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The Coming of the Maori

The Moa Hunters

The Moa Hunters

The traditional accounts of early settlement have received convincing support from archaeological research in the South Island from which the extinct moa supplied the key to unlock the past. The large wingless moa must have formed a wonderful source of food supply to the early settlers and yet the fact that they were extinct and that there was a paucity of traditional references concerning them, created a doubt as to whether the ancestors of the Maori had ever seen a living moa. However, the very fact that a few references did mention the name moa could not be disregarded.

The name moa was applied to the domestic fowl throughout Polynesia. It was brought into central Polynesia with the pig and the dog and the moa was carried to the Hawaiian Islands in the north and to Easter Island in the far east. Of the three Polynesian introduced animals, only the dog reached New Zealand. From the presence of the word moa in even a few Maori references, it seemed evident that the first settlers, having no introduced moa, applied the spare name to a local bird which appealed to them as furnishing an even better supply of food than the domesticated fowl which they knew in the homeland. Thus the paucity of references to the moa applied to the traditions of the Fleet ancestors who arrived after the moa had been exterminated by the earlier settlers.

The discovery of moa bones associated with Maori middens in the sandhills of the North Island seemed to indicate that the two were contemporaneous but Archey (8, p. 99), after a study of the sites, explained the matter as follows:

"Certain associations or occurrences together, of moa bones and Maori midden material are secondary, and have resulted from the erosion of younger overlying sandhills and the consequent mingling of their midden material with much older moa remains."

However, the South Island furnished better evidence. The association of moa bones with human artifacts was described by Hutton and others page 20and excited interest at the time. Skinner, Teviotdale and others conducted more extensive excavations on sites in Otago and Canterbury which were regarded as moa hunters' camps. Teviotdale (100, p. 117) in summing up his work pointed out that the stone adzes and fishhooks found associated with moa bones were definitely Polynesian in type. Further excavations by Eyles and Duff (30) at Wairau in Marlborough uncovered graves in which skeletons were associated with adzes, ornaments, and blown moa eggs. The adzes again were of Polynesian type. (Plate I.) Thus the early settlers were definitely proved to have hunted the moa and to have been of Polynesian stock.

Further light on the problem was shed by studies in ornithology. The discovery of large numbers of moa skeletons closely packed together in swamps had aroused suspicion that the early moa hunters had been guilty of wholesale slaughter. One of the few Maori references alludes to the moa having been driven into swamps by the fire (ahi) of Tamatea. However, Archey (8, p. 99) cleared up the situation by stating that the destruction of the moa in considerable numbers occurred in a pluvial period following the Pleistocene glaciation. He adds:

"The pluvial conditions themselves and the accompanying extension of forest areas in this period may separately or conjointly have been to the disadvantage of the moa, but they did not prevent its survival until the advent of man a thousand years or more ago."

The earliest human occupants quickly exterminated the moa, first in the North Island and later in the South, and it happened before the great fleet migration of 1350 A.D. brought to these shores the ancestors of the present Maori tribes, whose legends have preserved vague accounts from the earlier Polynesian folk believed to have already been in occupation of the land for some generations.

The advent of man a thousand years or more ago fits in with the traditional coming of the first settlers referred to by Wilson as the Maui nation and by Best as the Maruiwi.

The voluntary settlement of parts of the South Island before the advent of the Fleet had heretofore created a problem. The North Island was naturally held to be more attractive to people of Polynesian stock because of its warmer climate which was also conducive to the growth of tropical food plants, such as the sweet potato, taro, and yam. However, the earliest settlers had not brought any cultivable food plants with them and hence the better agricultural possibilities of the North Island meant nothing to them. They were perforce hunters and not tillers of the soil. Thus when the supply of moa ran short in the North Island, the people moved south in search of better hunting grounds. Duff (30, p. 23) has shown that certain artifacts associated with the moa hunters have a "normal Cook Strait concentration". It may be assumed that there was a page 21period of closer settlement on the northern shores of Cook Strait before exploration across the strait led to settlement on its southern shores at D'Urville Island and Marlborough. A strong attraction must have existed to induce people to cross Cook Strait and spread to various localities along the east coast of the South Island as far as Murihiku. The evidence produced by the excavations in camp and settlement sites and the cemetery at Wairau proves that the attraction was the greater abundance of moa for food supply. Hence in the hunting period before cultivable food plants were introduced by the Fleet, the South Island was more attractive to hunters than the North Island.

During the first settlement period, probably, the moa was exterminated in the South Island but the moa hunters and their descendants had become acclimatized in their southern homes and they continued to find ample supplies of food in other birds, fish, shell fish and indigenous native plants. It may be that the early tribes of the south referred to as the Rapuwai and the Waitaha were the unmixed descendants of the southern moa hunters. Both these tribal names follow the descriptive terminology applied to the North Island tribes descended from Maruiwi and his contemporaries. After centuries of isolation, the South Island was invaded by the Ngati Mamoe and later again by the Ngaitahu, both names conforming to the later form adopted after the arrival of the Fleet. The Ngaitahu pushed the Ngati Mamoe further south into the Murihiku area. The Rapuwai and Waitaha were absorbed mostly into the Ngati Mamoe but some elements of the early Polynesian culture of their moa-hunting ancestors have survived in the local culture of the extended Murihiku area. Some of the tools, hooks, and ornaments of the early Polynesian culture have been preserved intact by Mother Earth and the moa remains associated with them have conclusively proved that they predate the various stages of intermixture which resulted in what we now know as Maori culture.