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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

Greenstone in the Polynesian Islands

Greenstone in the Polynesian Islands.

41, Tinakori Road, Wellington,

My dear Mr. Chapman,—

In accordance with my promise of this afternoon, I send by book-post "La Nouvelle-Calédouie," by Jules Gamier. See page 81 for tto esoription of the greenstone, which is probably worth quoting as a note to your paper.

I also give you the following notes from my own note-book. They were jotted down at a time when I was—and still am—in seare h of anything bearing on the question as to whether the Polynesians knew of the pounamu:

1. Taylor, in "Te Ika a Maui," page 29, says, quoting from the "Yoyage of the'Flores,"" "Green jade is found in New Caledonia (Kanala)," What is its native name?

2. It is also found in the Louisiade Arehipelago.

3. Dr. Lesson, in his "Les Polynésiens," vol. i., p. 59, says, "Le jade vert, à l'exception de la Nouvelle-Zélande, n'existe que dans les Îles Hébrides et la Houvelie-Calédonie."

4. He also says (vol. iii., p. 171), "Il paraît certain aujourd'hui quele jade vert ne se trouve sur aucune dea îles Polynésiennos proprement ditea. Cependant tous les anciens navigafceurs ont signalé son existence sous des formes différentes, dans las divers îles qu'ils ont visitéss: tous out fait remarquer le prix qu'y attachment les indigénes, prouve convaincante de sa rareté. On y tenait tant, lors de premiers voyages), qu'il etait presque impossible d'en rencontre dans les îles Polynésiennes qui ont été frequemment visitées."

5. Pounamu was known by name to the Moriori, and there was formerly a toki belonging to their ancestor Moe, of the Orepuke canoe, named Toki-a-ra-mei, tei, which is buried at Owhata, near the east point of Chatham Island, in the tuahu, or burial-ground. Tapu says, from the description of it, that it was made of ponamu.—A. Shand, 1890.

7. M. A. de Quatrefages, in his u Hommos Possiles efc Hommes Sauvages." page 136, in speaking of the human and other remains found in southern Franco of the quaternary period, refers to the jade, or greenstone, found amongst the implements, as follows: "Mais toutes les haches recueillies dans la vallée du Petit Morin n'étaient pas en silex, Vings ont été fabriquées avec des roches étrangéres à la contrée, et parmi elles il en est en jadite, en chloroménalite. Or, la premiére de ces matiéres semble n'exister qu'en Chine, et peut-être en Amérique, et notre éminent minéralogiste, M. Dumour, n'a pu encore découvrir la patrie da la seconde."

9. Julian Thomas ("Cannibals and Convicts," page 284) says, ivhen in Tanna, of the New Hebrides, "I found specimens of a rock which I took to be the same as the New Zealand greenstone. The natives made charms of it, as in Maoriland."

10. Basil H. Thompson, in his account of explorations in the Louisiade Archipelago, given in Proceedings Royal Geographical Society, page 61 1889, p. 540, says, "We could not ascertain the actual spot whence the 'greenstone' from which the atone adaes were made is brought; but, as the natives of Gcodenough Island pointed westward, it ia probably to be found in Huon Gulf. In New Zealand the greenstone is generally found associated with gold."

I have read most of the books relating to Polynesia, both in French and English, but so far have failed to find any reference to greenstone; and tins is peculiar in face of Dr. Lesson's statement given in Note 4. I mean, I have failed to find any reference besides those given above. At the same time I feel little doubt that the pounamu has played an important part in inducing the early voyagers to direct their paddles towards New Zealand.

I remain, &c.,

S. Percy Smith.

The following is abbreviated from "Océanie. Par Jules Gamier. Paris, 1871":—

The geology of Ouen Island is extremely interesting. I recommenced my exam in at ion o£ the west coast. From Koatouré Bay I went up to the rugged summit of Nougouguoto, which rose to my loft. My attention was suddenly attracted to some rocks of peculiar appearance, which, besides presenting the features of novelty, exhibited that of beauty. They were soma what translucent, of a very pure white, among which ran veins of a delicate green. Their physical character recalled tropical jade. It is of this stone that the New-Caledonians formerly made their finest axes, the situs of which I had until now sought in vain. There was ampio evidence that this was one of their ancient quarries in the fact that the soil was scattered over with débris, and with splinters which the hand of man alone could have produced. Nevertheless the dull fractures indicated that a long time had elapsed since these heaps had been made; and the young men of Ouen Island, who accompanied me, regarded with as much astonishment as I did these traces of an ancient work of their ancestors, The reef of this beautiful stone is extensive. It crops out on the surface for a considerable distance, and its association with veins of euphotide, in which it appears to lose itself, seems to indicate that it is only a form of that rock. This fact is interesting, because hitherto the jades have been classed somewhat at random, not having been found in sitû.

On shewing my specimens to Zachario he said, "That is the stone which was used for making axes. Formerly people came from as far as the Loyalty Islands to seare h for pieces. "What sanguinary battles my ancestors have fought against strangers who have sought to invade the territory in seare h of that precious stone I In those days we had neither ajees nor knives of iron or other metal. Nevertheless, we had to hollow out our canoes, cut up fish and the bodies of our enemies, For this purpose my ano esters sought out the hardest and toughest stones, polished and sharpened them. If all kinds became sharp, all did not take on a fine polish and a good appearance. Some remained black and dull, others were of a more or less bright green; but for richness of colour and transparency none approached the stone you have found to-day. Instead of being satisfied with making small hatchets of it, they turned to account the facility oñered by that stone of breaking off thin slabs of large sise at abloff. They chose one of those slabs, rounded its edges regularly, then polished its surface with coarse and fine sand until it became smooth and uniform. The thinner such an axe became the more it was prized, as the light of the sun could pass through it. By means of very hard, sharp pebbles several holes were then bored close together near the edpje. By this means the handle was fixed to it. But what time was consumed in completing such a work 1 The lifetime of a man was not always sufficient to ttnish one. Thus such an axe was the most valuable possession of a chief. For one of these peace could be purchased, an alliance page 62 secured, great canoes bought—in short, it was as gold is with you. Each chief owned axes suoh as that, and with them the bodies of the van-quished were oat up after a victory. The use of that stone did not stop there. Small fragments were rounded and pierced as beads, with which were made the necklaces you have noticed round the necks of the ladies of chiefs' families. But since your arrival your axes so sharp, and your brilliant neoklaoes, have caused us to forget our ancient arts, and that stone, once eo precious, remains unused."

M. Gamier with difficulty blasted out some large blocks, finding generally that his shots went off like guns instead of shattering the rock. He found it impossible to purchase even the small beads from the natives.

The axe described by Zaehario must be similar to that in the Colonial Museum, at Wellington. It is a disc of greenstone, 8in. long by 6in. wide, very thin and highly polished. By means of two holes near the edge it has affixed to it a handle 20in. long, covered with tappa cloth tied on with a band of sinnet. It forms a most formidable casse-tête, but not a useful tool. It is a dark green, of several shades intermixed, and with a brownish tinge. It is undoubtedly nephrite, and in New Zealand would be regarded as of a rare but not unknown colour.

At page 312 of M. Garnier's work, from which the ahora quotation is taken, in speaking of the people of Uvea, one of the Loyalty Islands, be says,.. Most of them had ornamented their throats with necklaces of the green jade of Ouen Island, We essayed in vain to purchase some of these; our most brilliant offers failed to obtain a single one of the ornaments. It is always thus among the tribes of New Caledonia: if one wishes to possess one of these necklaces, one must purchase them bead by bead."