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



With all branches of the race are to be found names of places, retained in the traditions, that refer to ancient dwelling places which were occupied by the people in the remote past—indeed the number of such names is very great, but only a few, comparatively speaking, can now be identified with certainty. Of these names Hawaiki—the Maori form of the word—is the principal, and is known to nearly every branch of the race, though it varies in form island to island according to the changes that have taken place in the language since the dispersion. The page 39universality of this name points to the fact that it is extremely ancient and that it was under that form the Fatherland was originally known. With many branches, it has now become synonymous with "Spirit-land" the place to which the spirits of the dead pass as their final resting-place. In some parts it is said to be the "under world;" that is, beneath the present world of life. But here, I think, a confusion of terms has arisen in the use of the word raro, lalo, 'a'o which means below, but also means the west with all Central Polynesians. The very nature of the beliefs of the race as to the path of the spirit to its final home, encourages this confusion between the two meanings of the word. In all cases the spirit, whilst always passing to the westward, is said to go downwards, i.e., to dive into the sea, and then pass along to the sunset. It is in this manner that Hawaiki has come to be used for the place of departed spirits located underneath the earth. This latter meaning has been so firmly established in.the minds of some collectors of traditions, that its original meaning has been by them overlooked; notably in the case of the late Rev. W. Wyatt Gill, to whom all Polynesian scholars owe a great debt of gratitude for his exertions in preserving the traditions of the race.

The universal belief in the passing of the spirits of the dead to the west, is to my mind a complete answer to those who hold that the Polynesian migrations were from the east. It is an essential part of Polynesian belief that the spirits rejoin those of the ancient dead and there dwell in a land of beauty and plenty, where the gods supply every want, and with whom communication is constant. The Polynesians would not locate this Paradise in the west, if their ancestral home was in the east. Whilst this appears to me unquestionable, it is undeniable that apparent traces of Polynesian influences are to be found on the coasts of page 40America; but these, I hold, are due to expeditions that have sailed from Polynesia to the east, where some, probably most, of them settled and became absorbed in the races they found there. The traditional evidence of this contact with America is exceedingly meagre, but the discovery of Polynesian remains in several parts of South America,* the strong probability that Alaskan ornamentation owes much to this influence, seem to prove a former connection.

In the present state of our knowledge of the ability of the Polynesians as navigators—about which we shall learn something further on—it is useless for some writers to insist that the prevalence of the S.E. trade winds would form a bar to voyages made from Central Polynesia to the American coast. The number of easterly voyages on record from various parts and under all sorts of weather conditions is so large, that we must conclude these able navigators paid little attention to the trade wind if a sufficient object required them to face it.

Naturalists do not seem to have finally decided as to the original home of the kumara, or sweet potato (Batatas), but the evidence gathered by De Candolle seems to show that Central America is the part where it grows spontaneously, and therefore must be its native habitat. It is possible we may see in the following quotation from an ancient Maori chant, a reference to America in the land where the kumara grows wild:—

  • "Ko Hawaiki te whenua, e tupu noa mai te Kumara."
  • "Hawaiki is the land where the kumara grows spontaneously."
It is said in the above that "Hawaiki is the land;" but we need not be mislead by this; for, there is no doubt this

* The latest reference to this subject that I have seen is in a note to be found in Vol. xi., p. 49 Journal of the Polynesian Society.

page 41name had become a synonym for all lands outside New Zealand not long after the settlement of the people here. If we could, however, find a country—say in Indonesia or that neighbourhood—where the kumara grows wild, it would with more probability be the Hawaii referred to in the chant.
The Maori account of the origin of the kumara is briefly this: It is the offspring of Pani-tinaku, a woman, who is said to have been the wife of Rongo-maui, also called Rongo-marae-roa, Rongo-ma-tane, and Rongo-a-tau. Pani is said to have been the person who gave the food to Hawaiki; the food was the kumara; hence the name of Hawaiki, meaning plentiful food.* But the kumara appears to have been in charge of Whanui, which is a name for the star Vega, but quite possibly is also a territorial designation. It is also said that the root was stolen by Rongo-maui from Whanui. Another story is to the effect that Pani and her husband Tiki visited an island where the people had no kumara, and finding that food was scarce, he sent back his wife to another country called Tawai to fetch some for the people with whom he was staying. Tawai, here, may be the N.W. island of the Hawaiian group, now called Kauai, which until the last 100 years was called Tauai; but from the archaic nature of the tradition, I am inclined to think it is more ancient than the settlement of Kauai island. Rongo-māui combines the names of one of the great quartette of Polynesian gods—Rongo, with that of Māui, the greatest of all Polynesian heroes, often wrongly called a god, a claim to which he can be admitted only in the sense of being a deified ancestor. It is this Rongo (i.e. Rongo-māui) that is probably meant when he is said to be the god, or patron

* Hamiora Pio's collection of Maori traditions, MSS. with the Polynesian Society.

page 42of all matters connected with cultivation. The attributes of Rongo to be found in the traditions of branches of the race outside New Zealand, preclude the idea that his ferocious man-eating and war-like nature as therein depicted, can ever have been represented in New Zealand by the god of peace and agriculture. Moreover it is suggested as a matter worthy of further investigation by those who have the time and the knowledge, whether Māui the navigator, the "fisher up of lands," is not in reality this Rongo-māui, and not the hero of the origin of the fire, who also thrashed the sun—that daring, impish, cheeky demon, so much appreciated by Polynesians. The Rarotongan account of Māui lends considerable weight to the idea that there was a navigator in ancient times named Māui, who visited some country towards the sunrise named Uperu (U-Peru). It may be altogether a too fanciful idea, to suppose that the above name is intended for Peru, for we do not know how old the name of the South American State is; but the kumara is said to grow wild in Central America, and the Quichua name of the root is umar. Māui or Rongo-Māui may have been the benefactor of his race by introducing the kumara to the knowledge of the Polynesians.

But to return to the westward flight of the spirit after death. At first sight it might be said that the Maori belief is contrary to that of other branches of the race, inasmuch as the spirits do not go to the west. But they go to the north-west—to Cape Reinga near the North Cape of N.Z. The explanation of this is simple. Starting from Central Eastern Polynesia, as the ancestors of the Maoris did when they colonised New Zealand, and having as they page 43had very correct notions of orientation,* they would know full well that their S.W. course to N.Z. must necessitate the adoption of a different direction for Hawaiki—the spirit land—from that they held in Central Polynesia. And hence the spirits gather at Cape Reinga, as being the nearest point to the old "spirits' road," by which their ancestors' spirits went back to the spirit land. Colonel Collins in his "History of New South Wales" (published at the end of the 18th century) gives a sketch map of New Zealand drawn from information supplied by Maoris, who in 1793 were taken to Norfolk Island to teach the convicts how to dress flax. On this map is drawn the "spirits' road "which follows the ranges from the south of New Zealand to Te Reinga, near the North Cape. Many stories have the Maoris of the doings of the spirits on their way to the sacred Pohutukawa tree growing at Te Reinga, from which the spirits dropped down into the chasm that led under the sea to spirit land.

In Samoa we find the same ideas: the spirits travelled from the east by the mountain backbone (tuasivi) of the islands to the extreme western point of the group, where, at Fale-lupo, they dived into the sea on their way to spirit-land—in their case named Pulotu.

It was the same at Rarotonga, and Mangaia Islands; the spirits passed to the west, and there "jumped off" from the Pua tree and dived beneath the ocean on their way to Avaiki, or spirit-land, many instances of which will be found in the Rev. W. Wyatt Gill's works.

* A very striking illustration of the powers of the Polynesians in respect to direction, is furnished by Captain Cook, who, on his first voyage took from Tahiti a native priest named Tupaea, with the intention of letting him see the wonders of the world. Cook states that after many months—even after having circum-navigated New Zealand, and passed up the eastern shores of Australia—if Tupaea was asked to point out the direction of Tahiti, he could always do so correctly.

page 44

At the Hawaiian Group the spirits passed to the N.N. West, finally "jumping off" at the Leina-Kauhane at the west end of Oahu Island near the point called Ka Lae-o-Kaena.*

The Morioris of the Chatham Islands held a similar belief. In their case, the spirits left the N.W. point of the island at Te Raki Point on their way to the general gathering place with their ancestors at Hawaiki.

At the west end of Vanua-lava, the largest of the Fiji Islands, is a balawa tree (Pandanus) where the spirits depart for the ancestral home by passing into the sea. It will be shown later, how much the Fiji group has been connected with the Polynesian race, though the present inhabitants are a cross between that race and the Melanesian.

The natives of Mangareva Island, situated near the extreme S.E. end of the extensive Pau-motu group, and who are pure Polynesians, call the place of departed spirits Avaiki, and Tregear's dictionary of that dialect also states:—" Name of a place often mentioned in the ancient songs of the natives." But I cannot ascertain if the spirits were supposed to go to the west.

Although the present inhabitants of South East New Guinea are not pure Polynesians, there has no doubt in ancient times been an infusion of that blood into the people, together with some of their beliefs. Hence we find that the spirits after death went to the west, to Lavau, a name which I hope to show is as ancient as Hawaiki.

The above examples are taken from the principal homes of the race, and they all illustrate the one common idea

* Journal Polynesian Society, Vol. xi., p. 192:—Leina-Kauhane is identical in meaning with the Maori Reinga-Wairua, and both mean the "Jumping off place of the Spirits"—Kauhane being equivalent to Wairua, or spirit.

page 45that the spirit passes to the west to the ancestral home of the people. If enquiries were instituted in the other islands inhabited by the Polynesians, I have no doubt we should find traces of the same belief. Numbers of illustrations might be given from the ancient poetry of the Maoris of their belief in the return of the spirit to Hawaiki, the first home of their ancestors. Enough, however, has been said, to prove the belief of the race that their ancestral home was in the far west, and that Hawaiki was, if not the principal, at any rate one of its chief names.

At this date, and after so many people have studied the traditions of the Polynesian people, it would seem superfluous to adduce any argument in favour of the western origin of the race. But I notice that an Australian gentleman of scientific acquirements, has lately resuscitated the idea of an eastern origin. To those, like myself, who have studied the race, its language, manners and customs, and above all, its traditions, for over forty years, this idea cannot be admitted as valid. Dr. Lang of Sydney, was the first, I think, to originate this theory; but he based it on such ridiculous arguments, that no one knowing anything of the race could treat his work seriously.

With laudable pride and affection, with a strong belief in the sacredness, the beauty, the prolificness of the Father-land, the Polynesians have carried this great name Hawaiki in their wanderings, and applied it to many of their later homes. We thus have the following islands and places, etc., named in memory of it, or where a knowledge of it exists:—

  • Jawa, the Bugis name of the Moluccas (J. R. Logan).
  • Java, (Hawa)—see later on in reference to this.
  • Sava-i, a place in the Island of Seran, Ceran, Celam, or Ceram, Indonesia.page 46
  • Hawaiki and Kowaiki, at the west end of New Guinea (Dr. Carroll).
  • Savai'i, the principal island of the Samoan group.
  • Havai'i, an ancient name of Ra'iatea, Society group.
  • Havai'i, the original home or Father-land of the Tahitians.
  • Havaiki, an ancient name of one of the Paumotu group (? Fakalava).
  • Avaiki-raro, the whole of the Fiji, Samoan, and Tonga groups, according to Rarotongan traditions.
  • Avaiki-runga, the Society, Tahiti and neighbouring groups, according to Rarotongan traditions.
  • Avaiki, mentioned in Mangareva traditions.
  • Savaiki, a place known to the Tongareva Islanders.
  • Avaiki, a place known to the Aitutaki Islanders, Avaiki-tautau, the ancient Rarotongan name (besides others) for New Zealand.
  • Havaiki, a place known to Marquesan traditions.
  • Havaiki, a place known to Easter Island traditions.
  • Hawaiki, a place known to Moriori traditions, and a place so named on their island (Chatham Island).
  • Hawai'i, the name of the largest of the Sandwich Islands.
  • Havaiki, a place on Niuē Island.
Besides the above there are several places in New Zealand called Hawaiki: amongst others those where the altars were set up by the crew of the Tainui, at Kawhia,* and by the crew of the Arawa at Maketu, on their first arrival in the country. I do not include in the above list Haabai Island of the Tonga Group, for the Rev. Mr. Moultan, of Tonga—the best authority—does not think it has any connection with the name. It is possible that Ava, the

* The first kumaras, brought in Tainui canoes, were also planted at Hawaiki.

page 47kingdom of that name in the Malayan peninsula, may be connected with Hawa-iki, but we want to know first what language the name belongs to.

In Maori legends, it is clear that even this most ancient name of Hawaiki was applied to more than one place, or home of the people, and that their first home had several qualifying epithets applied to it; for we have Hawaiki-nui (the great Hawaiki), Hawaiki-atea, the meaning of which I apprehend to be Hawaiki-the-happy (atea enters as a descriptive word into several of the ancient names, as Wawau-atea, etc.), Hawaiki-roa is another variant of the name, meaning "the long, or extensive Hawaiki."

In some of these epithets of the ancient Father-land, it is clear to me that a continent rather than an island is referred to, and this is the description given to me of Hawaiki-nui, by Tare Watere Te Kahu, a very learned member of the Ngai-Tahu tribe, a people that have retained up to fifty years ago probably more of the ancient knowledge of the Maoris than any other. "Hawaiki-nui was a mainland (tua-whenua) with vast plains on the side towards the sea and a high range of snowy mountains on the inland side; through this country ran the river Tohinga." The Deluge stories of the Maoris are connected with the river Tohinga, showing how ancient Hawaiki is. The following names of mountains are also given by the Maoris as being situated in Hawaiki:— Apaapa-te-rangi, Tipua-o-te-rangi, Tawhito-o-te-rangi, Tawhiti-nui, and Hikurangi. These mountains are mentioned in another legend* referring to the Father-land in which it is named Te Paparoa-i-Hawaiki, or the "Great extending Hawaiki," again indicating a continent. Here—says the tradition—"was the growth or origin of man,

* Journal Polynesian Society, Vol. 9, p. 218.

page 48and they spread from there, spreading from that Paparoa-i-Hawaiki, spreading to the islands of the great ocean and dwelling there." Hikurangi, one of the mountains mentioned above, is also connected with the Deluge legends, and its name has been applied by the race to several other mountains in their later homes, e.g., Tahiti, Rarotonga, New Zealand, etc. Hawaiki-atua is another name for the Father-land—Hawaiki-of-the-gods—where the gods originated from Rangi and Papa—the Sky father and Earth mother, and where is "the meeting place of gods and men," as we shall see later on—where spirits foregathered with their deified ancestors.

Mr. J. R. Logan, the Ethnologist and Philologist of Indonesia, has the following remarks bearing on the name Hawa-iki—vide "Journal of the Indian Archipelago," Vol. iv., p. 338. "The great island of Halmahera (or Gilolo) was in the oldest historical and traditional times, the seat of the predominant tribe which included Ceram in its dominions and had its chief colony there in the fine bay of Sawai. From Sawai, it is probable the principal of those migrations Avent forth, which spreading along the northern coasts of the Melanesian chain, at last reached and colonised the Samoan islands, and thence diffused the S.W. Indonesian races throughout Polynesia. The name of Sawai or Sawaiki, is literally Sawa-the-little, and Sawa is identical with Java; so that the name was first given (to that bay) by a Polynesian colony from Java; just as the modern name of a country on the south coast, Seran, Selan, Seram, Ceram, which Europeans have extended to the whole island—was bestowed by the Javenese colonists at a period when Singhalese seem to have been the leading Indian settlers or traders and civilizers in the Archipelago, if we may judge page 49by many names of places, sovereigns, and chiefs, and by the histories of some of the Malayan races.

"The name Java, Jaba, Saba, Zaba, Jawa, Hawa, is the same word, which is used for rice-fields which are irrigated. The word is primarily connected with the flowing of water. "(In a note he adds)" Sawa, Jawa, Saba, Jaba, etc., has eviddntly in all times been the capital local name in Indonesia … The Bugis apply the name Jawa, Jawaka, to the Molukas."

The above quotation from Mr. Logan shows what an accomplished linguist and philologist considers to be the origin of the name Hawaiki (or Savaiki, for "h" and "s" are convertible letters, as are "w" and "v" in the Polynesian language) and his further remarks bear on one or more of the secondary Hawaikis, as we shall have to refer to later on. But the quotation is given here in order to assist in arriving at a meaning for the name. Mr. Edward Tregear has probably gone deeper into the origin of this and other names than anyone else, and briefly his conclusion is "That the names of the lands of Polynesian origin, such as Hawaiki, Yaringa, Paliuli, and Atia, are derived from words used for varieties of food, but primarily of grain. The grain-name was applied to barley, millet, wheat, etc., by the western natives, but to the rice by the people of India and the tribes moving eastward. It became in time not only a designation of the cereals themselves but of the soil in which they grew, and the methods of irrigation, etc." I cannot exactly agree with Mr. Logan that the iki in Hawaiki, means little, otherwise it would be—in Maori—iti, for the Maoris have not, like the Hawaiians, and some others, changed the "t" into page 50"k,"* It may be, that an "r" has been deleted, and the word might have been Hawa-riki, which of course means "little Hawa." But no Polynesian would, if this had been the case, use the form Hawaiki-nui (the great little Hawa). It seems to me more probable that the name may have been originally, Hawa-ariki or Hawa-the-regal, from ariki, eiki, aka-iki, etc., a high chief, king, firstborn, etc. Crawford in his "History of the Indian Archipelago," Vol. iii., p. 190, says: the name Java was derived from Indian sources, which is some evidence of it having been applied to some part of India itself, at one time.

However this may be, it seems clear, from the fact of finding this name widely spread in Indonesia, and from the other fact that it is connected with the origin of the race, we must seek some country further to the west than Indonesia for the original location of the name. Taken with the other evidence to be adduced, it apparently points to India as the Father-land of the race.

* This change—as to the Hawaiian Islands—is known to have taken place in the last few years of the eighteenth century—and, indeed, it is not quite complete yet, for the Kauai people of the N.E. end of the Archipelago still use the "t."