The foregoing is more or less traditional among the Maori as to their
migration from some other place and settlement in New Zealand. Some
facts have been handed down for generations, but the traditions are
confused. When the first Pakeha arrived, every Maori believed that
certain events had happened in the far past; but there was little
agreement as to the manner or sequence in which those events had
Many investigators–notably Sir George Grey–have inquired in the
truest spirit of antiquarian research into the traditions of the
Maori; and what between the discoveries of such trained observers, the
dabblings of the amateur, and the luck of the “rolling-stones,” who
have picked up a tale here and a legend there, we have a fairly clear
account of the coming of the Maori to New Zealand, as far as it is
uncertainly known and hazily remembered among themselves.
One fact, at least, is established. The Maori pertain to the Polynesian
section of the great southern archipelago, not to the Melanesian. Most
eminent ethnologists agree that the pure Polynesians are descended
through the Malays from a very remote Asiatic stock.
No bolder navigators, no more merciless pirates than the Malays ever
sailed the sea, and, as they skimmed over the blue in their queer
_proas_, their fierce eyes searching the horizon for the sail of some
helpless trader, they not infrequently made some hitherto unknown
island. Adventurers all, they occupied the place if it were their
whim, and mixed with or exterminated the original inhabitants. Thus
their stock spread in the course of centuries over all Polynesia,
giving populations to Tonga, to the Samoan, Sandwich, Society and other
islands, and, more important to our theme, to New Zealand.
It is reasonably certain that, apart from haphazard adventure, there
was once an emigration on a large scale, and it would seem that the
pioneers of Polynesian colonisation left their home in Sumatra for the
islands of their choice some nine or ten hundred years ago.
Centuries go on their appointed course and become the Past; the
immigrants, long acclimatised, have only vague memories and fanciful
traditions of their origin. They are no longer Malays; they are
Polynesians. Climate, associations, food have worked an alteration in
them; their skin is browner, their eyes less sleepy, their figures
taller and more symmetrical, their features handsomer than in the
forgotten days in Sumatra, cradle of their race. Their language, too,
has undergone a marked change, and only traces of the parent stock
are discoverable in their customs. One practice, occasional amongst
their ancestors, they have unhappily not forgotten; for the Polynesians
have established the flesh of their enemies–when they can get it–as
the prime article in their dietary. They are not so abandoned in this
respect as their neighbours of Melanesia; but they are smirched with
the same pitch, and an unpleasant defilement it is.
More centuries roll on; in Europe the night of the Middle Ages is
at its darkest, but in far-off Polynesia the dawn is at hand. On an
unnamed island within that vast area there is unrest and tribulation,
out of which a nation is presently to be born.
Where this island of Hawaiki was situated not even the Maori tradition
can certainly determine. Some will have it that Rarotonga in the Cook
Islands was once Hawaiki; but all that can be said with accuracy is
that, some five or six hundred years ago, a company of Polynesians,
perhaps a thousand strong, left the island on which they had been born
and sailed the sea in search of a new home.
In time they made the North Island of New Zealand, which, delighted
with its beauty and fertility, they decided to occupy. They landed
at various points and wandered ever farther south, increasing and
multiplying in numbers, until at last some of the most adventurous
crossed Cook Strait and began to people the Middle Island. And these
Polynesian immigrants were the ancestors of the race of men whom we now
know as Maori.
Some recent investigators hold that the North Island was then possessed
by peaceable folk calling themselves Moriori, who were speedily subdued
by the warriors from Hawaiki. A remnant of the Moriori escaped, it is
said, to the Chatham Islands, hoping to dwell in peace; but their evil
fate pursued them, for the Ngati-Awa tribe migrated in 1835 to the same
place, and the unfortunate Moriori were again conquered and enslaved.
Wherever the birthplace of the Maori, it lay within the tropics. The
nearer the equator, the shorter the interval between day and night,
and thus it was that the Maori, struck by the beauty of a phenomenon
wholly unfamiliar, styled their new home in affectionate admiration,
_Ao-tea-roa_, “The Land of the Long Lingering Day,” or “The Land of
Twilight.” Always poetical, others called it _Aotea_, or “The Land
of the Dawn.” These charming subtitles did not displace the original
name, _Te Ika A Maui_, or, as some have it, _Eaheinomawe_, but they
serve to show the poetic mind of the Maori. Later on, the Middle Island
received its native appellation, _Te Wai Pounamou_, or “The Waters
of Greenstone,” while _Ra Ki Ura_, “In the Glow of the Sun,” denoted
Stewart Island, the small triangle which forms the southern extremity
of New Zealand.
So they came to their own, these handsome, stalwart men, and “black,
but comely” women. You may see a group of them there upon the western
beach, led by Te Turi, one of the pioneer chiefs who received this new
jewel among countries from the hands of the gods. Perhaps they landed
at dawn, for Te Turi called the place of disembarkation _Aotea_, which
is literally “The White Day”; but he may have named the harbour out of
compliment to the canoe which had carried them so far in safety, for
it, too, was _Aotea_.
The white day swiftly turns to blue and gold, and all fatigue is
forgotten for pure joy of being. The glory of summer is everywhere, and
over all is that exquisite charm which belongs to _Ao-tea-roa_ more
than to any of the isles of the iridescent Southern Sea. Westward,
the great ocean heaves and sparkles in the morning sun–not a cloud
that way from zenith to horizon. Southward, far away, Ruapehu lifts
his time-worn, snowy head three thousand feet above grim Tongariro’s
sullen, smoking cones, gazing ever where his ancient comrade, hoary
Taranaki, dwells in solitude by the thundering sea.
Long ago, these mighty ones stood shoulder to shoulder; but Taranaki,
forgetting friendship, seized Pihinga, Tongariro’s love, and strove to
bear her away. Then Tongariro arose in his wrath, belching forth smoke
and flames and red-hot stones, and smote Taranaki such a buffet that
the giant reeled away, nor stopped until he reached the sea. Never did
Taranaki return to his comrades. Alone he broods, rearing his great
body eight thousand feet above the tide, his stricken head hidden under
a veil of perennial snow.
Inland, the forest. But what a forest! Not the light emerald of
waving palms of their almost unregretted Hawaiki, but a forest
grand, obscure, a very twilight of verdure. Yet not all gloom; for
the _rata_ are abloom, and splash the dark-green front with vivid
crimson, and the white cornucopias of the “morning-glory,” and the
gorgeous, scarlet “beaks” of the _kowhai_ bejewel the undergrowth.
Up from the ground the little “wild rose” twines the great stems to
their topmost boughs, falling back to earth, a cascade of blossom;
while, festooning and garlanding tall trunks and leafy tops, are flung
the long tendrils of the _puawananga_, its myriad white stars
shining in the green night.
As they gaze, entranced, flocks of parakeets, screaming a harsh
welcome, dash from the shimmering sky athwart the sombre front, like
a rainbow shivered into fragments. There is a burst of appreciation,
a hundred poetic expressions of delight, and Te Turi’s company crowd
about him, invoking blessings upon his head for his share in the
discovery of this earthly paradise.
They are worth looking at, these jubilant Maori: the men strong and
well built about the chest and shoulders, and carrying themselves as
men should. Their hair is slightly wavy or curls freely, and matches
well the steady, piercing eyes, stern lips, pronounced noses and
haughty carriage of the head we are accustomed to style “Roman.” The
Malay type is fully evident, while others recall the Jew, and a very
few approach the colour of the negro, but miss his characteristic
features and woolly hair.
They are grave, dignified and impressed by the solemnity of the
occasion; and the Light is shining in the darkness of their minds, for
they stand in reverential attitudes while their great chief chants a
thanksgiving to the gods and a short prayer of propitiation to the
Spirit of the Land.
Most of the women and girls are weeping, for tears come easily to
the Maori _wahine_ (woman) even in moments of joy. But bright smiles
presently flash out everywhere, showing dazzling teeth, while, though
all are talking at once, their voices are so melodious that the babel
is rather pleasant than otherwise.
Considering them more closely, we know that we are looking at a people
exceptional, if not unique among savages.
Their intelligence is obvious; the voyage demonstrates their
enterprise, and they will later prove their courage upon many a
stricken field. Prudent they are, for they have brought the seeds of
food-plants, while for companionship and, to some extent, for food,
they gave their dogs a place in the canoes. Perhaps the rat, always a
bit of an adventurer, stole aboard as a stowaway.
They are emotional, but not less brave because tears stood in their
eyes as they listened to Te Turi’s prayer. Their great chiefs solemn
chant and the exclamations which greeted the forest in its summer
dress show their poetic mind and their capacity for felicitous speech.
Moreover, they are fond of fun and have a trenchant wit, if not a very
lightsome humour. They are quick at repartee, and eloquent in discourse.
When their villages are built, you shall note how kind and hospitable
they are to strangers of whatever race. Also, you shall be convinced
that among the gentlemen of their tribes a lie is a thing abominable
and abhorred, and the word of a chief, once passed, most rarely broken.
Are they then faultless, these newcomers to the land which Maui fished
up from the sea? No; for they are men, and men yet stumbling in the
night of paganism. There is no need to catalogue their faults; they are
those common to savages, and too many of them will show clearly as this
narrative progresses. Till then let us pass them over.
Take one more look at the faces of these old-time Maori. They differ
from those of their descendants, for they are unmarked by tattoo.
The Maori of the immediate past were noted for the extraordinarily
elaborate tattooing or, rather, carving, which embellished their faces
and, sometimes, their hips. When the Pakeha arrived a Maori with
beard, whiskers or moustache was as rare as the _moa_; for tattooing
necessitated a smooth face, and each warrior was careful to pull out
every offending hair from cheek, lips and chin. Thus, neither the
process nor the result was interfered with, and this was important, for
every line, curve or mark of any kind had its significance.
Tattooing was by no means universal among the Polynesians, and the
Maori tradition is firm that the faces of the immigrants from Hawaiki
were innocent of tattoo, or _moko_, as the Maori method is styled,
while beards were worn or not, according to individual taste.
It has always been a principle with savages to frighten their enemies
by noise, facial contortions, masks, weird head-dresses and so on. When
the Maori began to quarrel and fight, it occurred to one genius that
a tremendous moral effect would be produced upon the enemy if he–the
genius–were to blacken his face before going into battle. One would
hardly suppose that a shade only two or three degrees deeper than
the original would bring about any startling result; but our genius
evidently succeeded, for the next time his tribe took the field the
faces of all were black as the back of _Tui_, the Parson-bird.
Then it occurred to a wise old chief, named Rauru, that, if something
permanent could be devised, much time and trouble would be saved.
Remembering a visit he had paid to an island where tattooing was in
force, he called a council and vigorously advocated the adoption of the
practice. The suggestion was accepted and, as the process of _moko_ is
decidedly painful, there must have been many wry faces while it was
being carried into effect.
No doubt, when their faces had been rendered sufficiently terrifying,
this particular tribe had things all their own way for a time. But
there is a sincere form of flattery known as imitation and, once the
secret leaked out, matters took a turn. Before Te Ika A Maui was many
moons older, every able-bodied man on the Island had tricked out his
face in the new style, and was ready to meet the inventors upon equal
NOTE.–Tattoo is a Polynesian word, not in use among the Maori. A
skilful professor of the art of _moko_ and _whakairo_ (face and body
decoration) was held in rare esteem. Instances are on record of
slaves having vastly improved their status by the artistic use of the
lancet and mallet employed in tattooing.
[Footnote 19: White man. Literally, “stranger,” as opposed to Maori,
[Footnote 20: Really, _He mea hi no Maui_, “A thing fished up by Maui.”]
[Footnote 21: Mount Egmont.]
[Footnote 22: _Metrosideros robusta._ It belongs to the myrtle order,
and is one of the most ornamental trees in the New Zealand bush.]
[Footnote 23: _Clianthus puniceus._ New Zealand pea.]
[Footnote 24: A variety of clematis. In the flowering season the effect
of the white stars amid the dark green of the overhead foliage is most
[Footnote 25: This was done with a pair of cockle-shells, which in
Maoriland represented the _volsellae_ of the Romans, and our modern