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The Maori Race

Preface. — [Contributed by Mr. S. Percy Smith, President of the Polynesian Society.]

page V

[Contributed by Mr. S. Percy Smith, President of the Polynesian Society.]

It would be impossible to say how many times within the last twenty years the question has been asked, “Can you recommend me any book from which I can learn something of the Maori, his beliefs, history, traditions, manners, and customs?” Invariably the humiliating answer has been, “I cannot! Should you wish to learn something of those matters you must search the thirty-six volumes of the New Zealand Institute, the thirteen volumes of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, Sir George Grey's, Mr. John White's, and sundry other authors' works. But nowhere will you find what is wanted in a concise and comprehensive form.” Such an answer, whilst being perfectly true, at once extinguishes all desire to undertake so Herculean a labour on the part of the seeker after knowledge of the Maoris.

Happily, the days when such answers were the only ones that could be given, are now passed. In “The Maori Race” Mr. Tregear has given us the very thing wanted; we may there study the Maori from his childhood to his death—nay, far beyond that, his spiritual life beyond the grave is detailed for us, according to the belief of the old people. His physical and moral characteristics, his amusements, his arts and sciences, his food, his all-pervading system of tapu, his tatooing and ornamentation, his houses, forts, weapons and implements, his system of acquiring knowledge and the extent of it, his myths and traditions, his religion and cosmogony, and his probable page VI “whence” are all set out with a care and discrimination which denote many years of laborious note-taking and original observation, possible only to one who makes the subject the loving study of a life time.

A wise discrimination has been shown in steering the mid-course between slight sketches on the one hand and undue elaboration on the other. The result is a book which will give the reader a clear perception of the Maori of the olden time.

Naturally all students of the Maori people will not agree with every statement made; but it must be borne in mind that in a country like New Zealand, which admits of its inhabitants being separated into groups, some of which lived a thousand miles apart, and between which no communication has taken place—in some cases—for over four centuries, customs and even beliefs will vary, as does the language. These variations are known and acknowledged by the people themselves. What says their proverb? Ehara i te mea he tangata kotahi nana i matakitaki te oroko hanganga i te ao (It was not one man alone who witnessed the making of the world). And thus they account for discrepancies between tribal history and custom.

The author has laid all students of the Polynesian people—nay, all Ethnologists—under a deep debt of gratitude for the comprehensive view of the Maori branch of the Pacific Islanders in this volume on “The Maori Race.”