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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

Modes of working

Modes of working.

There can be no doubt that the highest expression of Maori art is a thing of the past. The highly-skilled woodcarvers who worked with tools of stone, or bone, or sea-shell are all gone, and have given place to rougher workmen who use steel tools: still, some of the work of the present day is beautifully done, and good workmen should' be encouraged. Thomson, in "The Story of New Zealand," says few specimens of mechanical skill are furnished by the natives, the highest example being the fashioning of hard greenstone into meres and ornaments. This is done by friction with flint and wet sand. The greenstone-cutter of olden times has almost disappeared, though Captain Mair, a high authority, informed me a few years ago, contrary to the opinion I had expressed, and which had been published by Professor Fischer, that some few old men still worked Hei-tikis. A better notion, however, of the modern method is, I think, to be derived from a retranslation of what I wrote to Professor Ulrich: "When the political prisoners were down here (at Dunedin) two years Ago, I saw more than a hundred men cutting greenstone in a most systematic way. These people worked in companies. They had gridiron-like apparatus made of fencing-wire, having each ten or fewer bars. This apparatus was worked backwards and forwards with a sawing movement between two of them, while a third fed the machine with water and sand out of an old teapot or some similar vessel. In this way a slab was cut into eleven narrow strips, which were then rubbed down into ear-pendants on a flat stone, and afterwards drilled through at one end. When afterwards liberated the Maoris had thus accumulated a little capital in the shape of manufactured goods, the Government having supplied the raw material. They also made meres. 1 saw them making one in the gaol-yard on the grindstone. This occupation tends to keep them in bodily and mental health. One day I saw two of them cutting a piece of malachite in two. This they called 'Pounamu no Ingirani'—i.e., 'Greenstone of England.'"

It is evident from an examination of numerous specimens in my collection that greenstone was cut by means of a very blunt instrument. I should say that a cutting-edge¼in. wide was used for large pieces, while for cutting smaller pieces a narrower though still a very wide tool was used. I find in old page 22 Maori camps numerous pieces of fine sandstone shaped so as to exhibit cutting-edges suitable, and probably used, for this purpose, though probably only in cutting the smaller objects. Dr. Shortland gives the word mania as representing thin lamina of sandstone used for cutting the pounamu, and sap the natives fasten them in frames after the manner of a stonecutter's saw. These must have been something like that represented in Schliemann's "Ilios" (p. 583) as a flint saw, Much rarer are implements known to collectors as "hard cutters," made of trap or some similar rock. If these were used, as apparently they were, it must have been with sand and water.

I have been told, and can readily believe, that a great deal of cutting was done with wood and wetted sand, and Br, Shortland in the document, set out later confirms this. The Rev. Richard Taylor, in "Te Ika a Maui," refers to the use of greenstone wherewith to cut greenstone: "He saws it by rubbing the edge of one slab on another, and for this purpose suspends a calabash of water with a small hole in the bottom over the stone he is working so that it drops continuously but slowly. He then takes some of the finest quartz-sand, which he continually adds to the groove he is making. Thus, by patience and perseverance he succeeds in sawing it up."

Brunner, who first explored the West Coast in 1846, makes frequent reference to a kind of micaceous slate used on that coast for cutting and polishing greenstone—probably the kiripaka of Stack. He says it is found in the bed of one of the rivers of that coast, and in quality resembles a Newcastle stone, though somewhat closer in grain and texture, with a fine cutting quality. He carried two large pieces of greenstone and some polishing-stones with him on his return; and on as exploring journey lasting 560 days, during which he never heard English spoken, he found polishing greenstone a great amusement on wet days.

In cutting a slab in two the ancient workman lightened his labours by working his cuts from both sides, and, when they nearly met, knocking the piece off. The rough break is sometimes a third of an inch through, or even more; and to effect this considerable force, or a heavy blow, must have been necessary.

Major Heaphy, who was Brunner's companion on one of his expeditions, says, "In order to make a mare, a stone is sought of a flat, shingly shape, say, of the size, and roughly of the shape, of a large octavo book. Among the primitive rocks of the Middle Island stones are not wanting of sufficient hardness to cut even the pounamu; and the Arahura natives lay in a large stock of thin pieces of a sharp quartzose slate, with the edges of which, worked saw-fashion, and with plenty of page 23 water, they contrive to cut a furrow in the stone, first on one side, then on the other, until the piece may be broken at the thin place. The fragments that come off are again sawn by women and children into ear-pendants. With pretty constant work—that is, when not talking, eating, doing nothing, or sleeping—a man will get & slab into a rough triangular shape, and about 1½in. thick, in a month, and, with the aid of some blocks of sharp sandy-gritted limestone, will work down the faces and edges of it into proper shape in six weeks more, The most difficult part of the work is to drill the hole for the thong in the handle. For this, pieces of sharp flint are obtained from the Pahutani cliff, forty miles to the north, and are set in the end of a split stick, being lashed in very neatly. The stick is about 15in. or 18in. long, and is to become the spindle of a large teetotum drill. For the circular plate of this instrument the hardened intervertebral cartilage of a whale is taken. A hole is made through, and the stick firmly and accurately fixed in it. Two strings are then attached to the upper end of the stick, and by pulling them a rapid rotatory motion is given to the drill. When an indentation is once made in the pounamu the work is easy, As each flint becomes blunted it is replaced by another in the stick, until the work is done. Two meres were in process of formation while we stayed at Taramakau, and one had just been finished, A native will get up at night to have a polish at a favourite mere, or take one down to the beach and work a, away by the surf. A piece of pounamu and some slate will be carried when travelling, and at every halt a rub will be taken at it. Poor fellows I They had no tobacco, and a grind at a piece of hard inanga seemed to be a stimulant."

The condition of many of the pieces separated as above described, by means of two cuts and a break, attests the fact that the workman often had a very indifferent eye, the two cuts not coming opposite each other. In a piece before me less than lin. thick they are nearly Jin. "out," giving a very awkward edge to rub down afterwards, I attribute this to the fact that, on the East Coast at least, the workers were generally very old men, past their fighting-days, whose eyes had become impaired with smoke and dirt, as they often are among these people.

What strikes me as very remarkable is the very poor pieces of stone on which a vast amount of labour is expended. It looks as if when a Maori workman could not get a good piece he cheerfully spent months, perhaps years, of labour on a bad, perhaps a very bad, piece. It was, perhaps, only at rare intervals that a tribal expedition returned from the remote West Coast with a new supply. A block which lies before me seems to have some very fine stone in it, with some very poor page 24 stone round the edges. The cut in it suggests the idea that the workman was proceeding to work the good centre to waste, and leave the rubbish to work up into implements, while the out he is making longitudinally through the centre of the slab, cleaving it into two thin slabs, is not straight. However, be may have known his business better than I do. I have certainly seen instances where the best of the stone has been wasted in the cutting. In the magnificent collection in the possession of Mr. John White, of Anderson's Bay, Dunedin (not to be confused with the late Mr. John "White, the author of the "Maori History"), there are twelve pieces showing cuts. The cuts are, as a rule, beautifully clean. Some of them meet perfectly true. In one instance the distance to which the cuts are "out" is so great that one has been turned in with a long slope to make them meet. In some cases apparently rather purposeless cuts are made; in one a very broad axe is cut longitudinally down the centre to make two chisels of ordinary proportions. His finest specimen is 4 boulder of kawakawa, or auhunga, 13¾lb. in weight, one-third of which is being taken off by a longitudinal cut. The proportions of the stone are 12in. by 5½in. by 4in. The cut is 1ft. long, and is 15/16in. to 1 3/16in. deep, and from, 12/16in. to 15/16in. wide. On the other side of the block is the commencement of a cut which would meet the other neatly. In another case, working on a flat stone, the cuts have so nearly met that the stone was found parted, the two pieces lying together.

In doing the fine work of the hei-tiki and other objects, where something like true carving appears, I am told the shell of the common pipi, or cockle, so much used by the Maoris & a ready-made tool, was commonly employed.

I have no doubt that fine-sandstone cutters, which we find in numbers in old Maori camps, were used where procurable. I find the finest class of sandstone in sitû at Shag Point, Taiaroa Head. Dr. Shortland says the Maoris obtained it from a place which I take to be the vicinity of the Pleasant River, where Mr. A. Hamilton has found traces of their quarrying operations. In my collection there are many neat little tools of this stone.

It is an obvious feature of Maori stone implements that they never reached the point exemplified, I think, only in Scandinavia, of having a regular hole for a handle. But occasionally Maori implements have a hole through which a string is put to carry it. I have one such of greenstone and one of a commoner stone. In general it is a rare feature. In Mr. J. White's splendid collection, embracing six hundred pieces, there are eighteen pendants, needles, and shawl-pins, and thirty-four other objects, consisting of chisels, fish-hook points, and large pendants so drilled. Some of these large pendants page 25 are mere lobes of highly-polished stone of special colour, one weighing as much as½ lb.

Nearly all these things, it will be observed, require a hole. The mere invariably had a hole, through which was passed the thong which held it tightly to the wrist in action. The hole is usually a wide-mouthed crater sunk in each side of the handle end until the two meet—often meeting rather badly. The work of drilling stone seems to have been most laborious. Smaller objects, such as greenstone needles, and pendants, and hei-tikis, are often drilled, but even then the hole is often unskilfully made, with a great crater mouth, again exhibiting the difficulty of the work. In some cases two or three attempts are made before success is reached. The explanation is to be found later in my note on the drill. In some hei-tikis, however, a piece of stone is left above the crown of the head, and through this a hole is neatly drilled.