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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

Chapter XIX — The Antiquity of Man in Polynesia as Seen — in His Culture

page 244

Chapter XIX
The Antiquity of Man in Polynesia as Seen
in His Culture

No Immigration from the South of Asia since the
Beginning of the Iron Age, None from the East
of the Continent since the Beginning of the
Copper Age

(1) By the aid of indications in Maori legends, and in the remains of ancient man in the refuse mounds and alluvial drifts of New Zealand, we have been able to trace human occupancy of Polynesia back several thousand years. But there are indications of far greater antiquity in the strange medley that makes up Polynesian culture. In some of its arts, and especially in its art, it treads on the heels of the earlier civilised races. In some directions it seems as if it only needed a step to be within the pale of civilisation.

(2) Here, in fact, Ave have evidences of an immigration in comparatively late times, from some one or other of the semi-cultivated countries of Asia. The absence of iron in any shape or form from the whole region fixes the date of this migration from Southern Asia as not later than the beginning of our era. For then began the iron age in Indonesia. The absence of all other metals might lead us to put back the closure of the Pacific to immigration still further, till, in fact, the beginning of the bronze or even the copper age. But there was no bronze or copper age in Indonesia. There was, page 245as in trans-Saharan Africa, a sudden transition from stone to iron.

(3) But the other route by which Asiatic peoples might have migrated into Polynesia, that by way of the Japanese, Ladrone, and Caroline Islands, must have been closed since the beginning of the copper age on the east coast of Asia, and that was not later than the third millennium before our era. This is confirmed by the absence of the epidemics of crowded districts. Had the east coast of Asia been as congested with population before immigration ceased thence into the Pacific as it has been for the last three or four thousand years, the immigrants would have carried with them the epidemic diseases of the Chinese and Japanese coasts, diseases that arise as soon as the soil becomes impregnated with the bacteria that flourish on the debris of vast masses of humanity.

The Culture of Polynesia points back to Palaeolithic

(4) But there are elements in the culture of Polynesia that indicate a much greater antiquity of human occupation than the beginning of the copper age. We need not rely merely on the mixture of palaeolithic with neolithic stone culture. Rough chipped flints have been used not only in New Zealand, but all over Polynesia, for many ages alongside of highly polished weapons. But this is not peculiar to the region. These flakes of flint, chert, and obsidian were as effective in their cutting edge as the most finely ground greenstone; and they could be manufactured by a single skilful blow, whilst the polished weapon took months and sometimes years of labour. They continued to be made and used therefore till late in neolithic times, if not into the copper and bronze ages. The use of these palaeolithic implements alone is no proof then of the greater antiquity of the stone culture of a region.

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(5) There are, however, arts and industries that point back to the earliest palaeolithic times, which in Europe are separated from our times by from fifty to a hundred and fifty thousand years, as evidenced by the flint flakes found in the Somme valley and other parts of the West. One of the special marks of that time and stage of culture is the complete absence of pottery. No fragment of it has ever been found in the deposits that contain the traces of palaeolithic man.

The Absence of Pottery and the Bow Proves that
there was no Negroid Substratum

(6) Now, one of the most striking features of the culture of Polynesia is the same palaeolithic absence of pottery. Tonga is the only exception, and its proximity to Fiji gives the reason, for Melanesia has it as a primitive art; so, too, has Papuasia, except a few Polynesian colonies on the north-east coast of New Guinea, and in these the Polynesian character of the culture is confirmed by the absence of the bow, a weapon that is not distinctive of Indonesia, but spreads down from the eastern islands of the Philippines, through Ceram, New Guinea, and the Melanesian groups.

(7) The absence of pottery and the bow from Polynesia makes it quite certain that the Melanesian and Papuan substratum of population commonly assumed in that region is a fiction. The absence of pottery is most decisive, for it is a household industry, and managed by the women in all primitive peoples; and even if the men were subdued, the women would have been taken into the households of the new-comers and been allowed to conserve their old arts. The bow might have been suppressed in war, as the despised weapon of the conquered; but pottery would still have been used. The negroid features that appear in some Polynesians came in with the last immigrants or aristocracy. The women page 247of the islands try to flatten out the nostrils of their children from infancy.

From no Pacific Region could a Potteryless People
have come since Palaeolithic Times

(8) But the farthest-reaching deduction from this absence of pottery is to come. It is that immigrants came into Polynesia in palaeolithic times, for all round the Pacific, on both the Asiatic and the American coast, pottery has been made from time immemorial; and so it is in all the island world from the Malay peninsula, south-east, to the New Hebrides and Fiji. The Australians have not got the art; but Melanesia and Papuasia have it, except for one or two Polynesian colonies. Thus, Polynesia is completely surrounded with pottery-making peoples, and there is no country in all Southern or Eastern Asia from which any potteryless people could have come since palaeolithic times. The conclusion is inevitable that the fundamental and primitive population of the region, the people that came with their wives and families, entered it during the old stone age, nearly a hundred thousand years ago. It is generally admitted that the great development of man in neolithic times and the copper and bronze ages demands several tens of millenniums to explain it; for human development is slow in its earlier stages.

(9) Had the art belonged to men as well as to women in primitive times, or had the later migrations into Polynesia been true migrations of whole households, this potteryless state would not have lasted. It is the masculine arts that have so marvellously progressed in the region. It is the household arts that belong to the palaeolithic stage. Nor is it the want of clay; for even Crozet, in 1771, noticed that there was very good potter's clay in New Zealand. His page 248master-gunner "rigged up a potter's reel, on which, in the presence of the savages, he made several vessels, porringers, and plates, and even baked them under the very eyes of the savages." He gave the articles to the natives; but, he adds, "I doubt whether they will profit by such an industry as this, which would afford them a thousand conveniences." Nothing could show more clearly that they had never known the art than the fact that it took no root in New Zealand; a great contrast to the use of iron, which was at once appreciated and eagerly seized on. Had the women that came with any immigration ever known the art, it would never have died out, its uses are so patent, and the need of them so pressing. In no way can we evade the conclusion that the later immigrants into Polynesia did not bring their women; were, in fact, only male adventurers, if not pirates. And some of the last of them must have settled on the way in a community with a large strain of negroid blood in it; else the Polynesians would never have looked upon flattened nostrils as the fashionable or aristocratic shape of the central feature of the face. Nor can we resist the obvious inference that the only large influx of women into Polynesia was in the old stone age, before man on the Asiatic coasts had attained the art of making pottery.

The Lack of a Spindle points the Same Way

(10) Another Polynesian art that is in the palaeolithic stage is the textile, as has been shown. It is one of the few regions of the world in which the art has not reached as far as the use of a spindle in making the threads for the cloth, the coast of British Columbia being another. In both these regions the thread is made by rolling the fibres with the hand on the thigh. All other neolithic peoples have or have had a spindle with a stone or pottery whorl to do the page 249twisting. We cannot imagine a people so intelligent as the Polynesians or the British Columbians abandoning its economy of time and trouble and going back to the primitive method. As far as the textile art remained household art it retained its palaeolithic atmosphere. Where it was connected with net-making or navigation it was masculine and sacred. And yet even here the spindle was not used for rolling the fibres; the simple primeval or natural method of hand and thigh was retained. The later immigrants must have left these arts at first to the conquered men, and, when their sons came to resume it, they accepted the primitive methods with it.

The Fire-plough Must have entered Polynesia Before
the Patriarchate was developed by the

(11) A third art that is on the borders of the palaeolithic, if not actually confined to it, is that of the stick-and-groove method of producing fire, also a household art. But here it is the man that does the work; the woman has only to stand and keep the horizontal piece of wood firm on the ground with her foot, whilst the groove is being rubbed into it. It is clearly a relic of a different constitution of the household from that which obtained in Polynesia; the woman has the attitude of master, the man is the worker and subordinate, although father-right or masculine predominance was almost universal throughout the region. Now, though mother-right has remained the principle of the household in all the regions adjoining, they have advanced to the fire-drill, in which the woman has no part.

(12) Clearly the women of the conquered in entering the households of the conquerors made effort to retain some relic of their primeval mastery within the house. And if page 250as facts seem to indicate, they came from the north, they must have come into the isolated island-world in very early times, before the matriarchate had passed into the patriarchate amongst Caucasian peoples. Polynesia is one of the domains of father-right, though hedged in by regions on both sides of the Pacific that are more or less dominated by mother-right or inheritance through the mother. The expeditions, chiefly of men, that sailed later from the Japanese Archipelago and from India and Indonesia into the islands of the Pacific, substituted the patriarchate for the matriarchate, just as they must also have introduced not only neolithic culture, but that section of neolithic culture which, because of its ability to quarry, transport, and erect enormous blocks of stone, should be specialised as megalithic. In the earlier chapters we found reason to think that this latter section came from the north-east coast of Asia, and not from its southern coast, on account of the megalithic track being continuous from the continent only through the Japanese, Ladrone, and Caroline Islands.

Much of the Food Supply and the Agriculture
points back to the Old Stone Age as the Time
of the Migrations that included Women

(13) But the Polynesian arts of the household and arts in which women take part are all palaeolithic. The oldest staples of food in New Zealand are palaeolithic: fern root, raupo root, and pollen, cabbage-tree root and shoot, fern-tree frond and pith, the wild fruits, lizards, larvae, and beetles belong to the omnivorous stage of the development of man in the old stone age; they formed the sustenance that was needed to vary the products of hunting and fishing and the eating of shell-fish. Palaeolithic man was not an agriculturist; he took what Nature offered him. It was Neolithic page 251man that learned to improve on Nature by giving special soil and special culture to her roots, fruits, and seeds, and later neolithic man that learned to domesticate the animals, and to use their flesh and hides, or their milk or their labour. The absence of the cereals from the whole of Polynesia, temperate, sub-tropical, and tropical, might be due to the new environment being unfavourable to their cultivation. It is more likely to be due to the great basis of the population of Polynesia having entered it in palaeolithic times, when man never thought of carrying seeds with him to new districts to sow, and the comparative absence of domestic animals is probably due to the same cause.

(14) The domestic fowl evidently came in with one of the later migrations of men from Indonesia, a migration that went straight through to further or eastern Polynesia; for it was, as far as we can judge, from the east of the region that it radiated out, and there it is sacred and under the guardianship of the men. The pig must have gone with the same expedition, for it seems as if it was only in comparatively recent times that it was imported into Samoa and the western groups, and its flesh was always reserved for the chiefs; women were not allowed to eat it. The dog was probably an earlier introduction before the western groups had been mastered and filled by the South Asiatic expeditions; for it seems to have spread out into other groups from them. And it was the most sacred of all the animals, as far as the use of its flesh and skin was concerned; it was not for women; and, when dead, its spirit went to Po or the under-world, like those of men, but by a different route; now, as the route to the spirit-world is often an indication of the birthland, this seems to point to the dog as having come a direction different from the final immigration of aristocrats. The dog was the only domestic animal that came to New Zealand with the six canoes, and it evidently page 252took the place of the wild animal that had been an accidental introduction, and had been exterminated. The monopoly of the flesh by the men shows, as so many other evidences do, that the earliest strata of population were palaeolithic, and that the latter expeditions or neolithic expeditions consisted only of men.

Clearly there was a Primitive Route from Japan,
with Islands separated only by Narrow Straits

(15) And now we are faced with a serious difficulty. How could man have found his way into these far-separated groups in palaeolithic times, when there could have been no oceanic navigation? Either the old stone age people that reached the coasts of Asia acquired the art of digging out tree trunks into huge ocean-going canoes or the land that stretched either from the south of Asia or the north-east of Asia was not so incontinuous as it is now. We must choose the one or the other to explain the palaeolithic culture of Polynesia. The latter alternative is the least improbable, for there are two belts stretching from the east coast of that continent that are still subject to movement, one rising, the other subsiding. The rising or volcanic belt strikes from Indonesia through New Guinea, the Solomons, the New Hebrides, and Fiji. The other, the subsiding belt, runs from the coast of Japan south-east through the Bonin group and all the main Micronesian and Polynesian groups down almost to Easter Island. It is marked by vast numbers of atolls and coral islets, which practically buoy or mark submerged mountain peaks. On either side of it are the deeps that were primeval oceans. The belt of elevation would not be that by which the people of the old stone age found their way into Polynesia; for we may assume that its land was in their time less continuous than it is even now, and if page 253there had been only such narrow straits between the piers of the bridge as would not stop their frail canoes, neither would the alligator and other land-animals of New Guinea and Indonesia that either frequent the water or can swim have been stopped.

(16) We may conclude that the Japan-Micronesia route was that which palaeolithic man took into the island-world of the Pacific, as it was that which megalithic man afterwards took. But that this land-bridge was incontinuous since ever the mammals appeared we may accept as a fact; else the mammals of the north temperate zone, if not those of the sub-Arctic zone, would have found their way into the Pacific, and, even if they had failed to persist, their remains would have been found.

Neolithic Immigration came in Ocean-going Canoes
and without Women

(17) As the land sank, and hundreds of miles of rough ocean lay between the islands that mark its old line, the peoples that had reached Polynesia would remain isolated till great ocean-going canoes began to be made; and then only men would join these adventurous oceanic expeditions. For the track of the old stone age immigrants would be forgotten in the intervening millenniums, and oceanic navigation would have to feel its way into the unknown, which was sure to be full of terrors. Hence Polynesia is the home of primeval culture as far as household arts and women's arts are concerned, just as Australia by its long isolation as a continent is a museum of animal antiquities. The route that that culture took is indicated by its appearance in Micronesia as well.

(18) And as soon as the peoples of the new stone age had mastered oceanic navigation, it was this route again page 254that they first took. For the large single dugout that preceded the double canoe and the South Asiatic outrigger in Polynesia came from the North Pacific. There are no outriggers or double canoes in this great ocean north of Micronesia, and it is the huge single dugout that is characteristic of the British Columbian coast.

(19) Of these neolithic migrations one at least consisted of men who were capable of cutting, hauling, and erecting immense blocks of stone, a primitive engineering art that, on account of its difficulty and its need of exceptional skill, could not well have been a mere stage of evolution of all advancing neolithic races, and could not well have belonged to more than one division of mankind. And, to judge by the enormous number of megalithic monuments, and by the traces of the fair European-like people wherever they appear, around the Mediterranean and on the Atlantic coast, we have no hesitation in deciding that this was the Caucasian, whose birthland was the Mediterranean region. A second neolithic people, if it is not to be identified with the megalithic, must have brought, by the same route, the extraordinary artistic taste that is manifested in Maori carving and design. And all of these migrations of the new stone age must have brought with them advances in most of the arts, but only as far as men's work was concerned. But from South Asia must have come most, if not all, of the bulb-culture that distinguishes Polynesian food-raising, and the culture of the bread-fruit, the sugar-cane, and the cocoanut. That, in spite of the addition of this most important department to the agriculture of Polynesia, it remained in its methods and implements early neolithic, and in its use of fern and tree roots and fronds early palaeolithic, confirms the many indications that the region was peopled chiefly in palaeolithic and the earliest neolithic times; in other words from fifty to a hundred and fifty millenniums before our time,

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(20) All the migrations after the palaeolithic must have been in ocean-going canoes, and consisted chiefly, if not solely, of men; hence only men's arts show advance from palaeolithic to neolithic, and from early neolithic to late neolithichouse-building, canoe-building, carving, net-making, and the military art. The women and the household arts remained as they had come into the region a hundred thousand years ago, more or less. Had the women come with the various expeditions of later adventurers and conquerors, the culture of the continental peoples they had left would have entered with them. The comparative absence of advance in household arts proves absence of external influence and competition. The fire-drill, pottery, spinning, would all have been long established in Polynesia, had the neolithic immigrants, either from the north-east or the south of Asia, brought their women with them.

(21) It is more than probable that, though Polynesia was peopled in palaeolithic times, New Zealand was not so, for it does not lie in the great central subsidence belt; it lies rather at the extreme end of the outer or volcanic belt that runs through the New Hebrides and New Caledonia, but at a very long distance from these groups, and it lies at as great a distance from the most southerly of the Polynesian belt. This intervening oceanic space has probably not been materially less for geological ages, possibly since the evolution of the mammals. It would be only oceanic navigators that could reach that ultima thule. Hence, we may infer that man did not touch its shores till neolithic times, and till that period of them when great, long-voyaging canoes were built. It will be useless, therefore, to search for traces here of palaeolithic man, except such as have been brought with them by the neolithic immigrants from Polynesia.