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The Aborigines of New Zealand: Two Lectures

The Origin of the New Zealanders

The Origin of the New Zealanders.

Here a multitude of interesting questions immediately meets us. Whence came they? When did the first emigration take place? What were their numbers? How were they conveyed hither? Were they borne along involuntarily, by the breath of storm, or did they emigrate? These, and similar queries, can only be answered by referring to their own traditions. Native tradition says their forefathers came from Hawaiki, a name which—making allowance for difference in dialect—is identified by its orthography with Hawaii of the Sandwich Islands.* The tradition is curious.

Hoturoa was the man who originated the colony. He resolved to leave Hawaiki, and go in search of an island on which to live. For what reason, whether in consequence of crowded population, or quarrel, or merely from love of adventure, is not stated. The first thing was to provide canoes. Trees were cut down, and they went to work. He had a brother-in-law called Rakataura, who was an idle fellow and would only sit by the workmen and help to consume

* The name is also identified with Savaii of the Navigators group; and as this group is comparatively near to New Zealand, the voyage thence to these islands would present no very formidable undertaking. May not then the first immigrants have started from Savaii of the Navigators, instead of Hawaii of the Sandwich Islands, as is commonly supposed? This conclusion would set aside the objection generally raised against a Sandwich Island origin, because of the difficulty of making so long a voyage in native canoes. The Rev. Mr. McDonald, with whom I have conversed on the subject, after comparing the languages, customs, and habits of the inhabitants, and considering the contiguity of the islands, seems fully persuaded that the Hawaiki of the New Zealander is the Savaii of the Navigators.

page 8 the kai (food). He contrived to keep himself covered with dust and to have a few chips sticking to his garment, that the cooks might think he was at work, and allow him to share the food. His lazy habits vexed Hoturoa, and he strangled Rakataura's son, and buried him among the chips. The father sought the lad in vain, till the corpse began to putrify, and the offensive smell discovered the hiding place. This led to a serious quarrel, and Hoturoa determined that Rakataura should not accompany them on their expedition.

The canoes, four in number, were finished. Two were war canoes, called Te Arawa and Matatua. The others were common ones, called Tainui and Kurawhaupo. They had some difficulty in dragging them to the water, and feared there had been some offence given to the gods, who would not suffer the canoes to move. They rectified this, and sang—

We have cut off the root, and here we leave it;
We have cut off the branch, and here we leave it.
The Sacred Oven shall certainly move it now,
Our offering had not reached the priests,
Nor the gods, nor their disciples.

The canoes are launched, and they set sail in the night. When the day dawned, they found themselves at the place whence they started. At night they sailed again, and again, with the break of day, found themselves driven back. Hoturoa lay down to sleep, and had a vision. The spirit of his father appeared to him, and told him that he had not taken his bones with him, and for this reason they were driven back. He at once exhumed what remained of his father, and again embarked.

Rakataura was a sort of mysterious being, who could live on land or water, and, finding they were gone, followed in the sea, keeping near the canoes, so that he could hear all that was going on. At sea the canoes separated. The two war canoes coming along the eastern coast, and the others along the western. Hoturoa and his party determined to land at Aotea; but Rakataura hastened on shore, and contrived to make a great noise resembling a multitude of voices, so that, as the canoes neared the land, Hoturoa said “That land is full of people, we must go further.” Again they put to sea, and made several attempts to land, but were scared by Rakataura making a great noise. At length they got round to the east coast, and landed at Hauraki, were Rakataura instantly dried up the river, that they should not leave. Here they remained about a month, and having consumed nearly all their kumeras, went in quest of food, and while getting the pith of the palm tree, were blinded by dust from the leaves, and could not find their way back. Friends went in search of them, and the forest resounded with calls, Keihea koutou? (Where are you?) The Kiwi (a bird) replied, crying Hoie.

At length all mustered, and Rakataura, seeing their distress, began to soften, and brought back the waters. They sailed round the North Cape and along the Western Coast till they came again to Aotea,* and one of them going on shore saw a bird. He returned

* Other traditions say they dragged their canoes across the portage at Otahuhu from the Tamaki to the Manukau waters.

page 9 saying, Te pai o te tangata o te whenua nei, kahore e noho ki raro tutakatutaka! (What beautiful creatures they are here! They never sit on the earth, but fly about saying tutakatutaka!)

They sailed to Kawhia, where they took up their abode. Wakaotirangi, the wife of Hoturoa, had saved a few kumeras in the bottom of a kete, which they planted, in soil brought from their native land. The settlement they named Hawaiki, which is the name of that place to this day.

This tradition then, stripped of all that is fabulous, replies to most of our questions. They came from Hawaiki. As to date,—we have no means of ascertaining that. As to numbers,—there were four canoes, with Hoturoa at their head. As to whether it was chance or voluntary emigration,—it appears they purposely emigrated. The leading facts are clearly defined, and the fabulous parts may be thrown aside.

That their origin was one with the Copper Coloured Tribes scattered over a great portion of the Southern Pacific there can be no question. There is a community of form, feature, language, of manners and customs, that identify the New Zealander with those tribes.

That the Islands of the Pacific are peopled by two distinct races is clearly indicated by a marked difference in physical conformation, colour, and language. The one is considered to be a Negro or African race, the other Asiatic or Malayan. The one is distinguished by a large frame, black skin, and crisp hair; these inhabit what is called Western Polynesia, including New Holland, New Guinea, New Britain, New Caledonia, New Hebrides, and the Feejees. The other has a frame well moulded; the hair fine and glossy; the skin copper coloured; and the countenance partaking strongly of the Malay. These occupy Eastern Polynesia, including the Sandwich, the Marquesan, the Paumotu, the Tahitian and Society, the Austral, the Hervey, the Navigators, the Friendly Islands, and New Zealand, with smaller Islands in their respective localities.

Dr. Pritchard, in his very learned work on the “Natural History of Man,” seems to favour the idea that the Polynesians are but one race, though they may not display the same physical appearance. The physical differences he would attribute to the “spontaneous variations which display themselves in tribes of people who have inhabited from immemorial ages different climates and have existed in many respects under different physical conditions.” It might appear presumption in me to controvert the opinion of such a writer as Dr. Pritchard, but the evidences against the Doctor are so conclusive, I am compelled to believe that two races inhabit Polynesia. To say nothing about physical differences, their languages are totally different, having nothing in common. Mr. Ellis speaks of one of the Islands far to the westward, where both these tribes exist, yet remain distinct—the Negroes dwelling in the interior, and among the mountain fastnesses; those of fair complexion form settlements along the shore. It it not possible the lighter race may have drifted to the island, and driven the aborigines back? He thinks the Tongans are a mixed race.

Some think there are two races in New Zealand, and conclude that the darker coloured and negro featured were an aboriginal race, and the page 10 others emigrants. But I doubt this. Is it not probable, were such the fact, that some tradition of it would exist? But we never hear that the first emigrants from Hawaiki found the land inhabited; and, on the other hand, there is no tribe claiming to be aboriginal, nor any having a tradition to the effect that such a colony once reached them. If such had been the fact, is it not also probable, that some traces of an original language would have remained? Nor does it appear to me that the physical differences are greater than are seen in every country between different classes of people;—between the well-fed luxurious idler, on the one hand, and the half-starved, ill-clad, labouring man on the other. We find many instances of stunted form, dark complexion, rather a negro cast of countenance, but no instance of what could be termed frizzled or woolly hair.

With the copper coloured Polynesians the New Zealander is identified, not only by physical conformation, but by his Language. It is well ascertained that one common language prevails, comprising a multitude of dialects, but all reducible to one radical tongue; and indeed so familiar, as to enable the Natives of distant Islands to understand each other to a considerable extent, and soon to converse with freedom.

The great resemblance of language is fully described by one of the Wesleyan Missionaries, in an essay on the Feejean language.*

I may here quote a few specimens.

English. Feejean. Tonguese. Hawaiian. Tahitian. Samoan. Malay. New Zealand.
Three Tolu Tolu Tolu Tolu Tolu Toru
Six Ono Ono Ono Ono One Ono
Fish Ika Ika Ika Ika Ika
Dead Mate Mate Mate Mate Mate Mate Mate
Water Wai Vai Wai Vai Vai Vai Wai
House Vale Fale Hale Fale Fale Whare

They have also the same Gods. Each Island may have gods not known in the other Islands, but the principle gods seem common to all. Mawe seems universally known. At Tonga he is known as the god which supports the earth, and is the cause of earthquakes; at the Navigators, as the cause of earthquakes; at Tahiti, the same; here, he is the god that fished the island out of the sea.

Another god, generally known as Tiki, called Tii among the Tahitians, who, with Opira, were the parents of the human race, and resided in the Po, or world of night. At Rarotonga, Tiki was the name of the first man, who was supposed, after death, to have received dominion over the region of departed spirits; and in New Zealand Tiki was the creator of man. The word Tiki in Nukuhivan, and Tii, in Hawaiian, signify an image, and Heitiki signifies the

* See Wesleyan Missionary Report, 1842, p. 132.

page 11 ugly image the New Zealanders suspend to their necks. Tangarou is another name in Polynesian mythology, generally known. He was the principal god of the Tahitians; a being, according to Mr. Ellis who was uncreated, existed from the beginning, or from the time he emerged from the Po, or world of darkness. At Samoa his name was Tangaloa-langi—heavenly Tangaloa. At the Friendly Isles, Tangaloa resides in the sky; sends forth thunder and lightning; is god of the carpenters, and of all foreigners. At Hawaii his name is Tanaroa; and here, Tangaroa. Among the New Zealanders he is the god that reveals secrets. Tangaroa piri whare. He sits by the side of their houses, hears all their korero (conversation), then carries it to whom it may concern. It is not improbable that he was the original god of the Polynesians;—perhaps before they inhabited these islands at all. The existence of these names strongly indicates common origin.

The similarity, too, of many of their customs, particularly the universal prevalence of tapu, all support the fact of the common origin of these tribes.

The next question that arises is, Whence originated the whole? to what great family of the human race do they owe their origin? whence came they to people the islands of these seas? Some incline to the opinion that their origin was Mexican; others that it was Malayan. For the latter the evidences are most conclusive. In tracing the origin of the copper-coloured Polynesians, says Mr. Williams, I find no difficulty. At page 504 of his Missionary Enterprises, we read thus—

“Their physical conformation, their general character, and their Malay countenance, furnish, I think, indubitable evidence of their Asiatic origin. But to these proofs must be added the near affinity between the caste of India and the tabu of the South Sea Isles;—the similarity of the opinions which prevailed respecting women, and the treatment they received in Polynesia and Bengal, more especially the common practice of forbidding them to eat certain kinds of food, or to partake of any in the presence of men;—the inhuman conduct to the sick;—the immolation of the wives at the funeral of their husbands;—and a great number of games and usages. These, I think, are clear indications of the Asiatic origin of this people.”

The correspondence between the languages is especially adduced as most decisive evidence on the subject. Mr. Williams says, “the identity is very remarkable in the speech of the New Zealanders, Rarotongans, and others, who introduced the nasal sound and the hard consonants.”

The Malay numerals are used with scarcely any variation, and several words are precisely the same, or, with little difference in orthography, have sprung from the same root.

The existence of many Jewish customs furnishes collateral evidence of their Asiatic origin, which might lead to the conclusion, that either they are descendants of Abraham, or of some race that dwelt contiguous to the Hebrews, and mixed with and adopted many of their customs.

I speak more particularly of the New Zealanders, with whose customs I am best acquainted. As among the Hebrews the mother was tapu for a season after childbirth, so it is among the New Zealanders. page 12 She was not allowed to feed herself or engage in any kind of work. Some sacred person was engaged to attend her; and that person had to be fed by another; his hands were not permitted to touch any kind of food; and no common person was allowed to approach.

The Eastern custom of betrothing too is prevalent here to this day. Daughters are frequently betrothed from their birth, and the persons to whom they are promised never forget the claim thus given them. Any breach on the part of the girl's friends has often created a war.

The Mosaic law on the subject of a brother taking to wife a deceased brother's widow, is a regulation in force among the New Zealanders, the nearest kinsman can claim the widow as his right.

Among the Hebrews—he who came nigh a corpse was considered unclean, and had certain ablutions to perform before he could come into the congregation,—so among the New Zealanders. He who touches a corpse is tapu;—cannot feed himself, nor do any kind of common work till the tapu is removed. I have seen such an one sitting with his hands behind him being fed by another.

The Jewish custom in reference to the first-fruits finds also a similar rite among the New Zealanders. The kumera harvest was a sacred season, all were tapu, and the first kumeras taken from the ground were sacred to the gods, to whom they were offered with great solemnity. Mr. Ellis tells us that a similar practice prevails among the Tahitians. The first fish caught, the first fruits of the orchard and gardens, were always given to the gods, as it was supposed that death would be inflicted on the owner or the occupant of the land, if the god did not receive such acknowledgment.

These corresponding customs are at least striking indications of Asiatic origin; and Mr. Williams has clearly shewn how easy it would be to emigrate from the Malay coast to any of these Islands. Though their vessels might be frail, and their knowledge of navigation very imperfect, the islands are so numerous, and distances are so short, that they might pass from island to island without difficulty; people the nearest first, and gradually spread over the Archipelago. A reference to the map, or to Mr. Williams' “Enterprises,” will show how easily canoes starting from the Malay coast or Sumatra could reach these Islands. In his “Enterprises,” p. 507, Mr. W. says,—

“Suppose that the progenitors of the present islanders had started from the Malay coast or Sumatra, what would have been their route? By sailing five degrees, or three hundred miles, they would reach Borneo; then by crossing the Straits of Macassar, which are only about two hundred miles wide, they would arrive at the Celebes. These are eight degrees from New Guinea, but the largest islands of Bessey and Ceram intervene. The distance from New Guinea to the New Hebrides is twelve hundred miles; but the islands between them are so numerous, that the voyage may be made by short and easy stages. Five hundred miles from the New Hebrides are the Fijis; and about three hundred miles farther on, the Friendly Islands. Another stage of five hundred miles brings you to the Navigators; but, between these two points, three other groups intervene. From the Navigators to the Hervey Islands, the distance is about seven hundred miles, and from thence to the Society group about four hundred more. Thus, I think, every difficulty vanishes; page 13 for the longest stage, in the voyage from Sumatra to Tahiti, would be from the Navigators to the Hervey group, seven hundred miles; and the Rarotongans themselves say that their progenitor came from thence.

“The two opposite points have yet to be reached:—the Sandwich Islands and New Zealand. The former are about two thousand five hundred miles north of Tahiti; but the voyage, if made by way of the Marquesas, would not be difficult, because the distance would thus be diminished from six to eight hundred miles, and the voyagers taken so much to the eastward, that they would be wafted with great velocity before the prevailing trade wind.”

Mr. Ellis seems to favor the notion that the Islanders came from America, and similarity of language and customs, indicates that the Malays, Polynesians, and North Americans were formerly the same people, and had one common origin. It is said that the carvings of the New Zealanders present a striking analogy to the architectural ornaments of the Mexicans; the kumera, too, is indigenous there. I am inclined to think that the emigration was from the contrary direction, and that America was probably peopled from Asia by way of the Pacific—the whole of which is interspersed with numerous islands, making the passage easy from Northern Asia to America.

“The Continent of Asia,” says Jarves in his History of the Sandwich Islands, “from the numerous intervening islands affords more facilities for reaching Polynesia in this manner than America, though stragglers from the latter have doubtless, from time to time, added to the population, and thus created a mixture of customs which, to some extent, indicate an origin from both. The probabilities are greatly in favour of Asia.” Baron Humboldt, too, the celebrated traveller, favours this idea.

And here we must take leave of this part of our subject; the point we have endeavoured to establish is, that the New Zealanders have had a common origin with the rest of the copper-coloured tribes of Polynesia, and that their origin is Asiatic.