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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology

New Zealand

New Zealand

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.

Literature on New Zealand

Early Voyagers
  • Cook (1768-1771)
  • Cook (1772-1775)
  • Cook (1776-1780)
  • Crozet (1771-1772)
  • D'entrecasteaux (1791-1793)
  • Dillon (1827-1828)
  • Dumont d'urville (1826-1829)
  • Dumont d'urville (1837-1840)
  • Duperry (1822-1825)
  • Du Petct-Thouars (1836-1839)
  • Labillardière (1791-1793)
  • Lesson (1822-1825)
  • Surville (1769-1770)
  • Tasman (1642-1643)
  • Turnbull (1800-1804)
  • Wilkes (1838-1842)
Other Writers

Andersen, J. C., Maori string figures, Board Maori Ethnol. Res., Mem. 2, 1927.

Andersen, J. C., Maori music with its Polynesian background: Polynesian Soc., Mem., vol. 10, 1934.

Andersen, J. C., Maori religion: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 49, pp. 513-555, 1940.

Andersen, J. C., Maori place names, also personal names, and names of colours, weapons, and natural objects: Polynesian Soc, Mem., vol. 20, 1942.

Angas, J. F., Savage life and scenes in Australia and New Zealand, vols. 1-2, London, 1847.

Archey, Gilbert, Wood carving in the North Auckland area: Auckland Inst. and Mus., Records, vol. 1, pp. 209-218, 1933.

Archey, Gilbert, Evolution of certain Maori carving patterns: Polynesian Soc, Jour., vol. 42, pp. 171-190, 1933.

Archey, Gilbert, Maori carving patterns: Polynesian Soc, Jour., vol. 45, pp. 49-62, 1936.

Beaglehole, Ernest, New Zealand anthropology to-day: Polynesian Soc, Jour., vol. 46, pp. 154-172, 1937.

Beaglehole, Ernest, Anthropology in New Zealand: Polynesian Soc, Jour., vol. 47, pp. 152-162, 1938.

Beaglehole, Ernest, The Polynesian Maori: Polynesian Soc, Jour., vol. 49, pp. 39-68, 1940.

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Beattie, H., Traditions and legends collected from the natives of Murihiku: Polynesian Soc, Jour., vol. 24, pp. 98-112, 130-139; vol. 25, pp. 9-17, 53-65, 89-98; vol. 26, pp. 75-86, 106-110; vol. 27, pp. 137-161; vol. 28, pp. 42-51, 152-159, 212-225; vol. 29, pp. 128-138, 189-198; vol. 31, pp. 134-144, 193-197; 1915-1922.

Best, Elsdon, The art of the Whare pora [clothing]: New Zealand Inst., Trans., vol. 31, pp. 625-658, 1898.

Best, Elsdon, Notes on the art of war: Polynesian Soc, Jour., vol. 11, pp. 11-41, 47-75, 127-162, 219-246; vol. 12, pp. 32-50, 65-84, 145-165, 193-217; vol. 13, 1-19, 73-82; 1902-1904.

Best, Elsdon, Maori medical lore: Polynesian Soc, Jour., vol. 13, pp. 213-237; vol. 14, pp. 1-23; 1904, 1905.

Best, Elsdon, Maori eschatology [death]: New Zealand Inst., Trans., vol. 38, pp. 148-239, 1905.

Best, Elsdon, The stone implements of the Maori: Dominion Mus., Bull. 4, 1912.

Best, Elsdon, Maori storehouses and kindred structures: Dominion Mus., Bull. 5, 1915.

Best, Elsdon, Some aspects of Maori myth and religion: Dominion Mus., Mem. 1, 1922.

Best, Elsdon, Spiritual and mental concepts of the Maori: Dominion Mus., Mem. 2, 1922.

Best, Elsdon, Astronomical knowledge of the Maori: Dominion Mus., Mem. 3, 1922.

Best, Elsdon, Maori division of time: Dominion Mus., Mem. 4, 1922.

Best, Elsdon, Polynesian voyagers: Dominion Mus., Mem. 5, 1923.

Best, Elsdon, The Maori school of learning: Dominion Mus., Mem. 6, 1923.

Best, Elsdon, The Maori, vols. 1-2: Polynesian Soc, Mem., vol. 5, 1924.

Best, Elsdon, Maori religion and mythology, part 1: Dominion Mus., Bull. 10, 1924.

Best, Elsdon, The Maori canoe: Dominion Mus., Bull. 7, 1925.

Best, Elsdon, Games, exercises, and pastimes of the Maori: Dominion Mus., Bull. 8, 1925.

Best, Elsdon, The Maori system of agriculture: Dominion Mus., Bull. 9, 1925.

Best, Elsdon, The Maori pa [fortified village]: Dominion Mus., Bull. 6, 1927.

Best, Elsdon, Fishing methods and devices of the Maori: Dominion Mus., Bull. 12, 1929.

Best, Elsdon, The Whare Kohanga [maternity house] and its lore: Dominion Mus., Bull. 13, 1929.

Best, Elsdon, Forest lore of the Maori: Dominion Mus., Bull. 14, 1942.

Best, Elsdon, Maori religion and mythology, part 2: Dominion Mus., Bull. 11, in press.

Chapman, F. R., On the working of greenstone or nephrite by the Maoris: New Zealand Inst., Trans., vol. 24, pp. 479-539, 1891.

Colenso, William, On the Maori races of New Zealand: New Zealand Inst., Trans., vol. 1, Last essay, pp. 1-76, 1868.

Cowan, James, The Maoris of New Zealand, Christchurch, 1910.

Cowan, James, andPomare, Maui, Legends of the Maori, vols. 1-2, Wellington, 1930, 1934.

Cruise, R. A., Journal of a ten months' residence in New Zealand, London, 1823.

Dodge, E. S., The New Zealand collection in the Peabody Museum of Salem, Salem, 1941.

Downes, T. W., Notes on eels and eel-weirs (tuna and pa-tuna): New Zealand Inst., Trans., vol. 50, pp. 296-316, 1918.

Downes, T. W., Maori rat-trapping devices: Polynesian Soc, Jour., vol. 35, pp. 228-234, 1926.

Downes, T. W., Bird snaring, etc., in the Whanganui River district: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 37, pp. 1-29, 1928.

Duff, Roger S., Maori stone "axes": Canterbury Mus., Records, vol. 4, no. 5, pp. 249-253, 1939.

Duff, Roger S., A cache of adzes from Motukarara: Polynesian Soc, Jour., vol. 49, pp. 285-302, 1940.

Duff, Roger S., Moa hunters of the Wairau: Canterbury Mus., Records, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 1-49 and 16 plates, 1942.

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Duff, Roger S., First records of the maro in the New Zealand area: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 52, pp. 212-215, 1943.

Fairchild, F. G., Maori fish-hooks from Manakau Heads, Auckland: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 42, pp. 145-155, 1933.

Fairchild, F. G., A necklace of human teeth: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 46, pp. 130-133, 1937.

Firth, R. W., Primitive economics of the New Zealand Maori, New York, 1929.

Firth, R. W., Maori canoe-sail in the British Museum: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 40, pp. 129-140, 1931.

Fisher, V. F., The material culture of Oruarangi, Matatoki, Thames: Auckland Inst. and Mus., Records, 1, Bone ornaments and implements, vol. 1, no. 5, pp. 275-286, 1934; 2, Fish hooks, vol. 1, no. 6, pp. 287-300, 1935; 3, Stone implements and ornaments, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 15-27, 1936; 4, Musical instruments, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 111-118, 1937.

Fisher, V. F., Maori decorated sinkers: Auckland Inst. and Mus., Records, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 163-167, 1932.

Goldie, W. H., Maori medical lore: New Zealand Inst., Trans., vol. 37, pp. 1-120, 1904.

Grey, George, Ko nga moteatea me nga hakirara o nga Maori [songs and chants], Wellington, 1853.

Grey, George, Nga mahinga a nga tupuna Maori [traditions], London, 1854. (A second edition was printed in Auckland in 1885. A third edition, revised and corrected by H. W. Williams was published by the Board of Maori Ethnological Research as volume 1 of its Maori texts, New Plymouth, 1928.)

Grey, George, Mythology and traditions of the New Zealanders, London, 1854.

Grey, George, Polynesian mythology and ancient traditional history of the New Zealanders, London, 1855.

Gudgeon, T. W., The history and doings of the Maori, Auckland, 1885.

Gudgeon, W. E., Maori religion: Polynesian Soc, Jour., vol. 14, pp. 107-130, 1905.

Gudgeon, W. E., The Maori tribes of the east coast of New Zealand: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 3, pp. 208-219; vol. 4, pp. 17-32, 117-182; vol. 5, pp. 1-12, 177-186; 1894-1896.

Hamilton, A., Maori art, Dunedin, 1896.

Keesing, Felix, The changing Maori: Board of Maori Ethnol. Res., vol. 4, 1928.

Kelly, L. G., Some problems in the study of Maori genealogies: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 49, pp. 235-242, 1940.

Knapp, F. V., Canoe-buildling tools of the Tasman Bay Maoris: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 33, pp. 103-113, 1924.

Lockerbie, Leslie, Excavation at King's Rock, Otago, with a discussion of the fish-hook barb as an ancient feature of Polynesian culture: Polynesian So.c, Jour., vol. 49, pp. 393-446, 1940.

Manning, F. E. (Pakeha Maori), Old New Zealand, London, 1876.

Ngata, Apirana T., Nga moteatea [songs]: Board of Maori Ethnol. Res., Parts 1-2, Hastings, 1928, 1929.

Ngata, Apirana T., Notes on Rev. H. Williams' paper on "The Maori Whare": Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 6, pp. 85-88, 1897.

Phillips, W. J., Carved meeting houses of the eastern district of the North Island: Dominion Mus., Records, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 69-119, 1944.

Polack, J. S., Manners and customs of the New Zealanders, London, 1840.

Pomare, Maui, See Cowan and Pomare.

Ranapiri, T., Ancient method of bird snaring: Polynesian Soc, Jour., vol. 4, pp. 132-151, 1895.

Robley, H. G., Moko or Maori tattooing, London, 1896.

Roth, H. Ling, The Maori mantle, Halifax, 1923.

Rowe, W. Page, Maori artistry: Board Maori Ethnol. Res., Mem., vol. 3, 1928.

Scott, John H., Contribution to the osteology of the aborigines of New Zealand and the Chatham Islands: New Zealand Inst., Trans., vol. 26, pp. 1-64, 1893.

page 119

Shapiro, H. L., The physical anthropology of the Maori-Moriori: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 49, pp. 1-18, 1940.

Shortland, Edward, Traditions and superstitions of the New Zealanders, London, 1840.

Skinner, H. D., Culture areas in New Zealand: Polynesian Soc, Jour., vol. 30, pp. 71-78, 1921.

Skinner, H. D., The origin and relationship of Maori material culture: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 33, pp. 229-243, 1924.

Skinner, H. D., Archaeology of Canterbury, Moa-bone Point Cave: Canterbury Mus., Rec, vol. 2: no. 3, pp. 93-104; no. 4, pp. 151-162, 1923, 1924.

Skinner, H. D., Maori adzes, axes, chisels and gouges from the Murihiku region, New Zealand: 3rd Congress of Prehistorians of the Far East, Proc, Singapore, pp. 142-172, 1938.

Skinner, H. D., Maori amulets in stone, bone, and shell: Polynesian Soc, Jour., vol. 41, pp. 202-211, 302-309; vol. 42, pp. 1-9, 107-113, 191-203, 310-320; vol. 43, pp. 25-29, 106-117, 198-215, 271-279; vol. 44, pp. 17-25; vol. 45, pp. 127-141; vol. 52, pp. 132-152; 1932-1936, 1943.

Skinner, H. D., A classification of the fish hooks of Murihiku: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 51, pp. 256-286, 1942.

Skinner, H. D., andTeviotdale, D., A classification of implements of quartzite and similar materials from the moa-hunter camp at Shag River mouth: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 36, pp. 180-193, 1927.

Smith, S. Percy, Hawaiki, the whence of the Maori, Wellington, 1898.

Smith, S. Percy, The peopling of the North: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 6, Supplement pp. 1-108, 1896.

Smith, S. Percy, Maori wars of the nineteenth century …, 2d ed., Christchurch, 1910.

Smith, S. Percy, History and traditions of the Maoris of the west coast, North Island of New Zealand, prior to 1840: Polynesian Soc., Mem., vol. 1, 1910.

Smith, S. Percy, The Lore of the Whare-wananga or teachings of Maori college, pt. 1, Te Kauwae-runga, or "Things Celestial"; pt. 2, Te Kauwae-raro or "Things terrestrial": Polynesian Soc., Mem., vols. 3, 4, 1913, 1915.

Stack, J. W., South Island Maoris, Christchurch, 1898.

Sutherland, I. G. (Editor), The Maori people to-day [a general survey by various experts], Wellington, 1940.

Taylor, Richard, Te Ika a Maui or New Zealand and its inhabitants, London, 1855.

Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter H. Buck), Maori food supplies of Lake Rotorua: New Zealand Inst., Trans., vol. 53, pp. 433-451, 1921.

Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter H. Buck), Maori decorative art, house panels: New Zealand Inst., Trans., vol. 53, pp. 452-470, 1921.

Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter H. Buck), Maori Somatology: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 31, pp. 37-44, 145-153, 159-170; vol. 32, pp. 21-28, 189-199; 1922, 1923.

Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter H. Buck), Maori plaited basketry and plaitwork: 1, mats, baskets, and burden carriers: New Zealand Inst., Trans., vol. 54, pp. 705-742, 1923.

Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter H. Buck), Maori plaited basketry and plaitwork: 2, belts and bands, fire-fans and fly-flaps, sandals and sails: New Zealand Inst., Trans., vol. 55, pp. 344-362, 1924.

Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter H. Buck), The coming of the Maori: Cawthron Inst., 1925.

Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter H. Buck), The Maori craft of netting: New Zealand Inst., Trans., vol. 56, pp. 597-646, 1926.

Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter H. Buck), The evolution of Maori clothing, Polynesian Soc., Mem., vol. 7, 1926.

Teviotdale, David, The material culture of the Moa-hunters in Murihiku: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 41, pp. 86-120, 1932.

Thomson, Arthur S., The story of New Zealand, vols. 1-2, London, 1859.

Tregear, Edward, The Maori Race, Wanganui, 1904.

White, John, The ancient history of the Maori, vols. 1-6, Wellington, 1887-1891.

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Williams, Herbert W., The Maori whare: notes on the construction of a Maori house: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 5, pp. 145-154, 1896.

Williams, Herbert W., A dictionary of the Maori language (based upon the dictionaries of W. Williams and W. L. Williams), 5th edition, Wellington, 1917.

Wilson, J. A., The story of Te Waharoa with sketches of ancient Maori life and history, Auckland, 1906.

Wohlers, J. F. H., The mythology and traditions of the Maori in New Zealand: New Zealand Inst, Trans., vol. 7, pp. 3-53, 1874.

Yate, William, An account of New Zealand, London, 1835.