Hauraki Gulf, "They brought alongside an abundance of potatoes, which they sold for nails and similar trifles."

In his account of Marion's Expedition (1771-72), Crozet speaks of the use of nails in barter with the natives of New Zealand: "They brought large quantities of fish, for which we gave them glass trinkets and pieces of iron in exchange. In these early days they were content with old nails 2 in. or 3 in. long, but later on they became more particular, and in exchange for their fish demanded nails 4 in. or 5 in. in length. Their object in asking for these nails was to make small wood chisels of them. As soon as they had obtained a piece of iron they took it to one of the sailors, and by signs engaged him to sharpen it on the millstone; they always took care to reserve some fish wherewith to pay the sailor for his trouble."

In Governor King's account of the returning of Tuki and Huru from Norfolk Island to their homes at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, he says that the natives of that place were eager to obtain iron (this was in November, 1793): "A traffic soon commenced. Pieces of old iron-hoop were given in exchange for abundance of manufactured flax, cloth, spears, talc ornaments, paddles, fish-hooks and lines."

When Marsden obtained spars from the natives of the Bay of Islands the payment therefor consisted largely of axes, hoes, nails, plane-irons, and scissors. The plane-blades were used as adze-blades.

On the 21st October, 1773, Cook mentions that several canoes came off to his ship at a place three leagues from Black Head. The natives in these canoes had apparently some knowledge of the value page 329of metal tools, as Cook says, "They were so fond of nails, as to seize on all they could find, and with such eagerness as plainly showed they were they most valuable things we could give them." These natives took little notice of pigs, fowls, seeds and roots, compared with their rapture over the acquisition of a spike-nail. Even the chief man was much more pleased with the latter than a present of the former articles—"Nor was he then in such a rapture as when I gave him a spike-nail half the length of his arm." It is quite possible that these natives had already heard of, or perhaps seen, iron tools left by Cook during his first voyage.

On the 2nd November, 1773, Cook seems to have made an attempt to enter Port Nicholson, but wind and tide were against him, hence he anchored at the entrance. "The easternmost of the Black Rocks, which lie on the larboard side of the entrance of the inlet, bore N. by E., one mile distant; Cape Teerawhitte, or the west point of the bay, west, distant about two leagues; and the east point of the bay, N. by E., four or five miles. Soon after we had anchored several of the natives came off in their canoes, two from one shore and one from the other. It required but little address to get three or four of them on board. These people were extravagantly fond of nails above every other thing."

Hence we may believe that the Maori very soon acquired a due appreciation of the value of metal tools.

The early traders in New Zealand soon found that the implements most desired by the natives (apart from muskets) were adzes, axes, tomahawks, chisels, hoes, and spades.

In June, 1835, J. S. Polack obtained from Te Kani-a-takirau, at Uawa (Tolaga Bay), two spike-nails that had been obtained from Captain Cook. One was a 5 in., the other a 6 in. spike. They had been ground and used as chisels for wood-carving by the natives.

Captain Furneaux, in his account of his sojourn at Queen Charlotte Sound in 1773, prior to being joined by Captain Cook, says that on Saturday, the 10th April, fifty or sixty natives came off to the ship in double canoes: "They gave us their implements of war, stone hatchets, and clothes, &c., for nails and old bottles, which they put a great value on."

Cruise (1823) mentions the keen desire of the Maoris to obtain European axes. They undertook to supply the ship with kauri spars for one axe each. He also mentions that missionaries at the Bay of Islands purchased 20,000 acres of land from Hongi for forty axes.

In Majoribank's "New Zealand" (1846), the author quotes a remark made by a Samoan chief, apparently taken from Williams's page 330"Missionary Enterprises," anent the advantages of Christianity: "I look at the wisdom of these worshippers of Jehovah, and see how superior they are to us in every respect…. Their axes are so hard and sharp that with them we can easily fell our trees, but with our stone axes we must dub, dub, dub, day after day, before we can cut down a single tree."

Among the articles handed over to the Atiawa natives in payment for lands bought at Wellington by the New Zealand Company were 120 axes, 60 tomahawks, and 46 adzes, which were probably more useful than some other items, such as 60 red nightcaps, 12 umbrellas 12 shaving-brushes, and 144 jews'-harps.

Captain Cook bartered European axes for provisions, &c., at Tahiti and New Zealand, and saw at the former place an iron tool "made in the shape of the Indian (Polynesian) adzes," which the natives had evidently obtained from Bougainville. Banks speaks of seeing an iron axe at Tahiti, which the officers judged to be of French manufacture.

In his account of the United States Exploring Expedition, Wilkes says, "A chief's daughter (in Samoa, when asked in marriage) is valued high—viz., at half a dozen hatchets and as many fathoms of cloth."

When the expedition under D'Entrecasteaux touched at New Zealand, near the North Cape, they found the Maori of those parts anxious to acquire axes and iron: "A third canoe arrived from the nearest shore, with twelve of the islanders in it, who immediately demanded hatchets in exchange for their goods. One of them had already obtained a hatchet, when another addressed himself to us in a rough voice, bawling out with all his strength etoki (a hatchet), and was not silent till he had obtained one."

Nicholas, who sojourned in the Bay of Islands district in 1815, makes many remarks on the desire displayed among the Maoris for iron and iron implements. (As to the quality of the iron axes obtained by the natives in early days, the less said the better.) The early missionaries at the Bay of Islands employed a blacksmith to make axes for the native trade. They must have been wondrous axes, Nicholas speaks of the natives being eager to exchange a 10 lb. fish for a tenpenny nail (iron spike). He and his companions bought many native garments, spears, hooks, fishing-lines, &c. "Their choice generally ran upon plane-irons, hatchets, tokees (toki) or small hatchets, and hoop iron; for these they readily exchanged their mats (garments), spears, and patu, articles which they set the highest value upon; but for smaller things, such as nails, &c., they would page 331only give lines, thread, and petty ornaments." Again he says, "Iron and firearms are by them held in greater estimation than gold and silver by us, and the most avaricious miser in Europe cannot grasp with such eagerness at a guinea or a dollar as the New-Zealander does at an axe or a musket."

Some very curious and primitive iron tools were obtained and used by the Maoris in the early days of contact with the Europeans. Of so crude a nature are these implements that we can only presume that they were fashioned by blacksmiths or other artisans on board the vessels of early voyagers, out of such material as was available. This we know was done by the Rev. Mr. Marsden at the Bay of Islands, and by certain voyagers who visited the isles of Polynesia. It does not appear that any of these "home-made" implements were provided with an eye or socket for the insertion of the handle. The butt or top was made or left flat, and the tools must have been lashed on to their handles.

We have been permitted to examine some such specimens of metal tools preserved in the Whanga-nui Museum, and which were obtained from native villages up the river of that name. There are four specimens, of which one, Fig. A., Plate XLI, seems to have had the most labour expended upon it. The other three are much thinner, and Figs. C and D have apparently been made from pieces of sheet iron. Fig. A is the most symmetrical and axe-like specimen, the lower part of the blade and the cutting-edge being of much the same form as in the old-fashioned English axes. This resemblance is lost in the upper part of the blade and the poll, inasmuch as it is not perforated for the handle. The lower part of the blade is equally bevelled on both sides to form the cutting-edge, hence the tool is of true axe-form, a typical chopping-axe, so far. The cutting-edge is much curved. The widest part of the blade is a fraction under 5 in., whence it narrows to 1 ⅙ in. at the poll. (It will be noted that we are describing this tool as though it were a stone adze, lest readers be confused by a change of descriptive terms.) The sides are almost straight, but each has a slight hollow at the butt, where they are rounded off apparently to accommodate a lashing. The thickness of the metal in the middle of the tool is a little over ½ in., and about ⅜ in. at the poll. Both faces are flat, though not smooth, the metal being somewhat thicker near the sides than in the middle of the tool. One face has been worked down at the butt end, apparently to facilitate lashing to a handle, the two longitudinal edges on such face having been worked down and rounded off, apparently by filing, for a distance of 2⅝ in. from the poll, but two horizontal ridges have been left, of the height of the original surface, presumably to contain or confine the lashing-cord. page 332One of these projections, which are prominent only on the longitudinal edges and almost unobservable in the middle of the tool, is at the poll, and is ¼ in. wide. Then comes a reduced or hollowed space of ⅝ in., and then the other ridge, which is 7/16 in. wide. The peculiarity of this tool lies in the fact that while the blade is of true chopping-axe form, yet the butt end has been prepared as though the tool were hafted as an adze. The explanation may possibly be that the implement, though hafted as a chopping-axe—i.e., with the cutting-edge in line with the handle—was placed sideways against the side of the handle, and there secured. This tool weighs 2¼ lb.

Fig. B is of quite a different form, and bears a strong resemblance to a mattock-blade, or one of the old-fashioned English grubbing-hoes. The iron is much eaten into with rust. It may have been hafted and used as an adze or grubber. Near the cutting-edge it is more bevelled on one face than the other, and the former face is convex longitudinally, whereas the other is flat and straight. If lashed to a handle with the cutting-edge in line with the helve it would serve better as a hewing or squaring tool than as a chopping implement. Its length is 6¾ in. Width across cutting-edge, 3⅛ in.; across poll, 1⅝ in. Thickness in middle, ⅜ in. Weight, 1½ lb. The sides are nearly straight.

Fig. C, Plate XLI, seems to have been cut out of a piece of sheet iron, or iron plate. The cutting-edge is bevelled on one side only, hence this tool must have been used either as an adze or as a squaring-axe, probably the former. Neither B nor C show any reduction of the butt end to facilitate or hold a lashing. The length of Fig. C 7⅛ in. Width across cutting-edge, 4⅛ in.; across poll, 1¾ in. Thickness, ¼ in. Weight, 1⅜ lb. Both sides straight, both faces flat and straight.

Fig. D, Plate XLI, is not dissimilar in appearance to the old-fashioned English trade tomahawk so well known in Maoriland, save that it has not the eye or handle-socket with its curious projecting lugs. Inasmuch, however, as it is bevelled on one face only to form the cutting-edge it was probably hafted and used as an adze. This tool has been cut from a piece of thin iron plate 3/16 in. thick. The pronounced angle in the sides, and consequent straight form of the upper part, would result in it being a much easier task to secure it to a handle by lashing than would be the case with Fig. C. The length of Fig. D is a fraction under 5½ in.; width across cutting-edge 3¾ in., across butt end 1½ in. Weight, ⅝ lb.

It will be noted that the above four items, but more especially the first three, bear a marked resemblance to the hengahenga, or page 333wooden hoe, described in this paper, and may have been used as such.

In 1801, when Bass was at Dusky Sound, he obtained some old iron from the wreck of the "Endeavour," which iron he converted into axes "and made a considerable profit from this source." (See McNab's "Murihiku," p. 127.)

In the Newtown Museum, Wellington, is a good specimen of one of the plane-cutter adzes still attached to its handle, albeit the lashing is very inferior, and does not look like Maori work. In the same collection is a hafted tomahawk, the blade of which was one of many such included in the goods given by the New Zealand Company in exchange for lands bought at Port Nicholson; also some rough-looking iron tools, apparently hand-made by Maoris.

In his paper, "On the Maori Canoe," Mr. Barstow remarks, "When stone axes and fire were the only means of felling the tree, the task of bringing down a totara 4 ft. or 5 ft. through must have been tedious; the first iron hatchets used were those procured from Captain Cook, and those obtained at Manawaora a century ago, when Marion's crew were ashore and slaughtered whilst getting out a spar; probably it was not till thirty years later that iron axes became sufficiently abundant to supersede those of stone entirely." This would put the date of the discarding of stone axes or adzes at about the year 1808, but it was later than that—very much later, in some districts.

In former times any piece of iron or steel that could possibly be given a cutting-edge and handy form was utilized by the Maori, as the following extract from "Savage Life and Scenes," by Angas, vol. ii, page 145, will tend to show: "At Raroera (?Raro-wera) stands the finest-carved monument in New Zealand, a papa tupapaku, or mausoleum, erected by Te Wherowhero to his favourite daughter…. This extraordinary monument was entirely carved by one individual, a lame man, named Pari-nui; and, what is still more extraordinary, his only tool was the head of an old bayonet. The tomb is about 12 ft. high, with a projecting roof supported by grotesque figures. The carving is exceedingly rich."

The small iron adzes termed panehe were made of any suitable material by the natives. The thick blades of pit-saws, more especially those of breaking-down plates, were prized for this purpose. The blade was cut into suitable-sized pieces, and these were worked into a desired form by means of filing, a bevelled end and cutting-edge being formed in the same manner. Many of these tools are still used by the Maori. The term panehe, remarks Te Whatahoro, was never applied to any stone tool, but only to iron ones hafted page 334and used as adzes. The name was first applied to small crude adze-blades made from iron cask-hoops, such as were obtained from early voyagers to these shores. According to the above authority, the origin of the name panehe was as follows: When, in former times, voyagers reached these shores their first care was to overhaul their water-casks and take in a supply of fresh water. Here the cooper was requistioned to perform his task of tightening the hoops on the casks by the well-known method of placing the edge of a piece of iron thereon, striking it a blow with a hammer, than moving the tool a little further along the hoop and again striking it with his hammer, continuing the process until the hoop was tightened on the cask. Watching these movements, the natives exclaimed, "Te panehe a te pora nei" (The panehe actions of the pora). Now, the word panehe describes the action of the cooper when tightening hoops, the series of short forward movements. The fair-skinned Europeans were called pora, on account of the paleness of their skins. On account of their colour, they were compared with and named from a white stone called pora, the ordinary name of which is huka-a-tai, so named on account of an ancient belief or myth that it was formed from the white foam of sea-water. The pora was deemed a tapu or sacred stone because pieces of it were used in a curious rite performed by priests over the tapu scholars in the school of sacred learning, the whare wananga. During the performance of this rite the priest placed a small piece of this stone in the mouth of the scholar. (Cf. an item in Mr. Downes's paper on whatu kura in the "Journal of the Polynesian Society," December, 1910.)

The late Mr. W. Colenso has stated that the term panekeneke was applied by Maoris to a small axe, hatchet, and tomahawk, because it was indicative of the manner in which they used it in clearing a bush track—cutting off protruding branches, &c. We have just quoted a remark made by Te Whatahoro as to the origin of the term panehe, which has a meaning analagous to that of the above word. Mr. Colenso translates panekeneke literally as "strike and keep moving by small degrees." He also states that the (European) adze was named kapu, from its curvature.

Iron axes were sometimes termed aki poke, because they could be dashed against timber with all one's strength without fear of breakage (he aki ake ki te rakau, from aki—to dash).

It would appear that the wider-bladed chisels were also used in former times as adze-blades. In Brown's "New Zealand and its Aborigines," (1851), 2nd ed., page 60, occurs this remark: "The tools in general use amongst them are small tomahawks and adzes, page 335the latter being made of a carpenter's chisel tied to a crooked piece of wood; with this implement they fashion the paddles for their canoes, but they are a very long time in the operation."

In speaking of canoe-making by the Maoris, Polack says, "The forming of a large canoe complete generally takes many months ere its completion. The tree formerly was generally felled by fire being applied to its roots, which burnt so slowly for a length of time as to harden the wood, rendering the labours of the workmen more painful. It has been also generally hollowed by fire, which widens the trunk (?); it is afterwards dressed with the adze-axe and chisel, or apologies in some shape for those invaluable implements."

The Rev. W. R. Wade, in his "Journey in the Northern Island of New Zealand" (Hobart Town, 1842), says, "In former days adzes of basalt or green jade were used … but, now that iron tools abound, if a carpenter's adze cannot be obtained, a plane-iron fixed into a handle, adze-fashion, answers the purpose." Again, at page 148, "On the broad totara slabs which formed the strength of the partitions the adze had been so skilfully used as almost to do the work of a plane." These were, of course, steel adzes, used in constructing a Mission station on Mokoia Island, in Lake Rotorua.

In his "Travels in New Zealand," Mr. J. C. Crawford speaks of staying a few days at Taumaru-nui on the upper Whanga-nui: "The Maoris were busy making paddles; they work very neatly with an adze made in their own fashion, a handle formed with a knee at an acute angle, and with a flat iron adze-blade tied on."

Cruise (1823) speaks of the neat work done by a Maori in making a stock for a musket: "Considering the few miserable tools he possessed, it was done with much ingenuity. The place for the barrel had been hollowed out by fire, and the excavation for the lock, though made with an old knife and a wretched chisel, was singularly accurate."

In the "New-Zealanders," published in 1830, appears the following: "There is also in the possession of the Church Missionary Society a bust of Shungie (Hongi Hika), cut in a very hard wood by himself with a rude iron instrument of his own fabrication, on which the tattooing on his face is exactly copied."

When iron was first acquired by the Maori he sometimes spent much time and labour on fashioning implements from pieces of that prized metal. Nicholas mentions several such items as observed by him in 1815: "One of them had suspended from his neck a dollar that was part of the spoil of the unfortunate (ship) 'Boyd'; and another carried a piece of iron that with unwearied perseverance page 336and hard labour he had beaten into the shape of a sword." It is improbable that the implement had been fashioned by beating. It had probably been ground into the desired form, or possibly filed. Again, he says, "Tippouie(?) … had a weapon of this description [i.e. a patu] which he had beat out of some bar iron, and the polish it displayed was so very fine that I could not have thought it possible for it to have been effected by the simple process of a New-Zea-lander had I not many other proofs of the astonishing ingenuity of these people."

Sketch of maori pattern