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The Coming of the Maori


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Much water has flowed under the proverbial bridge since I delivered the Cawthron lecture in 1925 and tried to summarize some phases of Maori history and culture under the title of The Coming of the Maori. The paper was published by the Cawthron Institute and reprinted later by the Board of Maori Ethnological Research. Years later, the Maori Purposes Fund Board proposed to reprint it again as it was being used as reading matter in the subjects of Maori and Anthropology for the B. A. degree of the University of New Zealand. The Board wrote to me asking if I had any alterations or additions to suggest. So much work had been done in the intervening years that it was not possible to cover the ground in a short paper. In an optimistic mood, I offered to write a book in place of the original lecture. The offer was accepted but the war years and various other responsibilities delayed the fulfilment of my promise until now. The seedling planted in 1925 has grown somewhat in twenty odd years but it retains its old title of The Coming of the Maori.

The ancestors of the Maori people entered New Zealand, mostly if not altogether, from central Polynesia at different times. Each group of settlers brought with them the culture in vogue in the tropical islands at the time they left. Certain adjustment had to be made in a colder climate particularly in the crafts as the raw material of the tropics was not present and new material had to be substituted. Thus the Maori culture which was functioning at the time of European contact was not brought in its entirety from Polynesia, neither was it developed wholly in New Zealand. Some elements were introduced and others were developed locally. Hence in historical reconstruction, the Polynesian background must be considered. Among the people themselves, no Maori was regarded as a scholar unless he was well versed in the myths, legends, and traditions referring to the land from which his colonizing ancestors came.

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Much space has been devoted in this work to material culture. The teaching of anthropology in the University of Otago and the appointment of ethnologists to the staffs of our leading museums have resulted in more detailed studies of our museum material and in organized projects to obtain more artifacts by excavating on suitable sites. In reconstructing the history of the past, the best evidence is provided by the material objects which people of past generations have made with their hands; for the immaterial things handed down by word of mouth have undergone change from their original oral text. Thus a skeleton in its original resting place surrounded by adzes, ornaments, and a blown moa egg speaks with more truth concerning the past than the living graduates of an accredited house of learning. To recognize changes and developments, attention must be paid to the details of technique and such details cannot be understood unless they are illustrated with the line drawings. In this work, the line drawings of technical details were made by me but for the larger number of illustrations of artifacts drawn from photographs and illustrations in other works, I am indebted to Amy Suehiro of the Bishop Museum staff.

The original Cawthron lecture has been further expanded by including sections on social organization and religion. In social organization, many topics need more investigation; and more studies on post-European changes would provide valuable information for coping with the social problems of to-day. This work was planned to supply a background of native culture against which such changes could be more readily recognized and evaluated. A general work, however, has its weakness in that it is a compilation of material gathered from various parts of the country and it is not always clear whether some of the customs described were of general application to the Maori people as a whole or were confined to one or a few neighbouring tribes. Hence the need for the study of individual tribes extending to canoe areas as advocated by Beaglehole (9a) and culture areas as described by Skinner (69a). In culture, physical characters, and language, New Zealand resembles a Polynesian archipelago in that the various districts occupied by descendants from different ancestral canoes may differ as much as the individual islands in a Polynesian group.

In religion, some attention has been devoted to distinguishing between the common exoteric and the exclusive esoteric versions of the creations and to examining the validity of Io as a supreme creator. All myths have been made up at some time or other but comparisons with Polynesian mythology reveal that the common popular version is old whereas the so-called superior version was composed later in New Zealand. My criticism of some Maori sources of information may appear severe at times but it is necessary to stress a warning against accepting later page 3literary compositions as old and authentic. The richness of Maori culture is lessened and not enhanced by post-European rationalization alleged to be old and criticism coming from me cannot be said to be tinged with racial intolerance.

In conclusion, I have endeavoured throughout to supply the Polynesian background to Maori culture. This background is the result of twenty years of Polynesian research with the Bishop Museum and the study of the reports of other workers in Polynesia as published by the Bishop Museum. Various members of the Museum staff have assisted in the preparation of this work; in typing, drawing, reading, and checking. Many thanks are due to them and to the Trustees of Bishop Museum in allowing much of the work to be done in Museum time at Museum expense. The release of the completed manuscript for publication in my home land is a gesture from the Bishop Museum to New Zealand towards cooperation in the study of the Polynesian people.