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The Coming of the Maori

The Passing of the Stone Age

The Passing of the Stone Age

Stone tools as symbols of the stone age were the first material elements of native culture to be discarded after European contact. At first the Polynesians were not particularly interested in the metal articles that early white navigators offered as presents to establish good will or as exchanges for native goods. However, when the superiority of metal over stone for working implements became apparent, a feverish desire to acquire the new material spread like a pandemic. The most desirable articles of European culture were the old-fashioned square spike nails and pieces of hoop iron cut off from the spare hoops of water casks which all ships carried. The spike nails were fashioned into chisels for use in wood carv-page 197ing and making square holes in wooden shafts and planks. The hoop iron termed paraharaha by the Maori from its flat form was made into adzes termed toki paraharaha. These metal heads sharpened with one bevel were lashed to the Polynesian form of haft with the stone adze technique. With increased contact, more manufactured articles such as hatchets, axes, and steel adzes became the more desirable objects of barter and exchange. The warlike Maori sought trade in firearms and they converted trade tomahawks into weapons of war.

In the earlier days of white contact in New Zealand, the supply of manufactured tools never met the demand and some of the sales of land in the north Auckland area were known as the hoko paraharaha, the hoop iron sales. In the records of the early land sales, a variety of other goods such as prints, blankets, tin pannikins, and even umbrellas testify to the manner in which the white buyers hypnotised the Maori owners into parting with their heritage. However, the value of surplus lands in those days was vastly different from what it is now and one is reluctantly forced to admit that the Maori owners accepted what to them was an adequate return in the strange new articles that their hearts desired.

In spite of innovations, the Maori, besides being a fighter, was a craftsman and the adze remained his favourite tool. He continued to carve his houses and work was rendered easier by the substitution of steel adzes and steel chisels for the stone implements with which his ancestors had founded the craft. He could handle the steel adze with its curved blade as well as, or better than, any white craftsman. However, the trade adzes were limited in supply and again he sought a substitute. The duller edge of the hoop iron of former days was not acceptable to a craftsman who had become acquainted with the superiority of steel. The steel blades of carpenter's planes met his requirements perfectly. The fact that they lacked a perforated socket for the handle did not bother him in the least for to him the hafting technique of the trade adze was unnecessary. He simply hafted the plane blade in the same way as the hoop iron adzes. The use of plane blades for adzes was also adopted in other parts of Polynesia and to-day, the Samoan carpenter's kit of tools contains a number of plane blades lashed to short handled native hafts with sennit braid.

The use of hafted plane blades has had one curious result. A Samoan carpenter hafted a stone adze for me with the bevel in front. He supported his action by showing me his kit of tools with ten plane blades all hafted in the Samoan technique to short hafts with sennit and all with the bevel in front. He argued that if the bevel were to the back, the steep front would cause the steel edge to sink too deeply into the wood, whereas with the sloping bevel in front such a danger would be avoided. As he was a master carpenter of life-long practice, I bowed to his experience. In contradiction to the expert's opinion, the photographs of over 50 specimens page 198of authentic old hafted adzes from central Polynesia showed that the bevel was to the back. Reconsideration of the problem revealed that in the European adze with the bevel at the back, the front of the blade is longitudinally convex so that the curve prevents the blade from digging too deeply into the wood. In the Bishop Museum collection of hafted plane blades, some blades had been bent, probably by a blacksmith, and such specimens resembled the European adze not only in the curve of the blade but also in having the bevel to the back. In the collection, there were also some with straight blades, and in these, the bevel was in front Thus it was evident that when the native craftsmen hafted a straight plane blade, they compensated for the lack of curve in the blade by turning the bevel to the front. The danger of digging in too deeply with a steel edge was not present with the less keen stone edge. Hence, the stone adzes hafted with the bevel in front have been hafted as curios by native craftsmen who had never used a stone adze in practice. They were accustomed to the use of straight plane blades reversed with the bevel in front and naturally concluded that stone adzes had been hafted in a similar way.

With the use of steel tools, carving was rendered easier but it also became over elaborate and too ornate. In the ceremonial nephrite adzes, the shaft, which was plain except for a carved knob at the end, was covered with carving which did not improve the artistic effect. Paddles and weapons also had extra carving which may have improved them for ordinary trade purposes but spoiled them for actual use. However, the metal age is now in full operation throughout the land. Yet, though the stone implements ceased to function long ago, they remain as imperishable relics of the skilled craftsmen, who, by their aid, were able to produce masterpieces of art which steel tools have never equalled let alone excelled.