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THE MAORI AND THE MOA., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 70, 6 March 1880
THE MAORI AND THE MOA.
By Mr. C. W. Purnell, Ashburton, in the “ Victorian Paiuio.” We are, moreover, disposed to believe Maori traditions on this subject. We know, from personal experience, that Maori ideas of time, as time, are worthless ; but they compute the length of their abode in New Zealand by generations ; and this savage but intelligent race has ever been accustomed to preserve the genealogies of its principal chiufs, who deduce their descent from the commanders of the expedition from Hawaihi, with the utmost care ; so that there is really no reason for questioning their accuracy within certain limits. It is a mistake to suppose that the traditions of savages on these subjects are loss reliable than the written records of civilised or semicivilised races. The converse is probably the truth. Family genealogies are the cherished care of the chiefs and priests ; their preservation is a sacred duty ; and, since barbarians are compelled to trust in these matters almost solely to their memory, which is moreover not overburdened with a multitude of facts like that of the denizen in the midst of civilisation, its tenacity becomes very great. We must distinguish between the natural tendency to extol the deeds of famous ancestors and the mere assertion of such ancestors’ existence. The former may lead us into regions of error; but the latter can hardly lead us astray, and, for present purposes, all we require to know is the number of generations which has passed between the first arrival of the Maoris in these islands and the present day, which given, a rough estimate of the length of the interval can easily be made. Are the Maoris autochthones? There is proof that they are not, although we are as ignorant of the characteristics of their progenitors as of the mysterious races which formerly dwelt in Central America. The Maoris, themselves, affirm that they found an aboriginal race in the country when they arrived, and to this day the natives of the North Island believe in the existence of “ wild men ” in the interior. Indeed, we have been told a queer tale ourselves by a surveyor, of a “mysterious stranger,” neither a white man nor a Maori, being discovered late one night, seated by his camp-fire, and departing . hastily as soon as observed ; but in these sceptical days, tortures should not extract the particulars of the story from us. It is certain that no “wild man” has exhibited himself by broad daylight in New Zealand of late years. A strange tradition is current amongst the natives of the Middle Island, or, as it [usually called by the colonists, the South Island. These natives, according to the Rev. Mr. Stack, a missionary, believe that the first occupants of the island where the Kahui Tipua, or ogre band. “ They are described as giants, who could stride from mountain range to mountain range, swallow rivers, and transform themselves into anything animate or inanimate that they chose.” Mr. Stack relates a legend about the ogre of Matau, in Otago, which reads something like a Maori version of Jack the Giant Killer. It is, perhaps, worth reprinting ; “ When Te Rapuwai, who dwelt at Matau, went in small parties of ten to hunt for wekas (a native bird), they never returned. Tens and tens went out and never came back. Then every one felt sure something was consuming them, but what it was they could not tell. A long time passed, and then it was found out how these people perished. It was learnt from a woman, the sole survivor of one of these hunting parties. She said that on the hills they were met by an ogre, accompanied by ten two-headed dugs. After killing all the men, he carried her to his cave near the river, where she lived with him, and in time became covered all over with scales from the ogre’s body. She was very miserable, and determined to escape, but this was not easy, as the ogre took care to fasten her by a cord, which he kept jerking whenever she was out of his sight. As the cave was close to the river, she crept to the entrance where raupo grew thickly, and having cut a quantity, tied it in bundles. The next day, when the monster slept, she crept out and formed the raupo bundles into a raft, then tying the string to the rushes, which being elastic, would prevent the immediate discovery of her flight when the cord was jerked. Getting on the raft, she dropped down the river, the swift current bearing her rapidly towards its mouth, where her friends lived. The ogre did not wake for a long time ; when he did he called out, ‘ Hi ! where are you ? ’ Not receiving an answer he went to the entrance of the cave and searched. Not finding any foot prints there, he smelt the river, and at once discovered how she had escaped. Then in his rage he swallowed up the river and dried it up from end to end, but not before Kai-a-mio was safely housed in her native village. After cleaning herself from the scales which covered her body, the woman told her people all she knew about the ogre, and they resolved to put him to death. ‘ When does he sleep ’ they asked. ‘ When the northwest wind blows,’ was her reply; ‘ then he sleeps long and heavily.’ So they waited for a nor’-wester, and then proceeded to the cave. Having collected a quantity of fern, which they piled at the entrance, they fired it. When the heat awoke the monster, he could think of no way of escape except through a hole in the roof. While struggling to get through this, the people set upon him with clubs and beat him to death. Fortunately the ogre’s dogs were away hunting, or else he never would have been killed.” The Morioris, we have seen, possess a clear recollection of the Chatham Island aborigines, and are themselves a mixed race. So are the Maoris. Ethnologists agree on this point; but the most unobservant settler is struck with the appearance of two racial types amongst them—the one marked by shorter stature, frizzly hair, and a somewhat negro cast of countenance ; the other by regular features and straight hair—the typical forms being linked together by innumerable gradations. Further evidence, however is available, but just sufficient to whet the appetite of curiosity, without satisfying it. This is supplied by the “rock paintings” which have been discovered in several places in the Middle Island. The most noticable are those in the the Takiroa caves, or rock shelters in the Waitaki Yalley, and in a rock shelter at the Weka Pass, which lies between Canterbury and Nelson. The existence of the former was first made public by Mr. Walter Mantell; of the latter by Dr. Yon Haast, although he was not their discoverer. The Weka Pass paintings are decidedly the most importtant, inasmuch as the others, although unlike Maori designs of the modern type, might without difficulty be assumed to be the work of a kindred people ; whereas the Weka Pass paintings wear a distinctive character, and whoever may have been their authors they can scarcely be the productions of Maori artists. Still less can a European orig n be imputed to them. Dr. Von Haast suggests that they are of Indian origin, but that is a mere surmise, although he seeks to give it weight by adding to his own conjecture the opinions of two Tamil scholars. In point of fact, no human being can say who did these paintings, or what they are intended to represent. Men, birds, beasts and fishes, snakes, altars and weapons, may be discovered with the eye of faith, and bo may anything else. But whatever their object and meaning, there they are, indelibly painted in red and black on the rock, composed «£ calcareous sandstone and overlying still older paintings, the rock face having been converted into a kind of palimpsest —a
puzzle to everybody, mocking the savants, laughed at by the sceptical, but still bearing silent witness to the feeble aspirations towards art of a bygone people. Maori traditions give little help to the enquirer. Some ascribe these and other rock paintings found in the South Island to the Ngatianamoe, a Maori tribe which lived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries ; others give them a much greater antiquity ; but in either case the distinctive features of the designs are left unexplained. It should perhaps be mentioned that the present race of Maoris do not paint on rock surfaces. A curious circumstance happened many years ago. Mr. Colenso, already cited, found in the interior of the North Island a bell, bearing a Tamil inscription, which lias been interpreted to mean “ ship’s bell.” The inscription is in antique characters. How did that ancient Tamil bell get into the interior of the North Island of New Zealand ? Possibly it is a memento of Tasman’s visit. Proofs of the “antiquity of man,” similar to those which have been obtained in the northern hemisphere, are not entirely lacking in New Zealand. In 1876 the Improvement Commissioners were making excavations in the city of Auckland, when the workmen lighted upon the stump of a tree, with its roots fixed to the subjacent soil, and bearing evident marks of having been cut by some tool. The top of the stump was embedded in volcanic mud, and above it lay twenty five feet of volcanic debris. The significance of this discovery, the genuineness of which has never been disputed, rests on the fact that no volcanic eruption which could have embedded the stump has occurred within the memory of man. Again, in 1868, a polished stone chisel and a sharpening-stone were extracted from an auriferous deposit near the beach at Bruce Bay, on the west coast of the South Island. They were lying fifteen feet below the surface, and above them grew trees four feet in diameter, rooted in a layer of vegetable mould. These relics were found by three gold diggers, who do not appear to have mentioned the circumstance until it was elicited from them in casual conversation, or to have had any motive for deception. It would be rash to generalise on slight evidence of this kind ; on the other hand, we ought not to thrust such facts aside because they are inexplicable. We have assumed that the Maoris came to New Zealand from Hawaihi, and have further sought to identify Hawaihi with Savaii, the principal island of the Samoan group. At all events, we claim the Maoris as a branch of the Polynesian race. Their language, traditions, manners, and customs, combine to prove them so ; but the root of the difficulty here begins. Is the Polynesian race indigenous to the soil—the surviving remnant of the inhabitants of a lost continent ; or did it come from the east or from the west ? A small but energetic school of inquirers, prominent amongst those resident in the colony being Mr. J. T. Thomson, F.R.G.S., directing their efforts chiefly to the elucidation of the Maori problem, contend that the Maori stock can ultimately be traced to Southern India. The argument in support of this view is based almost solely on linguistic affinities : and with this material, a foundation of a certain strength has doubtless been laid for the hypothesis. There are, however, serious physical obstacles to its acceptance. Strong easterly winds blow for ten months of the year across the Pacific; over the very track, along which the Indian adventurers would require to travel in order to reach Hawaihi, or any spot whence they could run down to New Zealand ; and the westerly wind is uncertain during the other two months. Yoyagers in those seasabound with tales of the difficulty, sometimes impossibility, of making head against these easterly breezes, even with well-equipped European vessels, much less with the frail and ill-provided craft of the islanders ; and of stories of canoes being blown out to sea and their crews compelled to settle permanently in strange islands from sheer despair of being able to reach their homes again in the teeth of the prevailing wind. Nor is the quality of philological evidence which has been accumulated in support of the Indian theory (although it is fair to explain that some of the inquirers do not profess to ti’ace the Maori stock farther han the Indian archipelago; others, as already stated, tracing it to South India sufficient to establish it, A slight Indian strain can be detected in the Maori tongue, but the body of the language is not Indian, and we must necessarily set one fact against the other. Nor are we able to detect any real analogy in customs and religious observances, and the mythology of the Maoris, like that of the other Polynesians, is strikingly non-Indian. It is sui generis. A second school regards America as the original heme of the Polynesians and points to the terraced enclosures for sacred purposes found on many of the Pacific islands as analogous to the teocatli of the ancient Mexicans. Then, there are stone temples of an apparently Mexican type : the gigantic stone statues on Easter Island, a mere speck on the ocean and the outlaying sentinel of the multitudinous island groups of the Pacific, and the stone forts on Rapa Islands, which help the American hypothesis ; and when we are invited to reflect upon the disappearance of the Toltecs from Mexico, and the mysteries enshrouding the ancient inhabitants of Central America, the imagination is apt to grasp at so ready an explanation of the whereabouts of the missing races, especially when the very wind which would baffle the emigrant from the Malay Archipelago would drive him from America right into Polynesia. But, as we know nought of the missing American peoples, save what we have learnt from the silent monuments of their architectural skill which they have left on the scene of their ancient exploits, and the dim traditions which have descended to us through their successors, it is obviously beyond our power to test what linguistic affinities exist between their language and those of the Polynesians. We can, nevertheless, feel confident that they might claim to be ranked as, at least, semi-civilised people, possessing a knowledge of writing in hieroglyphics, whereas we know that the Polynesians, when first visited by Europeans, were mere barbarians, totally unacquainted with hieroglyphics, and that so far as the Toltocs are concerned, they vanished from the stage of history at too recent a period to permit us to believe that they could have degenerated into savages in so short a space of time. Yet those colossal statues at Easter Island stand there ridiculing the belief that they were formed and erected by the cruel and untutored savages who compose its present inhabitants. They testify that Easter Island was once the abode of men of higher culture, who must have worked out their civilisation on a larger arena, and brought it with them as a precious heritage, when driven by necessity or adventure to this tiny resting-place. The Maoris and the other branches of the Polynesian people look neither to the east nor to the west for their primitive home. Ere they grew wiser from commerce with the Europeans, the islands of the Pacific were to them the habitable globe, and man was created amidst them. (to be continued.)
THE MAORI AND THE MOA., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 70, 6 March 1880
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