THE MAORI AND THE MOA.
By Mr. C. IV. Purnell, Ashburton, in the “ Victorian Revkw.” In striving to ascertain the real beliefs of the natives on these subjects, we are met with obstacles on all sides. The Maoris have been so many years in close intercourse with Europeans that their ancient beliefs are clouded and interfused ■with a variety of Christian notions, and it is only a few of the older men who possess a knowledge of Maori traditions in their purity. The same remark applies, in a modified degree, to the inhabitants of most of the Pacific islands ; at the time when these traditions could have been collected in an unadulterated form, there was no competent hands to perform the work. The traders who visited the islands went there for very different purposes, and the missionaries rather sought to extirpate the traditions than to foster and to keep them alive. They were the root of heathenism and savagedom, and must be torn up by all means and cast into the pit of oblivion ; nor was it likely that the natives entrusted with these wild secrets of barbarism would be ready to disclose them to persons who had come to the country with the object of expelling the old and introducing a new cede of beliefs. And now that these traditions are become the subject of our anxious inquiry, the inquirers themselves place stumbling blocks in their own way. Each has a theory to prove true ; the traditions, instead of being gathered and investigated with the view to elicit their genuine meaning, are distorted to make them fit in with the inquirer’s personal basis ; a chance analogy is made the basis for a huge superstructure of hypothesis ; while an inconvenient legend is thrust out of sight. Above all, there is the reluctance of the natives to tell the whole of their beliefs. Probably no civilised man has comprehended the mind of a savage. The two are beings of a different order, and the savage knows it. He understands full well that the civilised man, although he may listen to his legends with interest and pay respect to his religious beliefs, will never sympathise with either. Hence there is always an arcanum of barbarian mysteries hidden from the civilised man’s gaze. He may contrive to gain admittance to the outer shrine, but the inner is rigidly closed to him. Moreover, the modes of thought of the two are fundamentally different. The Samoan believes himself to be surrounded by-an infinity of good, and all his actions are guided by the conviction that he is watched by this countless host of deities. How can an Englishman, trained in the Christian faith, project himself into such a frame of mind ? And so it is throughout. The genuine Polynesian, unchanged by civilisation, lives, moves, and has his being in a different ■world from that wherein we dwell, and the recognition of this fact will prove the rashness of those humanitarians in England, who insist that if a savage be treated like a civilised man he is sure to respond in the same manner, and whose mischievous doctrines have so frequently subjected our colonists to insult and wrong. Up to d the present, our researches into the origin of the Maoris have produced a similar result to that which has attended other ethnological studies. Some curious information has been collected, but we are as wise as we were at first about the real point at issue. We know, as we did then, that the Maoris came to New Zealand from Hawaihi, but the whereabouts of Hawaihi is still uncertain. It is incredible to suppose that they, with other Polynesians, have a truly Pacific origin ; but whether we look to the east or to the west for their birthplace, gigantic obstacles obstruct the view. Were it possible, indeed, to accept the theory of an American origin, we should probably still feel disposed to credit the presence of a strain of Indian blood in the race. We should do that with the Polynesian native ; still more with the Maoris, who, as already -noted, are plainly a cross-breed. The moa and the Maori have somehow got inextricably mingled together. The moa is the most wonderful bird that ever existed. It is by far the biggest. Naure has never made such another ; forages it was the lord of New Zealand, roaming the islands in vast flocks; no living eye has seen it, yet its disappearance seems but of yesterday—nay, one can hardly believe that it has vanished from the earth ; but when we strive to fix the precise time when its last representative expired, all grows impalpable and misty. There is a romance about the bird. It is a kind of southern roc. We feel that if it had been gifted with wings it might easily have soared into the air with a Sinbad tied to its leg, and from its monstrous egg, in the hands of a magician, any marvels could have been evolved. But it could not fly. Reasoning ‘ £ a priori,” we should say that its speed must have been great, owing to its mighty stride. Maori traditions, nevertheless, allege that it was sluggish in its movements, and thus easily destroyed, although when forced to fight it kicked like a horse, and its blow was as dangerous. Its leg bones were as thick as those of a bullock, and have often been mistaken for the latter. The profusion of its remains show that it once existed in immense numbers, and that its range extended throughout the length of both islands. It was formerly supposed that it had not lived in the peninsula north of Auckland, where the wooded nature of the country would seem to preclude its making that a dwelling place ; but iu 1875 this belief was dispelled by the discovery of a deposit of moa bones near Whangavei. The chosen haunts of the moa, however, were the broad and grassy plains of Canterbury and the open country in the interior of Otago. In a small plot of ground at Glenmark, in Canterbury, it is estimated that the remains of at least a thousand raoas lay entombed ere the man of science began his work there. As to the country further to the south, Dr. Hector says :—“ It is impossible to convey an idea of the profusion of bones which only a few years ago wore found in the interior of Otago, scattered on the surface of the ground or buried in the alluvial soil in the neighborhood of streams and rivers.” That these birds formed a favorite article of food of the natives in days gone by, is manifest from the quantity of charred bones found in old cooking-places in all parts of the country, while the profusion of broken egg shells accompanying these remains proves that they likewise were highly agreeable to the native palate ; indeed, it has been suggested, and the suggestion is worth attention, that the wholesale use of the rnoa eggs thus evinced must have been a principal cause of the extirmination of the bird. But who were these moa-eating natives? It needs to be taken for granted that they Were identical with the Maoris, and that the extermination of the moa was an event of a very recent date. Many believed that the last of the moas still survived, and even at the present day paragraphs now and again find their way into the newspapers, recording how some party of explorers has been disturbed at night by an unusual sound, and issuing from their tent have perceived in the light of the moon a mighty two legged, feathered thing “skedaddling” at full speed; or perchance they have met with tracks in a remote locality which could have been made by no living creature except the moa or its cousin. These tales, circumstantially told, once obtained a certa n amount of credence, but have latterly come to be classed with marine stories about the sea-serpent. There is, nevertheless, evidence to the same effect, of a moi e reliable character, and which cannot he so'lightly set aside. Dr. Hector, F.R.S. , the director of the New Zea- ■
land Geographical Survey in the year 18G3, while travelling over one of the flattopped mountains near Jackson’s Bay, in the South Island, at an elevation of 4000 feet, observed numerous well-beaten tracks sixteen inches wide, intersecting the dense scrub in all directions, and which, owing to the height of the scrub, ' could only have been formed by the frequent passage of a much larger bird than any species known to exist in the country; while, by the sides of the tracks, especially near the upper confines of the forest he noticed shallow excavations two or three feet in diameter, which had apparently been scraped for nests. The common belief was, however, disturbed by Dr. Yon Haast, F.R.S, who in 1871 propounded the theory that the moa was extinct before the arrival of Maoris in the island, and that the men who had hunted and killed it were an extinct race. He was not the inventor of the theory, but the first .who had given it prominence, and collected a substantial body of evidence to support it. Forthwith a controversy of scientific warmth arose, but the disputants have now cooled down, and while Dr. Yon Haast is loft in a decided minority, it must be conceded that the promulgation of his views lias provoked an invaluable amount of research, so that during the past eight years we have learned more about the moa than we had done since the discovery of New Zealand by the Europeans. It had been previously supposed that the Maoris were intimately acquainted with the moa, and that free mention of it was made of it in their songs; but it has been shown that the references, if any, are scanty ; indeed, Mr. Oulonso, of the North Island, and the Rev. Mr. Stack, of the South, both experts, positively deny that they contain any reference at all. We have on the other side, the high authority of Sir George Grey and Judge Mailing, the former of whom wrote to the Zoological Society of London, in 1870, as follows : “ The natives all know"the word 1 moa,’ as describing the extinct bird, and when I came to New Zealand, twenty-five yeais ago, the natives invariably spoke to me of the moa as a bird well-known to their ancestors. They spoke of the moa in exactly the same manner as they did of the kakapo, the kiwi, the weka, and an extinct kind of rail, in districts where all these birds had disappeared. Allusions to the moa are found in their poems, sometimes together with allusions to birds still in existence in some parts of the island. From these circumstances, and from former frequent conversations with old natives, I have never entertained the slightest doubt that the moa was found by the ancestors of the present New Zealand race when they first occupied the island, and that by degrees the moa was destroyed and disappeared, as have several other wingless birds from difibr ent parts of New Zealand.” Judge Maning, and one or two other Maori scholars, undertake to explain from information derived from the natives, the mode in which the moa was captured and killed by the Maoris, who were accustomed to organise large parties for the chase of the moa, flocks of which were first driven into a confined space by firing tbe scrub and fern, and the birds were then killed with spears made for the purpose. Mr. Walter Mantell, Dr. Hector, and other persons competent to give an opinion, likewise range themselves in opposition to Dr. Yon Haast ; and there are many telling facts against the prehistoric theory, which its supporters have - hitherto failed to answer in a satisfactory manner. For example, pieces of moa skin, with feathers attached have been found (and may now be seen in the colonial museums) under circumstances which exclude the supposition that the birds of which they compose the relics have been dead for the length of time required by this theory. It is said that in the British Museum there is a taiaha, or Maori chief’s spear, with a bunch of moa feathers at the top. The taiaha was ■ brought to England by Captain Cook. Bones of a dog, of apparenlty the same brood as the Maori dog, are mingled in ■ many old cocking-places with those of the ■ moa, and all the trustworthy evidence ■ available to guide us shows that no dogs • existed in the island at the time of the , Maori advent. Moa remains are likewise i mixed up with those of cannibal feasts in • the North Island, although not in the i South, and stone implements, both rough l and polished, similar in character to those i now used by the Maoris, abound everyi where with the relics of moa feasts. One spot near the Clutha River, in Otago, ; has been named “Moa Flat,” from the ; quantity of moa bones which lay scattered - upon the surface of the ground when the land was first occupied by the settlers. In many other places—over wide tracts of country —moa hones have been discovered spread over the surface of the soil. (to be continued )
See our copyright guide for information on how you may use this title.
Papers Past now contains more than just newspapers. Use these links to navigate to other kinds of materials.
These links will always show you how deep you are in the collection. Click them to get a broader view of the items you're currently viewing.
Enter names, places, or other keywords that you're curious about here. We'll look for them in the fulltext of millions of articles.
Browsed to an interesting page? Click here to search within the item you're currently viewing, or start a new search.
Use these buttons to limit your searches to particular dates, titles, and more.
Switch between images of the original document and text transcriptions and outlines you can cut and paste.
Print, save, zoom in and more.
If you'd rather just browse through documents, click here to find titles and issues from particular dates and geographic regions.
The "Help" link will show you different tips for each page on the site, so click here often as you explore the site.