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The Coming of the Maori


The One Form of Decoration which Prevailed Through-Out Polynesia was the wreath of flowers and sweet-scented leaves. In New Zealand, a shift in custom took place whereby wreaths of green leaves, particularly kawakawa leaves (pare kawakawa) were worn at funerals as a sign of mourning for the dead. The custom still prevails but women usually make the wreaths out of any convenient plant and men save themselves exertion by wearing a sprig of green leaves in their hat bands. As a child, I once returned home wearing a flower wreath that my English playmates had assisted in making. My satisfaction was shattered by my mother's rebuke, "Whom do you want to die?" Thus in New Zealand, the dead deprived the living of the pleasure of wearing wreaths on joyous occasions.

Ornaments were made of wood, seeds, berries, shell, bone, and stone but the most prized material throughout Polynesia was the teeth of the sperm whale popularly referred to as whale ivory. In some parts, the whole tooth was simply perforated at the root to wear as a breast ornament but more generally it was shaped into various forms. New Zealand did not use seeds but, in addition to other materials, it had the most valuable material of all in nephrite or greenstone. In all Polynesia, there is nothing to equal the Maori ornaments made of nephrite. In ornaments, as in weapons, the differences in form produced by the various island groups indicate the great local development that took place.