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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, June 1922

The Northern D'Entrecasteaux

page 61

The Northern D'Entrecasteaux.

"The Northern D'Entrecasteaux."—By D. Jenness and the late Rev. A. Ballantyne. With an Introduction by R. R. Marrett. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1920. 12/6 net.

"Are the graduates all heavyweights like Jenness D.?"

So Jenness is now a heavyweight in science! "Who would have thought when he left us that he, whose only vice was his respectability, would prove false to his plighted love, the classics, and woud pursue and capture the shy maid anthropology? Possibly none of his contemporaries aimed a guess at what his destiny would be. And if they did, it is unlikely that a year spent in an Eskimo family as an adopted son, with draughts of raw seal blood as a substitute for champagne, formed an item in the prophecy. If that incident had only been foreseen, how the lyrist of "Shackleton OutShacked" would have thrilled his hearers with the theme.—No: fate has played many tricks with more than one of the students of Victoria College, but not one of them has had a more eventful life, nor one less likely to have been forseen, than Diamond Jenness.

The present writer first met Jenness in 1902, the scene of the meeting being a long table in the old dining-room at Nelson College, and the occasion breakfast on the morning of the annual drill contest between Wellington and Nelson Colleges. He was in one squad, I was in the other, and we were seated for our meal side by side, while opposite sat C. W. B. Little John, afterwards Rhodes' Scholar for Victoria. It is strange that all three of us should ultimately have studied anthropology at Oxford and Cambridge, and that two, at any rate, should have made it their life work.

Jenness entered Victoria College on a Junior University Scholarship and left it with a Senior Scholarship and First Class Honours in Latin and Greek at'his back. Entering at Oxford as a student in classics, he was attracted by anthropology and took the diploma in that subject. He spent his vacations digging on Stone Age sitesin France, and at the close of his course was sent out by the University of Oxford to do ethnological field work with his brother in law, coauthor of this book, who had been doing missionary work on Good enough Island for twelve years. The book is thus the product of a combination of local knowledge and academic training. The Rev. Ballantyne died before its publication, a loss alike to ethnology and to mission work in the Pacific. Before it appeared, Jenness had spent three years in the Arctic with Steffanson and had served with the Canadian forces in France. He is at present a member of the Ethnological Department of the Canadian civil service, working with a band of brilliant young Canadian ethnologists on the problems of aboriginal America.

The work recordedin the book under review was carried out on Goodenough Island and the northwestern coast of Fergusson Island, members of the D'Entrecasteaux group, which lies to the southeast of New Guinea. The islands are within ten degrees of the equator, and their products, both sea and land, are typically tropical. The palm tree and the giant banyan, the coral beach, the page 62 mangrove swamp, the steady rush of the monsoon, these and a score of other images call to mind the novels of Stacpoole and Louis Beck, or the well remembered enchanted pages of "Coral Island." In an environment so unlike, it is not strange that native life should seem widely different from that described by early explorers in our own land. Dwellinghouses built on dry land, certainly, but on piles, double canoes or canoes' with outriggers, decorative art in which the frigatebird motive is allpervading, personal decoration in which the nosepin, eonus shell, and pig's tusk play a leading part, all these give a first impression of wide, perhaps fundamental, difference of culture between the D 'Entrecasteaux islanders and the Maoris. And yet a careful perusal of the book reveals a whole series of close relationships. Thus, though we are not told anything of the native language, we meet a succession of words which prove that it is one of the Oceanic family of languages, to which Maori also belongs. A similar relationship exists between many other aspects of the two cultures.

About half the population of Goodenough Island lives on the hills, and even on the coastal flats the villages often lie a short distance inland, out of sight of raiding canoes. The unit of social organisation is the family, a group of families under the senior male constituting a local community. Slavery is unknown. Relationship follows the classificatory system. "Tama" is the name'for father and for all males of his generation, "ina" for mother and all females of her generation. Relatives of own generation are distinguished according to age and also according to sex.

Judging by the illustrations, the islanders are of the physical type vaguely labelled "Melanesian," but we are told that in some the skin has a marked reddish tinge, associated Avith a similar tinge in the hair. Here we have a characteristic which has been frequently noted among the Maoris, who call such individuals" Urekehu." In New Zealand it has sometimes been made the basis, slender enough in all conscience, of a number of theories, one of which postulates a preMaori, white race in New Zealand. In future any theory accounting for this particular feature among the Maoris will have to account for it also among the Goodenough islanders and whereever else it may appear in the Pacific.

Maori legends of Patupaiarehe, the fairies, have also been quoted in support of the theory of an earlier, nonMaori population. How little justification there is for such suggestions is indicated by similar tales of fairies on Good enough. These fairies, like the Maori ones, live in the forests. "The Native dreads being overtaken in the woods by darkness lest he should encounter a spirit, and his fire is often as much for protection against them as for warmth. Often they live on the tops of the mountains. Generally they are male, and there are many stories of their marrying native women; the people of Kukuya even claim to be descended from them.' This might easily be written as a summary account of the Maori fairies, from which it may be safely concluded that the stories of Patupaiarehe are a localisation in New Zealand of a widespread Oceanic cycle of fairy tales. Another interesting example of localisation is supplied by the'tale of the monstrous "manubutu" (whiteheaded osprey) and the heroic twins. In New Zealand this tale is preserved page 63 in a version collected from Poutini Kaitahu. The great bird in this story has sometimes been explained as a traditional memory of the extinct eagle (Harpagornis), contemporary with the moa, an explanation which becomes invalid now that the same story has been recorded in another part of the Pacific.

It seems probable that the study of the decorative art of the Massim region, Avhich includes the D'Entrecasteaux group, will throw more light on the origin and meaning of Maori decorative art than will the study of any other single area in the Pacific. It is not contended that Maori art is derived directly from that of the Massim area, but that they spring from a; common ancestor, from which Massim art has departed far less than Maori. Thus it seems probable that future research will show that the splendid spirals used with such mastery by the Maori artist are derived from frigatebird originals, or from originals from which the Massim frigatebirds have departed but little. It is therefore with keen disappointment— the sole disappointment of the book—that we read the note prefacing the chapter on Industries and Arts: "It was found impossible for the present to make a detailed study of the technology of this region. The present chapter merely outlines the principal articles in everyday use, and the commonest forms in which art finds expression." New Zealand students will hold the author to the promise implied in this statement, fort it is appropriate that a work of such importance to New Zealand ethnology should be carried out by a New Zealander, especially since one so well qualified as Jenness has studied the problem in the field. In the brief chapter he has given there is much of interest, but we shall restrict our attention to two matters—rock paintings and canoe prows. The paintings, of which only a single group were noted, are stated to be quite fresh in appearance "though they evidently dated back several generations. The present day natives know nothing about them, but merely believe that their forefathers drew them. They are even uncertain as to what the patterns represent, though one native said that a drawing on the right, which looked' like a centipede, was meant for a monitor lizard, while another was a frigatebird, and a third a bird called "ganawa." Other natives, however, professed absolute ignorance as to their meaning." An inspection of the plate illustrating these rockdrawings discloses two human figures conventionally drawn,'together with human limbs and fragments, rendered in a style closely resembling that of our own rockdrawings in Canterbury and Otago. One can hardly avoid comparing the "bird called ganawa" of Goodenough, with the monster called "tanawha" which appears more than once in New Zealand rockshelters, a comparison which gains further point when it is remembered that Goodenough "g" becomes Maori "t" in other cases than the one under discussion.

Canoe heads in the northern D'Entrecasteaux have" two parts, the "bodawa" that lies transversely across the end of the hull, and the "wagawaga," which runs forward from it at right angles. "The ornamentation on the 'wagawaga' is always derived from the 'bird's beak' pattern, but the 'bodawa' shows a great'variety of curves and circles and short lines, though at the top there is almost invariably a representation of one or two human figures. Sometimes page 64 the figure is complete in all its limbs, sometimes the head only is fully carved and the rest represented by a mere block." Here we have the key to the problem of the origin and meaning of two out of' the three types of Maori canoe head. The solution of these problems is a fascinating one, but its presentation is not appropriate here.

In conclusion it may be said that the solution of every problem that arises in Maori ethnology is made easier by the consideration of material from other parts of the Oceanic area. Further a number of these problems, especially those arising from Maori technology and art, cannot be solved apart from the comparative material'of the kind we have been considering. The merits of "The Northern D'Entrecasteaux" are great from many points of view, as is indicated by a chorus of praise from reviewers in "The Times," "Man," "Nature," "The American Anthropologist," and a score of other journals. To the New Zealand student it has'this all-round value and the added one of supplying comparisons for the solution of New Zealand problems from one of the key points of the Pacific.

H. D. Skinner.