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The Coming of the Maori

Nephrite Adzes

Nephrite Adzes

The pounamu of the Maori, popularly called greenstone from its colour, is geologically termed nephrite and is a form of jade. It was discovered in rock boulders in the Arahura River on the Poutini or west coast of the South Island by the Maori in their testing of rocks for making tools. A myth was created regarding its discovery. Grey's account (44, p. 132) states that Ngahue, a contemporary of Kupe, brought his fish named Poutini from Hawaiki because of trouble with one Hinetuahoanga, who may be recognized as a female personification of the sandstone (hoanga) used to grind stone. Ngahue arrived at Tuhua (Mayor Is.) but Hinetuahoanga followed him up. Ngahue then fled to Arahura which he made a permanent abiding place for his fish. He took a portion of the fish with him on his return to Hawaiki. He killed a moa at Wairere and sailed from Cape Runaway. The portion of the fish was made into two adzes named Tutauru and Hauhauterangi, a heitiki neck ornament, and an ear drop named Kaukaumatua. Grey's informant was evidently a member of the Arawa tribe, for the succeeding story (44, p. 134) states that the Arawa and six other canoes of the Fleet were made with the greenstone adzes (toki pounamu) named Tutauru and Hauhauterangi made from the fish of Ngahue, who is further credited by the informant as the discoverer of New Zealand.

Greenstone was procured by expeditions to the Poutini coast, by barter, and through war. From its rarity and beauty, it was made into valued ornaments and from its taking a keen edge, it was worked into adzes, chisels, and short clubs. The adzes were mostly working tools but one form was purely ceremonial.

The working adzes in form were variations of the quadrangular group but Skinner (75a, p. 158, Figs. 43, 44) described two fine specimens of page 188tanged triangular form. In his study to test the influence of material on design, Skinner (75a, p. 161) found that, though the craftsman was able to impose old shapes on nephrite and greywacke, both these media imposed limitations on the craftsmen. Thus a full kit of greywacke or nephrite tools would be appreciably less varied than a full kit of basalt tools.

The ceremonial adze termed toki pou tangata was formed of a nephrite adze lashed to a carved haft. The adze was quadrangular, long, thin, and of medium width. It was untanged but some had notches cut on the sides of the butt and others had one or two holes drilled through the upper end of the butt. An interesting feature was the fine carving of the enlarged heel of the haft. Some were carved as single human figures, the head forming the apex of the heel, but the most attractive design consisted of a human figure with elongated lips and tongue forming a series of interlocking curves with the beaklike lips of an opposing manaia motif. The toe was usually shortened and grooved, forming a raised lower rim. In some, the adjacent parts of the shaft and the foot below the carved figures were cut down and roughened like the toe groove for the lashing turns (Fig. 38a). The end of the shaft had a knob (koreke) which was carved into a human head.

Owing to the shortening of the toe, the adze butt was fitted higher up on the foot. In hafts with the lashing groove confined to the short toe, the lashing consisted of transverse turns around the butt and the toe groove (Fig. 38b). The notches on the sides of the butt helped the lashing turns to prevent the adze head from slipping down and further security was provided by passing the braid through the holes in the butt and around some part of the heel. In hafts grooved on the shaft and the foot, it was possible to make figure-of-eight turns in the lashing which in some, resulted in the triple-triangle pattern (Fig. 38c) so characteristic of the Cook and Society Islands technique with toeless hafts (Fig. 35d). Some hafts departed from the general pattern by retaining a long toe which allowed the use of two main sets of transverse turns as well as subsidiary turns. In the specimen figured (Fig. 38b), the lashing is made with cord and the turns which pass through extra holes above, evidently pass through holes in the butt of the adze.

The occurrence of the triple-triangle lashing in connection with a practically toeless haft raises the question as to whether or not they were introduced from central Polynesia. The discovery of the inverted-triangular form of adze (Fig. 36f) in moa-hunter deposits adds further interest to the subject. However, it is not known how the inverted-triangular adze was formerly hafted in New Zealand. Both in central Polynesia and in New Zealand, the early inverted-triangular adzes could have been lashed to a long toe with a groove to fit the adze butt. I believe page 189that the development of the toeless haft and the triple-triangle lashing for the inverted-triangular form of adze took place in central Polynesia after the Maori ancestors had left that area. The toki pou tangata with its specialized haft could not have originated until after nephrite came into vogue and after the great development in carving. The carvers in fashioning a haft fit to carry a chiefly emblem, enlarged the heel in order to
Fig. 38. Ceremonial adze lashing.a, carved foot (from field photo); b, transverse lashing (Best, 12, pl. 36); c, triple triangle lashing (Oldman coll., no. 491); d, complex lashing (Otago Univ. Mus.).

Fig. 38. Ceremonial adze lashing.
a, carved foot (from field photo); b, transverse lashing (Best, 12, pl. 36); c, triple triangle lashing (Oldman coll., no. 491); d, complex lashing (Otago Univ. Mus.).

effect their full design; and to balance matters, they shortened the toe. In spite of the shortened toe, some craftsmen adhered to the older technique of transverse lashing but for better security, they notched the sides of the butt and also bored suspension holes through the upper end of the butt. Others sought better security by grooving the foot and the shaft and using figure-of-eight turns in the lashing. In making an orderly sequence page 190of turns, the triple-triangle pattern was developed independently but its comparatively recent development is indicated by the fact that the perfect pattern shown in Figure 38c is somewhat rare. It had not had time to supplant the older technique of transverse lashing. It would appear that the triple-triangle lashing was developed independently in central Polynesia and New Zealand through convergence in the type of haft.

The toki pou tangata was never meant to be used by a craftsman in adzing wood. It formed an exclusive article in the property of a chiefly family, to be borne on ceremonial occasions, to accompany the gestures of the family orator, and to lie in state on the breast of the chiefly dead. I, too, have been told that its name was derived from its occasional use to indicate prisoners selected for the oven but I felt that my informant was trying to convince himself as well as me. As the verb pou has the meaning "to establish firmly," a rationalization more in keeping with the prestige of the toki pou tangata would be "the adze which establishes man in authority."