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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

The Last Polynesian Migration did not come from — a Semitic Country or Race

The Last Polynesian Migration did not come from
a Semitic Country or Race

(15) Ages before they came so far south as India, there must have been some race of sailors established on the coasts of Scinde and Gujerat, maintaining intercourse by sea with the Semitic peoples around the Persian Gulf, if not themselves Semitic. And through the conquest and absorption of this it was doubtless that the Aryans in India came into touch with the sea. Long as they must have rested on the steppes as a nomad pastoral people, some instinct seems to have impelled them to the coasts; for almost every race of Aryan speech has made for the shorethe Greek, the Latin, the Celt, the Teuton, the Scandinavian, and to some extent the Persianan indication that primevally they were bred around some inland sea.

(16) Some investigators have tried to show that the Polynesian is essentially Semitic in his language and culture, if not in his appearance. But they have been either missionaries who have been eager to find traces of Hebrew story, philosophy and custom, or theorists who were searching for confirmation of the idea that the first and most primeval Hawaiki was Saba or Sheba, the country of the far-voyaging Himyarites on the south-west coast of Arabia. As a matter of fact travellers have observed here and there throughout the Pacific faces that reminded them of the Jew. And there page 108is in the prevalence of magic and witchcraft amongst the Polynesians a distinct reminiscence of the old Assyrian religion; whilst in the customs and the language there are isolated features that suggest the Semitic. But this is the case with all folk customs and speech. And the fundamental character of the Polynesian language is un-Semitic. Its most constant, least shifting elements are the vowels, whilst in the Semitic tongues these are the consonants.

(17) If the ancestors of the Maoris came from the neighbourhood of the Persian Gulf, there is nothing improbable in the idea that there is a Semitic vein in their nature and civilisation. But, if they were to begin with Semites, they must have been early mastered by a people that spoke an Aryan tongue, and early saturated with Aryan social, religious, and mythological ideas and methods of thought.

(18) But what militates especially against the theory that they came from some cultured Semitic nation either in the south of Arabia or in the Persian Gulf is the absence of writing. We find no trace of script or any means of recording their considerable literature amongst the Polynesians except in Easter Island away on their outermost border; and the gap of ten thousand miles between unmarked by anything like the Western alphabet or script is too great to be bridged, even if Easter Island writing had reached such a stage. The notches on the Maori genealogical sticks are mere tallies, and the tribal tattoo marks, the signatures of the chiefs to the treaty of Waitangi, and the rock paintings are only totemistic; that is, they roughly represent the animal or thing with which the tribe or person was closely connected. They are all ages behind the development of an alphabet. Now, if the Polynesians brought with them writing or any graphic method of handing down the traditions and histories and karakias, on the accuracy of which they laid so much stress, we may be certain they never abandoned it.

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(19) And at the period that their ancestors left the continent of Asia the three Semitic peoples from whom they might have comethe Himyarites in the south of Arabia, the Assyrians in the valleys of the Euphrates and the Tigris, and the Phenicians on the Bahrein Islands in the Persian Gulf, had already acquired the graphic art. Our alphabet comes through the Greek and Roman from these Semites, who many thousand years ago had begun to engrave on tablets what they were anxious to preserve.

(20) The same argument would bar their derivation from the Chinese, if there were any need of such disproof. For that people had also the art of recording permanently several thousand years before the migration left Asia.

(21) There was, in fact, no semi-cultured people with a cosmology and literature in the south of Asia without the art of writing about the time of the departure of the Polynesians, except the Sanskritic race, who had come into the Punjaub from the European steppes with an Aryan language. Their sacred compositions were handed down by memory from priest to priest, as the genealogies and the traditions and the rites were amongst the Maoris.