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Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

Chapter XLIII. — Cannibalism

page 389

Chapter XLIII.

A short cut to secure 'survival of the fittest.'—A Lost Art.—Dead friends as an edible paste.—No animal food except Kai tangatu (man's flesh).—Eat your Enemies First, your Friends Last.—Maories, first-class Savages.—Stone Implements.—Darwin's instance contrary to fact.—Sir John Lubbock's Mistake.—Living Maories have used Stone Implements.—Maories as Captain Cook saw them.—Fern root as a food.—Work the Secret of the grand physique of Maories.—Cannibalism not justly a reproach to Maories.—The weakest to the Oven.—Nothing but Rats to eat.—The pig versus Cannibalism.—The pig wins.—If you wish to be Brave, eat a Valiant Man.—'O that I could eat a Governor.'—Title by Digestion Indisputable.—Scene in Land Court. 'Some of your ancestor Here.'—The former Owner Eaten.—The Land to the Eater.—Cannibalism not confined to savages:—A Chancery Lawyer.—The Factory system.—More ways of devouring men than Eating them.—A Back Seat in the Temple of Mammon.—The Century of Inventions.—Dives and Lazarus.—Purple Luxury.—Gone to the Dogs.—Cannibalism not 'a Lost Art.'—New way to Unmake a Nation.—Mad Race for Riches.—The Moloch of the Century.—The Maori on the Broken Arch.—He Moralises on the Deserted City.—English Cannibalism carried Too Far.—'This is what Comes of it.'

Cannibalism may seem a strange subject for a Chapter in 'Nation Making.' And yet, to write about the Making of this young New Zealand page 390Nation, and to say nothing about a custom which, in the old days, made New Zealand a name of terror to Englishmen, would be to make a grave omission in my story. For, of a truth, the custom of devouring one another played no little part, in the efforts these Maori children of nature—savages we called them—were making to struggle through the various phases of savagism into a national life, though of a low type.

Let us mercifully judge these benighted cannibal Maories, who were unwittingly putting in practice the Darwinian theory of evolution. They may have made short cuts, for they effectively secured 'the survival of the fittest,' by devouring the helpless and the weak, by eating—after cooking—those who were unable to resist their cunning or their prowess.

For many years, cannibalism amongst the Maories has ceased. Under various influences, it has become 'a lost art.' Kai tangatu (human flesh) no longer forms a part of the food of a modern Maori, no longer appears on the 'bill of fare' at any of his great tribal feasts. He is ashamed of the practice, and in these days, never refers to it, except to prove his title to lands in the Native Land Courts.

Though the Maories under the influence of Missionary teaching, aided by a plentiful supply of pigs, have abandoned cannibalism, Mr. H. H. Johnston, in the 'Fortnightly' for January 1889, tells us, that it is still in full vigour in Central Africa. The hideous forms cannibalism has taken there, call forth his strongest condemnation. Though for himself, he says page 391that when once dead, he 'would prefer to be eaten by a fellow human, or even by an enterprising hyæna, and so continue to assist in the developement of higher forms of life, than be doomed to absorption by a mixed myriad of lower organisms.' He tells us, that the Tibetans some six centuries ago, 'reverently reduced their dead friends to an edible paste, and then consumed them.'

He goes on to describe, how the savages 'in Africa, Australia and Polynesia ate their old people as well as their weakly children,' adding grimly, that 'the community must have seemed always in a state of vigour, with a society for ever in the prime of life.'

This is 'the survival of the fittest' with a vengeance, but however much it may be in accord with the Darwinian theory, it is not likely to be adopted in this exact form by civilized communities, for a while at least.

Civilized communities are naturally shocked at such a practical mode of improving the physique of a nation. The aboriginal natives of New Zealand, as I have said, were once famous, or infamous, for their cannibal practices. For them however, there was some excuse, seeing that when the first Maories arrived in New Zealand, the only quadruped on the islands was a small rat. In the sunny lands they had left behind them a thousand miles or more, fruit and vegetables were abundant, and they were naturally vegetarians. But when they migrated to New Zealand, page 392they found that a colder climate needed something more than a vegetable diet.

Being naturally fearless navigators, they quickly turned to the 'harvest of the sea.' Sharks they dragged from the deeps, and dried in the sun for future use. Fish, which swarm round the coasts, they caught in abundance.

For centuries, this ready supply of food probably kept them close to the coast line, where they multiplied and grew. The Kumara and Taro they had brought with them from their original island homes. Both these roots grew fairly well in New Zealand, with careful cultivation on the sea coast, where there was not much frost. But they went a very little way in providing for an increasing population. Yet, with one exception, New Zealand was as destitute of fruits and roots as of animals. That one exception however—fern root—as will have been seen in preceding Chapters, was an important one.

Not unnaturally, tribal quarrels occurred as their numbers increased. By accident or necessity, they fell to eating their enemies killed or taken in battle, and the taste for human flesh once acquired, soon became a general and fixed custom amongst them.

At this point, it will be advantageous to make a short digression, the better to understand the reason of the practice of cannibalism by the Maories.

Wherever the Maori came from, or whoever were his remote ancestors, he is without doubt, in many respects, the most remarkable savage the English page 393race has met with in its discoveries and conquests all over the world.

When Captain Cook discovered New Zealand, the Maories were largely in a state of nature, without iron implements, ignorant of the art of pottery, but rude agriculturists, fierce warriors, and expert fishermen, going to sea in canoes burnt out of great trees, and fashioned by stone adzes or axes—the only tools with which they were acquainted.

The use of these stone implements by the Maories offers a remarkable comment on Sir John Lubbock's assertion, in his 'Prehistoric Times,' second edition, 1869, and adopted by Darwin, in his 'Descent of Man,' seventh edition, 1871, Vol. I. Chap. V., as follows,

'In all parts of Europe, as far east as Greece, in Palestine, India, Japan, New Zealand and Africa, including Egypt, flint tools have been discovered in abundance; and of their use the existing inhabitants retain no tradition.'

Regarding flint or stone tools, this statement is contrary to fact, so far as New Zealand is concerned.

Now, the extreme antiquity of Man is an adopted dogma by scientists, and may be a fact, but the New Zealand instance, as above cited by Darwin on the authority of Sir John Lubbock, is not entitled to any weight in determining the question; inasmuch, as there not only are 'traditions' of the use of stone tools, but there are now living hundreds of New Zealanders (Maories) many of whom are acquaintances of my page 394own, who assert, not only that their ancestors used stone tools, but who have assured me, that they have themselves used stone tools in fashioning and finishing their canoes, houses and storehouses.

Thousands of stone implements have been dug or ploughed up by the New Zealand Colonists, and are still being unearthed in the neighbourhood of every Maori village, or field of battle.

When Cook made the acquaintance of the Maories they were a grand race physically, holding their lands, their fishing grounds, their women and their lives by valour and force of arms. Exposed to attack from every neighbouring tribe, constantly surprised if they relaxed an ever watchful vigilance, they were naturally both warlike and suspicious.

Largely ignorant of the textile arts, they were naked, except for the Kakahu (a rough covering for the shoulders), used occasionally, and a Maro (slight cincture round the loins), worn chiefly by the women. These, with feather cloaks and elaborately ornamented mats, made at a cost of infinite labour and time (and used chiefly on important occasions), were their only clothing. These garments were made from the Phormium tenax, scraped by shells, the natural flax of the country, which grows everywhere, and which is now becoming, under machine treatment, a large export from New Zealand.

To estimate the number of the Maories in Cook's time—a hundred years ago—is difficult. Estimates page 395varying from 200,000 to 300,000 have been made. Though these are mere guesses, it is evident, from the number of earthwork fortresses, and abandoned cultivations—long since gone back into secondary forest—that their number must have been large. Before the time of Cook's visits, and for some time after, frequent tribal wars must have reduced their numbers.

For, besides tribal quarrels on ordinary grounds, it must be remembered, that the last migration of the Maories had been from a tropical climate—where only a vegetable diet was necessary or possible—to a temperate climate, where animal food, in some form, was almost a necessity. But the Maori immigrants to New Zealand found—as I have remarked in another Chapter—no animal of any kind, save a small rat, nor indeed with the exception of a few berries any vegetable available for food, except fern root

The North Island of New Zealand—the chief home of the Maories—is remarkable for the extent, beauty, and variety of ferns it produces, having about one hundred and forty of the varieties of ferns known to science. From their earliest settlement in New Zealand, their chief article of diet must have been the root of the fern. This, as elsewhere stated, they dug, roasted and pounded into a grey meal, eating it in the form of porridge, with such Kinakis (relishes) as eels, fish or sharks afforded.

There can be no doubt that the Maori race in Cook's time, and for long afterwards, owed its fine physique to the consumption of fern root as its chief page 396article of diet. To procure enough of this food, the Maori had to work hard and constantly. It is owing to this circumstance, together with the wonderful healthiness of the New Zealand climate, that the Maori has developed a physical and mental vigour, far superior to his fat and enervated kinsmen of the tropical islands from which he came. There, the luscious fruits and soft climate developed fat and soft tissues generally; in New Zealand, the stronger food, healthier climate, and harder toil produced more muscle and probably more brain.

I may now return to the Cannibalism of the Maories. It has been regarded as a reproach to them, and I think not altogether justly, considering their wants and position.

Living in a climate where animal food of some kind was more or less necessary, and yet where practically no animal was to be found, is it surprising, that the slain should become food for the conquerors; or that, to satisfy the craving for animal food, quarrels should have been provoked with neighbouring tribes, often for no other purpose, than to provide flesh to eat.

Of course in these contests, the 'weakest went to the wall,' or rather to the oven and the stomach. In this way the Maories put practically in force; the doctrine of 'the survival of the fittest,' long before Mr. Darwin and his fellows made the dogma fashionable.

Captain Cook's introduction of the pig did more to destroy cannibalism than any other measure. The page 397pig took well to the country. To grub for fern root was natural to him, to increase and multiply with such an abundance of food, was equally natural, and in a short time the pig overran a large portion of the North Island, thus providing an abundance of animal food, and striking an effective blow at cannibalism in New Zealand.

For though tribal quarrels continued, they were no longer caused by the old craving for animal food, which the pig supplied with less danger than killing a man involved. It is true, that the Maori, like most other varieties of humanity, was a Conservative animal, and continued to follow the ways of his ancestors, when there was no particular reason for his doing so. From ancient custom therefore, he remained a cannibal to some extent, more especially, as he believed that to eat a renowned warrior, enabled those who ate him, not only to satisfy their hunger or vengeance, but to absorb the valour and Mana (influence) of the roasted Chief.

'O that I could eat the Governor,' said a Chief in the Northern war, 'I should be the greatest Chief in the island.'

Again, in tribal contests about land, he probably found the best mode of ending the dispute and establishing his right, lay in killing and eating the disputants or former owners, thus acquiring the most effective of all titles—a title by digestion.

To this day, in the Native Land Courts established by Act of Parliament to ascertain the ownership of Maori lands, if a Native can prove that his ancestors killed and ate the former owners, his title to the land page 398is regarded as indisputable. Indeed, a case not long ago occurred in a Native Land Court, in which a Native claimant was being cross-examined, by a counter claimant to the land in dispute,

'Where,' asked he, 'was my father after the battle fought between your tribe and mine?'

'I don't know,' the other promptly replied, 'where the whole of him was, but a good part of him was here,' significantly tapping his stomach.

The opposing claimant at once collapsed. His case was closed, his cause lost, and the land became vested in the man who had eaten the former proprietor.

'This is very awful. What savages your Maories must have been,' exclaims a sleek Chancery lawyer. And yet, how many landed properties are swallowed by legal quibblers, by a mode not so simple perhaps, as the Maori method, but equally effective? What is this but Cannibalism in a fashionable—if more cowardly—form? It is quite as effective though.

A very cursory survey of the condition of England, will show that Cannibalism is not confined to low-class limbs of the law.

When Arkwright discovered the spinning jenny in 1776, followed by Cartwright's invention of the power loom, and by Watt's practical discovery of the steam engine—a new form of Nation Making became the fashion. These inventors were Englishmen, and for fifty years or more, England had the monopoly of page 399the new forces in Nation Making, they called into existence.

Under their influence, Factories were built, and filled with the stalwart youths and rosy-faced lasses from peasant homes, scattered over England and Scotland. In this flocking from home to factory, from country to town, their old home life received its first and most fatal blow. Simple, plain country life gave place to the garish excitement of the town. Long hours of labour in the fresh open air, were replaced by long hours of toil in the unwholesome atmosphere of the factory. The merry whirr of the spinster's wheel died out, and was heard no more in the land; the hum, and clang, and clatter of machinery took its place. The Master of the Factory stepped into the shoes of the feudal lord; and the serfs of an older time, through various changes, had become 'factory hands.'

Without denying that cloth and calico became cheaper—if not better—the change was in many ways for the worse, the service harder. The spinner and weaver—man, woman and child—became automatons, almost as much machines, as the spinning jennies and looms they worked, and were too often cared for as little, or less.

Meanwhile the Lords of the Factories grew rich. Many of the 'new men' migrated into 'the stately homes of England.' Their modern serfs crowded the hovels of the towns.

Then came the railways and Free trade. These two new forces further depopulated the country, made the towns bigger, the rich richer, the poor poorer.

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The old aristocrats were in the main eclipsed and crowded out by the new plutocrats. Money, or its synonym, Capital became King. To be the owner of millions was a ruling passion, to control millions became the ruling power.

Under the influence of this master passion, this money tyranny, ancient forms of virtue, self-denial, Christian duty, love of man, love of God lost their vital force; and if they were not altogether kicked out of the Temple of Mammon, they took a back seat in it.

And this condition of affairs is regarded as PROGRESS.

This is the Nation Making current in England during what may be termed 'the Century of Inventions.' That one century has just ended, by ranging the 'millionaires' on one side, the 'millions' on the other. Dives in his pride and purple, Lazarus in his discontent and bitterness. Dives, in his purple luxury, faring sumptuously every day, Lazarus, in his squalid hovel, starving on the crumbs and gone to the dogs generally.

Let us hope, Dives will consider his ways and be wise, before it be too late. Otherwise, if he will not read the signs of the times, if he will not listen to the warning voices of law and gospel; then, in some coming time, like his purple prototype, he may lift up his eyes for help in vain.

Verify, if Cannibalism be a lost art amongst the Maories, in the Sweating system, in the Company system, in the Trust system, and in many other forms, it still survives amongst more civilized people, and on page 401this foundation much Nation Making is now proceeding.

It is unnecessary to follow the practice of modern Cannibalism to the shambles, where, under various pretexts and disguises, its victims are offered.

Suffice it to say, that the sordid hunger for wealth, the mad race for riches, are making great and degrading changes in individual and national character. The 'Almighty dollar,' as our American cousins term it, is the God, whose worship is extending in the modern world more than all other cults. It is the Moloch of our century, which under the sanction of English Law, and made fashionable by many of the maxims of a spurious Political Economy and by a cruel philosophy, demands and devours its victims as ruthlessly, as remorselessly as the Maori savage of a past generation.

The Maori has almost forgotten his cannibalism. He is altogether ashamed of it, and—except to maintain his title to his paternal acres—cannot be induced to acknowledge, that he or his kinsmen ever devoured any of human kind.

When one of his descendants, in some coming century visits England as Macaulay's New Zealander, and sits on a broken arch of London Bridge, he may be heard—by those then near him—saying,

'Those English people who formerly dwelt in this page 402deserted city, were a very foolish people. They carried their cannibalism too far. My ancestors were wise, and ceased to devour one another. They loved pigs better. Their good example was unheeded by the White-faces with hearts of stone, for the English people would go on devouring one another—the big fish eating the little ones—and,' pointing to St. Paul's in ruins, he gravely adds,

'This is what comes of it. Kati' (It is ended).