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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

The Genealogies of the Race

The Genealogies of the Race

(1) We have seen that the features of the Polynesian dialects point to India as the South Asiatic source of the last migration into the Pacific Islands, and a few centuries before the beginning of our era as its period. The investigations of Mr. Percy Smith, in his "Hawaiki," into the Polynesian genealogies throw most valuable light upon the subject.

(2) It has already been shown what elaborate care the various sections of this race took to preserve the records of the generations past. Being an agricultural people, and having, even from their starting-point on the continent of Asia, the village-community system of holding land, it was of the greatest importance for them that the claims of each family should be known minutely in each generation, so that disputes about them should not be a source of internal friction. One of the chief duties, therefore, of the families set apart as priestly was to hand on from father to son, or, by preference, from grandfather to grandson, the long lists of the chiefs and some of their distinguishing feats or characteristics to aid the memory. A special sacred family or caste, and a special sacred building, were essentials for the retention of such masses of names and facts through centuries without the aid of writing. What is, as many indications seem to imply, their kin, the Aryan race that spoke Sanskrit page 99and mastered India, had early in their career the same need of exceptional powers of remembering names and facts before they had any script; one generation had to transmit to the next a mass of matter that fills the many large volumes of the Vedic books. And it was doubtless this necessity, demanding as it did an abnormal development of memory, that evolved the Brahmin caste. But the Maoris were not satisfied with leaving it unwatched to the priestly families. The elders of every household in a village had the greater part of their genealogies and legends by heart, taught them to their grandsons, and could, as they sat in council, test the accuracy of the tohunga's recitations. And there had grown up the instinct in the race that, if any priest should make a mistake in his references to the past, as in his incantations, the gods would punish him by death or other misfortune.

(3) Mr. Smith was right, therefore, in laying great stress on the accuracy of these genealogies. And he has shown how those of two islands or groups of islands thousands of miles apart and out of communication for hundreds of years, though disagreeing in the lists of names, often confirm each other, inasmuch as at certain points they reveal identity of name at about the same number of generations in the past. He has used especially those from Hawaii, the Marquesas, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Rarotonga, but most of all one from the last island, which he got from its last high priest; for this goes back farther than any reliable genealogy except the Moriori from the Chatham Islands and one from the Marquesas. It has a little over ninety names or generations in it, and it has considerable agreement with other Rarotongan genealogies, one of which was communicated to the Rev. J. B. Stair as early as 1842.