The Moa-Hunters of New Zealand: Sportsman of the Stone Age
Chapter V. The Moa-Hunter At Home
Chapter V. The Moa-Hunter At Home
Wild on the river-bank, or mountain-brow,
Yet e'en this cheerless mansion shall provide
More heart's repose than all the world beside.
The feature of importance which recommends to us the study of the Waitaki Moa-hunters' camp is that it definitely establishes to the investigator of to-day that man and the Moa were contemporaneous, and that, whatever additional agencies were at work to the same end, the human attacks upon the bird contributed in no small measure to its ultimate extinction. This camp was, as we have seen, but one of many, but in area and in the magnitude of its operations it is safe to say that in the life of these institutions it stood second to none. What induced the Maori to form a camp at this place must remain an open question. There is, however, little doubt that the magnet was the river. The five largest of the known camps on the east coast of the South Island were at the mouths of rivers, which gives colour to the suggestion that the settlements were in most instances not permanent, but seasonal, and based entirely upon the question of food supply.page 168
So far as I have seen, there are no signs of former extensive buildings or fortifications on the Waitaki site—no palisades, no entrenchments, nor anything to point to the fact that the village whares were of other than the most temporary character. There are several spots under the south terrace which are pointed out as “hut sites,” and judging by the material gathered from their floors they probably were the location of former dwellings. Nothing, however, of the superstructure survives, from which fact we may conclude that these huts were small, and constructed of slender non-endurable material, such as rushes, raupo, or totara bark. There are other spots, roughly paved with flat stones, which are sometimes spoken of as floors of houses. Knowing the Maori mode of constructing his dwellings, I confess that it requires some imagination to follow this suggestion. Rather do I think that these paved spaces have played a different part in the economy of the camp, being platforms on which food was laid out to dry in the sun.
There are at least two other spots of peculiar interest. These are circular areas, some 20 feet across, which have been the bases of large rest houses, known as whare porotaka,* or round houses.
* A whare porotaka has been built in the model pa at Moeraki, erected to celebrate the centennial of the establishment of the Moeraki settlement in 1836.
They were built by setting slender manuka poles firmly in the ground at equal distances round the circular base, then bending the tapering top of the poles into the centre, where they were attached to a small ring fabricated from a stout vine, which formed an aperture through which the smoke of the central fire escaped. With the side poles fixed in position, they were further secured by a series of vines run around horizontally and lashed to the upright poles, the outside being covered by a neat thatch of grass or rushes. The occupants ranged themselves inside the basic ring, lying with their feet pointing to the fire, resembling nothing so much as the human spokes of a wheel. Here the events of the camp were discussed and the gossip— perhaps the scandal—of the day was passed round for the general information and enjoyment.
This form of house, possibly an adaptation to climatic conditions of their former Polynesian dwellings, is not commonly seen in Maori settlements to-day, but the type persists in the far south among the mutton-birders, in whose island camps during the birding season one or more of such structures are usually still to be seen.
That the camp had been laid out on any architectural principle or engineering system, I was unable to discover. The one governing factor page 170 appeared to be that the ovens were placed in the closest possible proximity to fresh water.
* A portion of this consolidated mass was submitted to the Government Analyst with a result that unfortunately fails to throw any light on its origin, but Dr. Marwick, of the Geological Survey Department, is definitely of the opinion that it is the residuum of an ancient fire.
Below the upper terrace, on the second flat before the land was broken up, I observed on my first visit that a hut had been standing here, about 15 feet long and 7 feet broad, with an opening towards the north. The outlines were shown by the floor being raised above the surrounding flat. The plough, in effacing all trace of these contour lines, had exposed the spot where the former cooking-place in this hut had been situated. Here the soil was baked to a hard, cemented mass, containing small pieces of charcoal, bones, either broken or entire, of fishes and small birds, together with a few fragments of polished implements, but not the least sign of Moa bones, flint implements, nor chips amongst them. On the same terrace cemented masses of the same kind proved the former existence of similar cooking-places.
That the consolidated mass found at Waitaki served a similar purpose, I have no doubt; but I am obliged to say that, although the ground near it has never been ploughed, the evidence of a surrounding whare is not so obvious as Sir Julius von Haast found it to be at Little Rakaia.
The idea that the position of the ovens was regulated by any regard for the dead does not appeal to me, for, as I have indicated, the governing factor page 172 appears to have been the proximity to fresh water. On both the north and south margins of the site there are large depressions which suggest that at one time they were either wandering branches of the river, or lagoons, which find their counterpart in those placid sheets of water forming the northern limit of the camp area to-day.
That for centuries the Waitaki River outlet has been travelling northward is undoubted; and the Moa-hunters, beginning their camp on the southern margin, abandoned that spot when the southern lagoon dried up, and moved on to the next lagoon, and then to the next; and when they were settled round their last fires some cause—perhaps economic, perhaps military—necessitated the total abandonment of the camp, which was first deserted and then forgotten, for it has no history, and no tradition among the present-day Natives. Its history must be read in its bones and in its stones. It is a modern Nineveh, a city of the dead.
The fact that the site was in use over a long period of time may readily be granted, but that it was continuously occupied over a similar period may be as readily doubted. This conclusion is justified by the entire absence of stratification. Unlike the camp at Shag River or at Sumner, it discloses no page 173 evidence of one set of occupants following after another, and my experience in this respect bears out exactly that of Mr. David Teviotdale, who as the result of some time spent at Waitaki makes this comparison: “On the Waitaki site little was noted but Moa bones and the rough flake knives used in cutting up the birds. At the Shag River site there was all manner of debris from the food used by the Maori—bones of dogs, seals, fish, and birds, shells, etc.—with articles of Moa bone and stone lying underneath and among the Moa bones.”
The absence of large numbers of finished tools— tools of bone and of greenstone—also suggests that it was but a temporary abode, such as Shortland saw in 1844 higher up the river, and of which he has said, “They [the Maori] seemed to think nothing of leaving their houses without anyone in charge, although they might not return for, perhaps, a month.”
What, then, was the attraction to this spot, unblessed by shelter or scenic beauty? Clearly, it was a question of food supply; and although the Moa looms largely in this connection, it may not have been the whole charm. Fish as well as flesh, no doubt, played their part. When the Europeans first began to settle in North Otago and South Canterbury they noted the periodical recurrence of page 174 runs of fish into the Waitaki River. First would come the whitebait*—the mata of the South Island Maori—now largely eaten out by the trout, but which in the days of the Waitaha and the Kati-Mamoe would in the early months of spring arrive in their myriads, to be taken in the scoop nets by the dexterous tribal fishermen. Then there came what from its bright appearance was known as the “silvery” (Argentina retropinna), and, from its odour when young, as the “cucumber” smelt. In this stage the Maori knew it as the tikihemi, and when full grown as the paraki.
These fish arrived in the brackish water off the mouth of the river in October, and the smelt fry commenced their run in November, continuing during December. Their power of propulsion is considerable, for, unlike the larval minnows, which hug the bank to escape the rapids, the young “silveries” were wont to push up the main stream, not in their hundreds or their thousands, but in their millions.
* Of the arrival of the whitebait on the west coast of the South Island, Brunner makes the following observation in his “Journal” of 1847: “In October and November commences the fishing season here, the mutta [mata], or whitebait, entering the rivers with the tide in great quantities. They are in such shoals that I have seen the dogs standing on the banks and lapping them from the stream. The Natives take large numbers, which they lay on flax mats and expose to the sun three or four days; they then pack them together tightly and preserve them in their storehouses for winter use.”
For some reason not fully explained, they are not seen in such numbers to-day, but I am informed that long after the Europeans had arrived these fish might have been observed ascending the waters of the Waitaki with all the beauty and the continuity of a silver ribbon.
As a food they were always highly valued by the Maori, and for this reason the hapu within whose fishing territory the Waitaki was would, at the proper season, migrate to the delta and there prepare their nets for the coming harvest. The net used for this purpose was of a fine mesh, 2½ yards long and a foot or more deep, which was manipulated by two men with a sweeping movement. Great quantities of these fish were thus caught with a minimum of labour. They were then dried in the sun, and such as were not used for barter or friendly exchange were eaten during the winter, being in some districts known as tuarenga and in others as ngaiore.
Following upon the advent of the “silveries” came countless sea-birds, wheeling, and screaming with excitement as they dived to gorge themselves upon the finny delicacy. By January the eels were on the move within the river, they, too, preying upon the smaller fish, only themselves to become victims to the cunningly made hinaki tuna, or eel-traps, set at the openings of the weirs built across the slower- page 176 running parts of the river and its neighbouring streams. Grayling, too, must have come into the bill of fare; but this fish, that was plentiful in those early days, disappeared so quickly that the upokororo is only a far-off name to most of the elderly Maoris of to-day.
Next in progression came the shoals of red cod— the hoka of the Maori—chased into the river-mouth by the assaults of the voracious kahawai (Arripis trutta). This latter is a fish seldom seen south of the Waitaki, but here in former days, whatever it may do now, it made war upon the less-militant cod; and so eagerly did it assemble to the slaughter that at one time these fish were not counted, but were measured by the acres of water sabled by their dark-blue backs.*
* These conditions do not exist in anything like the same measure to-day, but Mr. E. C. Studholme, who has lived all his life in the district, informs the author that fifty or sixty years ago the mouth of the Waitaki River was remarkable for the rich harvests of fish that at times were to be gathered there.
All these were factors in establishing a seasonal camp at Waitaki mouth, but even these factors were not alone responsible for the choice of the spot.
If we do as Mr. Mantell did at Awa-moa, date this camp back to the Waitaha people, then a glance at the map of the district will be sufficient to convince one that in those times there must have been immense flocks of Moas to be seen throughout the wide expanse of the North Otago and the South Canterbury plains, so that for a people in need of animal food it was there for the hunting. As a bird that preferred a vegetable diet, there could never have been a scarcity of the food it required to maintain its strength; and as until the arrival of man it had no natural enemies to contend against, there were no serious hindrances to it increasing its numbers, which during the long centuries of its quiet and undisturbed life must have risen to a great multitude.
These birds, of varied species, were found not alone upon the plains, but they freely penetrated into that much more extensive pastoral country among and hidden by the hills. There were no physical barriers sufficiently formidable to check their journeyings into this hinterland, and no conditions, save the severe winters, to prevent them page 178 remaining there, and after their own manner multiplying and replenishing the earth. To the first settlers who took up this high country the evidence that it had once teemed with Moas was everywhere apparent. Its valleys were strewn with bones, and crop-stones might have been—and, indeed, were— removed by the cart-load. The adventurous spirit of the bird, too, was astonishingly revealed by the high altitudes at which its remains were sometimes found.
This back-country was in all probability then, as it is now, subject to severe winters, and what the Moas did in the face of biting frosts or blinding snowstorms we do not know. As a mitigating circumstance, it has been suggested that in early times forests abounded over this area, and where these did not occur there would be a thick growth of lower vegetation which would afford cover to the weather-stressed Moas.
That portions of South Canterbury and North Otago now treeless were once forest-covered is testified to by the buried tree-stumps on the flats and the wasting tree-trunks on the mountain-slopes. The destruction of this natural clothing of the countryside would quickly follow upon man's destructive habits with the fire-stick, and a shelter upon which from time immemorial the Moa had page 179 relied would rapidly disappear. That such a clearance of the high and low country would be inimical to the wingless Moa is a postulation needing no demonstration, and in consequence there would be yearly levied a heavy toll among that section of the birds that did not have the wit or the good fortune to escape from the snare of the snow wraith or from the iron grip of King Frost.
The Moa is a bird not generally credited with a lofty range of intelligence, but we can charitably place it upon an intellectual plane high enough to induce us to believe that it would not remain in the midst of arctic conditions if there was an avenue of escape from them. It was more than probable that the Moa did what the deer does, migrate to the lower levels during midwinter, returning to the hills again in the summer. Here, as occasion required or inclination dictated, they would be sought for by their arch-enemy, the hunter, for then they would be a culinary prize, in excellent condition for the oven.
This raises the question whether the hunting of the Moa was seasonal. It probably was, for it would be quite in the natural order of things that these birds would be in better eating condition at some seasons of the year than they would be at others, and the Maori, with his keen powers of observation, would soon discover the most favourable time to page 180 “bag” his bird. Brunner found that on the West Coast the weka became very fat and attained to a great size in the months of May, June, and July, when they fed on the berry of the karamu. As the Moa was a vegetable feeder, possibly the same rule would apply, for tradition has it that the birds were fattest in June and July. The hunting would then follow normally on the termination of the fishing season.
The site of the Waitaki camp was thus eminently suited to Maori requirements, its primal recommendation being that it had in and around it an abundant supply of food in the way of fish and flesh. As subsidiary recommendations, there was unlimited fresh water near at hand, it was easily accessible by both land and sea, it lay at the terminus of an enormous valley which led right into the interior and tapped a vast area of Moa country, with the added advantage of river transport at least one way. What that meant to the population of the camp we will presently consider.
* Tarawhata, in proof of what he said of the firewood, also informed Mr. Shortland that all the mokihi that broke adrift in the Waitaki River were cast ashore on some part of the beach north of, and never south of, the river-mouth.
Some distance beneath the surface, on the outer edges of one of the ovens on the northern side of the camp, I found a considerable number of small pieces of charcoal which had missed being completely reduced to ashes. Some of the pieces were in quite good condition, the grain of the wood being still clearly discernible. With a view to ascertaining what woods the Maori used to cook the Moa, I submitted these fragments to Mr. J. S. Reid, an expert of the State Forestry Department, and he very kindly supplied me with the information that at least six different kinds of woods are represented, in two groups. Red beech (Nothofagus fusca) of the most common type, the southern rata (Metrosideros umbellata), and manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) represent the larger species, the profusion of which suggests that the Maori of the olden time appreciated the virtue of hot fires. The second group comprises wood from the Olearia and the Pittosporum shrub species; also stems and branches of the tumatakuru (Discaria toumatou) and koromiko (Hebe salicifolia), which recalls the popular Maori saying, “The koromiko is the wood that cooks the Moa.” Mr. Reid concludes his report page 183 with the pertinent remark, “The material is such as one might expect to be brought down as drift-wood.”
Of the hunting technique of the ancient Maori we fortunately have had many details transmitted to us. Doubtless their methods would vary in different districts, the variations being dictated by circumstances. In the north of Auckland Province, for instance, Mr. George Graham has left us an account of how the Moas were known to have certain tracks along which they would invariably travel. These tracks were familiar to the hunters, who dug across them deep pits which they camouflaged with light vegetation at least skilfully enough to deceive the non-observant Moa. Stalking along with heavy tread, the bird suddenly found the earth giving way under him, and in a moment he was precipitated into a huge cavern, where, lying frightened and defenceless, he was speedily dispatched by a strong arm and a sharp weapon.
In other parts the hunters secreted themselves beside the Moa track, and, as the birds passed along, the hidden enemy thrust long darts into its flesh, and when maddened and weakened by this painful handicap the bird's capture and killing was a matter of comparative ease. The Maori description of this mode of attack is simple but picturesque: page 184 “As it had to pass many men, the broken spear-points thus put into the bird caused it to yield in power when it gained the open fern country, where it was attacked in its feeble condition and killed by the most daring of the tribe.”*
In the southern districts the Moa tracks were utilized as avenues across which to stretch cunningly devised snares constructed of the torotoro vine and specially prepared flax, the noose being tightly drawn ere the unlucky bird could extricate itself from the entangling mesh.
So far as we have heard anything of it from the communicative Kawana Paipai, the Taranaki method on the open Waimate Plains seems to have been to run the birds down by relays of chasers, and when the prey was exhausted it was dispatched by a chief and delivered to the ovens.
* Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. VIII, p. 80.
As we have seen, at the Shag River the skulls of the birds were seldom missing, a circumstance that may be taken as affirmative evidence that the birds there were not clubbed to death. Against this, Mr. Garland Woon has drawn attention to the opposite condition in Taranaki, and expresses the opinion that the absence of the complete skull in that district suggests that the Maori had discovered the brain of the Moa to be a specially choice portion of the bird, and consequently always destroyed the skull in order to obtain the dainty morsel.
Other writers—notably Mr. B. S. Booth—have propounded the theory that in some cases several birds were together driven in from the surrounding country to the kaika, or kainga, held like sheep in a pen, and, like sheep, killed as they were required.* There is no reason why each and all of these methods, and even others, should not, at various times and places, have been employed. Much would depend upon the circumstances of the case and the ingenuity of the hunters. Little would depend upon the Moa, which by nature was a slothful and slow-thinking bird, and since the arrival of man not sufficient time had elapsed to enable it to adapt itself to the altered condition of its environment.
* Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. VIII, p. 107.
Thus “craft, with a thousand subtle schemes, led persecution on.”
In whatever manner these hunts were conducted, it is certain that none were ever undertaken without appropriate ceremonies being observed, and suitable karakias (prayers) being offered up to propitiate the gods, for the Maori was nothing if not a religious man. The mists which encircled the most celebrated hills in the district were implored to make the fat of the birds to flow as the globules of dew that run down the leaves of the trees at the dawn of a summer day, and the god of silence was urged to intervene so that the Moas would not be alarmed by an intuitive fear. Such was the burden of the supplication in which the pious Maori sought the undoing of the unsuspecting Moa, which, at the best, was but ill equipped to withstand the attacks of relentless man, much less when these human destroyers were aided by malignant gods.
Having captured and killed his bird, necessarily in many cases far from his kaika, or camp, the hunter's problem was how to transport its body to his oven. The Maori was always ingenious enough to overcome this awkward circumstance, and in most cases the bird would be slung across a pole, secured by lashings of flax, or carried pikau* by a slave.
* Pikau—on the back; pick-a-back.
Even in the early days of the Waitaki camp, when there were numbers of birds to be obtained on the plain, these methods were, no doubt, in vogue.
That there were at one time large numbers of Moas grazing upon the low country is testified to by the hundreds destroyed in the swamp tragedies at Kapau and at Enfield. Bearing this in mind, Mr. Teviotdale favours the view that the great majority of the birds slaughtered at Waitaki “were driven in from the surrounding country near the camping-place.” This restriction, however, imposes the limitation that the supplies must have been obtained exclusively from the Otago side of the Waitaki, since it would have been practically impossible to safely herd such clumsy and perverse stock across so swift-running a river.
It has been ingeniously suggested by Mr. H. S. McCully that in later years, when it became necessary to push into the back-country for supplies, an altogether different method of transport, and a method more comprehensive in its results, was adopted. This was rendered imperative because it is thought that by this time not only were Moas required for local consumption, but that a trade in Moa flesh had sprung up between the North and the South Islands. A larger number of birds was then required, and they had to be brought from the page 190 interior. In this interior there is surely an extent of open country which before the advent of man, and long after, might, in the summer-time, have carried as many Moas as to-day it carries sheep. High among the hills, the Moas were captured and killed, possibly, with a reckless disregard for the future, and their carcasses shipped on mokihi* down the river to the camp at its mouth. Here the flesh was cooked and potted ready to be traded or gifted away to other districts for such commodities as Waitaki could not provide.
* “The mokihi is formed of bundles of rushes bound tightly together in the form of a boat. No kind of boat could be better suited to the river, which is a deep and rapid torrent rushing through a labyrinth of gravel banks and small islands, and in summer much swollen by the melting of the snow on the mountains in the interior. To cross it, it is necessary to start at some point where the main stream touches the banks, and to keep the same channel till it winds its way to the opposite bank, in order to do which it is necessary sometimes to go down the stream several miles. The mokihi are first built twenty or thirty miles from the mouth, and perform this zigzag course till they reach the sea, where they are turned adrift, it being impossible to work them up against the stream.”—Bishop Selwyn, Journal of Visitation Tour, p. 14.
The system of river transport by mokihi would give an especially speedy service, for while discussing distances and travel in the district the chief Huruhuru told Mr. Shortland that whereas it occupied nine days to walk from the mouth of the Waitaki River to the great lakes at its head, it was possible, under favourable conditions, to navigate a well-built mokihi from the lakes to the river-mouth in a single day. For the Maori this was unusually rapid transit, and, knowing as we do how universally the raupo-built vessel was used as a vehicle to cross the river, its common use as a medium of downstream traffic is equally well assured.
It is therefore a reasonable assumption that in times past it was not an unusual sight to see fleets of mokihi speeding down the river laden with the bodies of dead Moas destined for polite traffic per medium of gifts and counter-gifts to friendly tribes of the North Island. The transference of goods between the different sections of the Maori race was page 192 conducted on lines somewhat different from the sale and purchase of the Pakeha, and “exchange” would perhaps be a better word to describe it than “trade” or “barter.” The element of a gift always entered into the transaction, with this difference: that there were ceremonial gifts, which had for their object the achievement of some social or political advantage, and there was the gift—the kaihaukai—that was only another form of exchange, a gift for which something equivalent was expected in return. In olden days it was not an uncommon practice to send as gifts taha, or calabashes, full of preserved birds, and that custom came down into quite modern times. In the journal in which he describes his hazardous journey down the west coast of the South Island in 1847, Brunner is full of praise for the neatness and skill with which some Natives whom he met near the Teremakau River prepared their poha, or bags, of ready-dressed flesh of the weka. He thus describes their method:
There is great taste shown by the Natives in the poha or bag of preserved wekas, and I believe it is always made for a present, for which they expect a return. They very neatly tie the leaves of the raupo, or bulrush, round the poha; it is then placed on a three-legged stool, and mounted with a well and handsomely woven crown made of feathers of the birds enclosed. The one I saw contained one hundred birds, and was given by Tipia to Ewi, being a present in page break page break page 193 return for one of moka, or dog-fish. Tipia and party, on presenting the poha, were also fed, or rather gorged, each having a kit of potatoes and taro, a large quantity of the kotiro, or preserved potato, and garnished well with different sorts of fish.*
Almost certainly the flesh of the Moa was in this way exchanged in these prehistoric markets for feather cloaks and other northern garments, baskets of kumaras—a tuber highly prized in the far south, since it grew but sparingly there—blocks of obsidian kept by every camp from which to make sharp-edged tools† by a single blow of a hammer-stone, or to purchase some tempting ornament worked in wood or bone.
* Brunner remarks upon this incident: “The Natives appear particularly fond of giving and receiving presents, and I think the first donor gets off the best.”
† A large block of obsidian was kept in every camp, and each tribesman made his own knife by tapping off flakes until a suitable one was procured. These knives were used until they became blunt, and were then thrown away, not treasured up and sharpened again and again as were the polished adzes. At Waitaki I searched long and earnestly, but was not fortunate enough to find one of the obsidian blocks, beautiful specimens of which may be seen in the Dominion and Invercargill Museums.—The Author.
The Natives here preserve the birds they catch during the winter months, when they are in excellent condition, in a rimu or seaweed bag. They open the birds down the back and take out all the bones; they then lay the flesh of the bird in a shallow platter made of the bark of the totara tree, which is called a patua, when they cook the bird by applying hot stones. They then place the cooked birds in the rimu bag and pour over them the extracted fat and tie tightly the mouth of the bag.*
Fish and seal flesh were preserved in the same way, train-oil being used to cover the flesh, a process which is said to have kept the flesh sweet and in good order for a period extending up to two years.†
* Captain J. Lort Stokes, of H.M. survey-ship Acheron, gives a very similar account of what he saw on the east coast.
† Brunner remarks in his Journal: “I have tasted birds kept two years in this manner and found them very good.”
Of the method of preparing the birds for the ovens we, unfortunately, have less direct information, and again we can rely only on analogy. The ovens employed to cook the Moa, so far as they have been examined, have all proved to be of the recognized Polynesian type,* and therefore we are entitled to assume that the food cooked in them was prepared in the Polynesian manner—a process of steaming rather than of boiling or of roasting. Tradition records, but with no sufficient explanation, that the women were never permitted to take part in the cooking of the Moa.
As to the mode of serving the meal, that probably had none of the niceties of the modern table; nor can we affirm confidently just what, in the circumstances, the etiquette would be. It is, however, fairly safe to say that, when it was cut, the flesh of the bird would be severed by the stroke of a stone knife, sometimes flaked from the boulders of the river-bed, sometimes from the harder and more highly-valued quartzites from the district behind the hills.
* See Appendix II.
One thing seems obvious at this distance of time—namely, that the Moa-hunters at Waitaki were not satisfied with merely eating the flesh on the bones, but that they went to considerable trouble to partake of an even greater delicacy. With few exceptions, I have found the cooked femur and tibia to have been broken and the shaft to be split in order to extract from the inner channel the succulent marrow. When this could not be done successfully in that way, the shaft of the bone has been trenched, a narrow groove being broken out by sharp blows from a small hammer-stone, and through this groove the desired delicacy has been dragged with the aid of a bone scraper. Professor W. Boyd Dawkins, in his Early Man in Britain (p. 208), shows how universal this practice has been. Writing of the Cavemen of Britain, he says: “The game brought home to the rock shelters, or caverns, was either roasted or cooked by means of hot stones, or ‘pot page 197 boilers.’ Flint flakes were used for dividing the meat, and the bones were broken for the sake of the marrow.” Thus “one touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”
Occasionally expression is given to the idea that the broken state of these bones is due to a circumstance altogether different from the love of a toothsome morsel. It is said that the Moriori of the Chatham Islands and the Maori in the southern parts of New Zealand, finding that the mutton-birds plucked more easily when they were warm, were formerly, if not now, in the habit of breaking the legs of the birds in order to prevent them escaping after capture, until they could be finally dealt with. Reasoning by analogy, some writers have assumed the Moas captured in the Mackenzie country, “the lofty storehouse,” were treated in a similar manner, until they could be conveyed to the Waitaki camp down the river, a distance of some 130 miles. “The taking of the birds in snares was probably the method used, the birds being held by a leg. While the bird was still in the snare it was disabled by the hunter breaking a thigh-bone … It was necessary to keep the Moa alive if it was to reach the end of the journey in a condition fit for consumption on arrival.” Such is the reputed method, such the reputed motive. Apart from the page 198 gratuitous charge of cruelty involved in this allegation, the suggestion is so fantastic as to be scarcely worthy of serious consideration. The bones usually found broken are the femur and the tibia, the two upper bones of the Moa's leg. In the living birds both these bones were deeply covered with flesh, and to break them it would have been impossible to avoid bruising and destroying a portion of this flesh, the securing of which was the hunter's purpose in capturing the bird. Why, then, destroy the object of his effort, when to do so was quite unnecessary? Had his sole desire been to render the bird incapable of escape, he could more easily have achieved that object by breaking the tarsus; but this bone is seldom, or never, found broken, because it contained no marrow. Perhaps more easily still he could have contrived to slip a noose round both legs and secured the bird against effective resistance by binding them tightly together. Further, the suggestion that the Moa-hunters were wont to bring down the river “cargoes” of living Moas, any one of which would have been capable, on its first struggle for freedom, of upsetting the none too easily managed mokihi, presents a problem in navigation that few, if any, Moa-hunters would have been prepared to face.
The practice of breaking the femur and tibia has been so generally followed at Waitaki that it is page 199 difficult to find there more than the proximal and distal joints of any of these bones. It may be, however, that this destructive habit of breaking the bones was not always indulged in at the dictation of the appetite, for justice to these primitive men compels us to say that the missing portions of the bones may have been appropriated in their raw state by the artisans of the tribe, by whose deft hands they were afterwards turned into fish-hooks and other artifacts, for which purpose experience had taught them that no material at their disposal was more suitable than Moa bone.
No signs of Native industry have, however, as yet been found at Waitaki—no bone implements, such as spear-points or fish-hooks, either finished or in the making—which pointedly suggests that Waitaki was not a manufacturing centre, but, as has been aptly suggested, it occupied in the economy of the Maori rather the useful place of a butcher's shop.
Still, with all their broken condition, the fragments of bone found in and around the ovens are sufficiently intact and of sufficient magnitude to enable us to say that many large birds were captured for these banquets. From a number which I secured, and from others subsequently obtained by Mr. Teviotdale for the Otago University Museum, we have, by page 200 careful measurements, been enabled to identify Dinornis maximus, Dinornis robustus, Euryapteryx elephantopus, Euryapteryx ponderosus, Euryapteryx gravipes, Emeus crassus, Emeus casuarinus, and Emeus huttoni as being among the species then living in South Canterbury and North Otago.
Other portions of the cooked birds, such as the pelves and vertebrae, have also been found in the ovens at Waitaki—evidence indicative that the whole or some of the carcass was brought to the feast or to the factory where the food was prepared for trade. This we know because evidently these people had a habit similar to those whose middens Mr. Mantell examined at Awa-moa: when they had picked the bones they threw them back into the fires, together with the blunted knives, where in the ashes many of them lie to-day.
* In the Otago University Museum there is a fine example of this disposition to discard the head and neck of the bird. The specimen was found by Mr. B. S. Booth in 1878 while digging at Shag River on behalf of Professor Hutton.
Sir Frederick Chapman, writing of his experience at Shag River, says, “We found many Moa skulls attached to long strings of vertebrae lying in situ.”
The evidence that large fish, seals, and blackfish had once been included in the Maori bill of fare at Waitaki was not pronounced, though there were in plenty rough stone knives such as might have been used to prepare them for the ovens.
Contrary to expectations, I found but few traces of Moa egg-shell in the course of my searchings and excavations, though Mr. Teviotdale claims to have been more fortunate. This evidence that the Maori consumed the eggs of the Moa, and by that consumption contributed largely to the extinction of the bird, has been found in every other Moa-hunters' camp, and there is no reason why it should not be so here. All that I can say at present is that I have not found egg-shell in considerable quantities, and that probably is because my explorations have not been sufficiently extensive. The area is large, and it will take a long time meticulously to examine its every aspect.
In marked contrast to the camp at Sumner, Papa-towai, and other similar camps, there is an page 202 entire absence of marine-shell heaps, doubtless because the surf-beaten shore, the eastern border of the camp, is barren of all such dainties. On the other hand, shells for ornament were not wanting, and quite a number of sections of the Dentalium shell were picked up. This pillar-like shell, which is found on many parts of New Zealand's coast,* was frequently cut up into short sections, threaded on to a piece of finely-worked flax, as beads would be, and hung round the dusky necks of the Maori women in the form of a necklace, a species of decoration highly prized by them. Nor did the love of decoration stop here, for in many places throughout the camp we found pieces of the maukoroa (kokowai), or red ochre, with which canoes and houses were decorated and the warrior men painted their fearsome faces and daubed their rugged bodies. Unconsidered trifles, such as a few oyster-shells, were also found, but these, like the small pieces of obsidian, were foreign introductions, brought in from a distance.
* The Dentalium shells used by the Maori for ornament were in fossil form, and came from the Tertiary beds along the coast, from which they would be excavated by hand or washed out by the action of the waves. Professor Hutton states that they are plentiful in the vicinity of Waitaki.
“This looks like the paepae of a large house,” said Mr. Teviotdale, and the luxuriant growth of the tussocks over a given space running to the southward seemed to justify the suggestion that here the soil had been fed by human refuse. We therefore decided to dig out what appeared to be the outlines of an ancient house of some size and importance. Almost immediately we began to turn up small chips of various coloured materials which had been used and thrown upon the floor and were now sunk some inches below the surface. Ten feet from the front line of stones we came upon an ancient fire-place, but it contained nothing of value. At the back of this fire-place small tools were repeatedly found, but nothing of a sensational nature occurred until we reached what appeared to be the back line of the building. Right in the centre of this line Mr. George, wielding his pick with the skill of an page 204 experienced miner, struck it into the root of a large tussock, and with a sharp upward movement, to the great joy of all concerned, he exposed two stone adzes embedded in the soil. Close beside these stone adzes there was a patch of discoloured soil which at first we supposed might be the ash of another fire, but on further reflection—for the Maori was not likely to light a fire against the back wall of his building—Mr. Teviotdale concluded that it would be the dust from the decayed end of the centre post of the rear wall. As, however, it was not situated in the centre of the building, and no evidence of other posts was to be seen, my present impression is that it was the dust of some decayed wooden article that had been buried in close proximity to, and at the same time as, the hidden adzes.
The larger of the adzes, 9½ inches long, was made of a hard, fine-grained black stone commonly used for this purpose, the source of which has not yet been certainly determined. In shape it was of what is known as the “hog-back” type, and had been brought to a high degree of finish. The smaller one, which was 6 inches long, was of a looser-grained stone, and of a lesser degree of finish. The interesting feature about these tools was that both had their cutting edges bady chipped by use, and their owner had begun the repair of the larger one. So badly page 205 was it chipped that to restore the blunted edge by the well-known process of grinding would have occupied a considerable time and imposed a task of infinite labour. To hasten the restoration of the cutting edge he had begun to chip away one of the bevelled sides. This operation had not proceeded very far when for some reason the chipping ceased, and the two adzes had been thrust under the back wall of the house, there to remain concealed for perhaps hundreds of years after their owner had disappeared and all human activity in the camp had ceased. It is, of course, difficult to say what circumstance permanently arrested the repair of the chipped adze—whether a peaceful death, or flight before a hostile invasion—but if it could be known it would probably disclose a tragic and almost certainly a very human story.*
* “Doubtless many of the nephrite implements found have been concealed in former times by means of burying, placing in caves, hollow trees, etc. This was a common custom among the Natives when expecting to be attacked. Even now valued implements of nephrite and other stone are sometimes buried for safe keeping. In former times, doubtless, the owners of such buried treasures were often slain and the implement thus lost for ever, unless turned up by the plough of the modern farmer.”—Elsdon Best, Stone Implements of the Maori, p. 172.
Upon this custom of concealment as it existed on the west coast of the South Island Brunner thus comments: “The Natives attach great value to their greenstone meres, or battle-axes, of former times; so much so that they are buried with their owners. After remaining in the ground for five or six years they are dug up and given to the nearest relation of the deceased. The Natives also have safe hiding-places for them, in order that if surprised and conquered, as in former times, their enemies might not find them among their spoil. I saw one belonging to Te Raipo, which has descended from time unknown, and which they say Enihu made war on their tribe to obtain, but could not find it, the mere being hidden at the bottom of a deep pool of water.”—Brunner's Journal of 1847.
Of flints—the kitchen cutlery—used at their feasts I collected large numbers in and around these ancient fires. In this I consider I have been fortunate, seeing that so many searchers have been there before me. I found nothing of great value—no greenstone adzes or ornaments. I recovered only the portion of one adze of more common material, which was generously handed to me by Mr. D. T. Larnach, of Waimate. This implement, a very short one, seems also to have had a tragic history, for although it had been shaped to an edge on both sides it has been polished on only one side. Either it fell and broke across the shaft and was thrown away as useless, or some other disaster occurred and cut short the labour required for its completion.
As to the character and quality of these stone tools, much could be written of the sources of their material, the mode of their manufacture, their uses, and the level of culture they represent, but that is the work of one skilled to an extent to which I do page 207 not presume in this branch of archæeology.* Viewing, however, the subject broadly, it is interesting to observe that there is in the manufacture and use of such tools an identity which is found to extend to all parts of the globe, without it being possible of explanation by means of an interchange of culture. That is to say, primitive peoples the world over have made the same kind of tool in the same way, and presumably for the same purpose, without the least chance of having learned from some one else how to make and use them. This striking similarity so impressed Hugh Miller as far back as 1830 that in his Scenes and Legends he has recorded that impression in a passage at once vivid and comprehensive:
I have seen in the Museum of the Northern Institution, at Inverness, a very complete collection of stone battle-axes, some of which have been formed little earlier than the last age by the rude Natives of America and the South Sea Islands, while others, which have been dug out of the cairns and tumulipage 208 of our own country, bear witness to the unrecorded feuds and forgotten battlefields of twenty centuries ago. I was a good deal struck by the resemblance which they bear to eath other; a resemblance so complete that the most practised eye can hardly distinguish between the weapons of the old Scot and the New Zealander… Man in the savage state is the same animal everywhere, and his constructive powers, whether employed in the formation of a legendary story or of a battle-axe, seem to expatiate almost everywhere in the same rugged track of invention. For even the traditions of this first stage may be identified, like his weapons of war, all the world over.
* For the most simple yet comprehensive treatise on stone tools known to the author the reader is referred to the manual entitled Flints, written by Reginald A. Smith, Keeper of the Department of British and Mediaeval Antiquities at the British Museum, and issued by the Trustees of the Museum. Further information may be derived from the reading of Ancient Stone Implements of Great Britain, by Sir John Evans (1872); The Men of the Old Stone Age, by H. F. Osborn (1916); Hunters and Artists, by H. J. E. Peake and H. J. Sleure (1927); Stone Implements of the Maori, by Elsdon Best (1912).
* For a description of the trade in tools carried on between the Neolithic tribes of Britain and the Continent, see Early Man in Britain, by Professor Boyd Dawkins, pp. 280–281.
Little Rakaia, New Zealand
Comparative Stone Tools
* The student in search of further information on this fascinating subject will enjoy reading three books, Human History, The Diffusion of Culture, and In the Beginning, by Professor Sir G. Elliot Smith. This writer maintains that the similarities to which attention is here drawn are not the results of indigenous invention, but are the fruit of a world-wide “diffusion of culture.”
† “In the Salisbury Museum a most interesting collection of prehistoric remains is to be seen—perhaps the largest in England. It contains many stone, bronze, and iron implements of Danish, French, and German, as well as British origin; also some from Asia, with others from Polynesia and Australasia, and many from North and South America, thus affording an excellent opportunity of comparing those from different parts. The close resemblance which they all bear to each other is very striking, and leads to the conviction that, however widely separated those races were in locality, age, and form of skull, as well as in other respects, still in mind there was no difference, hence each section of the human family, when placed in similar circumstances and subjected to similar wants was led to supply them by the same means and in the same form and fashion as well.”—Taylor, Te Ika a Maui, pp. 419–420 (1870).
The ancient Maori was ever ready to adapt himself to his circumstances, and one of the methods by which he quarried his stone was simple and original. Where he found a protruding rock, close of grain and in all respects suitable as a material from which to manufacture his many requisite tools, he would, in the event of his finding it resisting his hammer, light beside it a fire, raising the temperature of the stone to a high degree of heat. When in the judgment of the experts the stone was sufficiently hot, open calabashes of water were brought and dashed against the face of the heated rock, which, yielding to the sudden change in temperature, would burst, crack, and flake off in slabs of a size suitable for working up into smaller tools. Thus by a simple process, involving little labour, did the primitive Maori make good his lack of adequate quarrying implements.
In the manufacture of his weapons, domestic tools, and ornaments much, of course, depended upon the material at hand, and, as this varied in different districts, the same kind of tool is frequently found in different material, yet always true to type. Much page 212 of this material was often brought from great distances, in either a rough or a manufactured state, demonstrating an intimacy with the resources of the country sometimes quite amazing. Mr. W. B. D. Mantell had such an experience when, in 1854, he was rummaging among the middens at Awa-moa, near Oamaru. “Here and there,” he says, “we met relics of their dinner equipage in the shape of large and small fragments of flint* totally different from any in the neighbourhood.” These flints, he was told by his companion and guide, old “Governor Railway” (Te Wharekorari), had come from the inland district of Lake Hawea, where he had formerly lived, and where he was familiar with the stone.
* “The stone knives of the Maori so closely resembled those of the ancient inhabitants of Denmark that a casual observer might be led to the conclusion that both belonged to the same period and people. It was certainly equally the stone age with both, but one thing seems singular in each case: if the skill of the age to which each belonged could not contrive an implement more advanced or better finished off than those rude stone knives, one would have supposed that they would have been too much prized to have been abandoned and thrown out on the midden in such numbers. The very fact of their being thus cast away seems to prove that they had not much value attached to them, and were merely extemporized for the occasion to save better and more highly prized implements. From the polished fragments of stone axes found beside these rude chert knives, this was evidently the case with the Maori.”—Taylor, Te Ika a Maui, p. 416.
As we examine some of these worked pieces of glittering stone, shaped to serve a definite purpose in the daily life of the Moa-hunter, we cannot but admire the skill and the communal zeal of the craftsmen who made them. This he did sometimes by pressure from a simple tool made of wood or bone; sometimes by a series of deft blows, one stone upon another. Nor can we escape the belief that the tawny artist, as he sat in a shady spot in his workshop, must have had such an acquaintance with the characteristics of stones that he knew at a glance how a given piece of flint would react to his treatment, and what result a blow delivered in a given way would yield.
The natural fracture was sometimes sufficient for all his purposes, providing a keen edge or a sharp point for his cutters, planers, scrapers, or borers. On other occasions much more was required. Sometimes the tool had to be shaped for right-hand use, sometimes for left-hand use. Sometimes it had to be so fashioned as to provide a firm grip for the fingers, or firm attachment to a haft.page 214
Sometimes a saw-like edge was called for to render it more efficient, and it will long remain a source of wonder how these delicate—almost microscopical—serrations were formed with an almost mathematical exactness. A sure hand and a certain eye were never more imperative in a civilized artisan. But perhaps the secret of their success lay here—that, unlettered though they were, they yet were of that happy band who toil in a spirit of sincerity, and of whom it has been said, “Their desire is in the work of their craft.*
As we look at an assembly of these tools gathered from the various Moa-hunters' camps throughout the Dominion—especially the beautiful collection in the Otago Museum, or that formed by Mr. H. S. McCully, of Peel Forest—we see that they naturally fall into an arrangement of shapes and types. This indicates a common use; but just what that use was is not always clear, for the knowledge of how to make and use stone tools has long been lost to the present-day Maori. One thing, however, is manifest and obvious: they were all implements made for domestic and industrial purposes—none of them were weapons of war.
* Ecclesiasticus xxxviii, 34.
* Obsidian is obtained chiefly from Mayor Island (Tuhua Island), Rotorua, and Bay of Islands. Of this material there are four kinds—Tuhua, which is black; Waiapu, which is of a light colour; Panetao, which is of a green hue; and Kahurangi, which is red. Only the first mentioned of these was used for cutting up the Moa; the second is used by the mourning women when they cut themselves and cry for the dead; the third is used when the dead are chiefs. Once a knife had been used to cut up the Moa it was never so used a second time, but was immediately thrown away and permanently discarded.
Once the tools were made, it would be interesting to know upon what basis they were distributed among the people. The chiefs doubtless had their own supply, and probably obtained them from the expert craftsmen in return for a payment in the shape of valued gifts. But how did the inferior and less-responsible members of the tribe secure the cutters, scrapers, drills, etc., so essential to their varied tasks? Clearly, all these people could not make their own tools, and it is scarcely reasonable to suppose that it was open to them to go and demand them from the skilled craftsmen just when the inclination prompted them or their palm itched to do a job of work.
It is quite within the bounds of possibility that the rank and file of the tribe had learned by hard experience how to flake a boulder or prepare a cutting edge; but the more highly finished adzes and chisels were made by specialists, for undoubtedly in Maori life, ancient as well as modern, a measure of specialization had been developed. There were men who at suitable periods of the year devoted the whole of their time to the snaring of birds, some who reserved their talents for house and canoe building, or tattooing, and still others to carving. In the page 217 same way the working of stone adzes and tools of high finish was a specialized art, the knowledge of which was often transmitted from father to son. In this way, just as the sword of Ferrara was the pride of Spain, there were men in different parts of the country who as makers of the mere, the adze, and other implements of peace and war were famed at home and abroad, and who received commissions to execute highly specialized pieces of work,* in return for which they were the recipients of some valuable gift. These pieces of especially skilful work—the masterpieces—went to the rangatira, who could afford to pay for them; but what of the implements of minor value?
In this connection it has been suggested to me that, as the Maori lived on a communal system, the use of the tools was also communal—that is, they were stored in a communal whata, or storehouse, and served out to those who required them by a responsible caretaker, who saw that they were returned at the close of the day, to be given out again next morning to the resuming workers.
* Cruise mentions that in 1820 he saw at the Waikare River, at the Bay of Islands, a man engaged in carving slabs for the front of a storehouse, and was told by the chief who had employed him that the expert had been brought for this purpose from the Thames district, a distance of some 200 miles.
After the Pakeha came with his implements of iron and steel the stone tools gradually fell into disuse, so that before the period of regular settlement had arrived their manufacture had practically ceased. This abandonment of the older culture would naturally take place in some localities earlier than in others, for the inhabitants of the coastal districts would the sooner meet the European traders and there the superiority of the iron and steel implements of civilized man would be quickly demonstrated. With the inland tribes the transition stage would be longer delayed, and concurrently the inquiring eyes of the Europeans would be longer in reaching the places where the ancient practices still lingered.
* “The Neolithic civilization formerly spread over northern Africa, the whole of Europe and Asia, the islands of the Pacific, and the Americas, and lingered in remote places until the introduction of iron in the course of the present [nineteenth] century. In the days of Captain Cook it was to be studied in nearly all the islands of the Pacific, and yet perhaps may still survive in some remote islet.”—Early Man in Britain, p. 337.
They have adzes, axes, and chissels, which serve them also as augers for the boring of holes, as they have no metal. Their adzes and axes are made of a hard black stone, or of a green talc, which is not only hard but tough; and their chissels of human bone, or small fragments of jaspar, which they chip from a block in sharp angular pieces like a gun-flint. Their axes they value above all that they possess, and never would part with one of them for anything we could give them. I once offered one of the best axes I had in the ship, besides a number of other things, for one of them, but the owner would not sell it, from which I conclude that good ones are scarce among them. Their small tools of jaspar, which are used in finishing their nicest work, they use till they are blunt, and then, as they have no means of sharpening them, throw them away.
Of the efficiency of some of these tools Cook gives a striking illustration:
We had given the people at Tolaga a piece of glass, and in a short time they found means to drill a hole through it, in order to hang it round the neck as an ornament by a thread, and we imagine this tool must have been a piece of this jaspar.
The method by which they shaped and polished the greenstone mere, “the weapon which they call Patoo-patoo” [patu], was a puzzle to Cook, but he was not far from the mark when he conjectured that page 220 “probably it is by bruising the same substance to powder, and, with this, grinding two pieces against each other.”
Possibly one of the last occasions on which a European witnessed the working of greenstone in the Native fashion was during the visit of Mr. Edward Shortland to Waikouaiti in 1844, a scene which he describes with that simple dignity which contributes so much to the charm of his well-known work The Southern Districts of New Zealand:
Here I saw for the first time, on a large scale, the Native method of grinding the pounamu, or greenstone, from the rough block into the desired shape. The house belonging to the chief, Koroko, was like a stone-cutter's shop. He and another old man were constantly to be seen there, seated by a large slab of sandstone, on which they by turns rubbed backward and forwards a misshapen block of pounamu, while it was kept moist by water which dropped on it from a wooden vessel. While one rubbed, the other smoked. They made, however, so little progress on it during my stay that it seemed probable that it would be left for someone of the next generation to finish the work. It is not, therefore, to be wondered that what has cost so much labour should be regarded as the greatest treasure of the country.