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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

Chapter XIII — Lynesian Textile, Military, — Al, and Agricultural Arts

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Chapter XIII
Lynesian Textile, Military,
Al, and Agricultural Arts

(1) We [gap — reason: invisible] seen how the Polynesian was by instinct a fisherman a [gap — reason: invisible]ailor, and how much the art of navigation belonged to [gap — reason: invisible]men of the race. In the olden times it was an art that needed the greatest boldness and skill, and demanded long absences from the house as much as hunting on land did. It was thus, even though not hedged round by any sacredness in most islands, completely out of the province of women. It was a speciality that needed muscle and daring; and primitive woman is too busy to specialise in any direction. As soon as an industry needs specialisation, it passes out of her hands. She has too many demands on her time and energies to cultivate a particular skill or art. Seacraft, like hunting, therefore, has ever been outside her sphere, even where she has been as strong and muscular as her husband.

The Textile Art, as belonging to Woman, shows
little Stratification

(2) It is different with the textile art. Amongst all primitive civilisations it belongs to the women's department. In Polynesia it is the women that pound out and macerate the tapa or bark-cloth, the most important material for clothing in all the tropical islands. It is so easy to produce that woven cloth had no chance against it; and thus it is that in these page 162warm climates, for which the open-pored textiles are more suited, these were thrust into the background. Weaving as a natural development of the universal arts of savagerymat-making and basket-makingexisted as an art in those islands; but it took a subordinate place in the life. Bark-cloth belongs properly to the tropics, for there the bast, or inner bark of many trees, has its fibres inextricably interwoven; whilst the bast of the clothing plants of the temperate zone, not only of hemp and flax, but also of trees like cedar and elm, has its fibres in parallel layers or lines, so that it can be shredded into filaments that can be twisted or spun. Bark-cloth is universal in the tropical parts of Africa and South America; but the art of making it is less advanced than in Polynesia; they pound and macerate it, but they do not weld the strips together to make large sheets, as the women of the Pacific do.

(3) That in Polynesia it is a purely woman's art with no sacredness, or priestly rights connected with it, shows that it was not brought by the last immigrants and conquerors from South Asia. If, as most evidences seem to indicate, these latter came primarily from an Aryan race or from one in close contact with an Aryan race, we can quite understand why they did not bring any ideas with regard to the art. For the Aryans, we know from the words for clothing common to all the Indo-European languages, did not use bark-cloth; the bark garments mentioned by Pomponius Mela as being used by the Germans were probably, like those amongst the Ainos and the British Columbians, woven of bark fibres. The last immigrants doubtless saw bark-cloth being used or made in some of the islands of Indonesia, but it was by the conquered aboriginals or as a primitive and almost abandoned habit. The textiles that had been introduced by the Mongoloid conquerors had displaced it. Most probable it was that they brought with them to their new realms a page 163tendency to the textile art and to skin clothing. The Arctic zone is the natural home of skin raiment, the temperate zone of textile raiment, and the tropics of bark raiment. But the Baltic region, the now generally accepted birthland of the Aryan languages, touches on the sub-Arctic zone, especially during the periodic depressions of temperature; and hence, probably, the Aryan-speaking tribes that came to Asia brought with them both the textile habit and the skin habit.

(4) When the Polynesians came to New Zealand they brought with them all three forms of clothing. But during their long residence in the tropics with the art of cloth-making in the hands of the women they had taken into their households, bark-cloth had thrown the others into the shade, and it was principally as tapa-makers they came to their new country; they brought not merely rolls of tapa, but the aute or paper-mulberry to acclimatise as the main source of the bast. And, though it has now died out of New Zealand, it was seen by Colenso towards the middle of the nineteenth century under cultivation; its bast was used for fillets for the hair of chiefsa sign that, as coming with the conquerors, it had become sacred; for the chiefs head was sacred. And amongst the Ngatiawa two men are mentioned as having been expert beaters of tapaa fact that alone would show in the sex of the workers that it was the last immigrants and conquerors that brought the art into New Zealand. They brought with them likewise the habit of skin clothing. For the dogskin mat and cloak were the special perquisite of the chief; no one else was allowed to use them. And tradition says that they introduced with them from Polynesia the edible dog, from which the garments were made. Only men were allowed to prepare the skins and sew them together, just as only men were allowed to eat canine flesh.

(5) But there is evidence in their customs, too, that they also brought one department at least of the textile art. For page 164though the women did the weaving, they had to learn it when young from priests with solemn rites and incantations and in a special weaving-house. They had, as mere women and unsacred beings, to be made holy before entering in; nor were they allowed to touch cooked food or eat during the initiation. They were isolated till it was all over, and then they were made common again, and could return to the ordinary duties of the household. They were afterwards as mere common beings, needing no ceremonial either to consecrate or deconsecrate them. But if they were weaving the garments of warriors or sacred persons they must weave them under cover and not in the open air, a condition showing how much the new-comers were devoted to house-building and house-dwelling.

(6) This proves only that the Polynesians did not learn the textile art wholly from the conquered in New Zealand. They must have brought some knowledge of it with them, when they thus consecrated the work of their new aboriginal wives, and took it under the wing of the priesthood. Rua, the deity of the weaving-house, is, according to tradition, an ancestor of the Maoris, though the meaning of the name, "double," seems to point to the double woof-thread of the Maori cloth, and thus to indicate that the legend is etymological. The legend tells that Rua learned the art of mat-weaving, along with that of wood-carving, from the Hakuturi, who, as wood fairies, probably represent forest-haunting aborigines. Two other stories of the origin of the art attribute it to other deities. The truth seems to be that the art was both pre-Polynesian and Polynesian. The North Pacific immigrants coming from the natural zone of textiles were sure to have brought it with them in a more or less primitive stage; and the discovery of such a source of fibre as New Zealand flax must have greatly aided in developing it long before the South Asiatics arrived in the country. It is not improbable, and the page 165ceremony of initiation seems to indicate, that the actual upright framework or loom used by the women was introduced by the new-comers, although we know that the Ainos used a similar frame, differing only in being used horizontally instead of vertically, for weaving their bast threads into cloth.

(7) But there were other items in the making of the ultimate textiles that were also brought from Polynesia. One was the ornamental border of mats, which was done by the men. The secret of dyeing with red doubtless also came; for the water with which the tanekaha bark was boiled had to be heated by stones that had not touched a cooking fire or any fire on which common men or women had looked the neglect of such precautions would obliterate all knowledge of the secret from the mind; whereas the preparation of the black dye from hinau bark and a certain swamp mud needs no such religious exactitude, and must have been an aboriginal art. The Patupaiarehe's hatred of kokowai gives the same indications. Nor is it unlikely that some of the minuter details in the preparation of flax came also from the islands; it was, in fact, not unlike the preparation of the aute or the breadfruit bark for tapa; both were scraped of their green stuff with a sharp shell, steeped and macerated and then bleached in the sun, and afterwards pounded and worked up. That it was cultivated and used for a far longer period in New Zealand than the five centuries since the Polynesian six canoes came is shown by the large number of varieties (more than fifty), each with a name and a special use. The specialisation of so many kinds meant thousands of years of experiments in primitive times.

Fishing, Netting, and Rope-making were Aristocratic

(8) When we turn to netting and ropes, we have a different set of conditions. It is the men that engage in this textile page 166art. In most of the islands it is the men that roll and braid from cocoa-nut fibre the sinnet that goes to the making of all nets; and in Samoa they take their work with them to the council meetings, as women in Europe take their crochet or knitting to the Dorcas Club. In the eastern groups all connected with fishing is too sacred to be touched by women. In New Zealand tapu lay on the making of nets and everything connected with the art. No cooking and no woman were to come near the net-makers, and there were only certain fish that women were allowed to eat. New nets were begun with karakias; and so punctilious were they in their attention to the tapu of nets that those who carried them had to be naked, lest their garments should have touched cooked food. So it was with hooks and lines; karakias had to be said over them; the aid of the god Maru or Tangaroa had to be invoked, and some of the fish were reserved for the gods, and some for the chiefs, and cooked in different ovens; a third oven was kept for the fish of the common people.

(9) This seems to show that fishing was an aristocratic employment. The Polynesian conquerors were evidently eaters of fish and expert fishermen when they migrated. And yet it is from the Patupaiarehe, or fair-skinned aborigines, that they learned the special mesh of their nets, this being the same as that found in the Swiss lake-dwellings. The pre-Polynesians were evidently as expert fishermen, and contributed somewhat to the knowledge and skill of the new comers. Maui, their culture-hero, is credited with inventing the barb for the hook and the centre-piece for the eel-basket. One of the strangest interlacing of ideas is that of fishing and cannibalism in all the islands, and especially in New Zealand and Easter Island. The first victim in a battle is called "the first fish of Maui," and human bones are especially valued for hooks, whilst the dried head of an enemy was often used to tie a line to.

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A Great Contrast between the Textiles and the
Instruments for producing them

(10) But there is in all this the same warp of primitiveness and woof of advanced culture. This race, so high in the scale for the beauty of its textile products, is far down in the matter of implements to produce them. They have no loom like that of the Malays, which spreads through the whole of Indonesiaan affair of balanced frame, intricate mechanical contrivance, and the use of treadles, not unlike the old European hand-loom. Had the Malays had anything to do with the culture of the Polynesians, as is implied in the constantly used name Malayo-Polynesian, this would have been the instrument for weaving in the South Sea Islands. But still lower are they in the scale of culture than this indicates. They have not only no spinning-wheel; but they have not a distaff or spindle, which even the most savage tribes have at least the germ of. They roll and twist their threads, whether for ropes or mats, or, as in New Zealand, for woven capes or girdles, on the thigh, the method adopted by the British Columbians. Thus in the textile industryan industry most affected by women in its earlier stagesthey reveal a primitiveness that is astonishing, when we consider the advance of the races that surround them, and of the races and regions from which the last immigrants came.

Their Military Engineering is strikingly Modern

(11) A great contrast to this is the development of the art of war. The earthwork, ditches, and palisades of the pas have drawn unstinted praise from European military engineers. Little in modern warfare could surpass the skill of the old Maoris in the choice of a site or the industry and art in making it impregnable. And the art of siege was naturally as advanced, including the testudo of the Romans, the staged and movable page 168tower for attack, and various methods of setting the pa on fire. The development of this military engineering art in New Zealand far surpasses anything to be seen in Polynesia. There the only forts were stone refuges with occasional stockades for non-combatants in the interior, roughly made of boulders and rocks, as seen in Hawaiia kind of fort occasionally seen in New Zealand too. The only exceptions to this are the wonderful megalithic forts in Rapa-iti, that little island far to the south of Polynesia, and the hill-fortifications of the Marquesans; and they are not to be compared to the New Zealand pas for skill and elaboration.

(12) The contrast bears its own natural significance. It is that the Polynesians, warlike though they were when they reached the new country, had, in many districts, if not in all, a powerful, wary, and vigorous foe to meet. It was no pleasure excursion for them, even though their aristocratic pride has obliterated the genealogies and records of their predecessors, and obscured the trouble they had to keep up for so long against a well-matched enemy, whom they had ultimately to absorb, often peacefully and as allies. Nothing else will explain the extraordinary evolution of military engineering, and the extraordinary precautions they took for the protection of their villages. It is useless to say that the few hundred immigrants that the six canoes brought required this because of their quarrelsome disposition; the country was spacious, and each tribe had room for centuries of growth, without trenching on its neighbour's land. And why did they depart from the traditional methods of their Polynesian forefathers, if there was not a formidable enemy to meet? Even though it is evident that some of the aborigines were unwarlike and easily subdued, exterminated, or driven out, the most reasonable explanation is that the strong, obtrusive new-comers had to learn from their enemies, and that the elaboration of earthworks was one of the things page 169they learned. New Zealand, as the cul-de-sac of Polynesia, and as a land of mountain and valley, forest and flood, was the natural scene of such an evolution long before the six canoes arrived. It must have been the perching place of many defeated peoples driven out of the tropical islands, and its climate and environment would harden their courage and character into something warlike.

Their Weapons are strikingly Primeval

(13) There is a strange antithesis to this picture in the character of the weapons employed, not only in New Zealand, but throughout Polynesia. The fundamental weapon is the club, as that for Africa is the slashing weapon, and that for America is the piercer; and the club is the most primitive of them all, another of the features of Polynesian culture that takes it back to earliest man. The most characteristic weapon of the Maoris, the merea short, flat, battledore-shaped instrument of bone or stoneis a modification of the club or braining weapon rather than of the sword or axe, or cutting weapon. It is peculiar to the Maori in the Pacific; but specimens like it are reported from Peru and North America. The onewa, or war-club of basalt, has more resemblance to those of Polynesia, except in material, the latter being generally of wood. But there are wooden modifications of the club in New Zealand toothe taiaha and the tewhatewha, one modified towards the spear or piercing weapon, the other towards the axe or cutting weapon. Both of them, as tending to be marks of rank in battle and of office in peace, probably came with the conquerors from Polynesia.

(14) Then there were spears proper, or thrusting and piercing instruments, both short and long being common to all Polynesia with New Zealand. The short were for close combat, the long for throwing, and sometimes for thrusting through palisades. They were of the most primitive type page 170simply a long rod with point hardened by fire. It was only occasionally that it was barbed like those of the Melanesians and other more savage races. A bone or wooden dagger is spoken of, but it was evidently little used.

(15) Of cutting weapons there was but small development in Polynesia or New Zealand. The chief's short-handled green-stone battle-adze was more a mark of office than a weapon. And the miratuatini, or shark's-tooth sawing knife was not so much a battle weapon as an instrument for cutting up human flesh. A sword-like wooden weapon is reported as having been dug up in the Waikato, but, if it is a weapon, and not an eel-killer, it probably belonged to the pre-Polynesians: the Maoris did not use it.

(16) As little development is there of projectile weapons. One of the most singular things in this respect is the practical absence of the bow from all Polynesia and Micronesia, in spite of its almost universal use in Melanesia and Papuasia, and in fact on both sides of the Pacific, and in spite of the elastic withy bent over and used as a spring in the rat-trap showing the way to the bow. What are called arrowheads have been found in New Zealand; but they are as likely to be spearheads as arrowheads. It is as striking a phenomenon as the absence of pottery or the use of the fire-plough. Its sporadic appearance in Tonga, Hawaii, and Tahiti makes it even more striking. For the war-bow of Tonga came in during later times from the neighbouring Fiji. The Hawaiians, and by some it is said the Maoris, used it for old men and boys to shoot rats with, whilst in Tahiti it was used only in an annual ceremony, when a bow was brought out of the temple, and the men tested how far they could shoot the arrow, without thinking of directing it to a mark or target. The Hawaiian use implies scorn, as of a weapon once seen in the hands of despised foes; the Tahitian use seems to indicate it as the legacy of some honoured individual, who page 171could use it, but did not wish its employment extended to war. A Melanesian bow has been found embedded in clay on the northern coast of New Zealand; but that is evidently an incident of castaways. The Tahitian ceremonial bow is a simple one like that of the Ainos and some of the Americans. Clearly this phenomenon bars all possibility of there having been Mongol or Mongoloid or Melanesian immigration into Polynesia, as the absence of the blowpipe and poisoned arrows of Malaysia would alone disprove Malay immigration.

(17) The substitute for the bow was the throwing-stick, or kotaha, which, by means of a lash, discharged a dart or spear (kopere) sometimes as a torch to set the pa on fire, sometimes with a notched head made of the poisonous wood of the tree-fern, and intended to break off in the wound made. This was used chiefly in sieges, and had a resemblance to a weapon of the Incas. There were also one or two retrieving projectiles, the curved hoeroa of whalebone, the reti of the Ureweras, a quadrangular staff, and the kuratai, a stone dagger, each of them attached to a cord, so that it might be drawn back when it had done execution. A wooden barbed hook was sometimes thrown over a war-party to drag out members of it and disorganise it; the same was accomplished by casting a net. Both customs reveal the instinctively fishing race. But there was not so much trust put in these projectiles by the Maori as in his clubs and spears. This is emphasised by the singular absence of the sling, which, with round beach stones, was used all over Polynesia. And this subordination of cutting weapons and projectiles in war is probably a mark of the primitive culture that preceded the South Asiatic immigration.

They are as Primitive in Agriculture and Hunting

(18) Their agriculture and hunting were as unprogressive; the ko, a stepped digger, the chief implement in the one, page 172and the traps and snares for rats and birds, are no more advanced than those of the Melanesian or Aino or savage American. At whatever time the yam and taro came into Polynesia, there is every indication, in the large number of varieties, and in the elaboration of religious ceremony connected with it, that the kumara came long before the South Asiatic immigration. The fern-root is a specialty of New Zealand, and must have been resorted to by primitive peoples that could find no such sources as the cocoanut and the bread-fruit. The abhorrence of animal manure could not have come from the south of Asia, where the mammals had been domesticated, and agriculture was in full swing amongst all the peoples of that region long before the Polynesians could have left. It seems to point rather to the North Pacific, where peoples accustomed to nomadism on the continent settled down to agriculture without domesticated animals in the islands. And the wasteful method of burning the scrub on a patch, exhausting it by culture, and in a year or two passing on to another, belongs to the most primitive of all agricultural tribes, and to forest regions; it could not well have come from the cultured peoples of South Asia.

(19) In the same direction does the absence of all memory or relic of wheeled traffic point. All the southern Asiatic races, from whom the last migration could have come, had developed some form or other of wheeled vehicle many centuries before our era. Now there is not the smallest approach to the semblance of a wheel in any of their ornamentation, either painted, tattooed, or carved. There is the spiral and double spiral, the ellipse and the crescent of a bewildering number of varieties; but no complete circle, still less a circle with rays or spokes, a form that we should have expected in a people that worshipped the sun. The use of the hoop as a child's toy, and, covered with his tattooed thigh skin, as an insult to a dead enemy, indicates that the wheel page 173had been seen without being understood as a new means of easing transport. Manifestly the great mass of the population of Polynesia and New Zealand, in short, the element that gave the deepest impress to the culture, and primarily moulded the ornamentation, came from a land that had no wheeled traffic. This must have been either the north-east of Asia, and especially the Japanese Archipelago, or the Pacific coast of America; but in the ornamentation of civilised peoples of the latter there appears ever and again the wheel or rayed circle, and even occasionally in Central America the winged wheel, such as we meet in old and buried Assyria. This was clearly a representation of the sun as a deity, and had the Polynesians with their sporadic sun-worship come thence, they would have doubtless introduced the symbol into their ornamentation. There is no alternative left but the north-east of Asia, if we are to explain the absence of all semblance of the wheel in the art-forms of Polynesia, and especially of so artistic a people as the Maoris. The legends attribute the teaching of both tattooing and carving to the aborigines; and the Hakuturi, or wood-fairies, and the Ponaturi, or sea-haunting fairies, who seem to have either taught or given the models for carving, are but the imaginative transformation of pre-Polynesian peoples. Others, like the Turehu, are not only spoken of as fairies, but as human beings, who amalgamated with certain tribes from Polynesia. So Mataora, who taught the spiral tattooing to the Maoris, had to go down into Po, or the underworld, to learn it, an indication of the northern or long-winter source of the art.

(20) Had all the inhabitants of Polynesia come from the south of continental Asia just about the beginning of our era, they could not have failed to bring with them ideas of the wheel for ornamentation, if not of wheeled traffic for use in daily life. And there was plenty of level ground in all the larger islands for the resumption of the habit.

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(21) Polynesian agriculture had doubtless a double origin. It is doubtful which birthland the use of stilts points to, for there are low sandy stretches on the coasts of both North-west India and North-east Asia. That the habit is an old one is shown by the story of Tamatekapua, who went on stilts to steal the fruit of his enemy, Uenuku; and in some versions of the legends he is not merely the chief of the Arawa canoe, but a giant. The story evidently belongs to mythical times, and the habit may go back to some birthland before the arrival on the Asiatic coasts. The dancing stilts of the Marquesans take the usage back still farther, and in their ceremonial use seem to indicate derivation from some other race that was looked up to or revered.

(22) Whatever the source of this usage, the agriculture of the region draws its customs from both North and South Asia, for women as well as men have a share in it. Much of it is consecrated to religion; but there is much of it, too, that women can assist in without profaning tapu or angering the gods. Even the chiefs took their place in the field beside the women and slaves when cultivation or harvesting was in hand. This could not have occurred unless the immigrant aristocracy had been accustomed to agriculture as an honoured and immemorial art, nor unless the art had also existed in the islands before they arrived. Other arts were too sacred to let the women or the slaves have any share in.

The Medical Art of the Maoris is wholly Polynesian
and exorcistic

(23) The art of healing, for example, so often in primitive times and peoples, as in the most modern times, shared in by the women of the community, was wholly in the hands of the men; for it was almost altogether a matter of karakias or rites and incantations, and the women, like the Patupaiarehe, had no karakia. Most primitive medicine is page 175to a large extent sorcery, or in other words, like so many diseases of both savage and civilised, an outcome of imagination; and of all semi-cultured or barbarous races perhaps the Polynesian was the most ridden by imagination in this department. The islanders were not much harassed by diseases. The common ailments of humanity, toothache, rheumatism, indigestion, and the rest, were doubtless fairly common amongst them, though their open-air and active life must have reduced them to a minimum. Eye disease arose from the chimneyless houses, and skin diseases, including leprosy, from the use of food, and especially fish, in a state of rottenness; but the region was practically quarantined for thousands of yearsin fact, the absence of all sign of the epidemics of the Asiatic coast, like beriberi, cholera, and plague, seems to indicate that these vast congestions of population, that are the nesting-places of such diseases, had not yet crowded on to the Chinese and Indian shores, when Polynesia was finally isolated; and the tremendous effects on the Polynesians of even the epidemics of childhood, like measles, show that the diseases could not have taken root there in previous ages, else the virulence would have been less. The islands, in fact, came to have a horror of the approach of European ships; evidently the epidemics the first voyagers had left had decimated the ranks of their inhabitants. Every indication seems to point to such absence of the widespreading diseases as only complete quarantine for thousands of years could have secured.

(24) It is evident that in the pre-European times two-thirds of the diseases that harassed the Polynesians must have originated in imagination or the influence of the mind on the nerves. Thus it was that amongst them the curative profession was in the hands of men. As long as the matriarchate endured it was probably in women's hands all over the world. With the patriarchate all rites, and, in fact, page 176all religion, would pass to the other sex, and with them therefore all the curative art, and in a healthy region, such as pre-European Polynesia was, the chief scope of this art lay in the province of beliefa large province, even in the most modern medicine. The priest became the doctor, too, and not only that, but the inflicter of diseases. The extraordinary extension of the system of tapu was due to this double power of the tohunga over the imagination. There were a few simples, chiefly herbals, for the common ailments, and the Maori, from his experience as a cannibal and an exhumer of ancestral bones, was an expert bone-setter, and in so healthy a race wounds were easily cured. But all the other degenerations of human flesh, due to the entrance of demons, or the anger of ancestral spirits, or sorcery, in other words, due to the influence of imagination, were beyond such common remedies. As it was, the force of the idea became so strong that it could kill a man at sight; in fact, this was the final test in the wharekura or theological school of a candidate for the rank of tohunga. If he could not kill by mere force of mind the victim pointed out he was not fit to become a priest; and once a man had got the idea into his mind that he was to die, nothing could save him.

(25) The medical art, both offensive and curative, was a branch of religion, and was taught in the theological school or wharekura, though there were some incantations that could not be taught even there, but only in the open or in the forest. To this teaching only the first-born of noble or priestly families could be admitted, and they had to be taught the secrets for many years in an atmosphere of mystery, and tested again and again before they could be passed as full priests. No woman could approach during the courses of teaching, the only exception being an aged priestess. And this seems to indicate that the last immigrants brought some of their women with them, who introduced some relics of page 177the matriarchate into the new region. The building was intensely holy, and food could not be cooked in or near it.

(26) The extreme elaboration of sorcery and the predominance of the man in medicine imply that the conquerors came from a race well advanced. Theirs was not the mere jugglery and stupid practices of the northern shaman. It was rather the refinement of sorcery so widespread amongst the South Asiatic nations before our era. It was a fine art, both there and in Polynesia. Of one thing we may be sure, that where the power of incantations was felt to be supreme the intruding men monopolised it.

(27) It is clear from all this that the Polynesian is stratified in his arts and industries, as in his beliefs and customs. There are traces of the matriarchate; but there are still clearer traces of conquest, once at least, if not oftener, of an aboriginal people by an immigrant aristocracy.