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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

Chapter XVIII — The Antiquity of Man in Polynesia as Seen — in his Traditions and Relics

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Chapter XVIII
The Antiquity of Man in Polynesia as Seen
in his Traditions and Relics

The Malayo-Polynesian Fallacy fixed the Genesis of
Human Occupation of Polynesia in the Thirteenth

(1) It used to be the universal opinion of Maori scholars that the first appearance of man in New Zealand was the arrival of the six canoes, the only epoch recognised in native tradition. And the genealogies seem to fix this in the fourteenth century. But there cropped up sundry stories and legends of canoes that had arrived long before this "Norman Conquest" of the Maoris, and others of peoples that had lived in the country even before the arrival of these earlier migrations. These aboriginals came to be identified with the Morioris, who migrated to the Chatham Islands from New Zealand some time before the fourteenth century.

(2) But this still left the antiquity of man in the tropical islands untouched. Wallace, in his "Malay Archipelago," brought out the close relationships of the Polynesian dialects and those of Indonesia and came to the rash conclusion that the peoples who spoke them were of the same race, which he named the Malayo-Polynesian. And his great scientific reputation has kept the fallacy alive for half a century. The most recent authoritative books on the Pacific still assume it to be a correct and scientific term. Now the Malays did page 231not spread as an empire of navigators till about the thirteenth century. And the name Malayo-Polynesian implied that it was the Malays that, sailing forth from the Straits of Malacca, mastered Indonesia and then peopled Polynesia. It was thus tacitly assumed that this last region was not peopled till the thirteenth century.

(3) Even the early voyagers of the eighteenth century felt that the races were utterly different, and report from Polynesia tall forms, handsome faces, and often fair European-like complexions, with occasional negroid traces like the flattened nostrils; whilst a few, like Crozet, in speaking of the New Zealanders, report three types, one dark and negroid, another yellowish, and a third as European in features as their own sailors. A hesitancy arose about the identity of the Malays and Polynesians from like observations that showed distinct mixture of race. It was then assumed that a negroid population had held Polynesia before the arrival of the Malays. And the fair element was left unexplained.

The Evidence of the Genealogies takes the Genesis
of Man in the Region back to the beginning of our

(4) Then came a fuller knowledge of Polynesian traditions and genealogies, concentrated and interpreted by Mr. Percy Smith in his "Hawaiki." By the aid of some ancient genealogies from New Zealand, and from the Cook Islands, he takes the history of Polynesia back to the beginning of our era, holding that in the second or third century of it the ancestors of the Polynesians moved on from Indonesia into the Pacific. But even this date leaves scant time for the peopling of the various groups away to the east; for the Easter Islanders have a genealogy of their kings right from Hotu Matua, the leader of the Polynesian colony into their island, page 232down to Maorata, who was carried away by the Peruvians in 1864. In this there are 57 names or generations; and if we assume, as Mr. Smith reasonably does, twenty-five years as the average length of the generation, it works out 1425 years, a period that lands us in the middle of the fifth century of our era. And two centuries is too little to allow for the spread of the immigrants to the eastern groups, and such over-population of them as would lead to new expeditions into unknown regions.

(5) An even more striking discrepancy arises from the use of this genealogical method of chronology; when we take the generations of their ancestry given by the Marquesans, as reported by the Surveyor-General of Hawaii, there are 145, and this, calculated on the usual basis, takes us back 3,625 years. And an old Moriori priest and chief in the Chatham Islands capped this: he traced his own ancestry to Rangi and Papa, through 182 generations, and at the 157th this note interrupts the genealogy. "At this time came the three canoes from Hawaiki." That takes us back 4,550 years, the Polynesian immigration being placed a little over six centuries ago. Surely this is a heraldry long enough to satisfy the aristocratic birth-hunger of any family on earth. It is to be placed beside that Welsh genealogy, which Douglas Jerrold reports as having at its midpoint the note: "Here occurred the flood." It is on the whole safer to trust for our chronology to the less definite indications of the records of the earth than to this heraldic embroidery of the past, which is so apt to be guided by the vanity of family or race.

The Development of the Art of War in New
Zealand Proves a Large Pre-Polynesian Population

(6) But there are first some a priori arguments for a greater antiquity for New Zealand man than the fourteenth page 233century that should alone be sufficient to shake the faith of those select few still loyal to the six canoes as the human genesis of the country. One of these has been already indicated in the chapter on the military art; it is the extraordinary development of the science and art of war, and especially of military engineering, the art of fortification and siege. The few hundreds that came in the six canoes left Polynesia in order to escape feuds and their results and were evidently bent on peace; for they brought the products of their islands to acclimatise in their new land, and clearly intended to devote themselves to agriculture. When they arrived they found unlimited space compared with the islets they had left, and tradition tells how they spread far and wide, so that they had plenty of elbow-room for centuries. Is it likely that they began at once in such wide and empty spaces a regular Donnybrook Fair? Yet this is what must have occurred, if we are to explain the Maori passion for war and development of the art of war. They did not fortify their villages so strongly for nothing, after having done nothing of the sort in the scantier spaces of their tropical islets. To have developed this new art in their new and wider land against no enemy but their own scanty numbers does not seem explicable on the ordinary principles of human nature. Reason tells us that such an evolution of self-defence implies a formidable and unscrupulous foe. The genius of a whole people, especially in primitive times, is not bent in one direction unless there is sheer necessity forcing it. And every tissue and thought of the Maori was turned to war. Nor is there any evidence that it was want of room during the four centuries before Europeans arrived; for there was no remigration, nor was there any movement towards monarchy, such as there was in Hawaii and other islands, till European weapons and ideals put it into the heads of men like Hongi and Rauparaha.

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The Rapid Growth of Population proves the Same

(7) And in spite of the internecine warfare that prevailed we are asked to believe that these few hundred immigrants in the fourteenth century had so grown in numbers by the middle of the seventeenth century that Tasman found Cook Straits swarming with population in command of great fleets of double and single canoes. Even in a peaceful, primitive people the growth of numbers is very slow. It is only in industrial eras and centres that it becomes rapid. And in New Zealand there were no mammals and few small game, whilst the native fruits and foods were hard to get and prepare. Under such conditions it is difficult to believe in so great an increase in about a dozen generations.

The Land-hunger of the Maoris implies a Large
Population to dispute their Possession of the

(8) Another argument against the six canoes finding an empty country to land in is the extraordinary persistency of the Maori passion for land. Hunger for land never appears unless there is too little of it to go round the population. It is seldom or never a feature of primitive culture. It was natural for the Polynesians to have it after they had been so long settled in their islets as to overcrowd them and to resort to infanticide and emigration. And it was natural, therefore, for the immigrants by the six canoes to claim, each for his family or clan, as far as he could see inland, as tradition tells. But that the passion should continue after they found that they had vast areas quite empty for every tribe is not in accordance with common sense. Nothing but a hard and long struggle with aborigines for its possession can explain the extraordinary importance always attached by the Maoris to land and its inheritance. Their accurate preservation of the page 235genealogies, and the purity of married life in contrast to the license before marriage, originate and have their basis in landed inheritance. Without any claimants for it but the new-comers themselves, in such wide territories landed properties would have fallen into the background, and these features of the life would have become subordinate.

Slavery and the Maori Horror of it prove a
Large Aboriginal Population

(9) A fourth argument for the existence of a large aboriginal population in New Zealand before the Polynesians arrived is the place that slavery takes amongst the Maoris. The slave was a thing of naught, without ancestry or posterity, past or future, religion or status, rights to hand on to children or spirit to pass into the world beyond. The sacrifice of a slave was thought no more of than the killing of a pigeon. Hence the horror of slavery amongst the warrior or aristocratic class. Now such a development of the institution the Maori did not bring with him from Polynesia; the aborigines must have been absorbed in the islands at an early stage, and later they were too crowded to admit of slavery. It seems inconceivable that this horror of it could have sprung up in New Zealand, had the Polynesian had from the first none but his own kin to operate upon. And the fear of enslavement remained intense, in spite of the later mitigation of its conditions.

Legend tells the same Story

(10) Over and above these marks of the subjugation of a large aboriginal population by the immigrants from Polynesia, there are clear traces of it in Maori legend, which turns the primitive tribes encountered into ogres and wizards or into fairies, according as they were formidable or feeble enemies. The wonder-working imagination of the fireside story-teller page 236never fails to add some supernatural or appalling trait to the character of the enemy that has to be met on the mountain or in the forest amid the shades of twilight or in the darkness of night. North Island legend names a dozen or more of such aboriginal peoples, more or less supernaturalised by twilight fancy. Colenso, in his account of the Maoris written in 1868, seems to point in the following to a large pre-Polynesian population, as well as a wider spread of the Maoris: "In repeated travelling in the North Island from Cook Strait to Cape Maria Van Diemen during more than a quarter of a century, and that by bypaths long disused, through forests and over mountains and hilly ranges, the writer has been often astonished at the signs frequently met with of a very numerous ancient population, who once dwelt in places long since desolate and uninhabitedsuch as the number and extent of hill-forts." The forest and mountain folks were feared by the Maoris long after they had been absorbed or had died out. Even yet natives are said to fear "wild men" in the interior.

The Legends of Immigration into the South Island
take us back Generations before our Era

(11) It is, however, in the South Island that we find clearest evidence of the succession of migrations and conquests. Its later season for the harvesting of the edible bulbs and fruits made it an easy prey to raids from the north. Te Rauparaha swooped down on the Ngaitahu early in the nineteenth century. They themselves had invaded from the north early in the seventeenth century, and defeated and driven south the Ngatimamoe, who had in their turn exterminated the Waitaha in the sixteenth century.

(12) These Waitaha, according to one tradition, had an eponymous founder, Waitaha, who, after coming in the Arawa page 237canoe and settling at Taupo, went south. This is, of course, but the effort of a defeated and feeble people to embroider their ancestral heraldry and connect with the "Norman Conquest" of the Maoris. The more reliable tradition is that they were descended from an immigrant called Rakaihaitu, who reached New Zealand in his canoe, the Uruao, forty-three generations ago, that is, in the end of the eighth century of our era; and this long period is essential to explain the description of tradition that "they covered the land like ants."

(13) According to the usual legend he wiped out his predecessors and began peopling the country afresh. But this is only the stereotyped product of racial vanity, which ignores the aboriginal elements that have been absorbed, or counts them non-existent. And we can see from fragments of tradition that the Waitaha had no easy task in subduing and absorbing Te Rapuwai, who held the land before. The three-mile-long stone-fortified pa at the Cust, in North Canterbury, the lines of which were still clearly made out by the early settlers, was not built against a foe easily exterminated. And a romantic story of one of their great heroes, Tutewaimate, from the Rakaia, penetrating into the cave of Moko, an aboriginal who had taken to brigandage in the Waipara, and being slain by the robber, throws a flood of light on the progress of the Waitaha conquest. The Rob Roys and Herewards of Te Rapuwai took to the caves and forests and lived on the traffic between those in the north and those in the south; there the remnants of the defeated, under bold leaders, stood their ground for generations, if not for centuries.

(14) And Te Rapuwai had gone through the same process with their predecessors. Under Rongoatua they had come over the sea and been hospitably entertained by the natives, who, delighted with the new food he had introduced, the kumara, sailed away over the sea to bring a cargo of it. But the old story repeats itself. These dwellers by the sea are page 238driven inland by the new-comers and take to the caves; they pounce on bands of the immigrants when isolated, and even seize their women; they know the forests and streams, and can ambush and circumvent the strangers with ease; hence they become cave-dwelling ogres, who can stride over the country with league-long steps, and swallow streams; they are Te Kahui Tipua, or the band of ogres.

(15) In the Maui legend we have mention of still earlier waves of prehistoric immigration. That culture hero, when he fished up New Zealand, gave it to the Kui to colonise; they were exterminated or absorbed by the Tutumaiao, who were in their turn treated likewise by the Turehu or fairies; this last folk, we have seen, are in all the traditions and annals of the Maoris represented as fair-haired, and, being absorbed by the new-comers, have originated the Urukehu, or red-haired families, or members of families. Whether they preceded the Kahui Tipua or were only contemporary with them as another pre-Polynesian alien people it is impossible to say, for the two legends do not dovetail. Of one thing we may be certain, that Polynesian immigrants came in the early centuries of our era; and another seems probablenamely, that pre-Polynesian aliens occupied the land for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before.

The Mounds of Human Refuse in New Zealand point
back Thousands of Years

(16) When we turn to the relics of ancient habitation, we have first of all, as on the coasts of most countries in the world, great shell-mounds, or, as they were called, when first studied on the coasts of Denmark, kitchen-middens, the refuse heaps of men who lived on sea-trove thousands of years ago. In New Zealand they are not only numerous, but some of them extensive and high above the surrounding levels. Many page 239mounds or hills of considerable proportions are reported far inland, covered with trees of many centuries' growth. Of these some have been laid bare by cattle, whilst others have been sectioned by streams and rivers that have changed their course. But the majority are close to the coast. One of them at Shag Point, in Otago, was examined some years ago by Mr. Chapman (now Mr. Justice Chapman) and Mr. Hamilton (now director of the Colonial Museum, Wellington). And the latter reports that the layer above the bottom sand contained unbroken moa bones and dog bones, along with flints. The next layer that indicated human occupation had moa bones broken, evidently for their marrow. Above a third layer of sand came the final stratum, in which were many moas' necks, most with the skull attached. In these latter strata the implements encountered were more polished and neolithic. But a piece of greenstone was found in the lowest or most ancient layer.

(17) There is clear evidence here of intervalled occupation by people of different stages of culture, though all of them subsisting on the hunting of the moa, the most ancient on that of a feral dog likewise. Sir Julius von Haast, in his examination of an ancient encampment on the north bank of the River Rakaia, near its mouth, also found bones of dogs, but not a trace of any gnawing on any of the vast numbers of bones, whether avian, piscine, or mammalian; and this undoubtedly indicates that the dog was not domesticated, but hunted for its flesh. And in the legends of the band of ogres that preceded Te Rapuwai, the Polynesian immigrants of the early centuries of our era, the ogre of the Clutha Cave is represented as chasing the new-comers with a pack of ten two-headed dogs. Doubtless the hunted aboriginals, taking to the caves and forests, as "wild men," made friends with this wild and hunted denizen of the bush, thus taking the first step towards its domestication or page 240redomestication, just as the Australian aborigines half-tamed the dingo, and the two heads are the embroidery of the terrified imagination, like the giant stature and the league stride of the aboriginals at bay. This prehistoric feral dog was powerfully built, and of a size between the dingo and the fox, whilst its skull was shorter than it was broad. Now the edible dog of the Maori was domesticated, and left its traces on every bone about a pa. Crozet describes it as "a sort of domesticated fox, quite black or white, very low on the legs," "long body, full jaws, but more pointed than those of the fox." Its cry was the same as that of the fox, and not a bark. The distinction between the two types is quite clear.

(18) Another striking thing about these stratified remains of early man is the absence of human bones, an indication that cannibalism appeared in New Zealand after the disappearance of the moa and the feral dog, and cannot be attributed to the aboriginal or pre-Polynesian. It is in the period of Te Rapuwai, that is before the eighth century of our era, that legend places the extinction of the moa, and along with it is bracketed the destruction of the Otago and Canterbury forests by fire. The two events are doubtless closely connected, as we can see partly in the vast accumulation of the bones, and often complete skeletons, of all the various species of huge birds in the swamps and caves of Canterbury, and partly in the frequent heaps of gizzard pebbles found high up on the hillsides. The bush and its glades would form safe retreats for these gigantic birds from their avian and human enemies; when their cover vanished, the great raptorial birds of the heights, the bones of some of which have been found amongst those of their prey at Glenmark, would make short work of them on the open slopes of the mountains. The effect would be somewhat similar on their human enemies. Te Rapuwai, having suddenly to page 241change their food and their mode of life, would fall an easy prey to the new invaders, the Waitaha.

(19) We may assign the upper strata of the moa-hunting kitchen-middens to this pioneer of the Polynesians; in them the moa necks and heads are found. It is true that the whole of these mounds of debris are attributed to Te Rapuwai; but this probably only means that after that people the Waitaha abandoned them, and took to regular house-building and house-dwelling. The heads and necks were there, and not in the lower moa strata, probably because they would be needed as easily held outliers like the legs for carrying the carcases down to the beach; they doubtless mean that the prey had to be sought at longer distances. The unbroken bones of the lowest strata and the broken bones of the central strata indicate a reduction in the plentifulness of the game during the period of the latter, when the hunters had to go to the trouble of splitting the bones in order to add to their supplies. These mounds thus stratified imply many centuries, if not millenniums, in the formation, especially where they lie far inland; even if their position is not due to change of sea-level, the necessity of having to carry miles from the shore the products of the sea that are found in them would mean an enormously slower rate of increase of these shell-heaps than on the beach; and, though the palaeolithic and the neolithic implements are intermingled in all the stages of culture in New Zealand, the advance, in their polish, manifest in the mounds, implies long periods.

The finding of Stone Implements Dozens of Feet
below the Surface also points back Thousands
of Years

(20) A surer sign of great antiquity for the human occupation of New Zealand, and so of Polynesia, is the discovery of cooking ovens and stone implements far below the present page 242level of the soil. On the Manuherika plains a Maori oven was found some fourteen feet below the surface. The slow accumulation of alluvium, wind-blown soil and humus on such high plateaus forces us to place the age of this back into the thousands of years.

(21) But the most careful and scientific description of the find of a stone implement deep in the soil is that given by Sir Julius von Haast of a partially finished chert adze and its sandstone sharpener, found by a party of gold-miners in Bruce Bay, in the south of Westland, a few days before he arrived on the spot in the year 1868. They were lying on a floor of pebble-studded clay, and more than fourteen feet of strata of humus, sand and shingle had to be cut through before this was reached. Totara trees four feet in diameter had to be felled before the surface could be broken; there were also huge trunks that had lain prostrate for generations, and moss-grown moulds of others that had decayed centuries before. The place was 500 feet above high-water mark, with the usual three belts of driftwood sand without vegetation, rush-and-manuka-covered sand, and low scrub. It had clearly passed through these three stages, and its foot of humus must have taken many generations, if not centuries, of herbage to form before the forest giants could root themselves in it. The various accumulations and the ancient growth of the forest belt take us back undoubtedly several thousand years, and even then we have a neolithic race that polished its weapons and had spread so far west and south towards the long uninhabited sounds.

(22) Thus traditions, genealogies, and relics all point to human occupation long anterior to the arrival of the six canoes, if not to a time thousands of years before the beginning of our era. And New Zealand is the only corner of Polynesia that has had its surface stirred by active European colonisation. The other groups have had no page 243cuttings for railways or roads, the usual road of the modern sort being only on the margin of the sea round each island. Nor has mining of any sort disturbed their quaternary deposits. New Zealand, therefore, is the only part that has supplied us with relics of ancient human occupation as yet.