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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

Evidence of Stratification in Housebuilding

Evidence of Stratification in Housebuilding

(9) There are even in the masculine arts, like maritime and domestic architecture, signs in Polynesia of different stages of culture. The whares in a New Zealand pa are not all of the highest type. Some are flimsily built of grass and other temporary materials. Others have earth covered with turf rising up their sides and half over their roofs like the dwellings of the British Columbian and sub-Arctic peoples. But, quite apart from their ordinary houses, there are evidences of the various types of prehistoric architecture having belonged to pre-Polynesian tribes. Little though the Maoris have of the megalithic in their dwellings, there are relics of it in various places. Some of the South Island pas had walls of stone, and on the slopes of Mount Egmont and on the Great Barrier Island are found rough fortifications of boulders, such as are to be seen in the interior of some of the tropical islands as refuges for the non-combatants during war. Even the lake-dwellings of prehistoric Europe have their counterpart in a lake near Horowhenua in the Wellington Province, whilst tree forts have been reported from the Wanganui River and from near Levin; a village was built on a platform resting on the high branches. This takes us to houses in Papuasia and the Philippines; in the latter a white tribe was recently described as living in trees. And Turi, the great navigator, Maori legend tells, came across a people dwelling in trees, and took one of their women to wife.

(10) But perhaps the most interesting and most primitive of all the types of dwellings in New Zealand are the pit-dwellings described by Mr. Joshua Rutland in the "Journal of the page 155Polynesian Society," and by Mr. Lindsay Buick in his "Old Marlborough." Many examples of this type have been found in the sounds on the south of Cook Strait, dug out of the clay or earth, and occasionally out of the solid rock, to a depth of from four to eight feet. Some are duplicated with a thick wall between, sometimes with the floor of one room higher than the other. They are always on the sunny slopes of hills or on the top of spurs looking to the north, and broad terraces are generally made in front of them. They lie in clusters or series, and they were evidently by no means kumara pits. On the floor of some were found the ashes that indicate a hearth. But they had been so over-grown with centuried forests that they were not discovered till all the bush was cleared. The Maoris of the district point out certain families that are descended from, or have the blood of, the people that inhabited these pits a small dark raceand say that they had canoes, which they used to haul up the slopes to their dwellings by means of ropes. And Mr. Buick identifies them with the Morioris of the Chatham Islands, who have a tradition that they were driven out from these sounds by the new-comers from Polynesia, and who live in dwellings half underground like these. They themselves are not of the small, dark type, and must be a Polynesian cross with the pit-dwellers; they have a genealogy that goes back 182 generations, or more than 4,500 years; and not far from Rangi and Papa in it comes Toi, the name of the aboriginal people in the Urewera country. In Dusky Sound similar ancient pits are described as existing. Now in South Island legend Maui is said to have handed over the land he had fished up to the Kui, who when dispossessed by the Tutumaiao, went to live underground.

(11) This habit of digging out the earth as the main part of a dwelling to be roofed over, it has been shown, cannot page 156belong to a people that had lived long in the tropics. There the rankness of the soil makes it dangerous to disturb it. It is a natural custom of dwellers in cold regions, in the north temperate or sub-Arctic zone. And it is there, in the Japanese Archipelago and northward, that we find the custom again in the Pacific. The pit-dwellers preceded the Japanese, nay, preceded the Aino, and were either contemporaneous with, or immediately subsequent to, the Stone Men. That they lived in islands long separated from the continent shows that they were maritime; and there is no improbability in the idea that they joined or followed the migrations of the megalithic people southwards, except that there are no traces of their pit-dwellings between Japan and the South Island of New Zealand, and that potsherds are found in the hollows of Japan that formed part of their dwellings. Of course the tropical forests would soon obliterate all traces of their pits, even if they dug them as they ventured from tropical island to tropical island; and the terra-cotta bust found in the Marlborough Sound may be a relic of their pottery habit, just as the korotangi, or weeping bird, a beautifully sculptured petrel in steatite that came with the Tainui canoe to New Zealand (the canoe that brought a Patupairehe, or fairy woman, evidently one of the fair-skinned aborigines), may be a relic of another pre-Japanese race that migrated southwards by sea. The habit and the art of sculpturing in steatite and pottery true to nature may have been abandoned in the new lands, if the materials were hard to get. The pit-dwellers in the sounds, like those in Japan, were evidently a feeble, unwarlike folk, ready to migrate anywhere in seach of solitude and peace, easily abandoning their rights and habits, and easily getting absorbed and losing their individuality.

(12) All these types of dwellings, though they may not indicate difference of race, reveal different stages of culture, page 157or at least differences of culture that are due to differences of original climate and environment. The tree-dwellers come from the tropics, the lake-dwellers from the warmer temperate zone, and the pit-dwellers from the colder zones of the north.