Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Stone Implements of the Maori

II. Introductory Remarks

page 12

II. Introductory Remarks

The stone implements of which we propose to speak are termed by writers "celts," "axes," "adzes," "hatchets," "chisels," and "gouges." All the forms treated of in this paper, except chisels, are included by the natives of New Zealand under the generic term of toki, although they have names for the different kinds, such names being applied according to the particular work for which the implement was used. They have also two names (whao and purupuru) that are applied to the tools we term "stone chisels."

It is usual to apply the term "axe" to the ordinary stone adze of the Maori, but this is assuredly a misnomer. The great majority of his stone toki were certainly hafted as adzes.

The implements to be described are often grouped under the name of "celts," but if this term be derived from what Evans calls the doubtful Latin word "celtis" (a chisel), then this also is a misnomer, inasmuch as such implements are by no means all chisel-pointed. The majority of them, judging from collections seen in our museums, were certainly helved and used as adzes, they being practically chisel-pointed, though having a slight bevel on the face; but others are bevelled considerably on both faces, in order to form the cutting-edge, often to such an extent that it is clear that they would be quite useless as adzes. In order to use them as such, the operator would be compelled to lower the handle to such an extent as to render his attempt to adze a surface quite impracticable. The shoulder—the uma of Maori phraseology—would interfere with his attempt, as that part of the implement (instead of the cutting-edge) would come into contact with the timber to be worked.

Thus it is clear that, apart from the forms used as chisels, we must divide the Maori toki into two classes—viz., those with chisel-shaped cutting-edges, used as adzes, and those that are bevelled equally on both faces to form the cutting-edge. By chisel-shaped point or edge we mean a cutting-edge formed by bevelling, principally on one face. Those bevelled on both faces may be described as wedge-shaped, or, better still, as axe-shaped. Wedge-shape would appear to imply two perfectly straight faces, whereas the faces of the implements referred to are by no means straight, the bevel being, in some specimens, remarkably abrupt, and the shoulder or breast (uma) most prominent.

So far, inquiry among the natives has not satisfactorily settled the matter as to what the axe-shaped stone implements were used for, page 13or how they were helved. It has been suggested that the double-bevelled form was used as a splitting-wedge in splitting logs, an opinion that is held by some writers in other lands.

In the thirteenth annual report of the Bureau of Ethnology (U.S.A.), Mr. Gerard Fowke, in a paper on "Stone Art," states his belief that some stone celts were used as wedges, inasmuch as they show marks on the poll as though having been struck with a hammer or maul. Such implements, he says, show "a nearly round section, pointed or flattened at the top, blade rapidly thickening from the edge; a few are polished at the top, but most of them show marks of a maul or hammer; all have been highly polished; all of this class were probably used as wedges, as their shape renders them more fit for this purpose than for any other; the battered tops indicate such usage. The few not showing such marks may have been set into a bumper of wood or horn, or used with wooden mauls."

In regard to these remarks, it might be said the amount of extra labour presumably incurred in producing a "nearly round section" would be thrown away, a round splitting-wedge not being the most useful form for such an implement. In like manner, those with pointed tops could scarcely have been made to use as wedges; a little experience would soon show even primitive man that a slightly convex surface is the best form for the top of a splitting-wedge. The "blade rapidly thickening from the edge" would also militate against their use as wedges, a wedge with a "shoulder," or one that "rapidly thickens," being abhorred by timber-splitters, for it will not "draw" into the timber. Again, if such forms were made to be used as wedges, why should the maker expend so much profit-less labour in grinding and polishing them? In fact, such a wedge would "grip" better, and be much less liable to jump out when struck with a ta or maul, if it was left in a roughly chipped state.

In order to induce this "grip" we make our modern iron or steel wedges with a longitudinal groove on each face. These axe-shaped or double-bevelled forms were also worked to an even surface by the Maori. It would appear that wooden wedges would be much better for the purpose of splitting timber than any stone wedge. The Maoris formerly used wedges of hard wood for this purpose, such wedges being struck with a wooden maul. We have no record of their having used stone wedges in pre-European times, nor is it probable that they did so. The manufacture of such would entail prolonged labour, and they might be broken at any time by the blow of the maul.

page 14

Bone wedges were used by the Eskimo, and are said to have with-stood a considerable amount of battering, but there is no record of their having been used by the Maori.

This kind of double-bevelled axe-shaped stone implement is also found in the Hawaiian Islands, and Mr. Brigham, in his paper on "Hawaiian Stone Implements," states his belief that they were used as wedges, (See also Abbott, in "Primitive Industry,"12 page 20.) In the New Zealand examples of this form it seems clear that in many cases they could not have been used as wedges on account of the smallness of the top (the reke, or poll), which would be most unsuitable for use with a maul, be that maul of wood or stone. For example, No. 888 in the Dominion Museum, albeit of a thick clumsy form, is brought to a conical point at the poll. Others with a double bevel, in the same Museum, show plainly that they were hafted as adzes or chisels. Some of these are chipped and bruised into a rounded form for 2 in., 3 in., or 4 in. from the top or poll, on the face only (the back, or part next the handle, being left flat), so as to facilitate the lashing. In some cases a narrow shoulder or ridge has been left at the bottom of the rounded part of the implement, which would mark the lower edge of the lashing presumably, and would probably serve to prevent the adze being forced upward too violently by the shock of the blow.

It is noticeable that these double-bevelled forms are not all equally bevelled on both faces, the bevel being in some cases greater on one side than the other. It is apparently among these latter specimens that we observe the unmistakable proofs that they were hafted as adzes or as chisels.

In his paper on "Maori Stone Implements," Captain Hutton says, "Wedges were used for splitting wood. No doubt the toki were often so used, but some of them, with flat butts and the edge equally ground on both sides, may be safely distinguished as wedges." He quotes no authority, but shows that it was merely his own opinion.

This is merely conjecture. Moreover, a flat poll is an extremely rare feature in these stone tools. In no case does there seem to be any evidence given by early voyagers, &c., to support the theory that stone wedges were used for splitting timber. Many Maoris, in answer to inquiries, have stated that wooden wedges (ora, mataora, kahi, matakahi, pipi kaunuku, &c.) were employed for that purpose; and many who have been asked as to the use or otherwise of stone wedges for that purpose have replied emphatically that no such page 15implements of stone were used. The natives assert that both forms, single and double bevel, were helved respectively as adzes and axes, except such as were used as chisels and lashed on in a line with the handle. Small celts were so hafted to be used as chisels for wood-carving, &c., and large, heavy toki were in like manner lashed to stout poles, and used as chisels in tree-felling, being operated by several men. It is quite probable that the heavy axe-shaped forms were employed for this purpose, but the smaller specimens, possessing this double bevel, could not have been so used, inasmuch as they are much too light to have served the purpose. The cutting-edge of such forms is much too thick to be of any use in dressing baulks of timber, and one can only presume that they were used as beaters or picks of some sort.

Te Whatahoro states that some of the thick, clumsy forms, termed "adzes" by us, are potuki, or pestles, for pounding roots.

Mr. Abbott tells us that the Iroquois Indians of the eastern United States used stone chisels in felling trees, the chisel being used to clear away the coal after fire had been applied to the base of the tree. Such chisels were usually about 6 in. by 3 in. by 2 in., the lower end fashioned like the edge of an axe. In this description the term "chisel" is applied to the double-bevel form, which is not of a true chisel-shape. This writer also thinks that small haematite celts found in that region were used as scrapers or knives, being probably set in handles.

There is also another point to be considered. The genius of the Maori people in respect to working timber, either rough hewing or fine surface-dressing, lies essentially in adzing. They are not apt in the use of axes—the axe proper—and very few natives become adepts in the use of our modern steel axes, albeit they do a considerable amount of work with such tools. Very few Maoris can be compared as axemen with European bushmen. In very few cases do they acquire the art of clean chopping and economizing labour at such work. But put an adze into the hands of a Maori, and he is, as it were, upon his native heath: he will dub and dress his timber with a facility and neatness that seems natural to him, almost an instinct, inherited from many generations of adze-using progenitors. The average European cannot approach him at such work.

Some of the old-time Maoris are said, in local traditions, to have been specially adept in the use of the stone adze. For instance, one Rangi-nui, an east-coast ancestor, achieved fame in that way, also page 16a wife. In the course of his travels he arrived at Te Papuni, near unto Maunga-pohatu, where he found one Tamatea-a-moa living. The latter was engaged in the task of building a house, and Rangi offered to assist him. He did so by adzing the battens for the house. He is said to have placed four battens under each foot, in order to steady them, and to have adzed them all at once. Naturally, Tamatea was delighted at securing the assistance of such a man, and, in order to reward him and retain his services, gave him his daughter, Kura-pori, to wife.

These stone adzes, whether for use as tools or weapons, were highly valued, and some old ones are famed in Maori traditions. There was a certain amount of tapu pertaining to some of them. The famous ones used in constructing the canoes "Matatua," "Tainui," &c., prior to the migration to New Zealand, such as those named Te Manokuha, Te Rakuraku-o-tawhaki, Hui-te-rangiora, &c., are said to have been very tapu adzes. Names of such prized implements often appear in songs. Possibly the most tapu of all toki (adzes) is that known as Te Awhio-rangi, in the possession of the Nga-Rauru Tribe. It is said to have been one of the tools with which were cut the props or pillars that supported the sky when Tane separated Heaven and Earth. These stone adzes were often brought out and laid by the side of a corpse during the period of lying in state, and also were frequently buried with the dead. Those so buried were sometimes reclaimed when the exhumation took place, but in some cases were left permanently in grave or cave.

In an old myth recorded by Mr. White we note that the axes with which Tane cut the props by which the heavens were supported were named Te Awhio-rangi, Pare-arai-marama, and Motu-whariki. The second of these names curiously resembles that of a wedge used by the Maori to prevent the lashing from coming into contact with the timber being worked.

This condition of tapu might also pertain to the modern steel axes under certain circumstances. In the account of Governor Grey's expedition to Taupo (1849-50) is some account of a European tomahawk, formerly the property of the chief Waharoa, that was extremely tapu: "They did not, however, show us the greatest curiosity of all, or, rather, that which they hold in the greatest veneration and sanctity-namely, the tomahawk of Te Waharoa, with which the bodies of their enemies used to be dissected preparatory to their being cooked, and which had been used to cut off the heads of their own chiefs after death, for the purpose of preserving page 17them." In this case we note that a modern implement was tapu on account of the purposes for which it had been used.

In his account of tools used by the Maoris, Cook says, "They have axes, adzes, and chisels, which serve them also as augers for the boring of holes. Their axes they value above all that they possess, and never would part with one of them for anything that we could give." Here Cook speaks of axes and adzes, but it is not clear as to what the term "axe" was applied by him. Presumably he meant the ordinary toki, or adze. But why use both terms?

After the arrival of early European voyagers and traders in New Zealand the old stone implements seemed soon to disappear from native settlements. Some would doubtless be acquired by voyagers, and taken to Europe and elsewhere as curiosities, but it would appear that the major portion must simply have been lost or thrown away. The superiority of steel axes, of even the clumsy, old-fashioned, long-bitted English axe, would be apparent; while, in place of their principal tool, the stone adze, the Maori obtained the keen steel adze, and, what he seems to have prized very highly, plane-irons, which he lashed on to primitive handles and used as adzes. These plane-iron adzes are still in use among the natives, and are often used in preference to our steel adzes. Even as early as 1815, when Nicholas was in New Zealand, he speaks of the trade in plane-irons, numbers of which were presented to the Maoris, and bartered for supplies and curios.

It is very seldom that a stone adze, other than greenstone, is now seen in a native hamlet, nor are the greenstone adzes numerous in the North Island. The greenstone mere are preserved carefully still, inasmuch as they are greatly prized and also viewed as heirlooms. Patu, or short weapons of the same form as a mere, but of common stone, are also preserved. But he who seeks the old stone adze must do so in middens, burial-places, caches, old forts, or in museums.

In an account of a trip from Whanga-nui to Taranaki in 1847, published in the "New Zealand Journal," the writer, a military officer, says, "We inquired for old weapons and other relics, but they said they had thrown them away on their becoming missionaries." If this was the aspect in 1847, no wonder that the English and and German forgers are flooding us with ancient Maori items "made in 1910."

These stone adzes went out of use early in the nineteenth century, but not at the same time in all districts. The Tuhoe Tribe first obtained European implements in the "twenties," but not in suffi-page 18cient quantities to oust the stone tools for some time after that. But the age of stone tools has now passed away for ever in these isles, although such implements are still in use in New Guinea and the interior of Australia.

In respect to the period at which stone tools, such as adzes, were discarded by the Maori, it doubtless differed to some extent. Inland tribes would not acquire iron tools so soon as those dwelling on the coast. Again, some coastal tribes were not brought into contact with European voyagers and traders so soon as were others more favourably situated.

There is another matter that prevented some tribes from obtaining European tools, &c., in any considerable quantity—viz., the urgent necessity that existed for many years, from about 1820 to 1840, for acquiring firearms and ammunition. Most of the trade goods, such as flax-fibre, pigs, &c., had to be bartered for firearms—at least by most tribes south of the Nga-Puhi district, whose people were the first to acquire firearms in numbers.

The adzes seen in museums and private collections have been found in many different places. A large number have been turned up by the plough, more especially in the South Island. Many have been found in old middens, on the sites of old hamlets and forts, and in burial-places. In some cases numbers were found together in aboriginal caches, whilst many unfinished ones have been picked up at old native workshops, to which the men of yore resorted in order to chip their implements into the desired form.

Some of the prized weapons and stone implements of the Maori were presented to early voyagers in exchange for much-appreciated articles of European manufacture, as witness the following entry in Cook's Journal, while at Dusky Sound (9th April, 1773): "I presented the chief with the cloak I had got made for him, with which he seemed so well pleased that he took his patapattou (patu, a short stone weapon) from his girdle and gave it to me."

Many Maori implements, &c., were also obtained by traders, voyagers, and whalers in the early days, more particulary after the introduction of firearms, which implements in many cases were subsequently obtained by European and American museums.

As to the adzes and other implements or ornaments that have been buried with the dead, or placed with bones of the dead after exhumation, in caves or trees, such acts seem to have been viewed as offerings to the dead, performed in exaltation of the defunct. Such items were, however, often reclaimed when the bones were exhumed, and were not deposited with them in their final resting-place. For many interesting specimens which were allowed to remain, page 19however, we have to thank the devotion of the Maori of yore to his dead tribesmen. According to Evans, "Stone celts accompany the earliest form of interment with which we are acquainted-that in which the body is deposited in the contracted position." He was writing of English stone celts, but his remarks may also apply to New Zealand, for the Maori buried his dead in a similar position in some cases.

There has been no Palaeolithic Age in the isles of New Zealand. It is evident that when man first arrived on these shores he was acquainted with the art of chipping, grinding, and polishing stone implements. Rude chipped or flaked tools are certainly found here, as elsewhere, but it would appear that these are either unfinished adze-forms or else such tools as were not ground or polished, such as knives and scrapers.

As to the age of the stone adzes found in New Zealand, that is a matter that scarcely comes within the scope of this article. We read of polished stone implements having been found 15 ft. below the surface, in undisturbed ground, over which huge trees grow, but the tims is not yet to discuss these matters.

To desecrate a burial-place by interfering with the bones of the dead, or graves, or any items placed with the dead, save at the function of exhumation, was a very serious affair in Maoridom. When the Ngati-Manawa people, of the Galatea district, went to Hauraki in order to obtain guns they committed a crime of this nature. On their return they took a fine stone adze from a burial-place of the local natives. This seems to have been found out by Ngati-Maru, who at once seized upon it as a casus belli. Under Taraia, they marched from the Thames to Whirinaki, near Galatea, where they found Nagti-Manawa living in the fortified village known as Te Takatakanga. The latter people were only saved from disaster by the intervention of the Tuhoe Tribe, parties of whom made rapid night marches from their forest wilds in order to meet the invaders, thus upholding an expression sometimes applied to them—viz., Te Ure-wera haere po (The night-travelling Ure-wera).

Some of the early writers on the Maori use singular terms to describe their implements and weapons. Thus, Polack styles the greenstone mere "a tomahawk of green talc"! The same writer says,. "Since iron has been introduced, in the shape of the serviceable hoe, spade, rake, pick, &c., they have been eagerly adopted by the natives, and their former implements have wholly gone into disuse." This work was published in 1840. *

page 20

The stone axes of the natives of Australia appear to be much rougher specimens than adzes of the Maori, inferior both in form and finish. To judge from illustrations, the former are usually ground near the cutting-edge only, the rest of the implement being merely roughly chipped. Some look like rough, natural stones, with a cutting-edge formed and ground at one extremity thereof. Australian natives seem to have abhorred the rectangular form, the sides of their stone axes being either much rounded or, apparently, left in the rough. But the Australians hafted their tools in true axe-style, the cutting-edge in line with the handle.

All the stone tools of the Tasmanians were of a very primitive nature. They were merely roughly chipped at one end to a cutting-edge, and show no trace of grinding in any way. No ground specimens are known.

In like manner, the stone adzes of the Hawaiian Islands appear to be much cruder than New Zealand forms. Judging from the illustrations in Mr. Brigham's work on "Hawaiian Stone Implements," the latter seem to have been ground at the lower end only, simply to form the blade and cutting-edge, and make smooth the bevel that came into contact with the surface being adzed. Most specimens show the upper half left roughly chipped, or with the rough surface but half-ground out. None appear to be ground smooth all over.

In speaking of the stone adzes of New Britain, we note that Dr. George Brown, in "Melanesians and Polynesians," says, "The adzes were made of some kind of green stone, and were of various sizes … Nearly all the specimens in my possession are polished, but I think some were chipped on the upper part, and only the points or ends polished and sharpened."

The stone axes found in the United States are mostly inferior in finish to Maori adzes, being only partially ground in many cases.

Some small stone axes from Ecuador, illustrated in Saville's "Antiquities of Manabi," do not appear to advantage beside Maori types. They appear somewhat rough and crudely formed, though the author alludes to them as "polished stone axes," and states that they carry sharp cutting-edges.

We often hear conjectures as to where all the old-time implements, &c., of the Maori disappeared to, and astonishment is expressed at the scarcity of such articles at the present time. We should, however, bear in mind that the supplying of the Maori with European and American implements and clothing, as also the acquisition by voyagers of Maori items, began at an early date, even so far back as page 21the latter part of the eighteenth century. Even the uncultured whaler class acquired many Maori curios, and took them back to their own lands in the far north, while they also supplied the Maori with great quantities of our manufactures—clothing, arms, tools, cooking-vessels, &c. In looking over the "New Zealand Journal" for 1846 we noted that in that year one vessel alone, the "David Malcolm," took from Wellington no less than seven cases of curiosities. And this was at a time when that young settlement was struggling for existence with hostile natives. It is also on record that so soon as the first settlers landed at Pito-one they began to acquire Maori weapons and other implements, while they paid for lands purchased from the natives with arms, ammunition (used against themselves in later days), and a variety of "useful" articles, including 60 red nightcaps, 12 umbrellas, 144 jews' harps, 180 dressing-combs, and 12 shaving-brushes.

Recent Sources of Information

It seems desirable that some explanation should be made regarding the authorities from whom information has been obtained in regard to the manufacture, halting, &c., of the stone implements herein described. We have endeavoured to obtain such information from natives who have made a study of the subject. Nor must it be imagined that the oldest men, or those of high social rank, are the best informed in such matters, for such are often comparatively ignorant in respect to such manufactures. The persons who possessed knowledge of such items were the adepts, the men who passed much time in making and using these implements. We may observe this phase of Maori economy at the present time in the arts of tattooing and and wood-carving, which are still practised, though only by a few persons, the bulk of the people knowing but little of the subjects. When applied to for some information in respect to stone tools, a leading native, who is famed for his knowledge of Maori history and other old-time lore, gave some extremely interesting matter, but said, "I am not an expert in these things. I will send for a man who has made a study of the subject, and whose knowledge of it is much greater than my own."

It is worthy of special note, in considering subjects of this nature, that in Maori life occupations were to some extent specialized, and the knowledge descended from father to son. So that in a tribe or hapu (sub-tribe) there might be a family whose hereditary skill and knowledge constituted them makers of axes and implements to the the clan.

12 "Primitive Industry," by C. C. Abbott, 1881: A description of ancient stone implements of the North Atlantic seaboard of United States of America.

Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. xxx, p. 133.

* "Manners and Customs of the New-Zealanders," by J. S. Polack.