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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

Chapter IX — The Last Migration into Polynesia

page 98

Chapter IX
The Last Migration into Polynesia

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.

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The Ancestry of the Polynesians came to Java a
Century or two before our Era, and there
changed Rice for Breadfruit as their Staple

(4) After testing this, especially in its later series, by comparison with others, he takes it as a practical basis for the history of the Polynesian race during more than two thousand years. For he assumes twenty-five years as the average length of the generation, and this, multiplied by ninety-one, stretches from the middle of the nineteenth century to 450 b.c., a date he fixes on as the beginning of definite Polynesian history. To this earliest starting-point is attached a name that he takes as geographical, as, in fact, the name of the primal fatherland, Atia-te-varinganui, or shortly Atia, as it is put in the karakias of the Rarotongans. And these islanders in one of their traditions make vari the name of the food of the people when living in Atia. The meaning attached to this in Polynesian is earth or mud; but in Indonesia there are variants of it, pare, fare, in Malay padi and peri, and in Malagasy vari, all meaning rice. He therefore translates the full name "Great-Atia-covered-with-rice." Quoting from De Candolle's "Origin of Cultivated Plants," he shows that India is one of the primitive homes of the riceplant, and Indonesia is not, whilst Java is the home of the breadfruit. Now, in Polynesian traditions it was in Hawaiki that two new foods were discovered, and the use of vari discarded; one was the breadfruit discovered growing in the mountains by Vaitakere, the father-in-law of Tangaroa, the other ii, probably the Tahitian ifi, ihi, or chestnut, discovered by Vaitakere's wife. And neither the breadfruit nor the chestnut is a native of Polynesia.

(5) The conclusion Mr. Smith draws from this is that the ancestors of the Polynesians left India two or three centuries page 101before our era, and brought rice with them into Indonesia; there they substituted breadfruit for it as their staple food, and two or more centuries after the beginning of our era migrated eastwards into the islands of the Pacific, bringing the breadfruit with them. He conjectures that they must have come by land, through Burmah southwards into Indonesia, and there become maritime in their character. By calculations of the generations, he fixes 65 b.c. as the date when Kura-a-moo of the genealogy migrated into Avaiki-te-Varinga, which he takes to be Java, or Hawa as it would be pronounced, with iki, a common Polynesian termination, added.

(6) No one who knows ethnology and anthropology will be inclined to dispute the conclusion that the Polynesians came from the coasts of Asia, or that at least one migration, most probably the last, came from the southern shores of that continent. Nor will any one who knows the difficulty of finding out the character of prehistoric civilisation incline to undervalue what seems a real discovery, the change in Polynesian history from rice-eating to breadfruit-eating. The revolution in the staple food means migration from a subtropical to a tropical climate, from swamp lands to mountain and forest lands. It means also contact and intercourse, if not intermingling, with a new type of people and civilisation, for it is inconceivable that the traditional food of a race should be suddenly abandoned on the first discovery of a wild fruit in the forests. Only a cultivated food could take the place of a cultivated food and drive it out, and then, too, only by a long and gradual process of habituation in close converse with the race that commends it and shows the way to its use. And, lastly, the revolution means a change in the fibre and tissue and muscle of the race; the chemical constituents of rice and breadfruit are so different that the living systems supported by them must be different, too. But the derivation of an ancient geographical name is uncertain evidence, especi-page 102ally as so many names of places are accepted from aborigines by immigrants. And there are at least half a dozen countries in Southern and Eastern Asia that have grown rice and had rice-eating inhabitants from prehistoric times.

Language and Ethnology are Surer Evidences of

(7) Firmer ground is reached when affinity of race and even affinity of language is appealed to. There are tribes in Indonesia that have a strong resemblance to Polynesians, and the Indonesian dialects have a fair proportion of their vocabulary parallel, if not identical, with that of the Polynesian dialects. And much of this verbal community has close relationship to Sanskrit words, a fact that points to India as the true and primitive source of the resemblances.

(8) The ethnological ground is less sure. There are tribes in parts of Sumatra, Borneo, Gilolo, and Ceram that have distinctly Caucasian features. But these might well be the scattered remains of that neolithic Caucasian migration which traced the megalithic route through Southern Asia into Bur-mah, and then erected the huge monolithic monuments in Sumatra and Borneo, the former carved roughly into human features, that are quite unlike those of the Malay or Papuan people. This race must have come into Indonesia by land, and must be that which modified the Mongol features of the Burman and the Malay. And ages before, when the bridge from Asia to Australia was but little broken, palolithic Caucasians must have entered this region. We cannot therefore take the presence of these Caucasian-like tribes in the islands of the archipelago as any proof that the ancestors of the Polynesians rested in them, unless some of them show distinctly Polynesian features. And that is undoubtedly the case with the inhabitants of the Mentawi Island, off the page 103south-west coast of Sumatra, and some tribes on the north of Ceram. They are acknowledged by all travellers to be scarcely distinguishable from Polynesians.

(9) We may therefore accept these two as points on the route that the Polynesian migration took. Had they followed the land route they would have lost some of their linguistic and racial individuality before they reached Indonesia. The very fact that the last Polynesian migration is a unity when it reaches its Pacific home, if we are to trust the similarity, if not identity, of their mythologies, dialects, traditions, and genealogies, makes it almost a certainty that its route from its primitive continental home was wholly by sea. Nor could it have acquired its maritime and long-voyaging capacity under many centuries if it had been a land migration to begin with, unless by intermixture with, or rather absorption by, a race already maritime. Such a revolution as the transformation of a race of landsmen into a race of sailors cannot be the work of a century or two.

(10) We may take the Polynesian features of the Mentawi Islanders as a true waymark of the Polynesian migration, especially as the islanders to the north of them and the tribes on the opposite coast of Sumatra show no such resemblance. If they came from any of the coasts of India, the islands off the south-west coast of Sumatra would naturally be the first resting-place. And were geographical names to be relied on as a proof of race and origin, we might accept Ceram as a later resting-place, and the name of Ceylon as an indication that that island was an earlier; for Ceram or Selan and Ceylon are practically the same word, and in old Maori traditions, according to Mr. Percy Smith, Herangi, identical with the Rarotongan Erangi and the Hawaiian Helani, is an ancient name of a land that the Polynesians came from. And, if geographical etymology were not uncertain ground, we might accept the name as Aryan in its origin, and a variant of page 104Zealand, or sea-land, the favourite Indo-European name for an island.

The Most Likely Starting-point was the Coast of
the punjaub

(11) Of one thing we may be sure, namely, that the ancestors of the Polynesians had been long immersed in maritime adventures before they reached Indonesia. And there is no part of the eastern shore of India that has protected waters, fiords, or straits extensive enough to nurse a far-voyaging people. The nearest coast of this type in the south of Asia is the mouth of the Indus and the Gulfs of Cutch and Cambay, to the south of the Punjaub. There it is possible that a race of sailors may have been reared in prehistoric times, especially as there are at no great distance the inland waters of the Persian Gulf, where on the Bahrein Islands the Phenicians learned their maritime skill and daring before they migrated to the shores of the Mediterranean. And we know that in the fourth century before our era Alexander's fleet kept up communications and supplies all along that coast when his army marched back from India, and, though he is said to have built a fleet up the Hydaspes or Jhelum for the purpose, this meant a large supply of ships and sailors and pilots native to these South Asiatic waters. The Macedonians were by no means a far-voyaging nation, and his admirals must, therefore, have found all the material and men for his fleet in the region. One of them, Nearchus, is said to have ventured as far as Sumatra in 323he must have been induced by his Asiatic captains to follow the usual route of their expeditions and commerceand his voyage proves that from the south coast of the Punjaub to the coast of Sumatra was a route easy and familiar, and hence traditional to the dwellers in that part of India,

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(12) And there are historical indications of earlier intercourse between India and Indonesia. The Chinese had heard of people from India to the south of the Annam peninsula as early as 460 b.c. And a Phenician inscription in South Sumatra is assigned to the same period. Javan traditions, as quoted by Mr. Percy Smith, from Forlong's "Short Studies in the Science of Comparative Religions" (1897), make definite reference to large migrations from India in the third century before our era. According to these, Arishtan Shar led to Indonesia from the north-west of India 20,000 families, "most of whom dispersed en route, probably in Malabar, Maladiva, and Malagassar"; and ten years later a similar number of families migrated to Java from the Kling coast, that is, the north-east coast of India, "and established Vishnuism"; whilst in the beginning of the second century before our era "a large body of Desa Sagala from Panjab went to Java." The size of these migrations implies that they were armies meant to force a settlement for their families by conquest. And the transport of twenty thousand families, or close on a hundred thousand people, postulates enormous fleets of large ships or canoes accustomed to traverse the route from the north-west of India under skilled and trustworthy seamanship.

The Early Vedic System is the only Religion in
South Asia to which the Polynesian Mythology
shows any Affinity

(13) Had the ancestors of the Polynesians belonged to the expedition from the Kling coast in 290 b.c., we should have found in their religious ideas traces of full-blown Vishnuism; if not the names, at least the characteristics, of the new Hindoo gods. But Rangi and Papa, Tangaroa and Tane, Maui and Tawhaki have no kinship with Vishnu or page 106Siva. Nor is there any trace of Buddhism, which had taken root in North-east India in the fifth century before our era, and had reached Indonesia in the third. If we wish to find kinship in Polynesian religious myth and custom with things religious in India, we have to go back to Vedic times. The gods are still close to the phenomena of Nature that they symbolise. The priestly system is still in embryo. The worship is not far removed from the primitive Aryan definition of the features of the world around them, the elements, and the dead heroes and ancestors. Simple offerings of pastoral or agricultural produce form the chief part of the ceremonies. The language of the hymns and invocations is as often childish as childlike, and just as often imaginative, verging on the philosophical and mystic. There is no caste, not even a priestly. There are no cruel rites or fierce self-mutilations and tortures. There are no idols of monstrous form, before which monstrous sacrifices are made. There is no elaboration of ceremony or method of life, such as is codified in the laws of Manu. There is no development of the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, and none of heavens and hells as the instrument of discipline in the hands of an organised priesthood.

(14) In short it is the very earliest phase of Aryan religion in Southern Asia, as sketched in the Vedas, that gives us any point of contact between Indian and Polynesian religious ideas and customs, and not that all-penetrative spiritual despotism against which Gautama preached his crusade in the sixth century before Christ, and founded Buddhism. For any, even the faintest prototype of Polynesian worship we must go back to the entry of the Aryans into north-west India, some fifteen hundred years or more before our era. It was doubtless proximity to the oldest civilisation that we have yet unearthed relics of, that of the valleys of the Euphrates and the Tigris, that raised this eastern migration page 107from the primitive home of the Aryans on the European steps to so high a platform of culture as they show in the Sanskrit literature. It was intercourse with the old Babylonian and Assyrian race that brought the Persian contingent of the Aryan migrants eastward so early to the front. And nothing else can so well explain the quick ripening of Hindoo culture after the Aryans reached the Punjaub.

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.

They found their way into the Pacific by the
Central Route, passing South-eastwards along
the North-east Coasts of New Guinea and

(22) From whatever race or country on the continent of Asia they originated, the second stage of their progress can be traced without much dispute, though the date of it is not so clear. Mr. Percy Smith, interpreting the genealogies, seems to say that they left Indonesia two or three centuries after Christ. If this means Western Indonesia, Java, or Sumatra, then would they have brought iron with them, and page 110Vishnuism and Devanagari script, which had all reached Java before the beginning of our era. And we know that none of these came into Polynesia. It also conflicts with the date of the colonisation of Easter Island by Hotu Matua in the fourth century of our era. There is a choice of routes for a people migrating from the coasts of Sumatra or Java to the Eastern Pacific. They might pass along the shores of Borneo, either northern or southern, to the Philippines, and thence by the Caroline, Marshall, Gilbert and Ellice groups to Samoa. And that this was taken by a later migration into Micronesia after the Malays had mastered Indonesia and its Hindoo culture is shown by the ethnological vocabularies. Another route is by Timor, along the south of New Guinea to the New Hebrides and Fiji. And this must have been the route that one of the primary Caucasian migrations took in early neolithic times, when it emphasised the palaeolithic Caucasian modification of the primitive negroid physiognomy and character of the Australian, the Papuan and the Fijian. There is a third, the median route, along the south of Celebes and Gilolo, and the north of Ceram and New Guinea, through the Solomon Islands, the New Hebrides and the Fiji group to Tonga or Samoa. This was undoubtedly their route. For not only do the genealogies and log-books as interpreted by Mr. Percy Smith indicate it, but both the ethnology and the dialects at points along the route reveal Polynesian affinities.

(23) But it must not be forgotten that till they reached their final centre of dispersion in Polynesia, probably Samoa, there was a unity and individuality in the race and the language that forbids the idea of long intercourse with aliens by the way. If they rested for a century or two at each of several points on their route, as Mr. Percy Smith thinks their genealogies and logbooks indicate, then it must have been amongst peoples Caucasianised by previous immigration. page 111For, though there do appear amongst the Polynesians features that are manifestly negroid, they never go with the frizzly hair that marks the Papuan, nor is their occurrence by any means strikingly frequent. Such long voyages as they must have made from point to point on their route suggest piratical or adventure expeditions rather than complete migrations of a people. There is nothing to lead us to suppose that the warriors and sailors took their women and children with them on most of these long voyages of adventure. And we can see from their traditions that it was the habit of the race to marry in the island they touched at or settled in. It was only when war or other disagreement rent the community in two that the minority had to leave with all their households to find another home. To explain the comparative purity of the race in physiognomy and physique we may take it for granted, then, that they found in their resting-places on their way from Indonesia, people that were not unlike themselves, because of previous Caucasian infiltration. And there they left faces and dialects that are markedly Polynesian; on the south-east coast of New Guinea and in Sikayana, off the Solomon Islands, these are to be found.

There are Traces of the Negroid even amongst
the Upper Classes

(24) They must have brought some mixture of negroid blood with them. For the nose in many Polynesians is flattened, though it is never squat and wide-nostrilled; and in not a few islands the flat nose is favoured as the aristocratic. This latter fact alone would prove that it was the last newcomers or conquerors that brought in the negroid features with them, whilst the people they found in the islands had no Papuasian or Melanesian blood in them. The ideal of page 112beauty is always set by the ruling class, and though the finest type of European faces might, according to all early voyagers, find their match in these islands of the Pacific, these were not the most admired by the dusky races, just as the fair skin that sometimes appears amongst them was not admired. The last aristocracy of conquerors brought with them the brown complexion of South Asia, and in many cases the flat nose of the negroid that they had picked up by marriage in Papuasia or Melanesia. And hence the nose of beauty was flat, and the skin of adults was darkened by tattooing.

(25) There are many other evidences that go to show how the slightly negroid features sometimes seen amongst Maoris and Polynesians came with the last or South Asiatic migration. But this is one that cannot be gainsaid. The strange thing is that so many books on the subject repeat the fallacy that it is only the lower classes that reveal the negroid features. This has arisen from a priori reasoning. They have assumed that there was an aboriginal negroid people before the Polynesians arrived, and as these must have been the conquered, it is argued that the negroid features must belong only to the lower classes. Had this been the case, we should never have found the dark skin and the flattened nose as two main points in the ideal of beauty. The ancient palaeolithic and early neolithic Caucasianism that overspread the negroid archipelagoes had helped to raise the bridge of the Papuan and Melanesian nose and turn the wool into crisp hair. But there were evidently flattened noses enough left to impress themselves on the features of the leaders of the South Asiatic expeditions into Polynesia. Hence the Melanesianism in Polynesia, and the flat nose in the Polynesian ideal of beauty.