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

The Polynesians as Navigators

The Polynesians as Navigators.

If reference be made to the genealogical table at the end of this book, it will be seen that at forty-eight generations ago, or about the year 650, there flourished a man named Ui-te-rangiora, who was a contemporary of Ema's father. It was in Ui-te-rangiora's time that the voyages of discovery emanating from Fiji first began, and many islands were page 124discovered and settled by the people. The following account is condensed from two different narratives in the Native History of Rarotonga which differ somewhat, but the main facts are the same, and by carefully considering them and abstracting the marvellous, we shall find a residue of truth that is real history. At this period the head-quarters of the people was in Fiji, with colonies in the Tonga and Samoa groups, and as appears probable, some of their branches were still living in Indonesia; indeed, the precise statement is made that they did not cease communication with Avaiki-te-varinga, which is probably Java, until the time of Tangiia, or in 1250, when the voyages thither finally ended for ever through causes which will be referred to later on.

Ui-te-rangiora decided on building a pāi, or great canoe, and e ivi tangata te rakau i taua pāi ("men's bones were the wood of that canoe,") the keel of which was named Te ivi o Atea ("Atea's bones")—a name which the canoe appears also to have borne. I am inclined to think that the interpretation of this curious statement is that bones of their enemies were used in part of the construction or ornamentation of the vessel, in the same manner as men's bones (enemies) are used in making spears, fishhooks, &c. This was done by way of insult, and for fear of this occurring the bones of great chiefs were always hidden away most carefully by persons specially selected, and who could be relied on to keep the secret. To complete this celebrated vessel, a sacred tree called Te Tamoko-o-te-Rangi was felled, and part of it made into drums,* tapa-beating logs, and boards. This sacrilege led to a war between Ui-te-rangiora and the owners of the tree, the descendants of Taakura and Ari mentioned before, and a determination on the part of many

* "Drums used at the installation of the chiefs at Avarua,"

page 125to emigrate to other parts. Hence resulted a final severance of some of the people from the main stock, who settled on many other islands to the east.

This was the commencement of the great voyages of the Rarotongans and Maoris, during the continuance of which they—in the words of the history—"visited every place on earth," and they became "a people accomplished in navigating vessels." Of course we must read "every place on earth" as the world known to the Polynesians of that age, which from the names of places given below, embraced a very large portion of the Pacific. I do not suppose that Ui-te-rangiora visited or discovered all the islands named, but it is clear from references in other accounts that he discovered a large number of them. The statement is made that when a canoe rotted, others were built, so it would seem that the voyages extended over very many years.

The following is the list of lands discovered or visited at this period:—
Te RavakiTangi-te-puRapa-iti (Opara. Island)
Nu-kareThe New HebridesKuporuSamoaPa-pua
Nu-takotoThe New HebridesTe TuiraSamoaAu-taria-nui
Nu-taaraThe New HebridesManukaSamoaAu-taria-iti
Nu-mareThe New HebridesTokerauSamoaKateta-nui
Nu-pangoThe New HebridesUru-pukapuka-nuiKateta-iti
Nu-itiThe New HebridesUru-pukapuka-itiPanipani-ma-ata-one-okotai
Nu-amoThe New HebridesEnua-kura
Iti nuiFiji Group ?Iva-nuiMarquesasAvaiki-tautau (New Zealand)
Iti-raiFiji Group ?Iva-raiMarquesas
Iti-anaunauFiji Group ?Iva-te-pukengaMarquesasVaerota
Iti-takai-kereFiji Group ?Te KirikiriMarquesasKurupongia
Pa-puaFiji Group ?Te RauaoMarquesasMatietiepage 126
VaiiHawaii GroupTe-Mae-a-tupaPau-motu
TavaīHawaii GroupRau-maika-nuiPau-motu
NngangaiHawaii GroupRau-maika-itiPau-motu
Maro-aiHawaii GroupNganaPau-motu
Tonga-nuiTonga GroupTe Paumotu (katoa-toa=all)Pau-motu
Tonga-akeTonga GroupPau-motu
Tonga-piritaTonga GroupAkaauPau-motu
Tonga-mangaTonga GroupTaitiSociety Is.
Tonga raroTonga GroupRangi-ateaSociety Is.
Avaiki-raroUaineSociety Is.
Nu-taataTaangaSociety Is.
Piā (? Tukopia)PoraporaSociety Is.
Uea (Wallis Island)RurutnAustral Isles
Raro-ataPa-pauAustral Isles
AmamaRima-taraAustral Isles
Tuna (Futuna)Mauke
Rangi-araraMotia-aroCook's Group
RotumaAtiuCook's Group
VavauAūaūCook's Group
Niva-pou (Niuafou)RarotongaCook's Group
Atu-aapai (Haapai)Then to windward to Rapa-nui (Easter Island)

This long list of islands winds up with the statement, "others remain, the greater part is not written." A large number of the islands cannot be recognised, as the names are old ones, not now in use, but others are easily identified. We see that these voyages extended, according to the list, from New Zealand to the Hawaii Islands, some 4000 miles, and from (probably) the New Hebrides to Easter Island, about 5,000 miles, besides voyages back to Avaiki in Indonesia, a far greater distance. The islands mentioned in the Hawaiian Group are Vaii (Hawaii, Vaihi being its Tahitian name, and Waihi its Maori name), Tavai, which is Kauai (spelled Tauai until early in last century), Ngangai, which I have shown to be Lanai, and Maro-ai, which I take to be Molokai, but neither Maui nor Oahu are mentioned. Au-taiia-nui and Au-taria-iti I do recognise, page 127but they are islands apparently in the Western Pacific, which the Rarotongans were in the habit of visiting so late as the thirteenth century. Mareva is probably one of the islands mentioned in the Marquesan traditions as one of the stopping-places on their migration from the west, but which island it is now impossible to say.

The period at which the Hawaiian Islands were first settled as deduced from Fornander's data is the year 650. According to Rarotonga history, this is the exact date at Avhich the voyages under Ui-te-rangiora commenced. The traditions of the two branches of the race therefore confirm one another in a remarkable manner, for it is shown above that Hawaii was one of the group visited or discovered at this time. It follows from this that the original Hawaiians are a branch of these Maori-Rarotongans.

New Zealand is mentioned in the list of places visited, and the question arises, did any of the visitors remain there? It is now well known that this country had a considerable population before the arrival of the fleet in 1350, who were divided into tribes, the names alone of which are retained, the people having been absorbed to a large extent by the newcomers. But the genealogical tables of these New Zealand tangata whenua (or aborigines) are not all satisfactory, from want of the means of checking them. Toi-kai-rakau can be shown to have lived, by the mean of a large number of tables, at twenty-eight genera-tions ago, or about 1150. From him, back to the earliest known ancestor of the tangata whenua who lived in this country, the most reliable table gives twelve generations, or forty in all from the year 1850. In other words, they carry us back to the year 850 about, at which time Ti-wakawaka was visited by a voyager named Maku, who came to New Zealand from Mata-ora. This is 200 years after the period of Ui-te-rangiora, when the epoch of long page 128voyages set in, and it would seem probable that during this 200 years the first immigrants settled themselves in New Zealand.

Of the other islands of the Pacific which were first settled at this time, we have so little information as to their histories that nothing can be stated with certainty. It is probable that Easter Island was colonised about this period, and that the Marquesas received accessions to the population, if they were not for the first time then occupied, which I think is most probable. We have seen from a former page that at forty generations ago (or in 850) the Tahitian groups had people living on them, and most likely they were colonised at about the period of Ui-te-rangiora's voyages, or in 650.

All of the voyages indicated above, and others to be referred to later on, may cause surprise at their extent, but they were made in the tropical regions of the world, with numerous islands on the way, at which the voyagers could rest and replenish their stores. But I now come to one made by this daring navigator, Ui-te-rangiora, in his celebrated canoe Te Ivi-o-Atea, which outshines all the others, and shows him to have been a man worthy of taking his place amongst many of our own most fearless navigators of ages long subsequent to the seventh century. In the history of Te Aru-tanga-nuku, who in his time was also a great voyager, we find the following: "The desire of the ariki Te Aru-tanga-nuku and all his people on the completion of the canoe, was to behold all the wonderful things seen by those of the vessel Te Ivi-o-Atea in former times., These were those wonderful things:—the rocks that grow out of the sea, in the space* beyond Rapa; the monstrous

* The word "space" here is in Rarotongan area, almost exactly our own word for space.

Rapa, or Oparo, an island in latitude 28° south, about 1100 miles S.E. of Rarotonga, and which was formerly thickly inhabited by Polynesians, who had pas like the Maoris, the only place in the Pacific where they exist outside New Zealand.

page 129seas; the female that dwells in those mountainous waves, whose tresses wave about in the waters and on the surface of the sea; and the frozen sea of pia, with the deceitful animal of that sea who dives to great depths—a foggy, misty, and dark place not seen by the sun. Other things are like rocks, whose summits pierce the skies, they are completely bare and without any vegetation on them." The above is as literal a translation as I can make, and the meaning is quite clear; that the bare rocks that grow out of the frozen sea are the icebergs of the Antarctic; the tresses that float on the monstrous waves are the long leaves of the bull-kelp—over 50 feet long—quite a new feature to a people who dwelt in the tropics, where there is nothing of the kind; the deceitful animal that dives so deep, is the walrus or the sea-lion or sea-elephant. The frozen ocean is expressed by the term Te tai-uka-a-pia, in which tai is the sea, uka, (Maori huka) is ice, a pia means— a, as, like, after the manner of; pia, the arrowroot, which when scraped is exactly like snow, to which this simple people compared it as the only or best simile known to them. Now, the Antarctic ice is to be found south of Rapa, in about latitude 50° in the summer time, and consequently both Ui-te-rangiora and Te Arutanga-nuku at different times (250 years apart) must have gone to those high latitudes, as the story says, "to see the wonders of the ocean."

Since the above account of these Antarctic voyages was written in 1897—I have come across a further confirmation of the story. When relating my visit to Eastern Polynesia to the Maoris of the Nga-Rauru tribe, west coast, New Zealand, I was asked if I had also visited that part of the ocean where their traditions state that the seas run page 130mountains high, coming along in three great waves at a time, and where dwelt the monster, the Maraki-hau. Now, the Maraki-hau is a well-known figure depicted on ancient Maori carvings, and the origin of which has much exercised our Ethnologists; it has the body and face of a man, but the lower half is a fish's body and tail,—in fact, it is just like a mer-man. But it has in addition, two long tusks coming out of its mouth which the Maoris call ngongo, (or tubes); these are as long as from the mouth to the waist of the figure. To my mind this is the Maori representation of the walrus, or sea-elephant, which they could see only in high latitudes. The old man who questioned me on the subject, clearly had it in his mind that the Maraki-hau dwelt in that mysterious part of the world from whence their ancestors came to New Zealand. It would seem that this confirms the Rarotongan story.

The Tongans have also some tradition of the ice-covered ocean, which they call Tai-fatu, which means the thick, fat-like or congealed ocean, and to which some of their ancestors had been in long ages ago. This I learn from the Rev. J. E. Moulton, the best living authority on Tongan traditions.

Who, after this, will deny to the Polynesians the honour that is their due as skilful and daring navigators? Here we find them boldly pushing out into the great unknown ocean in their frail canoes, actuated by the same love of adventure and discovery that characterises our own race. Long before our ancestors had learnt to venture out of sight; of land, these bold sailors had explored the Antarctic seas, and traversed the Pacific Ocean from end to end. Considering the means at their command—their lightly-built canoes (sewn together with sinnet), the difficulty of provisioning the crew, the absence of any instruments to guide them—I feel justified in claiming for these bold page 131navigators as high a place in the honour-roll as many of our own distinguished Arctic or Antarctic explorers.

Many people have doubted the ability of the Polynesians to make the lengthy voyages implied in finding the race in places so widely separated as Hawaii, Easter Island, New Zealand, and the N.W. Pacific south of the line. But we cannot doubt the very definite statements made in their traditions. The love of adventure, of moving about from place to place, which is so characteristic of the race even in these days has always been a feature in their lives. More often than not they made these adventurous voyages with the definite object of establishing new colonies in which to settle, taking with them their Lares and Penates, their domestic animals, seeds, plants, and families, It has already been pointed out the effect the vast number of islands in Indonesia must have had on the people, in increasing their powers of navigation. In passing onward by way of New Guinea, the Solomans, and New Hebrides to the Fiji group, the idea must have forced itself into the minds of the people, that the whole Eastern world was covered with islands, and that they had only to move onward into the unknown to find more lands on which to settle. Actuated by this ruling idea, they undertook long voyages in the assured belief of finding land. Many of their expeditions, no doubt, failed in the end they sought, and disappeared forever. We don't hear of them; it is the successful voyages of which a record has been preserved.

Much of the doubt that has been expressed as to the ability of the Polynesians to make lengthy voyages, is due to the fact that the canoes they now use are supposed to be the same in which these long voyages were undertaken. But this is not the case. It is quite clear that much larger and better sea-going vessels were formerly employed. The pahi, pora, taurūa, purua, &c., were large canoes, generally page 132double, with a platform between them, and very often carrying a small house built on the platform. Besides the express statement in some of the traditions as to the use of double canoes, it is probable that all those that made the Double Canoe of Ra'iatea in 1769. From Cook's Voyages. voyage from the Central Pacific to New Zealand, were double, or were large canoes with outriggers, which gave them a much greater stability. Even so late as 1830 the double canoe has been used in New Zealand, and there are a few specimens still to be seen in the Islands. The following is a description of the old Samoan double canoe as supplied by one who had seen them:—

page 133
The alia is a double canoe and is described by Mr. Kennison, a boat-builder in Savāi'i. "The bigger canoe of the two is sometimes as much as one hundred and fifty feet in length; each end tapers out to nothing; the second canoe is not nearly so long as the first. They sail fast, and like the Malay proas, do not go about in beating, but the sheet of the sail is shifted from bow to stern instead. There is a platform built between the two canoes, and both ends are decked over for some distance—on the platform a The 'Alia, or Double Canoe of Samoa. Photo by Dr. B. Friedlaender. house* is usually erected. These double canoes will turn to windward very well. The canoes are built up of many slabs joined together with great neatness, and each plank is sewn to the next one with sinnet, which passes through holes bored in a raised edge on the inside of each plank." It was in this kind of canoe that the voyages of the Samoans and Tongans were made, and so far as can be ascertained, the pāi (Maori pahi) of the Rarotongans in

* Called in Rarotonga an orau, which is also the name of the shed in which the big canoes were kept on the heach. Cf: with orau, the Samoan folau, a ship; to go on a voyage; and Maori wharau, a shed; originally a canoe-shed; also Hawaiian halau a canoe-shed.

page 134which they made the lengthy voyages we shall read about shortly, were of the same description.

Other accounts obtained in Samoa say that the alia was. a Tongan design originally, and that the Samoans copied it from them. Again, it is said that the Tongans derived their model of the canoe from Fiji, which brings us back to this: that it probably originated with the ancestors of Maori and Rarotongan, The ancient canoe of the Samoans was called a soatau, and was made out of the large trunk of a tree; it was connected with the ama or outrigger by five 'iato or arms. The ama-tele or va'a-tele was also a large canoe of ancient times. Descriptions of these canoes are not now to be obtained; but, in connection with the extensive voyages of the Polynesians in former times, it is something to know the names of them, and that there were such craft, though it seems probable that the Samoans were not such great voyagers as other branches of the race. In the Rev. J. B. Stair's most interesting paper on "Samoan Voyages,"* he has assumed all through that the voyages therein related were made by Samoans. It will appear later on that these people were not Samoans—properly so called—but the ancestors of Maoris and Rarotongans, who formed, as I believe, a distinct migration into the Pacific, and who, at the times of those voyages, were in occupation of the coastal lands of Samoa.

There is still in existence at Atiu Island, Cook group, one of the large pai (Maori pahi) used in the voyages made by the people to neighbouring groups. And two were in existence in Samoa in 1897. Ellis describes some of the large double canoes of the Tahitians as in use in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, as being each 50 to 70 feet long, 2 feet wide and 4 feet deep, also the war canoes,

* Journal Polynesian Society, vol. iv, p. 99.

Polynesian Researches, vol. p. 164 et seq. First edition 1829.

page 13560 feet long, double, with covered ends, platforms, &c, and capable of carrying fifty fighting men. He adds in a note, "In Captain Cook's Voyages, a description is given of one 108 feet long." He also refers to the va'a-motu, or island canoe, a large strong single vessel, with outrigger used in distant voyages. They carried two masts, the sails being made—as is usual—of matting and of the common triangular shape, the apex being below. He says, "In long voyages the single canoes are considered safer than the double ones, as the latter are sometimes broken asunder and then become unmanageable."At page 181 (loc. cit.) he says, "The natives of the Eastern islands (Pau-motu group) frequently come down to the Society Islands in large double canoes which the Tahitians dignify with the name of pahi the (modern) name for a ship. They are built with much smaller pieces of wood than those employed in the structure of the Tahitian canoes, as the low coralline islands produce but very small kinds of timber, yet they are much superior both for strength, convenience, and for sustaining a tempest at sea. They are always double, and one canoe has a permanent covered residence for the crew. The two masts are also stationary, and a kind of ladder or wooden shroud extends from the sides to the head of the mast… One canoe that brought over a chief from Rurutu (Austral group, south of Tahiti) upwards of 300 miles, was very large. It was somewhat in the shape of a crescent the stem and stern high and pointed, and the sides deep; the depth from the upper edge of the middle to the keel, was not less than 12 feet. It was built of thick planks of the Barringtonia, some of which were four feet wide; they were sewn together with coconut sinnet, and although they brought the chief safely probably more than 600 miles, they must have been ungovernable and unsafe in a storm or heavy sea." The high stem and stern page 136in this case would be a cause of unsafe ty, but the old form of pahi in which the ancestors of Maori and Rarotongan made their voyages, were not, I believe, ornamented in the same manner, or at least not to so large an extent.

In the matter of sea provisions, the Polynesians had plenty. The bread fruit, when in the form of masi, which was a kind of cooked paste, would keep, under favorable conditions for more than a year. Coconuts again contained both food and drink, whilst water was carried in bamboos. The Rev. J. B Stair* states, "In reply to my enquiry (of the Samoans) whether they did not often run short of water, they have astonished me by telling me that the early voyagers always took a supply of leaves of a certain kind of herb or plant, as a means of lessening thirst. * * * By chewing the leaves of this plant they declared that, to a certain extent, they could drink salt water with some kind of impunity and thus assuage thirst. I made very many unsuccessful attempts to obtain the name of this shrub and ascertain its character. * * * they themselves said that they did not now (1838-40) know it, as the custom had grown into disuse, but they were confident it had prevailed in the past when voyages were more frequently made by their ancestors."

The preserved Kumara (Maori name Kao) would also furnish provisions for a voyage, that will keep well; and in the voyages made from New Zealand to the Central Pacific, the fern root made into cakes, or in the state of root, would also furnish a food capable of lasting a long time without perishing. No doubt, in some of their lengthy voyages, sea-stores sometimes ran short; this is clear from the account of the voyage of the Taki-tumu canoe to New Zealand circa 1350, where the sufferings of the crews and

* Jou: Poly: Soc: vol. iv, p. 109.

page 137the expedients resorted to are alluded to. Again in the voyage of the Moriori ancestors from New Zealand to the Chatham Islands, the same troubles, due to want of water, are clearly indicated in the narrative.

It is well known to all acquainted with the Polynesians, that they had a very complete knowledge of the heavens, and the movements of the stars, &c., to all the prominent ones of which they gave names. In the accounts of the coming of the six canoes to New Zealand in the fourteenth century, we have references to the stars by which they steered. That they were acquainted with the fact of the appearance of the Heavens changing as the observer moved either north or south is proved by the following: In a paper written by S. M. Kamakau, a learned native historian of Hawaii, (for a translation of which we are indebted to Prof. W. D. Alexander) which is a code of instructions for the study of the stars, he says, "If you sail for Kahiki (Tahiti) you will discover new constellations and strange stars over the deep ocean. When you arrive at the Piko-o-wakea, (Pito-o-watea or Atea, in Maori) the equator, you will lose sight of Hoku-paa, (the north star) and then Newe will be the southern guiding star, and the constella tion of Humu will stand as a guide to you."* According "to Mr John White the teaching of astronomy, was a special feature of the old Maori whare-kura or "house of learning."

Some branches of the Polynesians actually had charts showing the positions of the various islands. These were formed of strings stretched on a frame, with little pieces of wood on them, to indicate islands, and on which were shown also, the direction of currents and the regular roll of the waves before the Trade-wind.

* "Hawaiian Annual" for 1891.

See an illustration of one of these, Jour: Poly: Soc: vol. iv, p. 236 from which ours is taken.

page 138

Those who deny the powers of the Polynesians as navigators, quite neglect to explain how it is that certain plants and animals, found in the possession of the Polynesians when the first intercourse with Europeans took place within the last two or three hundred years, came to be naturalised in, the places they were, and are, found. It is quite clear they are not native; and the instrumentality of man is the only scientific way of accounting for their presence.

When making voyages to a high island, or a large one, the difficulty of a land fall is not great. But it is different in the case of the atolls, of which there are so many in the Central Pacific. The system which was adopted in such cases was this: The people generally voyaged in fleets for mutual help and company, and when they expected to make the land at some of these tiny and low islands the fleet spread out in the form of a crescent, the chief's canoe in the centre, to distances of about five miles apart on each side, so as to extend their view—whichever crew saw the land first, signalled their neighbours, who passed the signal on, and so on, till the whole fleet were enabled to steer for the expected land. A fleet of 10 canoes would thus have a view of over 50 miles on their front.

We have in the record of one of the Rarotongan Tangiia's voyages, the fact stated that he missed his destination (Barotonga) and passed much too far to the south, and that he discovered this fact by the great coldness of the sea. He then about-ship, and sailing north, found the island he was in search of.

From the times of Ui-te-rangiora (circa 650) to those of the last settlement on Rarotonga in 1250, the history is full of references to voyages to all parts of the Central Pacific and Hawaii. There was constant movement to and fro, showing the truth of the native historian when he says, "they became able navigators." But it would page 139 Polynesian Chart, shewing directions of winds, waves, islands, &c. page 140 appear that it was not until towards the close of this period that the voyagers ceased to visit Fiji and the neighbouring groups, as well as Indonesia, and the cause for this is, I suggest, the growing importance of the Melanesian element in the Fijian group. But we are anticipating, and must now return to the period of Ema and his descendants (circa 700).