Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology


New Zealand, which forms the southern angle of the Polynesian ethnographic triangle, is between latitudes 34° 30′ and 47°30′ S. and longitudes 166°36' and 178°36' E. It consists of the North and South Islands and small Stewart Island at the southern end. The area is 104,403 square miles, well watered, well wooded, and with fertile soil. The climate ranges from subtropical in the north to ice and snow in the south. The endemic plants include three with edible berries in sufficient quantity to be of economic value, the tree fern with edible pith, and the bracken fern with rhizomes rich in carbohydrate food. Large forest trees provide fine timber. The native flax (Phormium tenax) has long, broad leaves rich in fiber. The forests abound in bird life, the rivers and streams in eels and fresh-water fish, and the coastal beaches and reefs provide shellfish in abundance.

The native inhabitants, termed Maori, have traditions of an early settlement of people without cultivated food plants and a later settlement in the fourteenth century by people from central Polynesia (Hawaiki) who introduced the sweet potato, taro, yam, paper mulberry, and the dog. It is probable that they brought all the tropical food plants and that the coconut, breadfruit, and banana failed to survive in the cold climate. The Maori culture was based on the culture of central Polynesia in religion, social organization, and material culture, but local adjustments had to be made in houses and clothing to meet the change in climate. The native flax took the place of pandanus for mats and baskets and the fiber was used in a local form of finger weaving to make clothing. The timber was so large that wide hulls could be made for canoes which did not need outriggers to give them balance. The frequent intertribal wars which occurred as the population increased led to fortified villages on hill tops or other places where the terrain aided defense. The rich supply of forest birds and fresh water eels led to many local inventions for procuring supplies and preserving them. The arts of carving and tattooing assumed a development not approached elsewhere in Polynesia. In the course of time, the Maoris have become a strong virile people, which is rapidly assimilating the best in British culture while still clinging tenaciously to the best of the old.

The European discoverer of New Zealand was Abel Tasman (1642), but he did not land because of an attack on one of his boats while it was passing between his two ships anchored in Golden Bay. In 1769, Cook found New Zealand a convenient place to call and obtain refreshment for his men. He surveyed the islands, and his observations on the people are an invaluable source of information. The French voyager, Surville, visited the North Island at the page 114same time but he and Cook never met. Cook visited New Zealand on his other two voyages. A number of other early voyagers are listed in the literature and they all contributed something to ethnology.

The Church Missionary Society of the Anglican Church established a mission at Paihia in the Bay of Islands after a visit by Samuel Marsden in 1814. The Maori language was reduced to writing, and the Maoris learned to read and write. The scriptures were translated, and the Maori Bible is a work of the greatest literary merit. Of the many missionaries who contributed to knowledge of Maori culture, mention may be made of William Colenso, Richard Taylor, J. W. Stack, and J. F. H. Wohlers. The Maori dictionary was first compiled by a member of the Williams family and was revised and enlarged by two successive generations, all of whom occupied the high ecclesiastical position of Bishop of the Diocese of Waiapu.

Of government officials, Sir George Grey, one time Governor of New Zealand, induced various Maori chiefs to dictate their versions of legends and traditions and a selected series was published in 1854, under the title of the "Mythology and traditions of the New Zealanders." The Maori text was published separately as "Nga mahinga." The English translation contains some errors and important passages were omitted. A number of untranslated songs and chants were published under the title of "Nga moteatea." The New Zealand Government also commissioned John White to compile information from the various Maori tribes, and his work, entitled the "Ancient History of the Maori", was published in six volumes with an additional volume of poor illustrations in 1887-1891. The work is good, in that the tribal sources are given, but the author's technique of splitting proper names into various combinations of syllables with different meanings for the same name is irritating to the student. Among other early writers whose works are worth looking at, are Angas, Polack, Shortland, and Thomson.

The annual Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, now the Royal Society of New Zealand, formed a medium through which many valuable papers on anthropology were published. William Colenso was a notable contributor to the early volumes and Elsdon Best to the later ones.

The Polynesian Society (p. 40) has been a most important factor in encouraging the recording of material which otherwise would have been lost. Percy Smith, Elsdon Best, Edward Tregear, and W. E. Gudgeon were indefatigable members who not only contributed to the pages of the journal, but encouraged and induced others to write. Many Maoris contributed articles in their own tongue, and the native texts with translations have enriched the material saved from oblivion.

Of Maori contributors, the most outstanding is Te Matorohanga, who, having graduated from his tribal house of learning, was persuaded by his tribe to give a course of lectures on Maori lore in 1861. Notes were taken and tran-page 115scribed with the assistance of the lecturer. Years later, a copy of the manuscript was made available to Percy Smith and Elsdon Best. Smith published some of the Maori text, with his translation, in the Polynesian Journal under the title of the "Lore of the Whare wananga." Though both Smith and Best set a high value on the material as emanating from an ancient school, a careful analysis of the work indicates that either Te Matorohanga or his recorder Te Whatahoro, interpolated accounts from other tribes and indulged in a good deal of rationalization. The accounts of events which took place in central Polynesia over six centuries ago are too full of details to be entirely accurate.

Smith and Best were the two greatest contributors to Maori ethnology. Smith devoted himself primarily to history and genealogies as a means of dating historical events. In his work on "Hawaiki", he used Polynesian genealogies extensively and concluded that the ancestors of the Maoris were in India in 450 B. C. Though his faith in the longer genealogies may not be shared by all, for the longer the genealogy the more uncertain it becomes, the genealogical method is worthy of consideration. Best's work was based on long field work among the Urewera tribe, and his later years as ethnologist to the Dominion Museum gave him the opportunity of completing the fine series of bulletins and memoirs published by the Dominion Museum.

The formation of the Board of Maori Ethnological Research, on the strong representation by the Maori Members of Parliament, was a forward step in encouraging research and providing funds for publication. Under its auspices, I made a field survey of the material culture of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands and the board published the report. The project of recording Maori songs was encouraged, and a large number of records await study by a musical expert. Sir Apirana Ngata engaged in recording the text of Maori songs, and preliminary leaflets were published in the Maori language newspaper, Te Toa Takitini, with an invitation to readers to give information regarding the composer, subject, origin, genealogies of characters mentioned, location of places named, meanings of obscure passages, and corrections to the text. Songs which had been attributed incorrectly to other tribes were traced to their true source through genealogies and the location of place references. The corrected versions with genealogies and copious annotations were published by the board in two volumes, entitled "Nga Moteatea," and a third volume is being prepared. The text of the two volumes was restricted to Maori as satisfactory translations might have delayed publication. However, Apirana is now engaged in translating, and instalments of native text with translations are appearing in the Polynesian Journal. The board has also published "The Changing Maori" by Felix Keesing, "Maori Artistry" by W. Page Rowe, and "Maori String Figures" by J. C. Andersen. The inclusion of Maori as a subject for the B.A. degree of the New Zealand University led the board to publish a revised and corrected version of Sir George Grey's "Nga Mahinga" as a reading book in page 116Maori for students. The work was edited by the Right Reverend H. W. Williams, Bishop of Waiapu, the author of the last edition (5th) of Williams' "Maori Dictionary."

The University of Otago was the first to offer anthropology as a subject in its curriculum, appointing H. D. Skinner to its faculty. Much field work has been done by his students in excavating old Maori village sites, and some of the larger museums have carried out archaeological research with excellent results. Ernest Beaglehole, an experienced anthropologist, has been appointed to the staff of Victoria College, and he has been conducting studies on modern Maori village life. The appointment of ethnologists to the staffs of the four leading museums, in Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury, and Dunedin, has led to considerable activity in the study of museum material and the papers published are adding materially to a more exact knowledge of the Maori arts and crafts.

The amount of literature on New Zealand is extensive, but the individual contributors and the field covered may be seen from the following list.