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A year among the Maoris: study of their arts and customs

Chapter XIII — Origin of the Maori Race

page 159

Chapter XIII
Origin of the Maori Race

Several nations have claimed for their navigators the honour of the discovery of New Zealand. According to Thomson:

"The French assert that Binot Paulmier de Gonneville, of Harfleur in Normandy, visited the country in 1504. He sailed from Havre in 1503, and reached a country supposed to be New Zealand, remained six months, and brought a native back who married one of his relatives. This man's grandson wrote an account of De Gonneville's voyage" (F. P. D. C., Prêtre Indien, Paris, 1663, "Mémoires touchant l'Etablissement d'une Christienne dans la Terre Australe").

The Spanish are said to give the credit to Juan Fernandez. Alvaro Mendana sailed the vast Pacific in 1595, and Quiros in 1608, and because of the many Spanish words in the Maori language, these navigators are by some writers given the credit of the discovery of New Zealand.

It is now generally conceded, however, that Abel Jansen Tasman was the first European to visit the country. In the year 1642 he entered the Pacific from the Indian Ocean, sighted a new country, and named it Van Diemen's Land in honour of Antony Van Diemen, who was then Governor-General of the Netherland Indies, and was responsible for the fitting out of the expedition, the purpose of which was to explore the Australian continent. Later he sighted a mountainous country now known as New Zealand, page 160which he named Staaten Land in honour of the States-General of Holland, just as the Dutch about this time did on their settling in America. New York was then known as New Amsterdam, and the island at the entrance of the bay was named Staaten Island, and is so called to this day, although spelled with but one "a"—Staten Island.

Tasman would have gone on shore to replenish his water supply, but for some unknown reason the natives attacked a boatload of his sailors, killing several, and he sailed away without setting foot on the land he had discovered.

Marion de Fresne, commonly known as Marion, visited New Zealand after Captain Cook in 1771. His tragic fate is told by his first officer, Lieutenant Crozet, who headed the expedition after the death of his chief. Marion was treated at first with the utmost esteem and cordiality by the natives, and was then brutally killed and made the victim of a cannibal feast. Cook was later to meet his death at the hands of natives in the Sandwich Islands. Subsequent writers all agree that both men had unwittingly violated the sacred tapu of the natives, for which there was no remitting of the death sentence. Crozet, in the account of his voyages, says:

"After the killing of Marion and his comrades … we completed our stores of wood and water; we took possession in the King's name of the island of New Zealand, which the aborigines called Eakenomaouve, and which Monsieur Marion had called France Australe, and we prepared to leave the bay to which Mons. Marion had given his name, for he had discovered it page 161in his gig. Captain Cook had called it on his chart the Bay of Islands, and we named it on leaving Treachery Bay."

Captain Cook discovered New Zealand on October 7, 1769, though the primary object of this particular voyage was to convey a party of scientists to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus. The point of the island from which these observations were made is now known as Venus Point, and a monument commemorates the work of the explorer. Captain Cook made three voyages to New Zealand, taking artists and scientists with him, and the account of his voyages has been a store-house of knowledge to all succeeding scholars of Polynesian lore. Joseph Banks had charge of the natural history work of the expedition, which was fitted out by him at a cost of £10,000. Among his associates were Dr. Solander, the botanist, and Parkinson, the artist. When at Tahiti, Banks took on board a native of that country, who proved most useful in future intercourse with the Polynesians on other islands.

Captain Cook tells of the cannibalistic orgies of the Maoris and their war-like nature. "A striking proof of the divisions that prevail among these people occurred to us," he says, "for the inhabitants of each village by turn solicited our Commodore to destroy the other." It was this evil reputation of the natives which deterred the British Government for so long from annexing the islands as a colony, and which even after its annexation prevented its speedy colonisation.

Cook's description of the natives holds true to-day. "Their features are various," he writes, "some page 162resembling Europeans, and their colour is of different casts, from a deepest black to an olive or yellowish tinge. In general, however, their faces are round, their lips rather full, and their noses (though not flat) large towards the point. An aquiline nose was not to be seen among them; their eyes are large, and their teeth are commonly broad, white, and regular. The hair in general is black, strong, and straight; it is commonly cut short on the hinder part and the rest tied on the crown of the head. Some, indeed, have brown hair, and others a sort that is naturally disposed to curl. The countenance of the young is generally free and open, but in many of the men it has a ferocious or sullen cast. The men are larger than the women, and the latter are not distinguished by peculiar graces either of form or features." When in New Zealand I was given a large number of photographs of men whose faces were fully tattooed, and several of these had a pronounced aquiline type of nose. These photographs were taken in the 'sixties of the last century.

What is the origin of these peoples? From whence did they come? These questions have interested students for the past century. Ngahue it was who went to New Zealand from Hawaiki and landed at the mouth of the Arahura River, where he found greenstone. He returned to Hawaiki, taking with, him some of his precious find, and there shaped it into tools with which the canoes were made which took him and his followers back to New Zealand. The Maoris all say they came from Hawaiki, which, it is generally conceded, lies to the eastward, and may be page break
Picturesque Settlement on the Northern Shores of Lake Waikaremoana

Picturesque Settlement on the Northern Shores of Lake Waikaremoana

page 163either Raratonga in the Cook Islands, or Tahiti in the Society group; but where before then? This is the question which is now interesting scholars, who are refuting the old theory of the race having come from the Malay Peninsula. The Maoris themselves, as we now know, found New Zealand inhabited by a race we know as the Moriori.

A Maori once asked me why the origin of his race should interest the white man. I told him it would help to give us a better understanding of our own prehistoric past, and so make us more tolerant of all primitive peoples; for in our own over-civilised state some of the finest natural traits of character were lost sight of, and natural instincts were subservient to the conditions of the struggle for life. His reply was: "I think not that the white man struggles to live; he has someone to work for him or a machine to do the work." I told him of the fierce competition of trade, but could never have made him understand the conditions of our overcrowded industrial centres, and the more I might have tried to make him understand, the more uncivilised would I have seemed to myself. This is a feeling one frequently has with these dignified, courteous people, whose mode of life was so simplified, yet so governed by established custom, under the strict law of the tapu and the recognised authority of the chiefs and the priests.

To connect the Polynesians with the races of antiquity carries us back to an early age in the history of the human race, and imbues the ceremonies, occupations, and arts of these peoples with a peculiar interest. That the white races should ever have been in the same page 164stage of civilisation as the people of the Stone Age seems incredible to the Maoris, whose best work in fine wood carving, house building, and moko was done without the aid of metal. In this age of metals, it is indeed of interest and importance to know how, as in the case of the Polynesians, man lived without them. When we go into the wilds in order to "get back to Nature," our equipment, slender as it may be, will include as the most important articles such things as knives, hatchets, and firearms. Without having seen something of real native life it is difficult to realise how man contrived to live without the aid of metal, or to understand how skilfully he made use of everything that he came in contact with, from bones and shells to the numerous plants and trees which grew close to his habitation. Each served its own special purpose, and where conservation was advisable, the sacred law of tapu was put into operation, and so strictly enforced that the usual penalty for infringement was death. One day, while out walking with a Maori girl, our road turned at a sharp angle. My guide took a dry branch from the ground, and, looking about, struck at a plant, whose leaves quickly closed. These, she said, would not reopen for several hours, and with the plant as a sign she would the more easily be able to retrace our steps to this particular turning in the road. There was hardly a plant for which some use was not known, but, of course, this knowledge is largely lost to-day.

The chieftain class is taller and more powerfully built than the mass of the people, and usually thought to be of fairer skin. In New Zealand, the lighter colouring is ascribed by many writers to their being page 165the conquering and a different race. It must be remembered, however, that their skin, like ours, is affected by exposure to the sun; that the chiefs did but little out-of-door work, and they also had special food for their own use. In Honolulu, the skin of the Polynesians who have been doing indoor clerical work has become much fairer than that of the native boys who spend much of their time in the water diving for pennies. Both are of the same race, but the tone of their skin varies infinitely more than any cross-breeding would account for. There is, however, a racial difference in colour amongst the Polynesians, for which exposure to the sun does not account. For example, the skin of the Maoris of New Zealand is generally darker than that of the Tahitians and the Marquesans, both of whom live nearer to the equator.

Crozet, in his "Voyage to Tasmania and New Zealand in 1771," says:

"I remarked with great astonishment that amongst the savages there were three kinds of men. Those who appeared true aborigines were yellowish-white, and the biggest of them all five feet nine to ten inches; hair black, glossy, and straight. Others were swarthy and not quite so tall, the hair slightly frizzled (or curled); finally, there were true negroes with woolly heads, not so tall as the others, but generally broader in the chests. The former have very little beard and the negroes have very much."

Throughout New Zealand and the Polynesian Islands the language is very similar; the inhabitants of one island can make themselves understood by those of any other. In transcribing a verbal language to a page 166written one some of the sounds have been altered—necessarily so, for there is no written symbol to express them, as, for instance, sounds of the t and k in Hawaiian. Some writers use the one, some the other, while the natives pronounce the words so spelled in a manner which neither of these letters expresses, and which is much softer than either.

The first book published in the Maori language, and printed in Sydney, Australia, in 1815, was in the nature of a primer with a vocabulary. It was written by Thomas Kendall, and entitled "A Korao no New Zealand." The Bible was translated into Maori at Cambridge, England, when Hongi visited that country in 1820.

Savage, in "Some Account of New Zealand," says: "In 1818 the chiefs Te Tiri and Tui, who had but little moko, were in England. In 1820 came the cruel Hongi, eater of men, with another chief, Waikato…. Their visit to Cambridge led to the translation of the Bible into the Maori language. From their pronunciation, Professor Lee reduced their language into a written One, and composed a grammar and dictionary, and this afforded a means of translating the Bible and Prayer-Book into their native language. Of course, many words had to be coined into the native language … written according to Maori pronunciation that most nearly approached the words. Thus 'Scriptures' became 'Karipitura,' 'Bible' became 'Paipera.'"

A newspaper in Maori was published in Auckland in 1842 by the New Zealand Government, and in 1848 another Maori newspaper was printed in English page 167and Maori, and circulated gratis among the natives. Amongst the Maoris living segregated in their own pas, principally in the Urewera, Taupo, Rotorua, and Wanganui districts, I found that only the children and youths could or would speak English, the older people and the aged apparently not even understanding it. Their language, when written, consisted of but fifteen letter sounds—the vowels a, e, i, o, u, and the consonants h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w, wh, and ng (pronounced with a hard nasal sound). The definite article is te and the indefinite e or he or hei, and the plural of both is nga. Like Spanish, their language is very rich in proverbs, and every speech and oration is so interlaced with them that one must be familiar, not only with Maori words, but with the history, traditions, figures of speech, and the mentality of the race, in order to follow the true meaning. An allusion will be made to some event which in the form of a proverb carries a conclusion with it, and without this conclusion being mentioned the allusion is used as a basis for a similar conclusion. One peculiarity of orators in New Zealand was that they moved about while talking. They would walk a few steps as they spoke, and then return to the starting place in silence. This practice I have seen outside the land courts, as one of the interested parties harangued his friends for hours, not, however, standing still, but moving about the circle made by his audience.

Since the Maori cannot enlighten us as to the origin of his race, except to tell us that it came from Hawaiki, investigations into this subject have been left to others. As more light is being thrown upon their institutions, page 168so have these investigations progressed, still leaving much, however, to conjecture. The overlapping and superimposing of migrations and civilisations have introduced ceremonies, customs, and arts of conflicting stages of both mental and vocational development, and the ceremonies of one people are mingled with the arts of another, and the mental concepts of one with the occupations of another.

Thomson, in the "Story of New Zealand," says:

"It is established that Polynesians proper are sprung from the Malay family of the human race … the great difference between the Malay and the Polynesian languages would lead to an inference that a much longer separation than ten or twelve centuries had occurred; but the modern Malay dialect is very different from the ancient one, because the Mahommedans introduced among the Malays an Arabic alphabet and many new words. This introduction of an alphabet has an important bearing on the subject, as the Malay settlers in Polynesia must have been entirely ignorant of it, for no Polynesian race, judging of the past generations from the present, would have forgotten the art of writing had they ever possessed it. That the Malay emigrants to Polynesia were destitute of an alphabet is supported by the fact that the highest antiquity assigned to any proper Malay literary work is the advent of the Mahommedans to the archipelago; and Sir James Brooke found Malays in Borneo entirely destitute of an alphabet. The conversion of the Javanese to Mahommedanism took place in the thirteenth century, and the old religion was abolished in 1478."

page 169

Professor J. Macmillan Brown traces what he calls a "megalithic track" from the north of Africa to the eastern shores of the Atlantic Ocean, where it terminates in Ireland.

"They are not found in Central Europe, or anywhere away from the coast of its oceans and seas except across the Russian and Asiatic steppes, where they stand as single stones or circles of stones on the Kurgans, or mound graves. And the line of these extends through Southern Siberia past Lake Baikal and through Mongolia and Manchuria." It continues into Japan. "To the south stretched a series of stepping stones into Polynesia, at first minute as in the Bonin Islands, afterwards in large groups as in the Ladrones and the Carolines farther south. And in the former of these two groups there exist avenues of huge unmortared stone pyramids topped with stone hemispheres, whilst in the latter there exist the colossal walls of a long-deserted Venice built of great basaltic prisms piled one on another without cement." Then it is broken and picked up again in Samoa, also in the Tongan group, and in Huahine in the Society group, the temples of Waikiki and Punepa in Hawaii; and "to complete the megalithic story of the Pacific we have two specimens of this ancient type of stone structure in the North Island of New Zealand, one a miniature Stonehenge, with huge blocks standing six or seven feet above the ground at Kerikeri, in the Bay of Islands, and another near Ateamuri, to the north of Taupo, consisting of fifty great stones set erect in the earth." Professor Macmillan Brown also traces a southern megalithic track, but he says it was by the page 170northern that the megalithic people entered Polynesia. He concludes that the race that erected these monuments of the megalithic track were Caucasians, and calls it the Caucasian track across the earth. "Of course, this leads to the singular conclusion that one at least of the elements in the Polynesian race, including the Maoris, is Caucasian, and also that an element in Central American and Peruvian civilisation is Caucasian. When the observations and inferences of anthropology and ethnology have been considered, this conclusion will not seem strange."

Fornander traces the Polynesian race to a period of great antiquity, to a time long before the advent of the Malays in the archipelago—to the Aryans and the Cushites; whilst Gerald Massey in "The Book of Beginnings" gives them an Egyptian origin. John White says:

"Also on the road from the Kerikeri to Kaitaia, at a place called Tarata-rotorua, there are a number of perpendicular stones called Nga-Whakarara, or Te Hakari, like the Druidical remains known as Stone-henge on Salisbury Plain. These, they (the Maoris) say, were the posts around which their ancestor built his pyramids of food at a feast given by him at that place, and were there still wanting proofs of their being a distinct migration, we may mention that it is a custom with the New Zealanders in general to invest the receptacles for the dead with something peculiarly sacred—in fact, to intrude or pass near one of them was visited on a person so doing with death; yet there are in Hokianga places where there are bones deposited for which the natives evince no veneration, nor do they page 171even pay these remains of fellow-mortals that common respect which man in every state feels for the dead. We have seen these bones laid out in lines, and a mock exhuming and weeping and burial ceremonies repeated and sung over them, thus proving that they are not the remains of their own ancestors.

"Lastly, according to the accounts of the natives, there appear to have been several migrations at different periods and arriving at various localities. The descendants of the people of each of these several migrations claim the honour of being descended from the original settlers. When facts do not satisfy, the fancy myths help to create a proper atmosphere; and in this instance poetry comes to the rescue and tells some of the Maoris that their ancestress came to New Zealand borne on the back of a beautiful white albatross.

"Another account is of an ancestor who came to the land all the way under water from a very great distance. Other tribes point out special stones, which they say are the petrified remains of the canoes in which their ancestors came to New Zealand."