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Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia

On the Origin, Character, and Religion of the Maori Race

page 347

On the Origin, Character, and Religion of the Maori Race.

The inhabitants of the globe appear to be divided into races of three colours, viz., the white, the black, and the brown, The latter includes the vast population of the Chinese Empire, the Malays, the aboriginal inhabitants of Madagascar, the red men of North America, the Maoris, &c. Throughout the vast range of the Pacific Ocean, from the Sandwich Islands to New Zealand, we find a brown race, speaking a language which is substantially the same, and holding similar views as to religion.

Apart from the recent spread of the English and Spanish-speaking peoples, the Maori—as we have already noticed—is perhaps the most widely extended race on the face of the earth. If the inhabitants of Madagascar are to be included as part of this race (a claim which is made by philologists), then the area they occupy is enormously increased.

On the western side of the Pacific the islands are occupied by a people of entirely different type; and this black race, called Papuan, is found from Australia and New Caledonia as far north as the Philip-page 348pine Islands, peopling the islands of Melanesia, and much of New Guinea, and is, therefore, also very widely extended.

The great problem to be solved is, whence the Maori race is derived? To arrive at a conclusion, a study of the language and of the physical characteristics of the race is imperative. It might have been expected that the missionaries, from their opportunities of knowing the language, and of observing the character of the natives, would have been able to throw light upon the subject, but in this they cannot be said to have been successful. Their theory has been, that Malay or Japanese vessels had been driven eastward, and had gradually peopled the islands of Oceania. Now, if this were the true theory, we should find the people and the language to be Malay or Japanese, which they are not; and although it is known that vessels from these parts are and were driven to the eastward, yet it would appear that their crews must have been absorbed in the Maori population without any effect being produced.

I do not pretend to any knowledge of the Eastern languages, and therefore any remarks that I may offer are made at second-hand. I gather that the Maori language has a slight connection with the Malay, but that it is so slight that, supposing the Maoris to have been originally Malays, a vast term of years must have passed away to admit of the great divergence that now exists between the two languages. In physical characteristics there seems page 349to be some resemblance between the above-named races. The Maori is a larger and finer man, but there is a resemblance in figure and in colour, and the gravity and politeness which are said to be characteristics of the Malay may be distinctly traced in the Maori. On the other hand, Wallace in his "Eastern Archipelago," lays it down that the hair of the Malay is absolutely straight, and that any curl or turn in it is a sure sign of different blood, whereas it is rare to find a Maori without some curl in his hair. Wallace supposes the Maori to be a cross between the Malay and the Papuan. Considering the present homogeneity of the race, this theory involves the necessity of assuming a central point, in which the race attained its present form and afterwards spread to the other islands; for we cannot suppose that identical crosses would take place in each separate group of islands, producing the same race and the same language.

Mr. J. T. Thomson, in several papers published in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, tries to prove the descent of the Maori from the Dravidian races of India, whom he carries by sea to Madagascar on the west, and to the islands of the Pacific on the east. I am afraid that I am not competent to give an opinion on this theory, as I know nothing of the Dravidians.

A friend of mine in New Zealand, who is an expert in the Maori language, suggests that the race came from Java. In all the islands the tradition is, that the people came from Hawaiki. My friend page 350suggests that this means little Java—"Java-iti," "Hawa-iti." This is another form of the Malay theory.

Altogether the subject is still thoroughly obscure, and requires the careful study of experts. It is probable that the best information could be obtained in the islands of the more Northern Pacific, in the Sandwich, the Society, or the Friendly Islands. New Zealand does not appear to have been settled by the Maori race at a very remote period: the Maori tradition of that event would only give a length of time of some twenty-five generations, or five or six hundred years; and although this may be an under-estimate, yet it is probably not very far from the truth. The tradition is, that the immigrants came from Hawaiki, which in their case may mean either Hawaii in the Sandwich islands, or Savaii in the Navigator or Samoan group. The latter, is much nearer, but even at that distance a very long and dangerous canoe navigation is presupposed. That the immigration did not take place at a period much more remote may be inferred from the slight difference in language. I do not suppose that this difference throughout the immense range of Oceania, inhabited by the brown race, exceeds that between English and Lowland Scotch. In Tahiti the language is softened, as in tanata, man, for the Maori tangata, Hawaian kanaka. In Hawaian the Maori r seems to be rendered by l, thus pare, a cliff, in Maori, is pali in Hawaian.

page 351

Supposing we had ascertained the original seat of the Maori, then the time of the emigration might be traced by the amount of knowledge found among them. They were effective builders in wood, and could make elaborate carvings, the form of which may also constitute a good clue. They built large and handsome canoes on beautiful lines, and their paddles were elegantly formed. The larger canoes had finely-carved ornaments at bow and stern. Similar carvings may be found both in Asia and America, and these should be subjected to careful comparison. The conventional three fingers on the Maori carving of a human figure is curious, and it should be noted if this peculiarity is met with in any other part of the world.

The Maoris were skilful in making stone axes; and the mere poenamu, a greenstone weapon, is a powerful implement, beautifully made, and sometimes takes years to finish, the owner rubbing away at it at all spare hours, like a lady at her knitting or crochet. The other jade ornaments might also form objects for comparison.

The Maoris do not seem to have learnt the art of building in stone, although remains in Easter and Gambier and in some other Pacific islands seem to indicate that there existed there some ancient prehistoric race, who understood that art to some extent, and in the island of Rapa * stone fortifications have been found. The Maoris had not learnt the art of making pottery, and considering the

* Erroneously named Opara in the charts.

page 352aptitude of the race in other respects, this seems remarkable.

The old religion of the Maoris seems to have been of a meagre description. It was founded on the semi-deification of ancestors. Thus old Maui, who is said to have fished up the islands from the depths of the ocean, seems to have been only a great chief, of whose deeds mythological stories were invented after his death. The Maori believed that his ancestors appeared to him in dreams, and by these his actions were accordingly guided. The tohunga, or priest, according to Judge Manning's account, in his admirable little work, "Old New Zealand," employed the art of ventriloquism to a large extent to obtain a superstitious hold over the layman.

The most practical institution of the old religion of New Zealand was that of tapu, or making sacred. This may be compared to the right of sanctuary in the Middle Ages of Europe—a right which, however out of place in the present day, was no doubt most useful at a time when might too generally overcame right. If a chief placed his hand on a man's head and said, "This is my head," the man was safe from injury. Any one who attacked him would have been guilty of insult to the head of the chief. The roof of a house was always tapu; a taro* or kumera garden was tapu, and therefore trespassers could not venture into it Some of the provisions of the tapu were certainly

* An edible arum.

Sweet potato.

page 353inconvenient. A person who was strictly tapu could not touch food with the hands, and had therefore to be fed by another person. If eggs were laid on the thatched roof of a house they could not be removed. If a river was tapu, it could not be crossed; if a road, it could not be travelled over. But, with all its inconveniences, the tapu was the great institution of the Maoris for keeping the peace.

The Maoris, with but few exceptions, may now be said to profess the Christian religion in one form or another. They are chiefly divided into Pihopé (Bishops), Anglicans; Weteriana, or Wesleyans; and Pikipo, or Roman Catholics (another modification of Bishops), the first being most numerous and the last least so. There have been developments in religion notably that of the Hau-Hau sect, but no one seems to know exactly what the latter means. Probably the Hau-Hau do not know themselves. What is known is that one part of their ritual consists in a dance round a pole.

It might be supposed that a barbarous race would take more readily to the pomp and circumstance of Roman Catholicism than to the balder ceremonies of Protestantism; but this has not proved to be the case. The Maori is extremely democratic, and will not readily submit to the dictum of authority; he is also very fond of argument, and addicted, like Scotchmen or Abyssinians, to wrangle upon points of dogma which no man can understand.

It may be plausibly inferred that the religion of page 354the Maori is conceived with an eye to temporal advantage; and as the Neapolitan fisherman will beat the image of his tutelary saint if he fails to catch fish or encounters bad weather, so the Maori expects direct help from the deity he may worship, especially in war; and if this trust fails him, he develops a new faith, such as that of Hau-Hau.

Upon the whole, the Maori is a good sort of man; he has dignity of manners and good temper, is both polite and witty—indeed, very shrewd and observant, and capable of giving wise and sensible advice. He is fairly industrious, and an intelligent cultivator of the soil. He seldom quarrels with his neighbour; never blacks his neighbour's eyes, and very rarely even beats his wife. He is too indulgent to his children, who would probably be the better of a good licking now and then. He is a man of great courage, and very persistent in the defence of his rights. I except from these remarks the Maoris who have become drunken and demoralised in the chief cities. On the other hand, he will set up the most extravagant claims for what he supposes to be his rights.

It is a pity that the race seems to be doomed. Judging from the numerous remains of very large fortified pas, chiefly in the North Island, the Maori population must have been many times greater than at present. At the present time they number little more than 40,000 souls, and these numbers seem to decrease by about 4000 between every census, or at the rate of 1000 a year. The race throughout page 355the South Seas seems to be steadily disappearing, apparently from some defect in constitution. European vices, liquors, &c., are insufficient to account for the fact. Negroes, Kaffirs, Zulus, &c., are exposed to similar dangers, but they increase instead of falling away. The Maori is in some respects more intelligent than the average European. Of course he knows little of book learning or of philosophy, but he has a name for every tree, shrub, and plant in the islands, and knows the quality of the timber and the purposes for which it may be used. He has a name for every river, and stream, or lake, for every mountain or hill, and is practically acquainted with the geography of the whole country. He is fertile in resource; can find food or catch birds or fish where a white man would starve; can rapidly put up a shed for shelter, or make a temporary canoe for navigating or crossing a river.

The half-castes are physically very fine, but they seem to be even inferior in constitution to the Maoris, and do not keep up their numbers. The female half-castes are superior to the males. An educated and well-brought up half-caste girl is extremely pleasing and lady-like in manners and appearance, and is in general a splendid horsewoman.

The Maori race throughout the South Seas have different local characteristics. The natives of Samoa are said to be the handsomest of the race, and, strange to say, living so near the line as they do, also the fairest in complexion. The Tahitian page 356ladies have the character of being the Parisiennes of Oceania, the most elegant and refined of the race; the Kanakas of the Hawaian Archipelago are perhaps the most industrious, while the New Zealanders are the most manly and warlike.

A remarkable contradiction to the theories of the late Mr. Buckle is found in the fact that the eastern side of the Pacific is peopled by a brown race, of grave demeanour and considerable power of intellect, whereas the western side of the same ocean is inhabited by a nearly black race, of slight build, highly vivacious and imitative, and of low intellect. Although the physical conditions are nearly the same, the respective peoples are in direct contrast. Both races have doubtless inhabited their respective archipelagos from a very remote antiquity.

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E. G. Ravenstein, delt. IPettilt & Co., Lith Londan

E. G. Ravenstein, delt. IPettilt & Co., Lith Londan