THE MAORI AND THE MOA.
By Mr. C. IV. Purnell , Ashburton, in the “ Victorian Keviciv." CONCLUDED. la it reasonable to suppose that in a mild and moist climate like that of New Zealand they could have lain there without decomposition from a period antecedent to the Maori immigration 1 Pom's like these can be weighed without the aid of scientific training. Every intelligent man is entitled to form his own opinion upon them, and that opinion is pretty sure to be adverse to the pre-histonc theory. The balance of testimony deci : dedly inclines to the view that the Maori hunted the moa, although it would seem that .the bird had got extremely scarce long before the Europeans had visited the country. Cook was above 350 days on the coast of New Zealand, and made diligent enquiries about the indigenous fauna, but he heard nothing of the moa ; and the other early navigators have left no record of their knowledge of such a bird. This, of course, is negative evidence, but strong of its kind, for had the moa then been common in New Zealand, it is incredible that Cook should not have heard of it. The South Island Maoris possess an obscure tradition to the effect that, about five hundred years ago, a great fire, which they call “ the fire of Tamatea,” devastated the Canterbury plains, and nearly exterminated the moa ; and a tradition also prevails amongst the North Island Maoris that a great fire once played havoc with the moa. Collating all the information we possess, it is not an unfair inference to draw that the moa was plentiful when the Maoris first arrived, but that from their over-zealous chase of it, their extravagant consumption of its eggs and the destruction caused by large fires, it soon became scarce, and ultimately extinct, although a few individuals may have lingered up till a very recent date. It would appear that the moa disappeared from the North Island before it did from the South. The fact of its having existed contemporaneously in the two islands is noticeable, because, at first sight. Cook’s Straits, which is as broad as the English Channel, and stormy enough, would seem to be an insuperable barrier to the passage of wingless birds from one island to the other ; but, inasmuch as the fossil remains of the moa have been exhumed from post-pliocene formations, when the islands were probably united, the difficulty vanishes on reflection. We do not think it possible that any living mo as will now be discovered. The hepe survived so long as large tracts of country remained unexplored, but most parts have now been traversed by surveyors, gold prospectors, and others, and the unknown regions are of two limited an extent to justify the expectation that they constitute the last refuge of these gigantic birds. It is likely that “moa” was not the name given to the bird when it was the common food of the natives. We cannot pretend to say how the aboriginals designated it; but as to the Maoris, “ moa ” seems to be the generic name amongst the Polynesians for a large bird, and while the Maoris, if the moa co-existed on the islands with them, may have styled it “ the moa ” par excellence, the chances are that they gave it some other name, and possibly bestowed distinctive appellations upon the different species, which vary much in size. These things, however, we can never hope to know, and they are really of little consequence. The ornithologists have got hold of the unfortunate bird, and are quarrelling, as usual, over it? nomenclature. Strange tales are afloat about skulls being put on the wrong necks, and individual skeletons constructed into a variety of remains; but why worry ourselves about such trifles 1 The moa is gone to his long home ; the Maori will soon follow him ; and so far as human advancement is concerned, each will have been about as useful as the other. The philo-barbarian has extolled the Maori as the perfection of the savage, and he is a noble being, as savages go ; but during all the ages of his existence he has never contributed one jot to human knowledge in art, science literature, or the principles of government ; he has placed on record no distinguished examples of human virtue, whether displayed in the discharge of public or of private duties ; and when he dies, his fellow man will have no more reason to regret, his disappearance from the earth than the washing away of a grain of sand from the sea-shore. 0. W. Purnell.
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Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 72, 11 March 1880
THE MAORI AND THE MOA. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 72, 11 March 1880
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