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Vikings of the Sunrise

6. Early Explorers and Settlers

page 52

6. Early Explorers and Settlers

Within the circle of the sea,
It holds a fish of note.
It holds a fish
O'er which the rainbow arches,
Spanning the immensity of Ocean.
It is—my land.

The adventurers who guided their ships into the unknown Pacific were deep-sea fishermen as well as able mariners. They angled for fish and fished for islands. By adding magic powers to their tackle, semi-mythical fishermen were enabled to raise islands up from the depths of the sea. The greatest fisherman in all Polynesia was Maui, an early discoverer who became a legendary hero. He figures in a cycle of heroic exploits which, down the ages, have been narrated by fond grandparents to their awestruck grandchildren. Each island group has its own version of the tale and its local variations; islands that he never saw have been added to Maui's original fantastic catch.

In the Maori version, Taranga gave birth to four sons. At the fifth conception, she aborted, casting the embryo in her diaper upon the sea. Tangaroa, god of the sea, took pity upon the seed of life so untimely doomed never to page 53 reach maturity. He cradled the object in the arms of the seaweed and rocked it in the gentle waves of the ocean. The embryo, contrary to all biological laws, became viable and grew into an active male child. Directed by the god who had cared for him, the boy returned to his mother's house at night and, creeping in unobserved, lay down among his sleeping brothers. In the morning, Taranga cast her maternal eye over her sleeping brood and was amazed to find a stranger present. The part of the myth that I liked best as a child was when my grandmother, playing the part of Taranga, ticked off her four sons from thumb to ring finger of one hand, saying, ‘Maui-in-front, Maui-within, Maui-on-one-side, Maui-on-the-other-side.’ She would gaze in pretended astonishment at the nameless little finger, exclaiming, ‘But who is this? It is no child of mine.’ Then up piped the precocious fifth, ‘Yes, indeed, I was born of thee. Thou cast me immature upon the ocean vast, but my ancestor Tangaroa took pity upon me and raised me to maturity.’ The mother pressed her nose to his and said, ‘In very truth, thou art my last-born son, and so I will name thee after my top-knot of hair, Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga.’

When Maui grew to man's estate, he accomplished many wonderful feats, but throughout his career he was an impish sprite and a trickster. In a fit of jealousy because his brother-in-law had caught more fish than he, Maui jammed him under the bow of their fishing canoe at the landing, pulled his nose, ears, and spine to greater length, and so created the first dog—Irawaru of the Maoris and Ri of the Tuamo-tuans. He procured fire from Mahuika in the Underworld and taught man how to obtain it by friction from the wood in which it was stored. By the use of fire, man was enabled to cook the food that he had hitherto eaten raw.

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Maui voyaged to the eastern portals of the day, and, with a slip noose of human hair, he snared Ra, the Sun, as he emerged from the pit of night to commence his all too rapid daily round. Club in hand, Maui dictated terms whereby Ra consented to travel less rapidly across the dome of heaven and thus gave mankind more hours of daylight in which to procure and cultivate food.

Shortly after I entered the New Zealand Parliament as the representative of a Maori constituency, I was asked by the party whip to help in a stonewall or filibuster as it is termed in America. The object was to talk profusely on various bills so that an undesired opposition bill would not be reached on the order paper before 12.30 a.m. After that no new business could come up, and the obnoxious bill would not only lose its turn but would go down to the bottom of the order paper when such bills came up again. The bill before the House at the time I was thrust into the breach was the first Daylight Saving Bill to be introduced into New Zealand. As the speeches made from our side of the House in behalf of the bill were merely to waste the non-daylight hours leading up to midnight, the argument used to save future daylight would have puzzled any meteorologist. I was fearfully nervous as what was to be my second utterance in such a learned assembly, but in casting about for something to say, it occurred to me that the first practical Daylight Saving Bill in the Pacific had been introduced by the Polynesian demigod Maui. With all the enthusiasm of youth and the claim to distant relationship, I exploited the theme to its fullest extent, and, curiously enough, the House became interested in what they seemed to regard as a humorous contribution to a dry debate. Years afterward, New Zealand placed this second Daylight Saving Act on the statute page 55 book through the continuous efforts of Sir Thomas Sidey, on whose behalf I had enlisted the aid of Maui. Of my six years' contribution in Parliament to the welfare of my country, my surviving colleagues seem to remember only my alleged humorous interpretation of Polynesian mythology. I have never confessed until now how really serious I felt at the time.

To carry on with our story, Maui's brothers became jealous of their youngest brother. In planning a fishing expedition, they refused to allow him to go with them. In the New Zealand version, Maui concealed himself overnight under a mat in the hold of the canoe; in the Mangarevan, he assumed the form of a rat and hid under a coil of rope. When well out to sea, Maui emerged, and, in spite of their protests, he urged his brothers onward until they reached the right spot in the ocean for catching big fish. Now his brothers were able to get revenge, though for a very brief period. Maui had no bait, and, in spite of his pleadings, his brothers refused to give him any out of their own supply. The New Zealanders say that Maui smote his nose and baited his hook with the blood that flowed from the injured organ. The Mangarevans, who apparently require a solid bait, say that he plucked off one of his ears and impaled it on his hook. The curiously baited line was lowered and caught in the bottom of the sea. With much vigorous hauling in time to a magic chant, a wondrous fish in the form of part of the ocean bed was brought to the surface. In this manner, the North Island of New Zealand, Tonga, Rakahanga, Hawai‘i, and other big fish were hauled up from the ocean depths and fixed in their appointed places.

When I visited the atoll of Rakahanga during a Bishop Museum expedition, it was my good fortune to see a play page 56 enacted to illustrate the fishing up of that island. The stage was the coral-gravelled village street before our host's house, on the veranda of which we occupied front stalls. The village population sat cross-legged on both sides of the street. The orchestra, which consisted of a huge drum and two slit wooden gongs, burst into rhythm, and the choir, grouped in the open courthouse opposite us, sang a chorus concerning the coming of their ancestor Huku. The eyes of the audience turned in the direction of a roofless house, evidently the stage dressing room, a few yards up the street. We followed the gaze and from around the corner of the house emerged a fisherman clad in a scanty loin cloth, his body covered with grey mud in lieu of grease paint, and a cone of bark cloth perched on his head like a dunce's cap. He had whiskers, beard, and moustaches formed of coconut husk and standing out at most unhuman angles. He occupied the middle of a split coconut leaf, which, tied fore and aft to secure it to his body, represented his fishing canoe. He was further equipped with a paddle and a short fishing rod carrying a large wooden hook. He paddled toward a coconut which lay in the middle of the stage, every now and again stopping to cast his line. He gazed fixedly over the side of his coconut-leaf canoe at the coconut and exclaimed, ‘Ah, here is a growth of land at the bottom, of the sea. It will grow to the surface.’ The orchestra crashed and the choir informed us musically that this was the ancestor Huku from Rarotonga who, on a fishing trip, discovered an upgrowth of land. Huku turned his canoe and paddled back to Rarotonga, but on the way his feet, which protruded through the hull of the canoe, kept time on the bottom of the ocean to the dance rhythms with which the orchestra sped him on his return voyage. He struck bad weather, for the bow of his coconut leaf rose to page 57 dizzy heights and descended into abysmal troughs. Once he fell and grovelled, kicking on the ground. We thought he was lost, but the canoe righted and he finally rounded the corner of the ruined house into the safe haven of Rarotonga.

A young girl, dressed to represent an old woman, appeared on the stage and, with a few coconut leaves, erected a bower in which she ensconced herself. She was Hine-i-te-papa, the Lady-of-the-lower-level, who dwelt at the bottom of the sea. The audience again gazed down the street, and from around a house another fisherman emerged paddling a canoe similar to that of Huku. The choir informed us that this was Maui-the-last, who came to interview the Lady-of-the-lower-level. Maui paddled up to the bower and, detaching himself from his coconut leaf, made a stage-dive down to the floor of the ocean. Introducing a modern element, he knocked with his knuckles on the midrib of one of the coconut leaves forming the bower of the Lady. He instructed her as to what she should do when he and his brothers came fishing on the morrow. Then he crawled into his coconut leaf which lay on the ocean floor, came to the surface, and paddled off.

After a brief interval, a longer coconut leaf, enclosing three fishermen, appeared around the corner. The chorus announced that these were the three brothers, Maui-the-first, Maui-the-middle, and Maui-the-last, come on a fishing expedition. Near the house of the Lady, the canoe cast anchor. Maui-the-first baited his hook with a certain bait and cast his line. According to the instructions, the Lady put on a certain fish and pulled the line. Maui-the-first yelled with excitement and asked his brothers to guess what fish he had hooked. Maui-the-last, having arranged matters beforehand, easily won the guessing compeition. Maui-the-middle baited his hook with a different bait and caught a different page 58 fish, but again Maui-the-last guessed right. Then Maui-the-last baited his hook with a small coconut and a twig of green leaves. When the Lady saw the bait, she inserted the hook, according to instructions, into the outgrowth of land that Huku had seen. Maui, when he felt his hook had struck, hauled on the fish. The land rose with its shoreline below the middle of the canoe. The canoe was lifted on high, but, before it broke in two, Maui-the-last stepped off the stern half onto firm land, and his two brothers in the bow half were swept away into the vortex of the sea. Here I have followed the myth and forgotten the play. In the play, the Lady stuck the hook into the coconut that had been placed in mid-stage. Maui-the-last, with exaggerated facial contortions, struggled to bring the coconut up to the surface. When it came level with the gunwale of the canoe, he stepped backward out of the split coconut leaf onto land, but his two brothers fell forward and kicked and wriggled off the stage into oblivion.

The play had three more acts which need not be detailed. Huku returned from Rarotonga to find that not only had the coral outgrowth reached the surface but that it was occupied by Maui. A fight took place in which Maui, stamping upon the land in order to spring up into the stratosphere, split the land into the two atolls of Rakahanga and Manihiki. I was shown a rock in the seaward lagoon of Rakahanga that bore the impress of Maui's foot. With such evidence, what should one do but believe?

An island that has been fished up from the bottom of the sea is naturally regarded as a fish, and the divisions of the island are often likened to the parts of a fish. Even islands in which the fishing incident is lacking may be so regarded. The island of Aitutaki, though not shaped like any known page 59 fish, is divided into head, body, fins, and tail. According to myth, this fish is anchored to the bottom of the sea by a strong vine, and its permanent position depends upon the security of the knot with which the hawser is tied. The verse at the beginning of this chapter gives a poet's thoughts concerning the story. When I stood on the highest hill in Aitutaki, I appreciated the poet's flight of imagination. The hillsides were clothed with native trees which gave place, at the base, to encircling groves of coconut palms, banana, and breadfruit trees. On the shore flats were cultivations of taro with the thatched roofs of native houses peeping through the trees. Beyond the beach, the shallower waters of the lagoon stretched out in varying distances to the encircling reef, which formed a clear-cut, wavering line bounding the island from the depths of the Pacific Ocean. The transition in colour from the green of the lagoon to the deep purple of the sea beyond the reef was striking. The eye followed the purple sea from reef to distant horizon and then the full round of the reef from the hilltop as a centre. One thrilled to the poet's thought that this was a speck of land set ‘within the circle of the sea’. The circle was so vast and the fish so small that one actually took comfort from the assurance that the knot of the binding vine would hold. Arch a rainbow over the picture, and you who live in cities may perhaps envy the poet when he sings, ‘It is my land’.

Maui and others who are regarded as demigods belong to an early stage of exploration. Their voyages were made so long ago that the islands they discovered cannot now be accurately located, for they lie behind, probably in hither Micronesia, along the route by which our ancestors passed into Polynesia. It is certain that Maui never reached New Zealand, but the early settlers carried the tale of his exploits with them and applied them locally.

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The exploits of later adventurers, such as Rata and his immediate forbears, are associated with specific islands radiating from central Polynesia. These men are regarded as heroes and undoubtedly did explore the seas and islands of the central Pacific. Early historians and bards recognize their achievements, stressing their discovery of uninhabited lands. Kupe, who discovered New Zealand, returned to central Polynesia from that land far away to the south and reported, ‘The only people I saw there were a fantail flitting about and a bell bird that tolled from the depths of the forest.’ Atiu-muri, who discovered Atiu, named it ‘Enua-manu, which has been translated as Land of Birds. When, in 1929, I inquired of a local chief why the island had been first named ‘Enua-manu, he replied, ‘When Atiumuri beached on the land (enua) the only inhabitants were manu (birds).' As native birds were scarce, I asked in the native language, ‘What kind of manu?' ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘moths and beetles.’ The word manu was applied to any living thing with the exception of human beings and quadrupeds. Thus by emphasizing the lowliest of creatures did the poet heighten the glory of those hardy individuals who were the first humans to cross the immensity of ocean and gaze upon the sea-girt lands.

The earliest settlers who groped their way into Polynesia from the hither end of the Micronesian route cannot be too greatly lauded for their achievement. Yet, whom are we to praise? Their records have been effaced by the fingers of time, and such fragments as may have survived have been converted into myth or plagiarized by the historians of a later school. The later historians of various groups were primarily concerned in the narratives of those settlers who set out from central Polynesia after the eleventh and twelfth centuries a.d. page 61 and gave full honour to their leaders from whom they traced their descent. They admitted, however, that various islands were already settled before these later ancestors arrived.

If we suppose that the Gilbert Islands were the last group in the Micronesian chain from which early settlers could embark for Polynesia, we can appreciate that there were three groups of volcanic islands that could be reached by voyagers setting out from that outpost—Hawai‘i to the northeast, the Society Islands to the southeast, and Samoa to the south. Coral atolls that lay between formed convenient resting places, but could not serve as centres of development because of limited size and paucity of natural resources. It is significant that each of these three groups has traditions of early settlers.

Hawaiian myths tell of a race of dwarfs called Menehune who were dwelling in the islands when the ancestors of the present Hawaiians landed. The Menehune are associated with the legend of a chief named Hawai‘i-loa, who sailed northeast from somewhere along the Micronesian route before it reached Polynesia. Possibly they were a group of early peoples who were wafted by winds and currents direct to Hawai‘i from the Gilberts or from some island farther to the west. The probability that they had no cultivable food plants supports this theory, for had they come to Hawai‘i from central Polynesia, they would certainly have brought with them the foods which were later imported by settlers from Tahiti.

The Society Islands in the centre of Polynesia were peopled by an early group called Manahune. These were real people, referred to both in legend and history, and perhaps belonging to the same period as the Menehune of Hawai‘i. They could readily pass from the Gilberts, through a chain of atolls, such as the Phœnix Islands, Manihiki, Rakahanga, and Penrhyn page 62 to drop down into the leeward group of the Society Islands.

Samoan myths record an early people existing on the islands before the arrival of the descendants of Tangaloa. These people were produced from worms grown from a rotting vine. Though their mythical origin is local, we may suppose that these people were voyagers who preceded later historical settlers, probably coming from the Gilberts through the Tokelaus to find a new home. From Samoa the so-called descendants of worms went farther south and colonized Tonga, where they were given human names.

The early settlers were probably poorly equipped with cultivable food plants and domesticated animals. They may have belonged originally to the same group as the later Polynesians but, because they were of an inferior social status, were forced to leave when the growth of the population exceeded the available food supplies of a coral atoll. Forced migrations of this kind have occurred over and over again in the Tuamotu atolls and in Mangareva, as native historians tell. New Zealand was settled by peoples lacking cultivable plants and domestic animals, who may have been driven or blown from Tonga or some other island to the northward. In these migrations, the weaker peoples with the least food must have left first and the strongest left last.

So we may assume that the earliest inhabitants of Hawai‘i, the Society Islands, and Samoa were the humblest members of a social group, and that when forced to leave the Gilberts they radiated north, south, and east in search of a home. They settled on the volcanic islands nearest the Gilberts and adjusted their culture to what natural resources were available. These commoners were not only ill-equipped economically and culturally, but were weaker physically than their social superiors. The distinction between chief and commoner page 63 in stature and physique is due not only to breeding and selection, but to the food supply that accompanies rank. It is small wonder that these earlier settlers were so readily dominated by the better equipped people who came later. Yet, no matter what their origin or fate, they must be recognized as the first humans to penetrate into the vast and turbulent unknown waters of the Great Ocean.

A theory has been advanced that some islands were peopled by deep-sea fishermen who were blown away while engaged in their lawful avocation. The objection to this is the fact that Polynesian women did not go out fishing in canoes with their menfolk. The women's sphere of marine activity lay within the lagoon, and their boundary was the encircling reef. They did not pass beyond the reef except in transit with their families on visits to nearby islands or on organized expeditions. No canoe-load of male fishermen could people an uninhabited island for longer than their own lifetime. Hence, when a population including women was found on an island, no matter how remote, it is certain that the first settlers set out on a purposive voyage with a certain amount of food and water. They might have missed a near objective and been carried afar, but their range of travel was limited by their supply of food and water and the amount of human endurance that persisted after their supplies were exhausted. A crew of experienced fishermen, carrying their tackle with them, could augment their supplies from mother ocean by trolling for bonito, shark, and other fish. In Bligh's historic voyage of 3000 miles in an open boat from Tonga in Polynesia to Timor in the Malay Archipelago, a Polynesian is struck by the fact that, though on occasion fish teemed around the boat, Bligh and his severely rationed crew could not catch one fish. They had neither line nor hook. In page 64 Beechey's account of a Polynesian canoe which was driven six hundred miles to the east before a westerly gale, one of the men bent a ship's iron scraper into the form of a hook and caught a large shark that had been following the canoe. Samson's riddle was answered for ‘Out of the eater came forth meat.’

A great deal of nonsense has been talked about the impossibility of the Polynesians sailing east against the prevailing trade winds, and this alleged impossibility has been advanced to support a theory that the Polynesians originated in America and came west into the Pacific. The foolishness of the theory will be dealt with anon. It is sufficient to say that westerly winds also prevail for a part of the year. Beechey demonstrates the force of these winds in the account mentioned above. The missionary John Williams sailed east from Samoa to the Cook Islands on a straight course without changing tack. Schooner captains in the South Seas will tell you that if they had to set out on an exploratory voyage, they would prefer to beat against the prevailing winds, because, if supplies ran low, they could sail directly home before the wind.

The early Polynesians had acquired from their ocean environment a practical knowledge of prevailing winds and their seasons. The cardinal points, termed kaveinga, were named after the various winds which blew through holes in the horizon. During a long sea voyage, the holes of the adverse winds were metaphorically plugged with the aid of Raka, God of the Winds. In New Zealand, the god of the winds was Tawhiri-matea. In the chant of the voyager Kahu-koka, the god was invoked to close his eye that looked to the south so that a safe voyage might be made from west to east.

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Chant of Kahu-koka

Now do I direct the bow of my canoe
To the opening whence arises the sun god,
Tama-nui-te-ra, Great-son-of-the-sun.
Let me not deviate from the course
But sail direct to the land, the Homeland.

Blow, blow, O Tawhiri-matea, God of the Winds!
Arouse thy westerly wind to waft us direct
By the sea road to the Homeland, to Hawaiki.

Close, close thine eye that looks to the south,
That thy southerly wind may sleep.
Allow us to sail o'er the Sea of Maui,
And impede us not on our course.

She stirs, she moves, she sails!
Ah, now shall speed Tane-kaha,
The gallant canoe of Kahu-koka,
Back to the bays of Hawaiki-nui,
And so to Home.

It is clear that Kahu-koka asked for a west wind and also asked that the southeast trade be still. It is also clear to me that Kahu-koka would never have made preparation for his voyage and invoked his god until his own experience or the advice of his navigating officer assured him that the season of the westerly winds had arrived.

The first pioneers in the Pacific were followed by people whom I believe to have been of the same stock but of a higher social grade led by chiefs of rank and priests of intellect and learning. Whether they were forced to leave eastern Micronesia because of increasing pressure behind, conflict within, or the lure of adventure before, we can but surmise. Certain it is that eminent leaders directed their voyaging canoes into Polynesia on a southeast course that kept north page 66 of Samoa, and probably passed through the now-deserted Phœnix atolls or even the Tokelau group. These small atolls with sparse vegetation might serve as resting places but certainly could not appeal to ambitious leaders as permanent homes. So they sailed on until the high volcanic mountains of the leeward Society Islands loomed on the horizon before them. Here they settled, giving to the new islands the names of their previous homes—Vavau, ‘Uporu, and Havai‘i. As population increased and shipbuilding improved, explorers went forth from this centre to rediscover islands already occupied by the earlier voyagers, and to dominate them by organized forces and a higher development of their own culture. Thus the Society Islands became the nucleus for exploration and the dissemination of learning throughout central Polynesia.