Where Nature is constantly in a tempestuous mood, where volcanoes spout
and earthquakes convulse, and where, on the other hand, “Man comes in
with his strife” against Nature herself, comparatively few years may
suffice to bring about great changes and to alter the face of a country
almost beyond recognition.
Thus, the New Zealand on whose shores the Maori landed differed
materially from the New Zealand of to-day. Not only has Nature cruelly
destroyed some of the most beautiful of the vestiges of creation,
but the white man has cleared off scrubs, eradicated forests, said
with effect to the sea, “thus far and no farther,” and, by radically
altering the original features of the country, has actually influenced
New Zealand is a land in every way desirable. Save for a trick Nature
has of tumbling into convulsions now and then, it is hard to see how
any land could have been created more beautiful, more comfortable, more
blessed. Not large; indeed, a kind of “Pocket Venus” among countries;
for, though there have been smaller, there have been none more
beguiling to the senses, more charming to the eye, more responsive to
the attentions of its lords. Surely, from such a soil must spring a
Before colonisation, and for some time after, New Zealand included only
the North Island, the Middle Island, and Stewart Island, and was
in area about one-seventh less than that of the United Kingdom. No;
not a large country; but packed to overflowing with good and desirable
things, and lacking much that is undesirable.
Early in the present century the Cook, or Hervey, Islands were included
in the colony; an interesting addition, because Rarotonga, the largest
of the group, is said to be the island where the emigrating Maori built
some of their canoes for the voyage to Te Ika A Maui, and where they
rested when Hawaiki lay far behind them. The new boundaries of the
Dominion of New Zealand embrace several other island groups.
Hawaiki lay within the tropics, while the northern extremity of New
Zealand is a clear eleven degrees south of Capricorn. As the country
tails southward, it falls more within the temperate zone, until, as
Stewart Island is reached, the latitude corresponds almost exactly with
that of Cornwall in England.
Coming thus from a hot climate to one warm indeed, but cooler than that
to which they had been accustomed, it behoved the Maori without delay
to make some alteration in their dress. At first they used coverings
made from the skins of their dogs; but this was expensive, so they
presently began to look elsewhere for what they wanted. Like most
peoples unvexed by over-education, they were keen observers, and it was
not long before they found the very thing they required.
One day, a certain Te Matanga, The Knowing One, took matters in
hand. Winter was coming, and girdles of cocoa-nut fibre would scarcely
suffice to keep out the cold. For some time he discovered nothing
likely to be useful, and it was in a disconsolate mood that he stood at
the edge of an extensive swamp and wondered what was to become of his
friends and himself.
The swamp was covered with plants whose like Te Matanga had never seen.
Each grew in the fashion of a thick bush; but the leaves–there were
no branches–were flat and tapering, yet stiff and irrefragable, while
they towered, upstanding, half as high again as the height of a man.
Moreover, the leaves were so tough, that Te Matanga had some ado to
cut through one with his flint knife. Flowers upon long stalks were
in the bushes, and the plant with a red blossom was larger than that
which bore a yellow blossom, though both were stately. And, perceiving
that there were two varieties of the plant, Te Matanga named the finer
_Tihore_ and the larger _Harakeke_.
When he had prodded here and sliced there, and observed the leaves to
be full of strong fibre, Te Matanga immediately perceived that he had
found that which he had set out to seek and, his anxiety upon the score
of clothing relieved, he began to feel hungry and thirsty. The swamp
water did not look inviting and, while he deliberated, he aimlessly
plucked a flower and regarded it.
What was this? At the bottom of the floral cup was a considerable
quantity of fluid, resembling limpid water.
Not without a qualm, the Knowing One tasted the liquid and found it
delicious, resembling water sweetened with honey, or the _eau sucrée_
beloved of Frenchmen. He hesitated no longer, drank off the delightful
draught, smacked his lips and drained another flower-cup of its nectar.
Having found so much, Te Matanga told himself that more should be got
from so accommodating a plant and, sure enough, he discovered an edible
gum in the roots and leaves. What wonder that, with a winter outfit
in view, his thirst quenched and his hunger stayed, clever Te Matanga
should assume a few excusable airs when telling his joyous news.
Thus, that Providence which they had not yet learned to know, gave
to the Maori food, drink and clothing, all within the compass of one
specimen of God’s marvellous handiwork.
The plant which Te Matanga found is not related to the true flax,
though it serves every purpose to which the other is put. The Pakeha
speedily recognised its virtues; in 1906 twenty-eight thousand tons of
the fibre were exported from New Zealand.
Great ingenuity was displayed by the Maori in the manipulation of the
fibre and its manufacture into many useful articles, from the little
baskets in which food was served, and which were never used twice, to
the magnificent robe, or “mat,” known as the _kaitaka_, which occupied
nearly a year in the making. This was peculiarly the costume of people
of consideration, and the gift of one was regarded as a mark of high
Among the many varieties of flax mats, the _pureki_ had an interest
all its own, for the makers managed to render it rain-proof, so that
it was in a sense the prototype of our mackintosh. One might also say
that it was the Maori substitute for _khaki_; for a native, wrapped
in his _pureki_ and squatting upon a barren hillside, was scarcely
distinguishable from the boulders surrounding him.
Te Matanga went to work again and experimented with the berries of the
_tutu_ or _Coronaria_, extracting thence a beverage as grateful as that
which he had quaffed from the chalice of the flax-flowers. Yet the
berries, eaten whole, are poisonous.
The beverages which Te Matanga gave to his countrymen were neither
noxious nor degrading. It was the civilised Christian who introduced
to the pagan savage that “enemy which steals away men’s brains.” Left
to themselves, the Maori showed no inclination towards intoxicating
liquors. Even in later days they proved remarkably temperate,
their barter with the Pakeha rarely including a supply of what they
characteristically designated “stink-water.” They did not even brew the
highly stimulating _yaqona_, so popular with the South Sea Islanders;
which is remarkable, since the plant (_Piper methysticum_) grows wild
in New Zealand.
Our wise man also taught his compatriots the value of the edible fern,
_Pteris esculenta_, whose bright-green fronds waved ten feet or more
above the ground. The underground stem was cut into plugs and matured,
and, this done, was eaten plain, or cakes were baked of the flour
beaten out of it.
It was not ordained that the Maori should subsist entirely upon a
vegetable diet. Te Matanga searched for something more stimulating and
readily found it. He showed his people fat eels in creek and river,
while from the sea they drew _Mango_, the shark, _Tawatawa_, the
mackerel, _Hapuku_, the cod (not that of northern waters) and a hundred
other varieties of fish, which they cooked or dried or smoked. It was
sometimes their good fortune to slay great _Ikamoana_, the whale, and
_Kekeno_, the seal, both of which they ate with relish; while for
sauce, _Tio_, the oyster, sat upon the rocks and gaped while they
scooped him from his shell.
The dwellers inland had eels and the delicious little green,
whitebait-like _Inanga_ of the lakes to eat with their fern-root
and _kumara_. And well for them it was so; for, with the exception
of _Pekapeka_, the bat, who swept by them in eerie flight when the
long-lingering day grew pale about them, not a mammal roamed the
plains or haunted the deep woods. _Kuri_, the dog, and _Maungarua_, the
rat, they also ate; for _Maungarua_ multiplied exceedingly, while
_Kuri_ took to the bush and ran wild.
_Ngara_, the lizard, frisked in the sunshine; but no son of Maui
looked upon him if it could be avoided; for _Ngara_ were dread beasts,
in whose bodies the spirits of the dead found an abiding-place. Even
such stalwarts as Ngahue and Te Turi would blanch at sight of any of
that terrible race. Moreover, _Taniwha_, the great, the horrible,
whom to mention was unsafe, and to set eyes upon was to perish, was
not he, too, a lizard? Nay; close the eyes and mutter a _karakia_
should _Ngara_ cross your path.
How blessed the Maori were in the absence of other reptiles they did
not learn till much later. Australia abounds in snakes, from the huge
carpet-snake, cousin to the boa, to the “deaf-adder,” whose bite is
almost certainly fatal; but in New Zealand, as in Ireland, not even a
toad is to be found wherewith to point the sweetness of the “uses of
The clever men now sought food among the birds, and found on land
pigeons, plovers, rails, ducks, quails and parrots innumerable. Of
these last, one, the _kakapo_, was almost as big as a fowl, like which
it ran about the ground, feeding; for its wings were short and feeble,
and it rarely used them except to fly from a bough to the earth and up
again. Conscious of its weakness, it chose the late twilight or the
night for its rambles, hiding away during the day. Like so many of the
interesting birds of New Zealand, it is now nearly extinct.
Among sea-birds, many of which were eaten, particular choice was made
of _Titi_, the Mutton-bird. These birds flew inland at night,
and the Maori, anticipating their coming, would choose a likely spot
upon the verge of a cliff and build a row of fires. Behind these they
lurked, armed with sticks and, as the birds, attracted by the light,
flew past, they were knocked over in immense numbers. As the flesh
was oily, they were preserved in their own fat, packed in baskets of
seaweed and stored until winter, when they formed a staple and highly
flavoured dish. The inland tribes made annual pilgrimages to the coast
for the purpose of procuring a supply of mutton-birds.
Of all the birds which the Maori found on their arrival the most
singular were those which are either extinct or fast becoming so.
These were the _Struthidae_, or wingless birds,–such as the ostrich,
the rhea, and the emu,–which were represented in New Zealand by the
gigantic _moa_ and the _kiwi_.
The _moa_ was long ago exterminated by the Maori, who saw in its huge
bulk magnificent prospect of a feast of meat. All that is left of it
to-day are bones in various museums, one or two complete skeletons, and
a few immense eggs.
There were several species of this bird, the largest of them from
twelve to fourteen feet in height; but, huge as they were, they appear
to have possessed little power of self-defence, though a kick from one
of their enormous legs and long-clawed feet would have killed a man.
But, like all wingless birds, they were shy and timid, never coming to
a knowledge of their strength; so they fell before a weaker animal, but
one of infinitely greater ingenuity.
The bones of birds are filled with air, for the sake of warmth and
lightness; but the leg bones of the _moa_, like those of a beast, and
unlike those of any known bird, were filled with marrow.
Diminutive in size, and in appearance even more extraordinary than its
cousin, the _moa_, is the _kiwi_, as the Maori named the apteryx from
its peculiar cry. Several species were plentiful in the Islands, but
some of them have become extinct, and the rest are fast disappearing.
The Maori attract the bird by imitating its call and, as it is rather
stupid, it is easily caught and killed.
The _kiwi_ was served up at table, as were most things in New Zealand
which walked or swam or flew; but what gave it surpassing value in
Maori eyes was its plumage of short, silky feathers, whose beauty they
were quick to recognise, and which they employed in fashioning one of
the rarest and most ornamental of their mats (_kahu-kiwi_).
There was little difficulty about the erection of houses and forts, the
building of canoes, the shaping of spears and clubs. Given the ability
to construct, there was material in plenty. Throughout the land spread
magnificent forests, whose plumed tops waved above trunks uprearing one
hundred feet, or more, some of them of an age well-nigh incredible.
Few and short appeared the years of man beside the life of the giant
_kauri_ which for close upon four thousand years had towered there,
stately emperors in a company of kings. How brief the age of
their forest court compared with their own–the _totara_ with its
eight hundred years of life, the _rimu_ with its six hundred, the
_matai_ with its four hundred. What are they beside the dominant
_kauri_? Mortals, looking up to an immortal.
Crowded in those forests primeval were trees bearing wood with capacity
for every class of work to which man could put his hand. Trees with
wood of iron hardness; trees with wood so soft that it fell away in
silky flakes at the touch of the knife; trees with wood of medium
consistence, durable as stone; trees whose wood under the hands of the
artist-polisher took on a beauty indescribable; trees whose bark was
rich in all that the tanner needs; trees which yielded invaluable resin
and turpentine; trees which gave up no less valuable tar and pitch;
trees which could be reduced to wood-pulp for the making of paper when
the time for that should come: all these there were, and more.
So the Maori set to work, building houses and forts, and hewing out
canoes. For the last, those who dwelt in the north chose the great
trunks of the _kauri_, often forty feet in circumference, and of such
diameter that a tall man with outspread arms could not stretch from
rim to rim of the cross section. In the south they used the _totara_,
likewise a pine, and great, but a pigmy beside the imperial _kauri_.
While the builders built, explorers traced the swiftly flowing rivers
from source to sea, or gazed with awe at the snow-capped peaks and
glimmering glaciers. Others moved northwards towards those giant
mountains from whose cones poured tall pillars of smoke, threatening
shadows of dire events to come, or stood upon the shore of a lake,
marvelling to find the water hot instead of cold.
Imagine one, agape with curiosity, holding in his hand a dead _kuri_,
designed for dinner. Suddenly, with hiss and roar, a column of water
shoots hundreds of feet into the air, almost at his elbow. With a cry
of terror he starts back, losing his grip of the dog, which drops into
an adjacent pool. Too much afraid to run, our Maori stands trembling,
and the spouting column presently falls back into the bowels of the
earth. Marvelling, he gropes in the pool for his dinner, and with
another yell withdraws his hand and arm, badly scalded. But he has got
his dog and, to his amazement, it is cooked to perfection.
Small wonder if the Maori muttered a _karakia_, deeming the miracle the
work of the demon of the lake. But their fear departed as time went
on, and the hot springs and lakes became health-resorts, where they
bathed and strove to be rid of the pains and aches their flesh was
heir to. Those who dwelt within reach of this marvellous region soon
became familiar with its phenomena, and made full use of the natural
sanatorium and kitchen.
Other immigrants gathered for ornament the precious greenstone from
the Middle Island, with blocks of jade and serpentine; the snow-white
breast of the albatross; the wings of birds; the tail plumes of the
infrequent _huia_; the cruel teeth of the shark. They found
another use for the greenstone, fashioning it with infinite toil into
war-clubs, or _mere_, too valuable to be used in the shock of battle
without safeguard against possible loss. So a hole was drilled through
the handle, and a loop of flax passed through, by which the club was
secured to the wrist.
How in the world could they pierce that defiant mineral–they, who had
neither iron nor diamonds with which to drill a hole? Their method was
as ingenious as it was simple. They took a sharp-pointed stick of hard
wood and half-way up secured two stones, which acted after the manner
of a flywheel. Above the stones two pieces of string were attached, and
these, alternately pulled, imparted a rotatory movement to the stick,
whose sharpened point at length pierced the sullen stone.
Their travels over, the pioneers returned, to be welcomed with tears of
joy, while prayers were chanted and cherished ornaments offered to the
gods in thanksgiving for their safe home-coming. They neither embraced
nor kissed; nor did they shake hands after the European fashion. They
saluted one another in a manner all their own. Bending forward, they
_pressed_ their noses together, sniffing strongly the while; and this
act of friendly greeting they called the _hongi_–the verb _hongi_
signifying “to smell.”
One drawback to residence in these fortunate islands was the scarcity
of animal food–of red meat there was none, save when a dog was slain
for the pot. Still, there was food enough–vegetables and fruit, birds
and fish, so that starvation was not a common fate, except a man were
lost in the dense bush, where never sight or sound of life was seen or
A real evil was the tendency of the earth to tremble, shake and gape,
sometimes overthrowing the evidence of years of toil on the part of
man, and occasionally slapping Nature herself in the face. In other
words, a large part of New Zealand being within the “earthquake zone,”
the country is convulsed from time to time by shocks of greater or
less severity. Since the arrival of the Pakeha there have been severe
disturbances, and one or two heavy shocks have occurred, greatly
disfiguring the beautiful face of the land.
In the North Island are many dormant craters, which have on occasion
sprung into fierce activity, resulting in widespread devastation and
some loss of life. The early Maori were fortunate in escaping eruptions
of any magnitude, but the North Island, long before their arrival, must
have been in a state of intense unrest. The hot springs and lakes, the
geysers of Rotomahana and Rotorua, the more than boiling mud among the
smouldering hills, the fiercely smoking cones of giant Tongariro, are
so many evidences of that terrible time of earth-pang and convulsion,
of belching out of smoke and flame and rended rocks, with vomitings
of broad rivers of molten lava, which flowed over the land, effacing
everything in their course.
This was the land to which the Maori came; a land of “mountain, lake,
and stream,” which, could it have remained as the Children of Maui
found it, must have endured “a thing of beauty and a joy for ever.”
But the blind forces of Nature and the needs of the white population
have done much to alter the face of the country, and have shorn it of
some of that loveliness which once was almost universal, but of which
much–very much still remains.
If New Zealand is now so surpassingly beautiful, what must it not
have been before thousands of acres of noble forest fell before axe
and flame; before the mountain, clad from base to summit in primeval
growth, stood bare and grey and grim, pierced with a thousand unsightly
wounds, deep in which man bends his back and delves for mineral wealth;
before the valleys, radiant with the beauty of fern and flower, were
trodden into mud by the marching feet of the “army of occupation”;
before the rivers, racing towards the shining sea, tumbling merrily
among rapids, glissading recklessly over the falls, were chained to the
log of commerce, their banks shorn of the fringing green to make way
for the houses of the moderns, their pure and limpid waters polluted
by the refuse of factories and the filth of towns? If those who have
seen it now and love its loveliness could but have seen Maoriland as
it was then! There is no help for it. It is inevitable that, when Man
steps in, Nature must in large measure lose her sceptre and resign her
Such was the land to which the Maori came–a land with no extremes of
heat or cold, though it sometimes showed a little ill-humour and shook
down a house or two; a land which gave them most that they could desire
and all they really needed, if it denied them overmuch strong animal
food; a land in which, but for their turbulent passions and their lust
for war, they might have lived out their lives in peace and comfort and
almost unqualified happiness; a land of unsurpassed magnificence, of
radiant beauty, of unbounded fertility.
[Footnote 26: Designated South Island in New Zealand Official Year-Book
[Footnote 27: Te Matanga never had existence outside these pages.
He typifies those energetic men, found in every nation, who devote
themselves to the service of their fellows. The discoveries attributed
to Te Matanga were the outcome of the application of many minds to
various problems, as the Maori spread over the country and became
acquainted with its capacity and products.]
[Footnote 28: _Phormium tenax_, the so-called New Zealand flax,
flourishes in swampy ground. In appearance it is a collection of broad,
stiff, upstanding leaves, tough enough to stop a bullet, dense enough
to conceal a man. Many a fugitive has escaped by dodging from the heart
of one bush into that of another. Both of the varieties come to highest
perfection in the north.]
[Footnote 29: The grey rat, which accompanied the Pakeha, exterminated
the native rat, and was never eaten by the Maori. Curiously enough,
during the wars, the Maori were accustomed to speak of the “Pakeha
Rat” just as in the days of the first George, Englishmen spoke of the
“Hanoverian Rat,” and with the same significance.]
[Footnote 30: Not any particular species of lizard, but a generic term
for the whole family.]
[Footnote 31: A mythical monster, presumed to have had the shape of a
saurian, inhabited the sea and, according to some, the depths of vast
forests. The powers of this demon for ill were boundless, and it was
regarded with the deepest awe by every Maori.]
[Footnote 32: A charm.]
[Footnote 33: _Oestrelata neglecta_ (Schlegel’s Petrel).]
[Footnote 34: _Dinornis moa._]
[Footnote 35: _Apteryx._]
[Footnote 36: _Dammara australis_, the kauri pine.]
[Footnote 37: This is no exaggeration.]
[Footnote 38: A pine.]
[Footnote 39: Red pine.]
[Footnote 40: Black pine.]
[Footnote 41: _Heteralocha acutirostris._]