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The Maori: Yesterday and To-day


I haere mai ahau i Tawhiti-nui, i Tawhiti-roa, i Tawhiti-pa-mamao, i te Hono-i-Wairua, i Hawaiki.”

(“I came from Great-Distance, from Long-Distance, from the Very-Distant-Places, from the Gathering-Place-of-Souls, from Hawaiki.”)

This is a formula that summarises the Maori's idea of the migration of his ancestors, from one Tawhiti or Hawaiki to another across the island-strewn Pacific. The traditions of the last migration, that from Tahiti and Raiatea and Rarotonga, are widely diffused and are well authenticated; and Maori tribal historians have preserved in minute detail, handed down from tohunga father to son through many generations, the stories of the dissensions amongst the people in these last Hawaikis, the building of the canoes, with the attendant ceremonies and priestly invocations, and the voyages across the Ocean of Kiwa to these shores. But beyond that all is vague, and it is to the sciences of ethnology and philology that we must go for the piecing together of the earlier migrations of this far-travelled people.

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In Maori tradition numerous place-names besides those mentioned are preserved as those of ancient homes; of these are Waeroti, Waerota—to be heard to this day in kumara-planting chants—Mataora, Wawau, Nukuroa, Rangiatea, and other places, and mountains, such as Hikurangi, and rivers or bays, such as Pikopiko-i-whiti. But as to where these places were, the Maori is unable to tell us. Of Waeroti and Waerota we are told by the Maoris that they were the islands whence they obtained the kumara, the sweet potato. As to such localities as Wawau and Hikurangi, there are several places bearing those names in the Pacific Islands, but they must be names of very great antiquity, going back to the remote Asiatic lands. The place-name Wawau we can trace back westward through the Pacific; it is a sign-post on the ocean-rovers' ancient track. In the Society Islands we find it first; the ancient name of the beautiful fantastically-pinnacled isle Porapora, or Borabora, is Vavau. Sailing westward there is Vavau (Maori, Wawau), one of the principal islands of the Tonga group. Then, Fornander, the great Polynesian student, considers that Babao, the ancient name of Compang, Isle of Timor, in the East Indies, and probably the name of the whole island before the Malays conquered and settled it, is identical with Vavau or Wawau. Further back still it goes, and it very likely refers to one of the ancient Continental home lands, perhaps India, or the shores of the Persian Gulf.

That the Maori-Polynesian is a branch, though a distant one, of the Caucasian race, is generally accepted by scientific investigators.

The opinions of ethnologists differ as to when and where the hiving-off began: as to when the ancestors of the Maori began their great eastward page 25 migration, and as to where they first ventured on the great waters and became navigators and seamen. Some go no farther back than India; but all the evidence of feature and language and custom seems to point to a still more distant Hawaiki. Custom is more persistent than language, and some of the habits and customs of the race are identical with those that have been observed amongst
A Samoan girl: Polynesian type [Photo by G. Andrew, Apia, Samoa.]

A Samoan girl: Polynesian type
[Photo by G. Andrew, Apia, Samoa.]

page 26 sea-faring peoples on the coast of Arabia, and on the shores of the Red Sea.

Professor A. H. Keane says that the Eastern Polynesians (those living in the groups east of Fiji, namely, Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tahiti, Hawaii, New Zealand), “constitute the purest and most interesting section of the Caucasian Indonesians. Their claim to belong to this connection can no longer seriously be questioned. There have been from the remotest times both a dolicho and a brachy section of the Caucasic division. To the former belong our Eastern Polynesians, who are mostly long heads with remarkably regular features, often of a distinctly European stamp, and other characteristics of a pronouncedly Caucasian type. The hair is mostly black and straight, but also wavy, though never frizzly or even kinky. The colour also is of a light brown compared to cinnamon or café-au-lait, and sometimes approaching an almost white shade, while the tall stature, averaging 5 ft. 11 in. or 6 ft., slightly exceeds that of several European groups in Sweden, Norway, North Britain, and Ireland.”

As to the period at which the ancestors of the Polynesians began their great héké, their migration eastward from the shores of south-western Asia to India and Indonesia, and finally to the Pacific, we have no data that will enable us to fix even an approximate date. Mr. S. Percy Smith, whose excellent little book “Hawaiki” is the best work on the subject, does not carry his investigations further back than India. He agrees with Mr. J. H. Logan that the Polynesians formed part of the very ancient Gangetic race, which has been in India from remote antiquity, but which had at various periods been modified by the instrusion of Semitic, Tibetan and other races. Mr. Smith concludes, from a mass of traditional as well as scientific evidence which he page 27 cites, that the ancestors of the Maori were living in a land known as Atia-te-varinga-nui, which he holds is India, about 450 B.C., when they were ruled over by a great king or supreme chief named Tu-te-Rangi-marama; that not long before the beginning of the Christian era they began to migrate to the islands of the East Indies, and settled in Java, thence gradually moving eastward into the Pacific.

This conclusion however, must be modified by the consideration of the traces of ancient man in New Zealand. It is extremely probable that there were tribes of a Polynesian type, with a mixture of Melanesian, in these islands long before the period suggested by Mr. Smith and others as the date of the migration from India.

It seems to me reasonable to suppose that from the start the eastward movement of the migrants, whenever it began, was for the most part by sea; from the shores of Arabia and the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf across the Indian Ocean to India, thence by the island stages upon which most writers are agreed. The ocean, with which the Arabs and their kin were familiar, offered an unobstructed highway to the East, whereas by land there were the enormous difficulties and dangers of rugged mountain country, deserts, hunger and thirst, and hostile tribes. The coastal people of South-Western Asia were from ancient times navigators with a knowledge of the stars; they were among the earliest sailors. They coasted down the eastern shores of the African Continent at any rate as far as the Zambesi and they also visited and partly colonized Madagascar; this would account for the resemblances between the Maori-Polynesian language and Malagasy.

The south-west monsoon would take them across the Arabian Sea to India and again across the Bay page 28 of Bengal to Indonesia. In Sumatra they probably remained for some centuries; several eminent Polynesian scholars look upon Sumatra as one of the great Tawhitis or Hawaikis of the race. Java and Borneo were later Hawaikis. Then the north-west monsoon, ranging ten degrees each side of the Equator, would carry them on to Ceram, Gilolo, and other islands of the Molucca Archipelago, thence to the great island of New Guinea, and so fairly on into the Western Pacific.

These stages in the migration of the race would not be covered quickly; they would probably occupy hundreds of years; and in each stopping place the people would probably encounter aboriginal tribes, who would in one way or another leave their impress on the new-comers, in a partial blending of blood and in traditions and folk-story; there would too be preserved memories of the animals and reptiles of those lands.

That the fair-haired lighter-complexioned strain in the Maori came from Asiatic shores there is little doubt. It is not always easy now to distinguish a pure fair-haired urukehu, so widely spread is European blood. But in the Urewera country on the head-waters of the Wanganui River, in South Taupo, and certain other parts of the interior that have been comparatively isolated until recent years, the urukehu (literally “red-hair”) can still be seen as in the olden days, undeniably pure Maori, and with a dull golden tinge in the hair that a careful observer can clearly distinguish from that of the half-bloods.

As far back as 1772, Crozet, the French navigator, who came to the Bay of Islands with Marion du Fresne's expedition, noted this and other Caucasic characteristics of the race. Describing the Ngapuhi people, whose stockaded villages page 29 dotted the coast-line, he says, “Their colour is, generally speaking, like the people of Southern Europe.” Some of the men were as white as the French sailors, and there was a young girl of fifteen or sixteen “as white as our French women.” Crozet saw several people “with red hair.” But while noting the numbers of the tall fair-skinned, straight-haired people with little beard (no doubt the hair had been eradicated in the usual way with shell tweezers), and noting also the somewhat yellowish complexion of some, he recorded the presence of the more Melanesian type, shorter in stature, “slightly frizzled” as to hair, more swarthy
Urukehu girl, of the Urewera tribe at Mataatua (Ruatahuna). This is the ancient fair-haired type, pure Maori [Photo by J. A. Baine, 1929.

Urukehu girl, of the Urewera tribe at Mataatua (Ruatahuna). This is the ancient fair-haired type, pure Maori
[Photo by J. A. Baine, 1929.

page 30 and more bearded than the others, in fact more negroid-looking. Crozet did not know of the Western Pacific race we now call Melanesians, nor did he know anything of the history and migrations of the Maori; his testimony is, therefore, all the more valuable as a faithful observer's record of the very evident differences of type in the Maoris seen in even the one district visited—a district where the ancient differences of physiognomy and other physical points have now been obliterated by the pakeha blend.

We may readily picture the eastward progress of our daring sailors through the Pacific. From one island to another they spread, exploring each and carefully weighing its suitability as a home. Fiji (Whiti, or Viti) and Samoa appear, from the evidence of history, tradition, and song to have been their homes for many a generation. From Samoa as a centre they made many great canoe voyages, exploring all parts of the Pacific, north, south, east, and west, in search of new homes, new kinds of food, new adventures. What Mr. Frank Bullen wrote in “Our Heritage the Sea” of the early Italian and Spanish and Portuguese navigators is equally true of these still earlier and even more daring seamen, the Polynesian pioneers: “They had become so far familiar with those apparently illimitable breadths that they put forth in all confidence that they would fetch somewhere or another, and that wherever it might be it would be well worth the visiting and annexing.”

The late Mr. Charles E. Nelson—the Taré of the Maoris—who was a great linguist and ethnologist, with a very thorough knowledge of the Maori-Polynesian, held strongly to the view that the Maori came from Arabia and the adjacent parts. He gave me this summary of his observations during a curiously varied life:

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“In the Fifties I made three voyages as a young sailor in a Brazilian schooner from Santos to the West Coast of Africa, and I was acquiring a smattering of Angolese and other African dialects when Her Majesty's brig the Cygnet interfered, and put a stop to any further linguistic pursuits on my part by taking the vessel and cargo (negro slaves for Brazil) to St. Helena. Later, after having put in a season whaling in the region of the Crozet Islands, I stayed a few months ashore in St. Augustine Bay, Madagascar, where I joined a Portuguese vessel from Panjim, in India; she traded on the East African coast, from Sofala to Quiloa, or Kilwa. While on board of her I learned a little of the Suahili tongue. Strange to say, the words kumi (ten) and mata (face) correspond exactly with the Maori kumi (ten fathoms) and mata (face). Moreover, these words have the same meaning on the West Coast of Africa. At Quiloa I engaged to navigate an Arab dhow, with 80 negroes, to Sur, near Muscat, and by favour of a dark night and an easterly course managed to evade the British cruiser that was waiting outside for her prize. Some years afterwards, when I had learned something of the Maori, his language and customs, I began to be impressed with the idea that he might be akin to the Hamatico-Semitic people living in Arabia, Egypt, and other parts of Africa; in fact, that he might be a branch of the Cushite stem.

“I have seen natives on the North Somali coast who, like many Polynesians, dyed their hair red with chunam, and wore loin-cloths, while the women in their dances went through similar movements to those of the Maori at a haka. On a sandy beach on the southern coast of Arabia I once saw some fishermen curing—that is, drying—sharks, hung on rails in the sun, exactly as is done by the Maori. page 32 Some of the Arab women had blue lips. Besides these resemblances, many of the customs and habits of these people correspond with those of the Maori, hence my conclusion that the ancestors of the Maori were blood relations of the Cushites and Phœnicians, that they spoke a cognate language, and, like the latter, migrated from the Persian Gulf. In support of this assumption there is the Maori tradition that the Arawa canoe on her voyage from Hawaiki was nearly engulfed in the throat of a great monster, called the Parata, which lived in the sea at the extreme boundary of the horizon. The original of this Parata, in my opinion, is the mouth of the Euphrates, which the Arabs call Furat or Pharat.

“Besides the foregoing, there is other interesting evidence. At the commencement of the so-called Lower Euphrates, and about 550 miles from its mouth, are situated the bitumen springs of Is. Now, the Hebrew word Mi or Mim, when joined to a proper noun, signifies not only water, but a spring, well, or even the fluid emanating from such spring, hence the word ‘mimis’ would mean the asphaltum or bitumen from Is, as well as the spring whence it issued. Again, a Maori would pronounce ‘mimis’ as mimiha, the very word he uses to designate the black bitumen he is sometimes seen chewing. Here let me remark that the ancient Semites held the maxim ‘Imago animi, vitae, vultus, nomen est.’ So with the Maori, the name was not deemed an indifferent matter, but was an integral part or an essential attribute of the object itself. This is a fact, which I regret to say, has not been noticed sufficiently by our modern Maori philologists.

“I have often found the name of a place, river, or person a most useful little key. The Maori calls page 33
A girl of the Ngati-Ruanui tribe, Taranaki, New Zealand.

A girl of the Ngati-Ruanui tribe, Taranaki, New Zealand.

page 34 obsidian tuhua, from Tuhua Island. Pukepoto is a bluish earth used as a dye, derived from a place called Pukepoto. The Phœnicians called the sun Hel. The ancient Maori worshipped the sun as Here. The Phœnician god Io was the supreme god of the Maori, who still on occasions keeps a hakari, or feast, also of Cushite origin. Then, again, there is the whengo, with its consequent shame, humiliation and disgrace, and I very much doubt whether any of our learned Maoriologists can find this curious breach of etiquette anywhere outside of Maori or Arab conventionality. Let me just mention a few Semitic words in daily use among the Maori—Maori, wai, water; Syrian, moai; Arabic, mai. Maori, hau, wind; Syrian, hawa, wind. Maori, puke, ship, vessel; Syrian, symbuk. Maori, tuwha, to spit; Hebrew, tuph, to spit. Maori, rangatira, a chief; Hebrew, rangah, to lead, feed—tirah, a tent or camp of shepherds. Maori, pakeha, a foreigner or white man. The prefix pa in this word is the Maori causative. The keha is derived from the Hebrew adjective kehah, pale, dim. Similarly to this latter the Maori calls a man with red hair pawhero—composed of the causative pa and the adjective whero, red.

“Before coming to New Zealand I spent some time in the Pacific, and one season on board of a Bremen whaler, catching bowhead whales in the Arctic Ocean. On our return, after getting through Behring Straits we visited the coast of Alaska, and from the carvings on totem poles, besides mats, garments, fishhooks, and weapons which I saw there, I am under the impression that there must have been an intercourse between these Indians and the Polynesians, as the fishhook, the korowai mat, taiaha, and the stone méré of the Maori are decidedly of American make, or should I say page 35 pattern. At the Smithsonian Institution at Washington there are five stone clubs exactly like the Maori onewa, and made of a basaltic stone resembling the kara of New Zealand. In Field's Museum, in Chicago, is an Alaskan staff, the very counterpart of a Maori taiaha, only the tongue is made of flint, but of the same shape as the Maori one. Up in Nevada I met some Indians, and amused them by making a number of knots and bends, and showed them also how the Maori lashed (tuparu) the reeds or rushes to the wall of a house, and it astonished me to see them doing these things exactly the same. The Yaqui Indians wear tikis like our Maori tikis, only they are made of turquoise. Whether the Maori—i.e., the Polynesian—introduced these things into America or they were acquired by him from castaways wrecked or stranded on some of the islands in the Pacific is a mystery yet to be solved. I have good reasons for believing that the Maori learnt from the Indian.

“As regards the generic appellative Maori, it also, I am inclined to believe, is of Cushite origin, and derived from the Hebrew word Maor, light, just as the gipsies of Arabia call themselves Nawar, from Nur, light. The Japanese named their island Nippon, the land of the rising sun. The Incas called themselves children of the sun, and it is not impossible that even Greece—Helas—is derived from the Cushite, Hel, the sun, to which is added the Greek nominative termination -as, just as we find Eleph-as, genitive Elephantos, from which we get our elephant.

“Three old friends of mine—Mr. Abraham Fornander, countryman and quondam shipmate, and Messrs. S. Percy Smith and Edward Tregear—assign India to be the cradleland of the Maori, but I confess my inability to follow them up the sinuous page 36 stream and find the source in the fog of Indian antiquity. Before the Aryan invasion and conquest, India was peopled by yellows and blacks. These latter are yet found in Malacca and the Andaman Islands. The Dravidians are a mixed race of black and yellow, and the Malays of black, yellow, and white, very much modified and levelled by Islamism. Knowing the Malay fairly well makes it very difficult for me to believe that he and the Maori are descendants of the same original stock. The Maori sojourned for some considerable time in the Malay Archipelago but he preserved his own original characteristics.”

We must, I think, concede the fact that there are strong affinities of physique and racial custom, as put forward by Mr. Nelson, between the Maori and the sea-using Arabs who covered the Indian Ocean in their trading cruises and ranged the sea from Madagascar to Indonesia. To those littoral Arabs, who were venturesome deep-sea navigators long before any European race became great sailors, I consider the Polynesian owed in the beginning the genius of navigation and seamanship and the native sense of direction which he developed so highly during his centuries-long explorations from Indonesia eastward.

His Arab progenitors were astronomers, shipbuilders and sailors, and the lateen-rigged dhow with its open waist, seen from the African rivers to the coast of Java, was the remote prototype of the swift-sailing outrigger canoes in which the tupuna of the Maori swept the whole Pacific as far as Hawaii and Easter Island and touched the American coast. The knowledge of the stars as steering marks and seasonal guides, the ability to orient himself with accuracy in strange surroundings, the skill in taking advantage of tides, currents page 37 and trade winds, which distinguished the Polynesian through so many centuries could only have been gathered from such people as the sea-Arabs, before the eastward migration mingled with the people of India. The Polynesian was no haphazard navigator; he knew how to find his way back to his starting-point, and though some islands were populated no doubt by driftaways at the mercy of wind and sea, there was a general deliberate design in his ocean cruisings and explorations. Though without compass or sextant, or its early predecessor the astrolabe, he was no ignorant savage trusting to his luck for landfall somewhere or other; he could navigate with an accuracy really wonderful when we consider the tiny dimensions, just pinpoints on the waste of the Pacific, of the islands to which he returned with such confidence from his search for new lands.