Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Maoria: A Sketch of the Manners and Customs of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of New Zealand.

Chapter III

page 39

Chapter III.

The traditions of the Maoris universally affirm that their ancestors came from Hawaiki, "the cradle of the race," a northern island. Whether the island be Tahiti or Oahu of the Friendly or Sandwich Groups is a matter of dispute among Europeans, but is of no consequence to our story. That they came from some one of the South Sea Islands, their language, physical appearance, and customs place beyond dispute. The Maoris have preserved the names of the ten canoes in which the emigration was effected, the names of the chiefs who commanded, and of many other chiefs who came over in them. Until the introduction of printed books scattered tradition to the winds, not a lad or girl of free race but could have traced his or her descent from those whom they looked upon as something more than human, from the heroes who had sat in the sterns of Tainui, Te Arawa, Aotea, or some other vessel of what they considered the immortal fleet; page 40besides possessing a general knowledge of the genealogy of the principal chiefs of the different tribes amongst whom the island was divided. Such knowledge was acquired early in life, and the habit of learning dry genealogical trees developed the great powers of memory for which the Maoris were famous; powers which some yet possess, and which enable them to repeat, verbatim, speeches at the delivery of which they have been present.

All were more or less acquainted with the migration of their forefathers from Hawaiki to Maoria; but the Runanga, or Secret Council first formed amongst those who originated the migration, were alone cognizant of the causes which had led their forefathers to abandon the most delightful islands in the world, and of the arcana of the policy then formed, and at the time of our story, still pursued. Primitive man never had a more delightful home than Hawaiki, a land with an eternal summer, with a sea of a delightful temperature and abounding with fish, with a soil so fertile that a taro pit, a few yards square, provided food for a family all the year round, and with a climate so mild that a piece of easily made tapa cloth formed a sufficient covering for their indolent frames. Possessed of every necessary in superfluous abundance, the inhabitants of Hawaiki sought for luxuries and found them. The discovery that the juice, expressed by chewing the root of the Kawa Kawa, fermented and became an intoxicating drink, was hailed by general acclamation; but the discovery proved a last farewell to their primitive happi-page 41ness and simplicity. The theocratic chiefs, indulging in drunken day dreams, ceased to be the fathers of their people, and superstition, cruelty, lust, and inebriety succeeded the mild and benignant simplicity under whose sway countless generations of Islanders had happily lived and passed away. Papuan dances of girls enveloped in flowing robes, which rather revealed than concealed their voluptuous limbs, took place in public, lazily gazed upon by the priests and nobles of the land, as they reclined upon couches and quaffed draughts of Kawa held to their lips by their female favourites. This general debauch was not without its opponents amongst all classes of society. Parents, who had successfully resisted temptation in the hope of saving their children, were shocked at the fall of a favourite son or daughter, and a secret society was formed for the reformation of morals under the name of "The Runanga." The reformers, forced to work in secret, were unsuccessful, and the majority of the chiefs were in favour of the extermination of the members of the society. The hierarchy, however, which in reality possessed the chief power in the Islands, was averse to wholesale bloodshed: it conceived a more effectual plan for disposing of its antagonists, whose number it had no wish to increase by adding the attraction of martyrdom to their cause. Its members therefore proposed to the chiefs of the Runanga that they should join them in enjoying the goods the Gods provided, as they phrased it, or accept the alternative of emigrating to some other island. The Runanga, without page 42hesitation, chose the alternative. In some civilized countries, when a man has proved unfortunate, or foolish, or disreputable, a family council of his relatives is held, and it is decided that he and his shall emigrate to the antipodes under the penalty of being sent to Coventry, or further, if he refuses. The hope that "something must turn up" usually induces a ready acquiescence, upon which the relations of the emigrant speed and assist his departure, devoutly hoping that they will thus soon have seen the last of him.

The hierarchy and nobles of Hawaiki gave every assistance to the preparations for the great emigration; ten canoes, the finest in the islands, were prepared for "the fanatics," as they termed their opponents; quantities of provisions were sent to the villages on the sea board where the emigrants were collected, and whence, when the preparations were completed, they took their departure.

All suspected of favouring the attempted reformation were required to give personal proof of their adhesion to the Sardanapalian creed of Hawaiki, "eat, drink, and love; the rest is not worth a thought." The sailing of the fleet, therefore, left the island without the smallest leaven of moral reformation. The interval, during which preparations for departure from Hawaiki were making—canoes of the great size required having to be built as well as fitted out—was employed by the chiefs of the emigrants in forming plans for the future, and in framing the policy they intended to pursue on reaching their new home.

page 43

It will readily be credited that they passed a resolution that the chief power should remain with themselves, and be inherited by their successors. Believing that the luxury, which they despised and hated, for it was about to drive them forth as wanderers upon "the great sea," was climatic and induced by a warm temperature, they resolved to seek a new home in the colder regions of the south, and there establish a republic in which bearing arms should be the first and permanent duty of every freeman.

Idleness they had found the mother of vice; all, therefore, must labour for the state, and experience soon taught them that they were right in supposing that man, from maturity to the grave, could, as a rule, be profitably employed in ministering to the happiness of his fellow-countrymen.

Since they did not anticipate acquiring peaceful possession of their new home (drift canoes, with the remains and strange arms of those who had perished in them, had occasionally been tossed upon the shores of Hawaiki), they prepared for battle with the inhabitants when they reached the land they had resolved to make their own. Daily, during the months which preceded their departure, they exercised themselves in the use of arms, in throwing the spear, in fencing matches, in running, wrestling, and dancing; the war dance having been introduced as the strongest possible contrast to the lascivious dances of their countrymen. All their preparations being completed, the emigrant fleet of ten canoes put to sea, bound upon the most page 44Wonderful voyage of combined discovery and emigration ever successfully attempted.

Each canoe contained an epitome of the people, domestic animals, and edible plants of Hawaiki. On board every vessel were chiefs, people, and slaves, together with their families. The quadrupeds were represented by only two species, by the animal which in hut or palace, in famine-stricken canoe or in stately ship, has, according to Lord Bacon, but one religion, the worship of his master,—the dog; and by his enemy and antithesis, so clean in his native wilds, so foul, filthy, and mischievous, when domesticated—the hog. To the consumption of all the representatives of that unclean race by the famine-pinched emigrants, both Maoris and Europeans attribute the origin of the dreadful practice of cannibalism into which the Maoris fell a few generations before the advent of the Pakehas.

The dog survived, to be of no use in a country in which there were no animals to hunt; but his skin was found capable of being woven with flax into a shield-like garment, impenetrable by wooden weapons. Their provisions consisted of dried fish and flesh, and large stores of the vegetable productions of the island, taro, kumiras (sweet potato), and karaka berries. The water taken was contained in the largest calabash gourds procurable.

Every rank of life in Hawaiki had, as we have seen, its representatives amongst the emigrants, but not so every profession. The hierarchy was unrepresented. It had resolutely opposed the reforms proposed by the page 45Runanga, being convinced that a state of affairs in which it possessed a paramount influence, none daring to oppose the edicts issued from the dread Morai, and in which it openly enjoyed an uncommon share of riches and power, could not by any possibility be improved to its advantage. The Runanga numbered amongst its members some of the highest-born and bravest chiefs in the island; their relatives could not in honour have allowed them to be attacked, defeated, and slain, or taken prisoners and sacrificed to idols in the Morai. The attempt, moreover, would in the opinion of the priesthood have divided the island into two hostile camps—hence its unusual clemency. Bitter hatred, however, remained between the Runanga and the hierarchy, and neither the blood of human beings nor of swine was allowed to flow in the Morai to propitiate the Sea God, or the Divinity of the Winds, and ensure smooth water and gentle breezes for the departing fleet; neither did a solitary priest, from conviction, affection, or ambition, vouchsafe an offer to accompany the emigrants.

All the canoes were large, with stem, stern, and side pieces sewn on to them; and some of them, notably Te Arawa, were double canoes with houses built upon them. Still, a successful voyage of four thousand geographical miles in such frail vessels, and their safe arrival, though frequently out of one another's sight, at the same destination, remain without parallel in the annals of the barbarous South Seas.

Under a steady north-west wind the fleet hoisted page 46sail and put forth to sea; the assembled thousands who witnessed their departure bidding them adieu with loud cries of "Go in peace!" "Go in peace!" To which was responded, "Remain at rest!" "Remain at rest!" The severance was joyful to both parties alike, and not a tear was shed. On the arrival of the emigrants at Maoria, the absence of wailing and lamentation at their departure came to be looked upon as a fortunate omen, and tears upon the separation of friends or relatives were strictly forbidden as unlucky.

Of the emigrant fleet, some landed at Mukatu on the East coast, others at Kawlua and Aotea on the west coast, and thence originated the tribal divisions; the promised, or rather the given land, being amicably divided between these different bands. The aborigines of the island, scattered groups of nomadic moa hunters of Papuan origin, were speedily and so effectually subdued, that scarce a trace of them now remains beyond the tradition of their subjugation, and the occasional appearance of their physical characteristics, which now and again betray themselves in the descendants of the mixed races which arose from their amalgamation with their conquerors. The Maoris of to-day present two distinct types of physical structure, which blend and merge one into another through every shade of gradation; the bold high countenance of the Polynesian, with its Mosaic outlines, sinking gradually into the broad fiat features of the negro-like Papuan. At the time of our story, and before the advent of the Euro-page 47pean had fused the races, the descendants of the aborigines, in some parts of the Island, formed serf tribes, their original characteristics being more or less qualified by an admixture of Maori blood. These small tribes, or rather "hapu" divisions of tribes, lived under the protection of their powerful neighbours, with whom they were connected by marriage. A girl, unusually tall and well-formed, though belonging to the inferior race, was often taken to wife by one of her superiors, to whom she went rejoicing in her good fortune. These alliances had, in the centre of the Island, been so numerous, that the high bold. Maori features had there become much less marked.

The dispersion of the immigrants broke up and scattered the original and secret Runanga, but from its ashes arose a Runanga in every tribe, each of which zealously enforced the laws their parent society had framed. These tribal Runangas, or councils, consisted of the ruling chief, some of his nearest relations, the war chief of the tribe, and a few of its greatest and most distinguished men whom the council invited to join it. Admission was theoretically open to all, though it may be said that there was, in practise, but one road leading to it, that of military success. An exceptional case, such as that of the Tohunga, did not occur in a tribe once in a century, and even the family of the ruling chief were not called into the council until they had distinguished themselves upon the field of battle.

Succession to the tribal government was not heredi-page 48tary, though limited to the family of the Ariki. Had the latter sons of a mature age, the eldest, if an accomplished soldier, would as a matter of course succeed his father as the head of the tribe; if not, the choice fell upon some younger son, brother, cousin, or distant relative who possessed the necessary qualification. The Runanga as a rule gave expression to the popular wish, and a disputed succession was unknown. The chief and the Runanga governed; but a people living in a state of socialism expected at least an apparent share in the government. The Runanga, therefore, occasionally submitted questions to a plebiscite. When war was determined upon, or almost determined upon, the question was submitted to the assembled warriors, whose reply was generally certain to be in the affirmative. On other occasions, notably on what was considered a very important question, that of a proposed marriage, there existed literally universal suffrage, for every free man, woman, and child possessed a vote. To be sure the women and children followed the lead of their husbands and fathers; but then they had the honour of voting, and it was held that this induced gravity and dignity amongst the young. It was only, however, upon the occasion of some proposed state marriage with another tribe that the question was thus submitted to the whole population. Upon ordinary occasions it would concern only the hapu, sept, or family, in which it was brought upon the tapis.

The policy, originated by the parent society and enforced throughout the Island, for the prevention of the page 49disorders which had ruined "the cradle of the race," consisted in considering everything subservient to the profession of arms. With this object every subject was considered from the point of view it bore in relation to military affairs. War was declared to be the normal State of man; he was therefore trained to arms from his infancy, and habitually carried them from the moment that he was able to support their weight till nearly the last hour of his existence. His spear was thus the first and last support of his tottering footsteps. All, from the chief to the slave, were enjoined to practise industry, and to abhor luxury. The war-dance was practised both as a martial exercise and as an amusement, and was considered equally adapted to give honourable reception to friendly visitors or to intimidate an enemy on the field of battle. Other dances, and all dancing by women, were prohibited. The attempt to make intoxicating drink was punished by death, which indeed was the usual punishment inflicted by their few but severe laws.

Woman was taught to consider the privilege of uttering the songs of triumph with which she hailed the victorious, as the highest reward that could be bestowed upon female virtue. She was enjoined to be modest and silent, and never to go any distance from her home without a companion of her own sex. Aberrations from virtue incurred the capital penalty; but this law, in process of time, fell into disuse in respect to the conquered race; and, partially so, amongst the Maoris themselves, as soon as the duello between the injured husband and page 50the offender had become the recognized manner of settling this offence, or even the slightest attempt at its commission.

The Greeks worshipped ideal beauty—the Maoris worshipped ideal military perfection, and ignored the very existence of beauty, there being no such word in the language. "A choice man," the nearest approach which could be made to saying "a handsome man," had, as we have observed, the same meaning as "a pretty man" had in the Highlands of Scotland, before their depopulation and their conversion into grouse moors and deer forests; a course of procedure which will, doubtless, some day or other, meet with its reward. "A fine woman" meant a tall, robust female, whose appearance might be supposed to give promise of her becoming the mother of a family of stalwart children.

Maoria contained neither priests, temples, nor idols; and its religion, if it possessed any, was of the most mythical description. In some parts of the island there existed many legends; such as that of Maui having fished up the island from the bottom of the sea, and the Maori version of the origin of man. With other tribes, Uenguku, the atna or spirit of the rainbow, was considered the god of war, or war spirit, and as such was made the object of incantations; but none of these myths were of general acceptation, and even the name "atna," spirit, or god as it is often mistranslated, was sometimes bestowed upon a living chief. While there was an absence of religion, superstition everywhere abounded. All believed in and feared the Taniwha, or water demons, and page 51the demons of the woods and mountains; indeed, the bravest warrior would not have walked at night over the most familiar road without a lighted brand in his hand to keep away malevolent spirits. The natural causes of disease being unknown, they invented witch-craft, the belief in which was as universal as in the fact that spirits, on the death of the bodies they had animated, departed for the land of the hereafter from Te Reigna, a rocky point near the North Cape. Persons of all ages were subject to this dire disease of the imagination; the only chance of cure being to persuade the sufferers in the early stage of the disease that the charm of malign influence which bound them was broken by some superior power or skill. A person of note could not pass away, but his death was attributed to witchcraft, usually ascribed to the practices of an enemy at a distance; if, however, it suited the friends of the deceased to accuse some one near at hand who could conveniently be sacrificed, instant death was the smallest penalty inflicted. To these superstitions, chiefly, must be attributed the origin of the cruelty and cannibalism of which the Maoris were undoubtedly guilty.