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The Coming of the Maori


page 83


The material culture of new zealand is so rich and extensive that it would require a large volume or volumes to do justice to its varied details. So much work has been done and so many discoveries made since the publication of Hamilton's classic work on Maori Art that the results recorded in valuable papers scattered through various publications need to be brought together in one comprehensive work. In the following section, I can only touch upon the fringe of a vast subject in the hope that some indication is given of the local development which took place between the coming of the first Polynesian settlers and the arrival from Europe of the bearers of a totally different culture. The Maori arts and crafts which were in vogue at the coming of the pakeha were the end product of from 900 to 1000 years of development by people of Polynesian stock whose ancestors did not all arrive at the same time. It is interesting, therefore, to speculate on what the first Polynesian settlers brought in about a thousand years ago.

One source of information is the traditional account concerning the first settlers supplied by the Matorohanga school (81, p. 71). Such evidence is interesting from a literary standpoint but must be used with reservation because there is so much interpolation and rationalization. Similarly, references in old songs and traditions to the use of certain artifacts in the homeland of Hawaiki are unreliable because songs were composed and details added in New Zealand to enhance the stories of a remote and hazy past.

Much information regarding social organization and religion may be transmitted orally and carried along through generations of disuse by conversation and references in speeches on social occasions. As regards material culture, however, words by themselves are inadequate because oral description must be supported by practical demonstration. When a craft ceases to function and its products are no longer made, the technique page 84may be reconstructed if a specimen has been preserved to serve as a pattern. If no specimen is available, the craft cannot be revived from the oral description of a native informant who purports to remember what he never saw. The last Mangaian maker of ceremonial adzes could not reproduce the intricate lashing of his craft because all adzes with the correct lashing had long ago been disposed of and he had no pattern to follow. I reconstructed the original technique because the Bishop Museum had adzes with the old pattern that I could study and copy but I could not describe that technique in print without line drawings to explain the words. Thus when technique is described to establish the old and prove the new, line drawings should illustrate the text.

A method of arriving at some of the things which the earlier settlers brought is by a comparative study of distribution particularly in the area from which the first settlers came. However, it must be remembered that changes took place in the old home as well as the new. Even so, it has been accepted as a working hypothesis that elements which occur in marginal areas were most likely carried from a common distributing centre even if the particular forms are not present in the centre owing to developments in other directions. Here again, the possibility of independent evolution in marginal areas must be borne in mind, particularly if local conditions supply a satisfactory sequence of steps which would lead to similar results. In comparing composite articles, similarity in appearance must be supported by a similar technique before affinity can be accepted.

Invaluable information on the age and origin of artifacts has been provided by studies on the Chatham Islands, the southern half of the South Island termed Murihiku by Skinner, and excavations of moahunter camps and burials. Both Chatham Islands and Murihiku are marginal areas to the later centre of development in the North Island and their cultures contain survivals from the early period in the history of New Zealand. Blown moa eggs and ornaments made from the bones of recently killed moas prove that the artifacts associated with the moa hunters were made before the moa became extinct. The swamps of the north Auckland area have preserved specimens of wood carving which, from the motifs used, appear to predate the art which was flourishing at the time of European contact. It is intriguing to think that the north Auckland area was also marginal to a centre or centres of later development further south in the North Island and hence retained techniques to a late enough period for their preservation to last to the present period. Thus the swamps of the North and the sands of the South have each preserved broken records of an early Polynesian culture which preceded that which was developed after the coming of the Fleet.