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Hawaiki: The Original Home of the Maori; with a Sketch of Polynesian History

Chapter I. The Polynesian Race and its Traditions

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Chapter I. The Polynesian Race and its Traditions.

The question of the origin of the Maori people of New Zealand necessarily involves that of the whole Polynesian Race, for the Maoris are but one of a number of branches of that race, although the most important in point of numbers and in a few other respects, which we shall have occasion to refer to in the course of this narrative. The homogeneity of this race is a remarkable feature, scattered as it is over an extent of the earth's surface that equals in actual area—if it does not exceed that occupied—by any other race of like homogeneity. The area occupied by the race in the Pacific may be stated as about two million square miles; but the land area within this space is small, and varies from that of New Zealand with its one hundred thousand square miles, down to little atolls of barely a square mile in area. The number of the inhabitants of this vast space is by no means proportionate to its size. The following table will illustrate this, the figures being approximate:—

New Zealand Maoris and half-castes 43,143
Hawaii—natives and half-whites 39,504
Samoa 38,000
Tahiti and French Oceania 25,000
Tonga Groups 18,000
Rarotonga and adjacent groups 8,000
Niue 4,576
All other groups 5,000
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The figures above exclude the population of all islands where the people are more or less strongly mixed with neighbouring races, such as the Micronesian, Melanesian and Papuan, and the half-caste Fijians.

At the end of the eighteenth century, estimates were made by Cook, Forster, and others, and the totals were 1,290,000 people inhabiting the same groups. On comparing these figures, the question arises: Have our efforts at civilizing this race been the blessing that we claim for it? Aua hoki!

From Nukuoro island in the far N.W. to Easter Island (Rapa-nui)* in the distant S. E.; from Hawaii in the extreme N.E. to New Zealand (Aotea-roa) in the S.W., we find one people, speaking dialects of one language, having practically the same customs and beliefs, and bearing so great an affinity in physique, colour, and general appearance, that it is difficult to distinguish the inhabitants of one part from those of any other. And yet, to the close observer, there are differences distinguishable here and there, especially where the environment differs much. For instance, the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands, in the extreme S.W. part of the Polynesian area, present some differences in physique from the Tahitians, who are, as a

* Rapa-nui is the most common name of Easter Island, but it is also known as Te Pito-te-henua, which means either "The navel of the land," or "The end of the land." To those who favour the idea of a sunken continent, the tops of whose mountains are now represented by the islands scattered over the Pacific, and especially in the Pau-motu group, of which Easter Island forms the S.E. extremity, this name—Te Pito-te-henua —"The end of the land," may suggest a confirmation of the theory. But, whilst the "sunken continent" idea has no doubt much to support it, it seems to the writer that everything proves the Polynesians to have arrived in the Pacific long after the existence of such a land.

page 11rule, taller, fairer, and better looking. In their happy isle, nature provides for most of their wants with very little aid from themselves; the breadfruit, coconut, and Women of Tahiti, Polynesian type. banana grow and produce abundantly—almost spontaneously,—whilst fish is abundant and good. The heat of the sun is tempered by the perpetual shade in which the people live, making them fairer than the average members of the race. The Morioris, on the other hand, lived a hard strenuous life, without any vegetable food page 12beyond fern root and a few indifferent fruits, whilst their island is more open to the sun. The products of the sea were their principal articles of diet, and to secure this they led a wandering life, camping for a time A Moriori of the Chatham Isles, Polynesian type. wherever food was most plentiful, and in their daily lives frequently exposed to boisterous weather. The exposed positions from which they obtained their food, the cliffs and rocks of the sea-shore, ever subject to strong saline winds, made the people weather-beaten and darker page 13than the race generally. Sad to say, we must speak of the Moriori in the past time, for there are not more than a dozen of the pure blood left out of the approximate A Maori girl, Polynesian type. Iles photo. number of 2,000 at the time their islands were conquered by the Maori of New Zealand in 1835–6.

Whilst the Polynesian race is thus homogeneous, there can be traced amongst them differences which are not due entirely to environment, though the latter has served to page 14emphasize the divergence from the common type. These variations from the type show that the race, as we know it, is not pure; that it has been crossed by other races in the remote past. The fact that the variations in type A Samoan, Polynesian type. Burton Bros. photo. are found amongst all branches of the race, denotes that the crossings with other races took place in remote antiquity. It is somewhat difficult at this time to say what the original type of the true Polynesian was; but it is probable that the handsome, tall, oval-faced, high browed, lithe, active, light brown, black straight-haired, page 15black or very dark-brown-eyed, cheerful, dignified individual so frequently met with, is the nearest to the true original Polynesian. This type predominates in some branches more than others, and perhaps Samoa contains a larger A Samoan, Polynesian type. Burton Bros. photo. proportion of this character than any other island, but it is found everywhere—from Hawaii to New Zealand, from Samoa to Easter Island.

It is probable that nowhere is the true Polynesian type still in existence. When we come to consider their history, we shall see that the race has been acted on by ethnic page 16elements of many and diverse characters, which show in the people as we know them. It could not be otherwise, looking to the migrations of the race, and the various peoples they must have had more or less communication with in their long progress eastwards from the Fatherland. On their way to the East they must at one time have been in frequent contact with the Papuan or Negritto race of Indonesia, and subsequently with the less strongly marked Negritto people of the Melanesian Islands, besides, as we shall indicate, with some white race, all of which have left their marks on the people, in their physique, their customs and their traditions.

It is unfortunate that up to the present time, no comprehensive study of the craniology of the Polynesian race as a whole has been made. What has been done in this respect—a mere nibbling at the edges, as it were —bears out the mixed Papuan and Melanesian character of the Polynesians. But to satisfy science as to the origin of the people, something much more systematic is required.*

Failing the more exact craniological data, we have to fall back on philology, manners and customs, physical appearances and traditions of the race, to determine their origin. In what follows we shall touch on these various aspects from time to time, but this account is mainly derived from the reasonable interpretation that may be placed on the traditions of the race—others more competent can deal with the question from the other aspects. And here, I would like to say, that in my humble opinion the European Ethnologist is frequently

* When in Eastern Polynesia in 1897, I met a German Doctor (whose name has escaped me) who had been for ten years in various islands collecting skulls and other anthropological specimens, but I have never seen the result of his labours.

page 17 A Soloman Islander, Melanesian type Burton. Bros. photo page 18too apt to discredit tradition. It is an axiom that all tradition is based on fact—whilst the details may be wrong, the main stem is generally right. In this, local colouring is one of the chief things to guard against, and here the European Ethnologist is generally at fault for want of local knowledge—at any rate when he deals with Polynesian traditions. No one who has for many years been in the habit of collecting traditions from the natives themselves, in their own language, and as given by word of mouth, or written by themselves, can doubt the general authenticity of the matters communicated. But it is necessary to go to the right source to obtain reliable information, and even then, the collector must understand what he is about or he will fail.

The men who really know the traditions of their race, look upon them as treasures which are not to be communicated to everybody. They will not impart their knowledge except to those whom they know and respect, and then very frequently only under the condition that no use is to be made of them until the reciter has passed away. Much of the old history of the Polynesians was looked on as tapu (sacred) and its communication to those who could not share this feeling, or who would make improper use of it, would inevitably—in the belief of the old tohungas (priests)—bring down disaster on the heads of the reciters. It is never safe to question any statement made by the narrator, though of course any point not clear can be elucidated by questions. But never show any doubt of what is being told; worse than all never ridicule the most extravagant statements—(these can always be sifted afterward, and the residue of truth retained)—to do so, at once causes the narrator to draw in, and the opportunity is lost for ever.

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It has always been the special function of the priesthood, from the very earliest dates in Polynesian history, to keep the verbal record of the history and literature of the race, and as the office of priest (tohunga, tahuna, tahua, kahuna, etc.) was, in most branches of the race, hereditary, it was the duty of the father, and very often the grandfather, to educate their offspring in the tribal lore. This teaching was accompanied with many ceremonies, and karakias, or incantations, invocations, etc., in order to impress the pupil with the importance of the matter taught, and as was thought, to impress it indelibly upon his mind. There was a special sanctity attached to many things taught; deviation from the accepted doctrines, or history, was supposed to bring on the offender the wrath of the gods who were ever present, watching to catch the people tripping. It is obvious from this, that traditions acquire a value they would otherwise not possess. The fear of the consequences arising out of false teaching acted as an ever present check on the imagination. There are many known instances where serious troubles have arisen through deviation from accepted teaching—due generally to separation of the people in islands or places without frequent communication. As an illustration of this may be mentioned the series of deaths, wars, migrations, etc., that took place in the time of a noted ancestor of Maoris, Rarotongans, and Tahitians, named Whiro, who flourished about the eleventh century, which incident is known as the schemes of Te Aotea and Te Aouri in Tahitian history,* and is also known to Maori tradition in connection with Wharekura in the history of Whiro.

Notwithstanding the care with which traditions were kept, it is only natural that innovations gradually crept

* From Miss Teuira Henry, the Tahitian scholar.

page 20into what was at one time the common property of the race. Doubtless many of the traditions still recited are of immense age. With division of the people into tribes (which there are reasons for thinking is a very ancient institution), migrations to different parts, and the final separation of some branches from the other, innovations and local coloring have gradually been introduced. But taken as a whole, and after making due allowance for the lapse of time, environment, change of language, etc., it will be found that the accordance of traditions collected from different branches of the race is remarkable.

It is difficult for a civilized people which habitually uses writing in recording events, to conceive of the powers of memory possessed by people who have nothing but the memory to trust to. Some few instances of this may be mentioned: A Maori and his wife dictated to Mr. Elsdon Best, over 400 songs, and could generally tell the names of the composers and the incidents alluded to in them. Another Maori of mature age dictated to the writer 164 songs, etc.—and these were so impressed on his memory, that the quotation of one line was sufficient to recall the whole of the song at once. Another Maori wrote for the Polynesian Society 110 songs, and doubtless he knows many more, but the effort of writing wearied him. Again, another Maori has written 11 volumes of M.S. treating of the traditions, songs, customs, etc., of the Maori, and this, at a very advanced age, all of this matter having been retained in his mind, and including hundreds of proper names. Two years ago the writer took down from the recital of an old Maori the genealogical descent of all the members of his tribe, involving the recollection of over 700 names, and going back for 34 generations. Each branch was followed out to the present day, and in most cases the reciter could supply the names of the husband or page 21wife who did not come into the line of descent, and also say what tribe they came from and give something of their history. Efforts of memory of this character are impossible with us, and are not known of, or not considered by the generality of writers on traditions, which are hence set aside for the fanciful creations of their own brains,* after the manner of the German philosopher who was able to evolve the idea of a camel out of his inner consciousness!

I have thought it necessary to say this much on the subject of traditions, for it will be mainly on them, and the inferences that may be drawn from them, that the principal reliance is placed in seeking the origin of the Maoris in the following narrative.

* I may note as one of the latest efforts of the "higher Criticism!" that poor old Abraham has become a "solar myth," and Jacob's twelve children "the twelve signs of the Zodiac!" E Tama! Katahi te poauau!