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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

No Pottery in Polynesia

page 150

No Pottery in Polynesia

(4) But a far more striking sign of the long isolation of Polynesia is the absence of pottery. Tonga is the only group that makes earthenware vessels; but its proximity to Fiji and intercourse with it sufficiently explains the exception. And what makes the absence more striking is the existence of the art in the neighbouring region of Melanesia amongst a race much lower in the scale. There were undoubtedly refluxes from Polynesia into both Melanesia and Papuasia, as we can see from their carvings, the use of the steam oven, and other features of Polynesian culture. But had Polynesia been peopled by the Melanesians before the lighter-coloured immigrants came into it, we should have found potsherds, if not the art, all over the islands. That neither the art nor its products ever penetrated into them proves of itself clearly enough that they never had any Melanesian immigration. The steam oven, the use of gourds as water-vessels, and the practice of boiling water by throwing red-hot stones into it might have prevented the development of the art; but they could not have prevented its introduction.

(5) Ratzel in his "History of Mankind" seems to rely on one of the older voyagers when he makes Easter Island an exception away on the extreme east, to be placed with Tonga on the extreme west. No pottery has been made on that isolated islet. But he might have made New Zealand an exception; for a find of a red-pottery-like statuette in a native burying-ground in the Marlborough Sounds is reported by Mr. Joshua Rutland in a paper in the third volume of the "Journal of the Polynesian Society." Though it has been lost again, its finder, a Mr. Henderson, describes it as four inches high, with a Maori face, well executed. Not far from it was found a stone head, half simian. This might seem to disprove the absence of Melanesians; but they never went page 151in their potter's art beyond the moulding of vessels for food and drinking. The art of making human heads and busts in terra-cotta belongs to the Pacific coast of America, and especially to Peru; that is the nearest affinity to be found. But we should need far more extensive and reliable finds in New Zealand, and relics in the islands intervening, to infer any racial connection. Standing by itself it is but an accident, and the Polynesians still hold the unique position of being classified with the Fuegians and Australians, at the lowest stage of human culture, as having no pottery, whilst showing themselves in other directions as on the verge of civilisation.