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

Sojourn in Indonesia

Sojourn in Indonesia.

It is impossible to tell from the information given in the traditions how long the Polynesians remained in Indonesia before pressure urged them onward to the Pacific, nor what the cause of the movement was beyond the mention of wars and other troubles, which may be inferred from other things rather than from any definite statement, except in the Marquesan Chants, which expressly refer to the wars, murders, famine, &c., and also show that some of them were taken into captivity. These events occurred in Papa-nui and Ahee-tai, several of them in the time of page 99Atea, who has been shown to have lived about the first century, and the islands mentioned are clearly in Indonesia. Probably we may see in Forlong's statement, quoted on page 75 hereof, "Indian Mālas, or Malays, Yauvas or Javans, Bali, and others were all over the Peninsula and the Archipelago B.C. 125," a prime cause for the easterly movement of the Polynesians, which probably setting in about that period, forced them to the east, and caused them to seek new homes for themselves.

Whatever powers of navigation the people may have possessed prior to their arrival at Java (Hawaiki), the vast number of islands in the Archipelago would induce a great extension of their voyages, and generate a seafaring life, through which alone were they able at later periods to traverse the great Pacific from end to end in the remarkable manner that will be indicated. In the Archipelago, where most of the islands are forest-clad to the water's edge to this day, the water was the principal highway, and this necessitated constant use of canoes; whilst the location of the various branches of the people on different islands with considerable spaces of sea between, would induce the building of a larger class of vessels. It certainly seems from the very nature of the surroundings that Indonesia was the school in which the Polynesians learnt to become expert navigators.

If, then, the people lived in Indonesia some three or perhaps four centuries as the traditions seem to indicate, it is to be expected that some of its peculiar features, as contrasted with the later homes of the people, ought to be preserved in tradition: such, for instance, as some of the animals there found,—animals that often test the powers of man to overcome, and of which there is nothing similar in Polynesia. I think in the following notes abstracted page 100from the traditions, we may see a reference to some of the wild animals of Indonesia:—

First, with respect to the snake. There is a harmless, reddish snake in Samoa, which the natives do not fear in the least, and also in Fiji, I am told. It is called in Samoa a ngata, a name the Maoris apply to the snail. Whether this is connected with the Indian word naga for a snake I am not prepared to say. In the Maori ear-ornament, called a koropepe, the snake is clearly shown with long curling body, tail, head, eyes, &c. Some people fancy they see in this a representation of the eagle-headed snake of the old world mythologies. The snake also occurs in the, carvings. This is particularly noticeable in the large, boards of a carved house inland of Opotiki, where two snakes, each about 15 feet long, are faithfully depicted. The name moko to be found in the dialects of several islands, appears originally to have represented a snake-like animal, though now it is applied generally to a lizard. It is probable that some of the Maori stories referring to a large animal that was able to hold on to the branches of trees by its tail, and there defend itself against its pursuers, was a snake.

All these monsters have left a deep impression on the Maori mind, and it is quite possible that we may see in those of a snake-like character, the dim remembrance of Indian snake worship, which was so common amongst the Dravidian tribes, who were their nearest neighbours on the west. Fornander (loc. cit., p. 43) says: "Traces of serpent worship, another peculiarly Cushite outgrowth of religious ideas, occur in Polynesian traditions, when reference is frequently made to the moko or moo, enormous powerful reptiles or serpents, evil beings generally, to be propitiated by sacrifices and offerings. In the Fiji group, where so much of ancient Polynesian lore, now forgotten elsewhere, page 101is still retained, the god Ndengei, according to some traditions, is represented with the head of a serpent and part of the body of a serpent, the rest of his form being stone."

Of some one of the feline animals they have retained a recollection; whether referring to the tiger of India or the Malayan Peninsula, or to some other animal of that family, is doubtful. In the story of the snaring and killing of Matuku, a man-destroying monster, it is stated that the urine of the animal is very hurtful. This is characteristic of feline animals, but applies to none that the Polynesians could have met in the Pacific.

The alligator has given rise to innumerable stories. The Maoris have probably some hundreds of them, all relating to adventures connected with and the slaying of them; but, as so often happens, the tales have become localized. The name given them is taniwha, or ngarara, or moko-roa, and the description of them is exactly that of the alligator, with fierce jaws, spiny backs, and powerful tails.

It is natural to suppose that if the Polynesians once dwelt in Indonesia, they would retain some recollection of the orang-utan, or other monkeys of those parts. In the story of the voyager Tura (in which occurs the name Wawau, which has been shown to be somewhere in Indonesia), he is said to have married a woman of the Aitanga-a-nuku-mai-tore people, who knew not the art of fire-making, and "lived in trees on the wharawhara (Astelia, plant) and kiekie (Freycinetia plant). In form their chests and waists were large, and their heads were small. They were not human beings."* The wharawhara here is no doubt the pandanus, the ordinary name for which is fara, fala, hara, ara, according to the dialect. The people whom page 102Tura came across were probably orang-utans; it is a subsequent embellishment his marriage with one of them Mr. White gives the translation of the name of this people as "offspring of the red eye"; but there is another meaning of the name which describes the lascivious actions of monkeys.

In one of the Nga-Puhi (Maori) traditions collected in 1839, we find this statement: "The island from which the ancestors of Hehi came, was rich in productions; the kumara grew wild in the open places of the island of Waerota and the people lived on the fat of the land.

The ancestors said that the animals of some of the large islands near where they dwelt were very large, that is, the island of Waerota from which they migrated. * * The islands were exceedingly hot, so that men went naked all the year round, wearing nothing but the maro or waist cloth."

* "Ancient History of the Maori," J. White, Vol. II., p. 9.