The Maori As He Was : A Brief Account of Maori Life as it was in Pre-European Days
The Polynesians settle in New Zealand
The Polynesians settle in New Zealand
According to Takitumu tradition, the first Polynesians to settle in New Zealand were the crew of a single vessel that, under the command of a chief named Toi, reached these shores from eastern Polynesia. This Toi was a native of Tahiti, in the Society Group. He set forth from that island in search of a band of ocean waifs, among whom was his grandson Whatonga. These had been carried out to sea from Tahiti by a gale, and their vessels drifted to various isles—at least one reached the Samoan group. Toi visited different islands, and found some of the waifs at Pangopango, but heard no tidings of his grandson. He then ran down to Rarotonga, from which place he crossed the southern ocean to Aotea-roa, or New Zealand, thinking, we are told, that Whatonga's vessel may have reached this land. If his friends had been swept from the coast of Tahiti by an easterly gale, we may wonder why he came south-west to New Zealand in quest of the waifs; but these inconsistencies are not common in native traditions.
Toi is said to have missed New Zealand in his run down from Rarotonga, but he discovered the Chatham Isles, then apparently uninhabited. Eventually he reached New Zealand, and sojourned a while with the aborigines at Tamaki (the Auckland Isthmus), after which he went to the Bay of Plenty and settled at Whakatane. He is said to have dwelt in a pa maioro (village with earthwork defensive walls) called Kapu-te-rangi, situated on the hill overlooking the present township of Whakatane. If this is correct, then the Mouriuri folk must have been in the habit of erecting such defensive works, for they were unknown in the Society Group, and we have to turn to Fiji to find similar places.
We are told that, some time after Toi had sailed from Tahiti, Whatonga and his companions returned from the island their vessel had drifted to, Rangiatea. This is another weak point in the story, if that name stands for Ra'iatea, of the Society Group, as it is supposed to do; for Rangiatea is spoken of as though a hitherto unknown place, whereas it must assuredly have been perfectly well known to the people of Hawaiki, as Tahiti is called in the tradition. Finding that Toi had sailed in search of him, Whatonga fitted a vessel named “Kura-hau-po,” manned her with sea experts, and sailed off to look for Toi. Thus the seeker of the searcher sailed out upon the ocean that has been for many centuries the lure of Polynesian adventurers. This page 26 page 27 expedition, after searching northern isles reached Rarotonga, and there learned that Toi had sailed for Aotea-roa; hence Whatonga swung his prow round southward of the setting sun, and sailed out upon the pathless waste that rolls for over five hundred leagues between Rarotonga and New Zealand. This expedition reached the Taranaki coast, then rounded the North Cape and ran down the coast to the Bay of Plenty, where Whatonga found Toi living at Whakatane. Both these leaders, with their companions, settled here, and obtained wives from the aboriginal Mouriuri folk, and so commenced the Polynesian invasion and resettlement of the North Island.
From this time onward for about two centuries many vessels reached these shores from Polynesia, bringing immigrants to strengthen the local Polynesian colony. Inasmuch, however, as many of these new-comers took to themselves aboriginal wives, a people of mixed origin was the result—namely, the Maori folk of New Zealand. As time went on these mixed folk became strong in numbers, quarrels arose between them and the Mouriuri people, and finally the latter were attacked and harassed until exterminated. We are told that some sought refuge in the interior, and in forest areas, such as Maunga-pohatu, while some went and settled at the Chatham Islands, where their descendants were found in 1791, when the “Chatham,” Vancouver's store-ship, visited the islands.
Thus commenced a long series of voyages made from Polynesia to New Zealand by adventurous seafarers. Some of these voyagers returned to Polynesia, but most of them settled here. Shortly after the arrival of Whatonga, four vessels from eastern Polynesia, commanded by two chiefs named Manaia and Nuku, reached Cook Strait and sojourned a while at Pae-kakariki. Manaia seems to have remained here, but Nuku returned to Polynesia. Other voyagers, among whom were Rongokako, Tama-ahua, and Tu-moana, also returned to the islands. About two hundred years after the coming of Toi and his companions there arrived from Polynesia a number of vessels, often referred to by us as “the fleet.” These were named “Te Arawa,” “Tainui,” “Matatua,” “Takitumu,” &c., and the “Aotea” arrived at about the same time. These vessels brought many immigrants who settled among or near the mixed Polynesian-Mouriuri folk already in occupation. By this time there were perhaps no pure Mouriuri left in the land, which was page 28 held by the Toi tribes, as we often term the mixed folk. After this time communication between these islands and Polynesia seems to have decreased, until, finally, it altogether ceased. We have a tradition to the effect that, ten generations ago, two vessels left the east coast in order to reach Polynesia, but the natives of New Zealand have evidently been isolated for a long period.
A few scraps of historical tradition collected in the South Island seem to show that a considerable population has occupied portions of that region in remote times, but of their origin we know nothing. Divergences in form of certain stone implements found in that area, and the peculiar Melanesian-like form of a long-buried canoe found there, are suggestive and highly interesting facts. We also know from tradition that a harassed clan of the original inhabitants of the North Island sought a new home in the south probably five or six centuries ago. Behind this meagre data lies an unknown history of the south that is for ever lost.
As the northern parts of the North Island became more populated by increasing numbers of the mixed Maori folk, intertribal quarrels became frequent, and weak tribes were often compelled to seek new homes elsewhere. The general direction of these movements was southwards, and so, in the course of centuries, many such peoples were pushed southward to Wairarapa, the Wellington district, and the South Island. As the population increased, so, apparently, did hostile conditions and isolation, for intercommunication between tribes would tend to decrease as dissensions and fighting became more common. Maori tribal history is but a monotonous recital of intertribal quarrels and fighting relieved by very few incidents of any real interest. It is much too tedious to enlarge upon here. A certain amount of intertribal intercourse existed, but it was limited. There was but little barter carried on between the tribes.
The vessels employed by Polynesians in their deep-sea voyages were of two types, the outrigger and the double canoe. These were carvel-built craft, often constructed by securing successive strakes to a shallow hull little more than a keel-piece. In many cases each strake was composed of a number of pieces. In this building-up process the different parts were secured by lashings passed through holes in the plank. The Tongans and Samoans had adopted page 29 a Fijian method in which cants or projecting rims were left on the inner sides of all four edges of each hewn plank. The holes to accommodate lashings were pierced in these rims instead of in the body of the plank, so that the outer side of the hull presented a fair surface on which no lashings appeared. The making of such a vessel with rude page 30 tools was a prodigious task, but the various forms of Polynesian vessels, usually termed “canoes,” were marvels of symmetry and neat finish. The double canoe of Polynesia ranged up to 150 ft. in length; the outrigger craft were smaller than that. Sails were employed on one or more masts; the huge lateen sail of western Polynesia, as used on double canoes, was a cumbrous affair; the smaller upright form was much easier to manipulate. The Tongans employed some of the largest double canoes, and were adventurous navigators, making voyages into Melanesia as far as Tikopia, the Loyalty Group, and New Caledonia. The outrigger type seems to have been more manageable in rough weather than the double canoe, and most of the vessels that reached New Zealand were probably of that form. When Polynesians settled on these shores they found here large timber from which a big canoe could be dubbed out that needed but a single top-strake to render it fit for sea faring. Both the double canoe and the outrigger gradually fell into disuse here, though Cook saw both at Queen Charlotte Sound and on the northern coast. The wide-beam canoe gradually displaced both the outrigger and double forms. A most interesting specimen of the old form of narrow outrigger is in the Dominion Museum—an illustration of stone-tool work. In the Auckland Museum is the only specimen of a large war-canoe that has been preserved; it is 83 ft. in length and 7 ft. beam.
Polynesian methods of navigation are of surpassing interest, for here we have a neolithic folk who attained a remarkable skill in that science. Possessing but rude forms of stone implements, ignorant alike of compass and of charts, the ancestors of the Maori far surpassed Europeans of a much more advanced culture status in sea voyaging. They steered their primitive craft by the heavenly bodies, and by the regular roll of the waves before the trade-winds. With marvellous courage they explored vast areas of the Pacific Ocean; they settled and resettled many far-sundered isles; they carried with them cultivated food products, and practised agriculture in all suitable places. As time rolled on certain colonies became isolated; some communities abandoned ocean voyaging; dialects of the common tongue were evolved. Variations arose in common myths, ritual, traditions, customs, from the same cause. The race began to fall apart, to become separated into many independent page 31 communities: this was owing to the peculiar geographical conditions. Whatever the innate powers of the Polynesians might have been, those conditions would effectually prevent the formation of a nation.
Fig. 17.—Ancient outrigger canoe (in Dominion Museum)
As neolithic navigators the Polynesians had no compeers. They traversed and explored a vast oceanic region; they wandered half a world away from their original homeland, and here, at the edge of the world, they abide, conservative and disdainful as of yore, to await the end.