GENERAL REMARKS ON THE NEW ZEALANDERS
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GENERAL REMARKS ON THE NEW ZEALANDERS.
AS regards the origin of the inhabitants of New Zealand, there has been much doubt and difference of opinion. Their native traditions tell us, that their forefathers had a long voyage from the Eastward before they arrived at those islands; that they came in three canoes from Hawaiki, and brought the Kumera, or sweet potato, with them from the island of Tawai. There are many strong arguments that might be brought forward, in favour of their having sprung from the Sandwich Islands, which, possibly, were peopled by descendants from the ancient Mexicans. All their traditions say that they came from the rising of the sun; their language is radically the same with that of the Sandwich Islanders; plants, trees, and other objects, bear similar names in both countries; and in the words Hawaiki and Tawai, we recognize Hawaii and Tauai, two of the Sandwich group; the physical appearance of the people, their carvings, sculpture and manufactures, all bear strong analogy to each other. The inhabitants of Easter Island, who, from all we can learn, resemble the New Zealanders more than any other of the Polynesian race, may also have been emigrants from Mexico; whither they could easily have been carried by the easterly winds that blow within the tropic; and the colossal statues seen there by Cook and La Perouse, resembling those of the old cities in Central America, bear a close affinity to the Wakapokokos and huge Tikis, still existing in the interior of New Zealand.
The Kumera, or sweet potato (Convolvulus batata) is extensively cultivated in the Sandwich Islands, and is indiginous to America.
It is easy to conceive, that a few individuals driven out to sea in a canoe, though migrating from a civilized country, should, on arriving at an uninhabited island, gradually degenerate into barbarism, having neither the inducement nor the means to re-establish the arts they had abandoned; yet, preserving insensibly, in their rude buildings and customs, traces of their former origin.
Unlike the wandering Savages of New Holland, the New Zealanders are a people having social communities; they dwell in fortified towns and villages, and are cultivators of the ground to a large extent; they are divided into numerous clans or tribes, each having one or more chiefs over them, whose power is absolute; these tribes have, from time immemorial, carried on aggressive and defensive wars with one another; in many instances; whole tribes have been swept away, or become the slaves of the victorious party.
In common with many of the Islanders of the Pacific, the New Zealanders have been cannibals, till within the last few years; the unbounded desire for revenge, and the belief that the valour and courage of an enemy are transferred to those who partake of his flesh, are undoubtedly the motives which have led to this dreadful and barbarous custom; hence, after their fights
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cannibal feasts have been celebrated for days upon the mangled bodies of their enemies, and the heads preserved as trophies by the conquerors. But the progress of Christianity has swept away the horrors of cannibalism and savage warfare; once, treachery and slaughter and alarm, were their only thoughts; now, the Maori sits peacefully in his plantation; the hoe and the spade have taken the place of the tomahawk; and the memory of former deeds of blood is looked upon by many, with shame and regret.
Infanticide too, is rapidly disappearing.
The character of the New Zealanders is a strange mixture of pride, vanity, fickleness, covetousness and generosity, passion and gentleness, mingled with many good and estimable qualities; their temperament is warm and ardent; their ideas are full of imagery, and they possess much natural gaity and wit In acuteness of perception they are far beyond Europeans; they are children of nature, gifted with high and superior faculties, which only require to be directed in a right channel. They have a strong sense of justice, and I have universally found them honest and hospitable; if an injury, either real or imaginary: is received, a recompence is demanded as utu or payment; theft is uncommon, and when found out, punished by the Chiefs.
As regards their heathen religion, but little can be traced, on which to rely with certainty. The New Zealanders do not worship idols; their carved images of wood and greenstone, being either heir-looms or representations of their ancestors and warriors; they believe in an invisible spirit, which they call an Atua; they say that it constantly manifests itself in the form of a lizard, a bird or an insect; and when this is the case, these creatures are looked upon with superstitious awe. The spirit, after death, they conceive to dwell in the reinga, whither it goes as a falling star, down the rocky precipice of Cape Maria Van Diemen.
The priests of this heathen religion are called Tohunga, and are frequently expert in the arts of carving and tattooing.
Witchcraft is universal, and the Sorcerers are looked upon with almost more dread than the Atuas; so great is the power exercised over the mind by the exorcisms of some of the witches, that death is frequently the result. Perhaps of all the customs of these people, the law of "Tapu" is the most singular; it doubtless had its origin in the command, "Thou shalt not steal." "Tapu" literally implies "sacred," and the laying on of the tapu is one of the most frequent duties of the Tohunga; --property left in an uninhabited spot--a Kumera field--a canoe--a house in which any one has died--a girl bethrothed, and a married woman, are all "tapu." The clothes and property of a deceased chief are also tapu, as are offerings of affection consecrated to the dead, and exposed on the tombs; but the most strict tapu is laid on the head and hair of a chief; no one is permitted to touch it, and the same sanctity applies even to the representation of a distinguished man.
Should the tapu be broken or infringed upon, they imagine that the Atua near the spot will punish the offender by inflicting upon him some malady or disease.
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Very frequently, however, the law of tapu, though good in itself, descends to many foolish and absurd customs, which are frequently troublesome to a traveller in the interior.
Polygamy is occasional amongst the heathen tribes. Te Heuheu, the principal Chief at Taupo Lake, has eight wives, who all seem to live in mutual peace and goodwill. The women, though kindly treated, and possessing a remarkable influence over the men, which extends even to their councils and debates, are, notwithstanding, the doers of all the drudgery, and have to work in the potato grounds, cook, carry wood and water, and bear heavy burdens when travelling. Many of the young women, daughters of the chiefs, are decidedly handsome, and possess a naivete, and playful bashfulness, which is always pleasing. Those individuals who have embraced Christianity, have dispensed with their superfluous wives, retaining the one to which they felt most attached. The children of both sexes are frequently pretty; gay, interesting little creatures, very inquisitive and full of observation; they pass their youth in play and idleness, and have generally too much of their own way, their parents not burdening them with those restrictions which are necessary in civilized countries; the New Zealanders are almost idolatrously fond of their children, and as regards infanticide, I have heard women affirm that "they cannot destroy their offspring after the first day, for they then begin to love them." When friends meet, they salute each other by a tangi, or cry of welcome; this apparently mournful ceremony continues for a longer or shorter period, as the individuals may be more or less excited; then succeeds the ongi, or pressing of noses, which is a mode of salutation that corresponds with our shaking hands. The ceremonies connected with the dead are singular; when a man of rank dies, a great lamentation is held over the body for successive days; the mourners uttering the most melancholy cries, shedding tears, and the women cutting their bodies with sharp flints and broken shells, until they are covered with streams of blood, the widows placing leaves upon their heads. The corpse is either enclosed in a canoe-shaped coffin, and hid in the forest, or, if it be that of a man of great consequence, the body is placed in a mausoleum of wood, elaborately carved, which is erected within the Pah; after the lapse of some time, the ceremony of "lifting the bones" takes place, which having been carefully removed and scraped by the nearest relation of the deceased, are deposited in an elevated box in the centre of the village, which is strictly "tapu;" at other times, the bones are secreted in a cavern, called a "Wahi tapu," or "sacred place," known only to the Tohunga.
Suicide is not uncommon amongst the New Zealanders--disappointed love--jealousy--wounded pride, or shame at detection in theft, are the usual causes.
Their clothing is composed of the fibres of the Phormium tenax, or New Zealand flax, which they manufacture into a variety of mats, or garments, at once durable and picturesque; the women spend a considerable portion of their time in making these flax dresses, which they ornament with wools of various colours obtained from Europeans; formerly the red feathers of the Kaka, or Southern Nestor, were used for this purpose; as every thread is tied by the hand with great care and exactness, the time occupied in the completion of one of these mats is often twelvemonths; the finest kind is called E Kaitaka, and is ornamented with a deep border of rich embroidery in
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vandyke patterns.; the tribes most celebrated for the manufacture of the superior kind, are those about East Cape and Tauranga. Unfortunately the natives now procure blankets at so cheap a rate, that the fabrication of their beautiful flax garments is much neglected, and will, probably in a very few years, be substituted by European clothing; the consequence is, that they become idle, and the blankets which they obtain in return for their pigs and potatoes, keep their skins in a state of perpetual irritation, and engender consumption and other diseases.
The War-mat, worn by the chiefs, is also made of flax with tufts of dog's hair assorted in colours, and fastened in with every stitch; it is called E to puni.
The green-stone, or jade, enters much into the manufacture of their more valuable articles; it is only found at a Lake in the South Island, called te wai poonamoo, or "the waters of green-talc," and is most highly prized; the meri, or war-club of the chiefs, is wrought by incessant labour out of this substance, as are their ear-rings, adzes, and the grotesque little representation of a human figure, which is worn round the neck by both sexes; this latter is called E tiki, and is regarded as an heir-loom, descending from father to child. Their weapons and utensils are cut out of hard wood with the greatest nicety, and exhibit specimens of elaborate carving and ornament truly astonishing.
Their canoes, houses, tombs, and Pahs, all display great skill, and are frequently adorned with rich carving, and curiously distorted figures, the leading feature of which is putting out the tongue, always considered as a mark of courage and defiance.
Songs and dances are common; the Haka is a favourite kind of song, frequently practised during the evening by young people, and accompanied with all manner of antics and gestures. The war-dance, which is celebrated before and after a battle, is savage in the extreme; the warriors dance naked, being daubed with red ochre, uttering the most fearful yells, and imprecations on their enemies, and distorting their features in every possible manner, until they gradually work themselves up to the highest pitch of excitement. Their only musical instrument is the flute, which is a simple piece of wood with four holes; it is occasionally formed out of the leg bone of an enemy slain in battle. The tattooing of the face, and various portions of the body, is commenced as soon as an individual arrives at manhood, and being a most tedious and painful operation, is carried on at a series of intervals; it consists in driving a little chisel, made of bone, into the flesh in the required pattern, the operator dipping it at each stroke into a mixture of carbonized resin; after the inflammation has disappeared, the lines appear regular and distinct, and of a dark blue colour. In a similar manner, the women dye their lips blue, puncturing them all over with a bone needle, and then rubbing in charcoal; many women also tattoo the chin, and occasionally the breasts, arms, and ancles. The general article of food, at the present time amongst the New Zealanders, is the potato, which was introduced by Captain Cook; this they cultivate in large quantities; maize, or Indian corn, is also much esteemed; they steep the cobs in fresh water for several weeks, whilst they are in a green state, until they become putrid and
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extremely offensive; and when thus decomposed, they make a kind of gruel of them, anything but agreeable to the olefactory organs.
The Kumera, or sweet potato, is their most important food; many ceremonies and observations are connected with its cultivation, and a tapu is laid on those who plant it; it generally forms a considerable portion of their feasts, and is eaten on all state occasions. The Taro (Arum esculentum), the fern-root, the heart of the cabbage-palm, the Koroi, the fleshy and sweet bracteae of the Tawara (Freycinetia Banksii) and other vegetables are also used. Peaches, wheat, melons and pumpkins are cultivated in many places. The coast and rivers abound in fish, which they are expert in catching in various ways; they have seines of large size on the lakes, and fishing weirs upon many of the rivers. Sharks and other sea-fish are caught by hooks, made of pearl shell and human bone.
Pigeons, tuis, parrots, and other birds, are preserved in their own fat, without salt, and form savory dishes at feasts. Shell-fish, especially the pipi, a species of Cockle, are eaten by the natives on the coast in great numbers; they are also dried, and carried on long journies. The New Zealanders breed vast quantities of pigs--many are reared about their villages, and become exceedingly tame, so that they will follow their owners like dogs--others, which live in the woods are savage and furious, and are periodically hunted by the natives.
No indigenous animals are found in New Zealand. Snakes are unknown, and the gigantic Moa, and other large birds, once inhabiting these islands, are supposed to be almost, if not totally, extinct.
I have thus endeavoured, briefly, to touch upon the leading points of interest in the habits and manners of this remarkable people; the observations I have made, may be of service in explaining more fully many of the subjects in the plates, which will be rendered doubly interesting from this slight knowledge of their character and condition.