The Moa-Hunters of New Zealand: Sportsman of the Stone Age
The purpose behind the writing of this book has been to place between two covers the leading facts connected with that section of our ancient population who to-day are known as “The Moa-hunters of New Zealand.” That man hunted and ate the Moa is a fact that has been long established, but the ascertained details of that period in our country's history have been obscured because they have been scattered through many publications, often in themselves obscure. It has, therefore, been possible to obtain a comprehensive view of the subject only by the expenditure of much time and great labour. Stripped of extraneous matter, I venture to hope that the story as here presented will prove to be at once interesting and instructive. It is to be regretted that during my researches nothing has emerged that will enable me to assign to the events described an authentic date, nor is it possible to say with certitude who the Moa-hunters were, but I have done my best with a heap of stones and a heap of bones, which are almost the only index that we now have to aid us in solving these two problems. There is no use blinking the fact that the information page vi available to us is vague, and that the material upon which we have to draw for that information is nebulous. Yet out of the difficult experience of piecing together such an erratic mosaic there has come a wondrous pleasure in the discovery that the Moa has made for me a host of friends in all parts of New Zealand. Evidently we sometimes “build better than we know,” and this is what it would seem I have been doing in my relation to the Moa, for as a complement to this relationship there are constantly recurring the most pleasurable associations at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected places. These friendships—many of them with correspondents whom I have not yet seen—I esteem greatly, for they are the torches that light the lamp of encouragement when the taper of enthusiasm is burning low. It may interest these friends to know that in the writing of this book they have helped in ways of which they, possibly, were not in the least degree conscious.
This book forms the third of a Moa trilogy, and in all probability it will be the last that I will write upon the subject—not that the subject of the Moa is by any means exhausted. The recent operations of the Trustees of the Alexander Museum, at Whanganui, is proof of this. In the Upokongaro Valley, only nine miles from their city, they have what promises to be one of the most productive page vii deposits of Moa bones New Zealand has yet known, not the least fascinating feature about it being the secret of its origin. The solution of that riddle as yet defies the wit of the layman and the skill of the scientist. All that we know of it is that from deep funnels on a swampy area it is possible to extract from the liquid mud, with which the funnels are filled, Moa bones of species large and small, and almost as sound as the day the birds died. How these birds became entombed in these holes, and how long they have been there, are problems which but add to the many puzzles yet to be solved ere it can be said that the Moa has ceased to be surrounded by the element of mystery. A series of beautiful skeletons has already been recovered from this deposit and articulated at the Museum, and, given financial support equal to the enthusiasm of the Trustees, Whanganui will have in the near future one of the finest collections in the Dominion of our gigantic, but now extinct, national bird.
Although the theme of this volume is the Moa-hunters, my sympathies throughout have been with the Moa rather than with the men who hunted him. A bird of great antiquity among the larger forms of life, it suffered the handicaps of its primitive birth. Being but ill equipped mentally and physically to compete against the subleties of man, it fought from the first a losing battle, but let us hope it page viii fought gamely. We can, therefore, still pay to the vanquished bird the tribute accorded to the valiant dead by the author of “Io Victis,” William Wetmore Storey:
I sing the hymn of the conquered, who fell in
the battle of life.
The hymn of the wounded, the beaten who died
overwhelmed in the strife.
The hymn of the low and the humble, the
weary, the broken in heart,
Who strove and who failed, acting bravely a
silent and desperate part.