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Vikings of the Sunrise

5. The Eastern Horizon

page 42

5. The Eastern Horizon

The handle of my steering paddle thrills to action,
My paddle named Kautu-ki-te-rangi.
It guides to the horizon but dimly discerned.
To the horizon that lifts before us,
To the horizon that ever recedes,
To the horizon that ever draws near,
To the horizon that causes doubt,
To the horizon that instils dread,
The horizon with unknown power,
The horizon not hitherto pierced.
The lowering skies above,
The raging seas below,
Oppose the untraced path
Our ship must go.

The steering paddle thrilled to action when increasing hordes poured into Indonesia from the mainland of Asia. The ways to the lands of the west were blocked, and the only paths available to our Polynesian ancestors led out to open sea. Fishing canoes and vessels used for coastwise transport between seaside villages developed into voyaging ships, and the brown-skinned sailors began their conquest of the greatest of oceans. By short voyages and numerous haltings that occupied many generations, they moved onward page 43 ‘from island unto island to the gateways of the dawn’. New horizons lifted and receded, but ever new ships manned by succeeding generations with increasing sea salt in their blood moved on. Storms threatened to overwhelm them and seas to engulf them, but the steering paddles kept them true on the eastward course.

No matter how brave and enduring a seafaring people may be, the length of their voyages is limited by the size of their ships which determines the amount of food and water that can be carried. Those who exhausted their resources perished in the open sea. Those who reached islands, where they settled or refitted, survived. Hence the voyage to Polynesia was feasible only by following island-studded routes. Two routes were possible, a southern and a northern.

The southern route, which was generally accepted as the correct one by early ethnologists, twines through the closely set islands of Indonesia, passes along the northern coast of New Guinea, and skirts the eastern fringe of the Melanesian chain to Fiji, which was thought to be the rallying place of the Polynesians, whence they scattered east, north, and south to explore and settle the far-flung islands within the Polynesian triangle. Because the name Savai'i, that of the largest island of the Samoan group, is the dialectical equivalent of Hawaiki, the traditional homeland of the Polynesians, Samoa was considered to be the island first reached by Polynesian voyagers after they had left Fiji.

However, in the light of recent comparative study of the material cultures and social organizations of Melanesia and Polynesia, it seems improbable that the great migrations into the Pacific passed through Melanesia. In general the Polynesians are physically very different from the Melanesians. Had they stopped at Melanesian islands to refit their ships page 44 and gather new supplies, it is probable that racial intermixture would have taken place and that Negroid characteristics would appear consistently among Polynesians. Isolated objects such as the elaborate mourner's dress of Tahiti and organizations such as the ‘Arioi Society, also of Tahiti, which have been used as proof of Melanesian influence, are quite capable of local development.

Much of the linguistic evidence formerly cited in support of an original west to east migration of Polynesians through Melanesia has recently been proved to indicate a movement from Polynesia westward to the marginal islands of Melanesia. William Churchill studied the occurrence of Polynesian languages in Melanesia and on the strength of this study traced several lines of migration from New Guinea into various parts of Polynesia. Charles Hedley has shown that the Polynesian languages spoken in Melanesia occur on the eastern sides of islands facing Polynesia, and further studies by G. Thilenius and S. H. Ray prove that they most strongly resemble dialects of Samoa and Tonga, the Polynesian islands nearest Melanesia. Thilenius and Ray also state that they contain no archaic words as might certainly be expected had the Polynesians passed through Melanesia on their slow progress into the open sea. In addition there is little trace of word-borrowing by the Polynesians from Melanesian languages.

W. H. R. Rivers, in his study of the history of Melanesian society, considered that certain elements were due to contact and interaction of two waves of people that passed through Melanesia from west to east. He associated the burial of the dead in a sitting position with an earlier wave of migration, and burial of the dead in an extended position with a later wave. As both forms of burial were recorded in Polynesia, he inferred that both waves reached Polynesia and page break
Marginal Islands (Underlined) in Melanesia Inhabited by Polynesian-Speaking People

Marginal Islands (Underlined) in Melanesia Inhabited by Polynesian-Speaking People

page 46 were thus composed of what we now term Polynesians. He considered the practice of brother-sister avoidance and the absolute power of a nephew over the possessions of his maternal uncle as contributions made by migrating Polynesians to the Melanesian communities through which they passed. These two social customs were widespread in Melanesia and occurred in Polynesia only in Samoa and Tonga, just outside the boundaries of Melanesia, and in Tikopia, a Polynesian community within Melanesia. Why, we may ask, did all Melanesia accept these practices which were retained by only three groups of Polynesians? We must conclude that they were of original Melanesian origin and were carried eastward only as far as the fringe of the Polynesian triangle.

At first sight the strongest evidence in favour of a southern route of migration is the chain of small islands stretching from New Guinea to Fiji along the northern edge of Melanesia. A. C. Haddon appropriately calls these islands ‘marginal communities in northeastern Melanesia’ and lists them as: Tikopia Anuta (Cherry Island), Duff Islands, Rennell Island (Mo Ngava), Bellona Island (Mo Ngiki), Sikaiana, Ndai, Ontong Java including Leuaniua, Nukumanu (Tasman Islands), Taku (Marqueen Islands), Kilinailu (Cartaret Islands), Nissan, Tanga, and Nuguria. The inhabitants of these islands speak Polynesian dialects similar to those of Tonga and Samoa and are physically unlike the dark, frizzy-haired Melanesians. Many elements of their material culture have been introduced from Micronesia, and traditional histories of the Ellice, Gilbert, and Caroline Islands tell of voyages made by single canoes to uninhabited islands to the south. The plaiting of mats in Leuaniua and Nuguria is said to have been introduced from Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, and the use of the loom in Nuguria, Taku, Ontong page 47 Java, and Sikaiana was brought from the Carolines. The forked stick connecting the cross booms to the float of an outrigger canoe, used in Sikaiana, Ontong Java, and Nukumanu, is distributed throughout Micronesia. Finally, the physical characters of the people of Ontong Java, studied by H. L. Shapiro from measurements made by H. I. Hogbin, have closest affinity with those of the people of the Caroline Islands in Micronesia. Thus we must conclude that the ‘Polynesian outliers’ are not stopping places on the route from New Guinea to Fiji but rather colonies which have been established by movements from the east and the north.

The northern route, which the early Polynesian navigators may have followed in their journey from west to east, leads through Micronesia, which means ‘small islands’. Though there are some volcanic islands, the islands along the eastern end of the route are low coral atolls, contrasting with the mountainous islands of Melanesia. The only possible northern route leads through Yap, Palau, and the Caroline Islands; then it branches, one line leading northeast through the Marshall Islands towards Hawai‘i, and one going southeast through the Gilbert and Phœnix Islands to enter Polynesia north of Samoa.

Strong support in favour of the Micronesian route lies in the positive evidence against the route through Melanesia. It is unfortunate that the original population of Micronesia had been overlain by Mongoloid elements that crept in after the ancestors of the Polynesians had passed through. Yet, in spite of the imposition of a new language throughout the area, numerous Polynesian words occur to mark the ancient trail.

E. W. Gifford, in an analysis of the mythology of Tonga, found that twenty-seven elements were shared with Micronesia and ten with Melanesia, some of which may be due page 48 to recent contact with Fiji. He concluded, therefore, that mythology came to Tonga by way of Micronesia and not Melanesia. If we remember that much of the mythology of today was the history of yesterday, we have further evidence that deified ancestors of the Polynesians entered the central Pacific by way of the northern route.

No matter how stout of heart the wielder of the steering paddle, he could not continue indefinitely. He reached an atoll and settled down. A colony was formed and the torch of adventure was carried on by younger men of another generation. Much of the culture of the homeland in the volcanic islands of Indonesia must have been abandoned in coral atolls because certain elements did not suit the changed background or because the requisite natural resources were not available.

Much has been written about forgotten arts and crafts with the implication that the loss or lack of certain arts indicates degeneration or inferiority. It must be considered, however, that a craft depends not only on need and technical knowledge, but also on raw materials. Many unthinking people have criticized our Polynesian ancestors for their lack of pottery and loom weaving without considering the fundamental importance of the geographical distribution of raw materials. Pottery was made in Fiji; then why, ask our critics, was it not made in Tonga and Samoa? The answer is absurdly simple—there is no clay in Tonga and Samoa. Without it neither the Tongans nor the Samoans nor their kinsmen to the east could make pottery. Clay is the product of a chemical change requiring geologic ages to take place; hence it is found only on old land masses. The distribution of clay in the Pacific ends with the continental islands of Fiji. No clay is found in the coral islands of Micronesia or in the recent volcanic islands of Polynesia. Even had the Polynesian page 49 ancestors made pottery in their Indonesian homeland, the lack of clay in the islands of Micronesia through which they passed would have forced them to make new adjustments. The earth oven, for which nothing was required beyond wood and stones, sufficed for cooking. Coconut shells and wooden bowls served all other requirements for vessels. Long before our ancestors reached Polynesia, they ceased to need pottery and the memory of a useless craft did not survive. When the Maoris reached New Zealand where clay abounded, clay as a raw material meant nothing.

The loom for weaving textiles is a product of temperate climates, but it found its way into Indonesia and along the northern route to the Carolines. From there it spread direct to some of the marginal communities in northeastern Melanesia and to the neighbouring Santa Cruz Islands of Melanesia but no farther. The Melanesians were not loom weavers and consequently the craft could not reach Polynesia by way of the southern route. But if the Polynesians travelled along the northern route and passed through the Carolines, why did they not carry loom weaving into Polynesia? Possibly weaving was introduced into the Carolines after the Polynesians had passed through. However, the most vital reason is the fact that the Gilbert Islands, which form the link between the Carolines and Polynesia, had no weaving. The wild hibiscus which provided the fibres used for weaving in the Carolines did not grow in the Gilberts. The Polynesian ancestors, therefore, could not carry the loom with them during their lengthened passage through the Gilberts. When they eventually reached the high volcanic islands of Polynesia where the hibiscus would grow, they had long forgotten the art of weaving. A people with writing may resurrect a forgotten craft from written records, but the human page 50 memory will not burden itself with technical details which cannot be applied. The lack of raw material in the Gilberts proved an impassable barrier to the spread of loom weaving into Polynesia.

Further information as to the eastward route is provided by the study of projectile weapons. In Melanesia the bow and arrow was used in war and in Micronesia, the sling. The bow and arrow was known in Polynesia, but it never functioned in war except in the somewhat doubtful locality of far-eastern Mangareva. In both Tonga and Samoa it was used in sport to shoot pigeons and fish. In the Society Islands, archery was the sport of chiefs, who shot for distance with rounded arrows from a triangular stone platform. In Hawai‘i, the bow and arrow was also used in sport to shoot rats. The surprise that has been expressed at the bow and arrow not having been used in war in Polynesia has been due to the blind acceptance of the theory that the Polynesian voyagers passed through Melanesia and should have obtained there a knowledge of the man-slaying possibilities of the bow, even if they had not adopted it before. The very fact that it was so unimportant in Polynesia is surely additional evidence that the Polynesians did not make the lengthy passage through Melanesia that has been attributed to them. The Tongan bow follows the Fijian pattern, and it is probable that the bow diffused through to Samoa and Tonga from Fiji and that its use for sporting purposes was carried thence to central Polynesia.

The functioning Polynesian projectile weapon was the sling. It is found throughout Polynesia but was evidently dropped in New Zealand. The Maoris were hand-to-hand fighters, and the development of short clubs shows that longdistance preliminaries with projectile weapons had gone out page 51 of favour. It is significant, however, that slingstones have been found in the Kermadec Islands to the north of New Zealand, indicating that the early colonists who called at the Kermadecs carried slings with them. Many of the Polynesian slingstones were shaped to a point at each end and thus resemble those collected in Micronesia. The use of the sling in Micronesia and Polynesia bears further evidence in favour of the northern route into Polynesia.

A specific link in affinity between the Gilbert Islands and central Polynesia is the presence in both areas of warriors' helmets. They are shaped somewhat like a Turkish fez and are made of coconut-husk fibre with a coiled technique. In central Polynesia, they occur in the Cook and the Austral Islands. In the Cook Islands, they were used as protection against slingstones, while in the Gilberts they were used in war together with the peculiar coconut-husk armour of coat with sleeves and trousers. The helmets have a prolonged flap at the back, and are so highly specialized that it is unlikely that they represent two different inventions.

Refer to the end-paper map and you will notice that the Polynesian triangle resembles the head of a spear with its point thrusting toward the rising sun. Fitted into its base is the shaft of the spear, comprised of the southern chain of volcanic islands termed Melanesia and the northern chain of atoll islands named Micronesia. As we shall argue later, the food plants and domestic animals travelled along the southern route, but our Polynesian ancestors steered their ships along the northern route from atoll to atoll toward the unpierced eastern horizon.