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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 5 (August 1, 1935)

Pictures of New Zealand Life

page 51

Pictures of New Zealand Life

Our Pedigrees.

The family tree is said to be a matter of uncommon interest to many New Zealanders just now. They are giving librarians here and there a trifle of trouble in turning up records and handbooks on pedigrees of noble families, with the object of ascertaining how far back their genealogies extend, and whether there are any worth-while connections in the dear old Motherland, as Mr. Seddon was fond of calling it. This is natural; most people would like to know that their line could be traced back a little farther than their grandparents. When on furlough many New Zealanders in the Great War looked up the old homes of their forebears in Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and other places, and took pride in discovering family-tree links, particularly in Church records and churchyard tomb inscriptions that helped to lengthen the chain of ancestry.

It is a very rare pakeha genealogy that can be traced back for as long a period as the whakapapa that is the proud possession of the great majority of Maori families. Every Maori of any importance at all in his tribe can recite the list of his ancestors back to the days of the Hawaikian immigrants, the men and women who formed the crews of the sailing canoes from Tahiti and Raiatea and Rarotonga. That was six centuries ago. A Rotorua man or woman can trace back to Tama-te-kapua, or to Tia or some man of family who came in the pilgrim ship the Arawa. So with the Tainui, Mataatua, Aotea and the other canoes. The well-born of the tribes descended from the Polynesian crews can name Hoturoa, Turi or Toroa as the founder of their house.

A Thousand Years Ago.

But there are those whose whakapapa has forty or fifty names in direct succession. Taking 25 years as a generation, these lines go back a thousand to twelve hundred and fifty years. I have known many Maoris of the old generation who confidently recited such lists without a break, and who could give many names on collateral lines. Nowadays English education, with its reliance on printed books, has atrophied the Maori memory; but the people of the older generation upon whose minds and memories the stories and songs of the past are imprinted in astonishing volume, can retain many scores of ancestral names in the proper sequence.

All this makes for a very proper family and tribal pride. I knew several tohungas whose lines in direct descent from some celebrated priest and wonder-worker such as Ngatoro-i-rangi, of the Arawa migration, were all men or women of priestly rank and reputedly magic powers. Can you wonder at it that such men had a very high opinion of their family line and themselves? I don't think anyone but a Highland laird—there was The Macpherson whose ancestor had “a boat o' his ain” at the time of the Deluge and therefore waved away Admiral Noah's offer of a passage—can pretend to rival the grand hereditary line of a Heuheu or a descendant of Potatau of Waikato, or Te Whiti of Taranaki.

Waterways and the Willow.

In the King Country there is, I am glad to note, a movement in the direction of restoring the navigable condition of rivers and streams that were useful waterways until they became blocked by the beauteous and too-prolific weeping-willow tree. Many a stream in the Waikato and Waipa country, as in many other parts of New Zealand, has been ruined for boat traffic because of the quickly spreading habit of the willow, with resultant blocking of waterflow and flooding of adjacent land. At Otorohanga, on the Waipa, settlers met recently to discuss the condition of the Manga-o-rongo stream, a tributary of the Waipa, which for more than a dozen miles is banked up because the willows make a thick and tangled impediment to waterflow.

The Manga-o-rongo is only one of many; and much larger rivers are suffering from the ill-judged planting of willows long ago.

Machinery by Canoe.

I remember that when I first saw Otorohanga and Te Kuiti, when they were simply Maori kaingds, before an iron rail had been laid in the King Country, there were canoes on all the rivers, and the Waipa was a great paddling and poling waterway into the interior. The Maoris could embark in a canoe at Te Kuiti or Te Kumi and travel all the way by creek and river to Waikato Heads more than a hundred miles away. When the Poro-o-Tarao tunnel construction work was under way in the ‘Eighties, long before the railway line reached it from the North, some of the machinery required by the contractor was taken by large canoes up the Waipa and thence by the Manga-o-kewa to Te Kuiti. That was in the winter and spring when the rivers were high; the canoes were poled most of the way. The only alternative was carting by roads that were roads only in name; where wagons were stuck in the mud or held up by slippery hill traverses for weeks at a time. Now, of course, the traveller and the backblocks toiler alike are independent of water navigation; but the farmer is beginning to realise that the clear channels for streams have their uses if only to carry away flood water.

Round about Te Awamutu the streams were blocked by willows until the local bodies took the flooded situation in hand.

In the Mokau there is a curious development of the willow nuisance; the encumbering trees spread up river instead of down. This is explained by the fact that the river is tidal for the first twenty miles. Small steamers and auxiliary scows were once able to go right up to the small coal mine (now closed) and load there. But the up-river spread of the shoots that become trees with huge roots impedes and prevents traffic. Some day it will be realised that the Mokau is too fine and valuable a waterway to remain blocked up in this way.