Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Coming of the Maori

Maori Canoes

Maori Canoes

Double canoes were seen by Tasman in 1642 at Golden Bay on the Nelson coast and he had reason to remember them for they attacked one of his boats and inflicted casualties. It may be that the older type of vessel survived longer in the South Island but Cook saw a few off the North Island over a century later. Double canoes were stated by Maori informants to have been used occasionally on the East Coast for paying out large seine nets but these were usually single canoes lashed together temporarily for a particular occasion. By the time of European setdement, the double canoe as an individual form of craft had been given up.

The single-outrigger canoe was also seen by Cook but he gives no details about it or the double canoe. The survival of the term ama-tiatia (outrigger float with stanchions) and the discovery in Monck's Cave in page 202Canterbury of an outrigger float with holes for stanchions prove that the outrigger canoes followed the central Polynesian technique of the indirect method of attaching the float to straight booms by means of intermediate stanchions. However, the outrigger canoe had also disappeared by the time of European settlement.

The relics of Polynesian canoe architecture thus lingered on until towards the end of the 18th century and then were completely replaced by the single hull. The only other part in Polynesia where the single hull was used in one type of canoe was Samoa. Here, however, the first two single canoes termed taumualua were made in 1849 by an American boat-builder named Eli Jennings on the order of Samoans on Upolu who
Fig. 44. Maori canoes.a, river canoe, Whanganui (field photo); b, sea-going canoe (Best, 17, fig. 78).

Fig. 44. Maori canoes.
a, river canoe, Whanganui (field photo); b, sea-going canoe (Best, 17, fig. 78).

wanted a vessel like the longboat of H.M.S. Calypso. The longboat with a few marines had blockaded Malietoa in his stronghold at Mulinu'u promontory near Apia because of his ill treatment of British subjects resident in Samoa at the time. Once they obtained models, the Samoans built the type with home-made planks lashed with sennit. Later generations, who knew not of Eli Jennings, maintained that the taumualua single canoes were a Samoan invention because of the Samoan technique of lashing the planks together.

The Maori single canoe, unlike the Samoan, was a purely native development, due probably to the abundance of large trees which provided hulls wide enough to diminish the risk of capsizing, and the outrigger was finally dispensed with as unnecessary. The hull, however, followed the central Polynesian pattern in having rounded bottoms, long sloping page 203bows, and deeper, rounded sterns. In the medium-sized and large canoes, the central Polynesian pattern of a low bow and a raised stern piece was also retained. The construction of the single canoes from the selection and felling of the trees in the forest to the launching of the completed vessel has been described in detail by Best in his authoritative work on canoes. He classified the single canoes (17, p. 6) into three groups according to their size and function.

River canoes (waka tiwai), also used on inland lakes, consisted merely of the dug-out hull (Fig. 44a).

Fig. 45. Hull joins.a, blunt join; b, c, mortice and tenon joins (after Best, 17, figs. 32, 33).

Fig. 45. Hull joins.
a, blunt join; b, c, mortice and tenon joins (after Best, 17, figs. 32, 33).

Seagoing canoes (waka tete) for sea fishing or travel along the coast were larger and up to about 46 feet in length. Provision for rough water was made by the attachment of gunwale strakes (rauawa) to the upper edge of the hull to give greater freeboard. The seams between the gunwale strake and the hull were covered by outer and inner battens. A bow piece (tauihu) carved with a grotesque head with a protruding tongue projected forward and an upright transverse washboard across the aft end of the bow piece was formed with the one piece of timber. The wash-page 204board turned off the water which was shipped over the bow. The stern was fitted with an upright stern piece (taurapa), which was usually uncarved (Fig. 44b).

War canoes (waka taua) were the masterpieces of the builder's craft. They were 70 feet and more in length and stood out not only in size but in the elaborate carving lavished upon the various parts. They were made from the magnificent trunks of the totara, and in the north from the kauri pine. They were formed of a long middle hull section and shorter bow and stern sections termed haumi. Both bow and stern sections were joined to the hull sections by mortice and tenon joins (haumi kokomo), the tenon being on the hull section (Fig. 45b, c). This was a great advance on the straight butt join (haumi tuporo) which prevailed throughout Polynesia (Fig. 45a) with the exception of the Marquesas where the mortice and tenon join was also present. The end pieces not only increased the length of the canoe but they also continued the upward sweep of the bow and stern and thus added to the graceful lines of the hull. The bow piece (tauihu) was made large enough to have a full human figure as a figurehead instead of the bodiless head of the fishing canoes. Between the upright head of the figurehead and the washboard, a median panel was carved with beautiful double spirals. In the north Auckland area, a longitudinal slab set on edge extended forward from the washboard and it was neatly carved with an intricate pattern. The sternpiece was increased in height and compressed from side to side to form another panel upon which the carver displayed his art in smaller double spirals and other carving motifs. The carved bow pieces and stern pieces of war canoes are among the best executed specimens of Maori carving. Carving was also extended to the gunwale strakes (rauawa) and sometimes to the thwarts (taumanu) as well. An artistic pattern was painted in red and black on the bow section of the hull. Streamers of feathers floated from the stern piece and long ornaments projected like antennae from the bow. White albatross feathers were fixed by their quills under the lashings over the batten covering the seam between gunwale strake and hull. Throughout Polynesia, and the Pacific area for that matter, the Maori war canoe reached the highest peak of craftsmanship in the use of decoration. Manned by a double row of tattooed warriors with their paddles flashing in perfect time to the canoe chants of a leader standing amidship with a quivering jade club, the speeding war canoe must have offered an inspiring yet awesome sight. See Plate XVI.