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The New Zealand Reader

Maori Arts In 1807

Maori Arts In 1807.

The inhabitants of this part of the world are by no means unskilled in arts and manufactures. Among the former is their cultivation of the ground; which, though remarkably successful as far as it goes, is mostly confined to the growth of one vegetable—the potato. Indeed, I never met with that root of a better quality than in New Zealand. They keep remarkably well; and we provided a stock of them sufficient to supply the whole ship's company for several months. And here it may be not improper to remark that in my opinion no kind of food taken to sea has a greater tendency to preserve the health of a ship's company or to recover it from the effects of a long voyage. I think I have observed more benefit derived in cases of scurvy from the root eaten raw with vinegar than from any other remedy: it appears to be most efficacious if taken in the morning fasting.

I could not learn when they first became possessed of this invaluable root; they have, however, had some opportunities of changing their seed, which has been of great advantage to them. Cutting is not in practice, the smaller potatoes being always preserved for seed. Their cultivation has hitherto been attended with considerable disadvantages, owing to the want of proper implements, the only mode of turning the soil being with a wooden spade; but as the soil is light this impediment is not so great as might be imagined. Their potato enclosures are not planted with European regularity, but they are productive, and do no discredit to their owners. Though the Natives are exceedingly fond of these roots, they eat them but sparingly, on account of their great value in procuring iron by barter from European ships that touch at this part of the coast. The utility of this metal is found to be so great that they would suffer almost any privation or inconvenience for the page break
Pataka (Native store for food).

Pataka (Native store for food).

page 49possession of it, particularly when wrought into axes, adzes, or small hatchets. The potatoes are consequently preserved with the greatest care against the arrival of a vessel.

Their mode of storing them is upon a platform, erected upon a single post about ten feet in height. The mode of bringing potatoes to the ship is in small baskets made of the green native flax, and of various sizes, containing from eight to thirty pounds weight. In dealing for this article the Natives make as good a bargain as they possibly can, adding to your demand one small basket at a time, of the value of which they are perfectly aware. I believe they usually have two crops in the year; and I have not heard that they ever fail from accidental causes. The potato is the only vegetable cultivated by the Natives; they have had the seed of several others, but as they are found ill calculated for trade they have been neglected. The diffusion of cabbage seed has been so general over this part that you would suppose it an indigenous plant of the country. Nature has spared them the trouble of cultivating their favourite haddawai,* or fern, as it is found everywhere in great abundance.

The next art I shall speak of, as subservient to the purposes of existence, is their mode of catching fish; but, as their methods do not differ from those in use amongst the natives of other islands of the Pacific Ocean, it will not be necessary to dwell upon them long, or to detail them minutely. The larger fish are sometimes speared; but the usual method of taking them, of all sizes, is by means of nets and books. The nets arc composed of line formed of the native flax, and are large, and well adapted to the purposes for which they are intended. Their hooks are formed of the outer rim of ear-shell, well polished, and barbed at the extremity. The lines are of flax, and of great strength and durability; their quality indeed is so excellent that it is desirable to obtain some of them for the purpose of taking bonito, albicore, or dolphin on the passage to Europe. The Natives will receive our fish-hooks in exchange for them. The fish-hook, whether Native or European, they call matau. The bait is usually a limpet or a piece of raw fish; and from the great dexterity of the fishermen, and the

* [Aruhe.]

[Haliotis (Maori, pauo).]

page 50vast quantity of fish with which this harbour abounds, the Natives of this part are most abundantly supplied with this excellent article of food. When speaking of the dexterity of the fishermen, I should have mentioned that of the fisher-women also; for the women here are as expert at all the useful arts as the men, sharing equally the fatigue and the danger with them upon all occasions, excepting war, in which, though they undergo considerable fatigue, they do not participate in the danger.

I have commenced my account of the arts in New Zealand with those relating to the means of procuring food, as being the primary consideration in savage life; and as it will be understood that the Natives in general are abundantly supplied, it will be proper in the next place to say something of their culinary operations. Roasting and broiling are the common modes of cooking in most uncivilised countries; they are much in use here, but they have a method of dressing fish that struck me as rather uncommon, and therefore I shall describe it. The fish, being cleaned, is enveloped in a quantity of leaves of the cabbage, and bound with tendrils; it is then laid upon a stone that has been previously heated, upon which it is occasionally turned; and the steam from the leaves serves the purpose of boiling water. The leaves being taken off, the fish is found to be well cooked and unbroken. I have tasted them cooked in this manner by the Natives, and thought them excellent. They probably would not have recourse to this method had they any way of boiling water. This method, however, is an admirable substitute for boiling. The greens forming the immediate covering of the fish are eaten with it. Potatoes are also cooked in the same manner. As salt or other savoury substances are not in use among the Natives they are not excited to eat more than their natural appetite prompts them to do; but perhaps this is a fortunate circumstance, as, were means employed to increase their appetite, abundant as the supply of food is in this part it would not prove equal to the demand.

The dog, as an article of food, is, I believe, always roasted, and is esteemed good eating. Indeed, as the dog in this country is not an unclean feeder, I see no reason why it should not be considered so, particularly as it is almost the only animal food to be obtained. Thus it will page 51appear that the operations of a New Zealand kitchen are few, and exceedingly simple; but they effectually accomplish the principal object of all cookery, the action of fire upon the food; and though they might not please the palate of every European, the Natives here are perfectly well satisfied with them, and rise from their meal with as much cheerfulness as an alderman, and with much more activity.

Intimately connected with the arts which the Natives of New Zealand employ to procure subsistence is that of making their canoes, for it is chiefly in these that they take their fish. Their canoes are formed of the trunk of a tree, hollowed out by the adze, and usually have their gunwales raised by the addition of a plank a foot broad on each side. They are of various dimensions, from thirty to sixty feet in length and upwards, and from two feet six inches to more than five feet broad; sharp at each extremity, and about three feet deep, including the plank before mentioned. This plank is united to the body of the canoe by ligatures, and a quantity of rush or flax is placed in the seam, so as to answer the purpose of caulking. Their war canoes are ornamented with carving and painting, and many of them are really very handsome. These will contain upwards of thirty warriors, and they sometimes lash two of them together. Ten or fifteen of these double canoes must form a powerful fleet, and would prove formidable to a European merchant ship. The common canoes are seldom more than about thirty feet in length; these sometimes contain two families, that come off to the ship for the purpose of trade. There is usually a division in the canoe, formed of wattle,* to prevent the dealings of the two families from interfering with each other. They are also provided with nets, hooks, and lines, as an almost inseparable part of their equipment. Paddles are universally used, and from the great strength and activity of the Natives the canoe is impelled forward with uncommon velocity. A large stone supplies the place of an anchor.

Next in point of consequence to the arts subservient to the purposes of existence is that of war, of which I shall say a few words. It did not happen during my stay here

* [Woven or plaited work—not the tree called wattle.]

page 52that any warlike operations took place among the Natives. This, I conceive, was the case, not from the neighbouring chiefs being at peace with each other,—as I believe those "piping times" are rarely known here,—but that there did not occur any convenient opportunity for meeting in the field. It therefore cannot be expected that I can describe the "pomp and circumstance" of a campaign. All that I can say of their art of war will, consequently, be confined to a description of the instruments they use in carrying it on. I was indebted for my information in this instance, as, indeed, in many others, to Moehanga. He was capable of speaking upon the subject, from having taken the field upon several occasions. He bore about him many marks of his military exploits, of which he was as proud as any European hero. His wounds had been received in engaging the tribe of a chief residing on the opposite side of the bay, named Urutuki, to whom Moehanga's tribe had vowed eternal enmity. "Even while purchasing, at a shop in the Strand, the tools he took back with him to New Zealand, he was much struck with the convenient form of a common billhook. I purchased three for him; and, brandishing one of them, in a sort of ecstasy he exclaimed, "Mate, mate, Urutuki!" (I will kill Urutuki); and I am convinced that want of opportunity alone will prevent him from carrying his threat into execution.

The spear—the common instrument of destruction in use all over the Pacific Ocean—is also employed here, and is nearly thirty feet long. It is made of hardwood, and is sometimes pointed at each extremity, but not universally. The Natives, by indefatigable practice, are particularly expert in throwing this weapon.

The battle-axe is also made of hardwood, and is about five feet in length. The head is nearly semicircular, and about eight inches in diameter, and the edge of it is made moderately sharp. It is all made of one piece of wood. The extremity of the handle is pointed, and is intended to to be used as a pike occasionally. When acting on the defensive they are very dexterous in turning off a spear with the battle-axe. The waddy* is intended to be used at close

* [An aboriginal Australian word meaning a club. Waddies are often sharp at the thin end, and are used as missiles.]

page 53quarters as a sort of tomahawk. They have no shield—the war mat answering all the purposes of one.

The purposes for which the instruments of war are formed in New Zealand, I believe, seldom fail of being accomplished. In Europe, the musket, even during a war between two nations, may in many instances only be used in firing harmlessly at a review, or exultingly in volleys or feux de joie; the sword may slumber peaceably in its scabbard, except when its dazzling brightness is displayed upon the same occasions; but I believe the instruments of destruction of New Zealand are rarely formed without their subsequent performance of some death-doing deed, either in the service of the chief or to execute the vengeance of their owner in cases of individual animosity.

There are exercises peculiar to each of their instruments of war, and much time and attention are devoted to render the young warriors expert in their various uses. An essential part of their warlike operations is their grimaces, gestures, and shoutings: these are all intended to set the enemy at defiance, and are undoubtedly well calculated to inspire the beholder with terror; but as the Natives are so much accustomed to these exhibitions, they in all probability are not easily terrified or intimidated by them. The same mode of warfare is employed on the water as on the land; after the preparatory shouting, grimace, &c., have been carried on in the adverse canoes for some time, the paddles impel the warriors to the contest, which instantly commences with unbounded fury.

Of their manufactures the principal articles are their mats, which I have before spoken of as the only clothing in use among them. Those worn as their ordinary covering are made of a strong-bladed grass, woven into a coarse mat of flax so as to leave the outside shaggy, and form a coating similar to thatch; it is two inches in thickness, and, from the grass being so disposed as to turn off the wet, it must be almost impenetrable to the weather. These, I imagine, are made with little labour, from their setting but a small value upon them. Their dress mats are made of the untwisted flax, in which state it has much the appearance of floss silk of a light-yellow colour. The war mat is made of the flax very tightly twisted into threads; the twisting of which is performed by rolling with the hand page 54upon the knee. Their line and larger cord are all made by the method sailors call laying, and they have them of great length. The war mat in substance is much stouter than any canvas, and, as I before mentioned, when held loose upon the arm forms an excellent defence to the person of the wearer. Their mode of weaving, which is chiefly performed by women, is by suspending the warp; the weft being held in the hand, as a ball, is passed between the threads of the warp alternately, and pressed more or less close according to the purpose for which the mat is intended. Independently of the pattern formed in the weaving by the difference of colour in the thread, their mats sometimes receive additional ornament from the needle.

The manufacture of their implements of war, their tools, and musical instruments, is carried on by the men; many of them are finished with a great degree of nicety, and in many instances much time and labour is bestowed on carving them. The implements of war have been spoken of, and of their musical instruments I shall speak hereafter; but in this place I shall say a few words respecting their common tools. These consist of adzes, chisels, small carving tools, and needles for working the ornamental parts of their mats. The tools properly belonging to the Natives are all formed of the greenstone before mentioned, and their names render any particular description of them unnecessary.

They prefer iron for all their tools when they can procure it; but as they are unacquainted with the method of hardening this metal they have almost as much trouble in keeping an edge to the tool as in performing the work they are employed upon.

John Savage

("Some Account of New Zealand, particularly the Bay of Islands").