Project Canterbury

The Southern Cross and Southern Crown;
Or, The Gospel in New Zealand

By Miss Tucker

New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1866.

Chapter II. Origin and character of the New Zealanders

"But none saith, Where is God my maker, * * * who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven? "--Job xxxv. 30, 11.

Beautiful indeed in all its natural scenery was and is the island of Ahina-Maui; but how different was its moral aspect, and how had fallen man marred the beauty of God's work! The present chapter will afford some proof of this, as we intend to devote it to the probable origin and natural character of the people before we relate the discovery of the land of their abode.

The vegetable productions of New Zealand do Dot differ more from those of the neighbouring islands, than does the Maori race from that of the Austral Negro, by which New Holland, Van Diemen's Land, New Guinea, and the Fiji Archipelago have been peopled. The origin of the New Zealanders is confidently said to be Malay, like that of the Polynesians and Sandwich Islanders; and indeed it appears likely that their ancestors came direct from some of these islands, for not only do their traditions assert that the first inhabitants came from the East in large canoes,--but the languages are so similar that a native of Tahiti can with very little difficulty hold converse with a New Zealander. [There is one peculiarity in all these Oceanic languages which we cannot pass over, viz. the use of two duals and two plurals in the first persons of personal and possessive pronoun. The first dual is used thus, "we, taua, are going;" i. e. you and I, when no other person is present. The second dual, maua, when you and I out of several others is meant. In the same way the first plural, "We, tatou, are going," is used when all the party present are included; the second plural, matou, when speaking of only a few out of those present. The same words with the prefix of To or Ta--are used for possessive pronouns, viz. To taua, your own and mine; To maua, your own and mine, out of others; To tatou, our, belonging to all; To matou, our, belonging to a few of or out of many. These languages are said to be evidently sister dialects to the Malay, and some others in the Philippine Islands, and in Java. There are only fourteen letters in the New Zealand alphabet, C, F, G, J, L, S, and several others, are wanting. See Dr. Dieffenbach.]

[13] There are few subjects more interesting than the origin of races; and none perhaps more perplexing than the vast difference that exists between the various nations of the earth, as regards their social and mental conditions.

Those who have most deeply studied the whole subject, and most carefully compared the affinities of language, and the almost identity of ancient monuments in countries widely separated from each other, tell us, and it would seem they tell us truly, that the cradle of mankind after the deluge lay in the high table land of western Central Asia. [A remarkable instance of this occurs in the Cromlechs that have lately been discovered on the western slopes of the Ghauts, in Southern India, which are so similar to those of our own land, (Kitt's Coty House, &c.,) as to leave little or no doubt of their having been erected by contemporaneous and allied races, and for a similar purpose, whether for worship or for sepulture.] They tell us it was from hence that, either by God's command, as in the days of Peleg, or by His judgments, as at Babel's tower, or by His subsequent more usual providential leadings, the whole earth was gradually overspread. [See Dr. Candleish on Gen. x.]

[14] It was not however by means of one continuous stream that this was effected, but as civilization progressed, and the land from time to time became too strait for its increasing population, successive torrents poured down, at probably long intervals, from their central home, and deluging the surrounding countries, drove the earlier occupiers farther and farther on, till they found refuge in the fastnesses of mountain ranges, or in the distant coasts and isles of the sea.

But adopting this theory as more than probable, the problem still remains unsolved; and we still ask, "What should have hindered the earlier emigrants from making progress in civilization, proportioned in some degree to those portions of our own race that remained nearer to their ancient home?" How is it that among the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans, and among the Persians, Chinese, and Hindoos, literature and the mechanical arts should have attained so high a point, while the natives of North and South America, of Africa, of all the islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, have never even invented an alphabet for themselves, nor discovered the art of manufacturing a wheel? [Central America seems at one time to have belonged to the civilized portion of mankind.]

Surely the only solution of this problem is, that as it is "the Most High who divided to the nations their inheritance," so with regard to even the simplest arts of life, "This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working,":): and giveth or withholdeth according to the good pleasure of His will. [Deut. xxxii. 8. Isa. xxviii. 29.]

[15] This question is the more strongly forced upon us in the case of New Zealand, as the physical and mental constitution of the Maori race seem peculiarly fitted for progress in every art of civilized life. In person they are toll and well-proportioned, strongly built, and capable of enduring great fatigue and hardship; while their clear brown complexion, their regular and often handsome features, and their fine dark eyes, were, even in their savage state, often lighted up with an intelligence and feeling that indicated a susceptibility to the best impressions. Their understandings, uncultivated as they were, were quick and penetrating, their conversation was lively and animated, and their love of humour irrepressible. Their moral character was full of contradictions; at one time selfish, proud, and treacherous, they seemed intent only on the aggrandizement of themselves or their tribe, or the gratification of their own wild wills, rejoicing in the misery and destruction of all beside. At another, the friendliness, hospitality, generosity, and even heroism of their conduct, won the admiration and affection of their European friends. They treated their friends and elders with the greatest respect and veneration; and their wives occupied a higher position, than is usual in uncivilized nations, being often consulted in private, and sometimes even admitted to the public councils of the tribe. The affection of the fathers for their children was intense, and their grief at losing them proportionally deep. The love of the mother appears to have been less strong, and instances of infanticide not unfrequently occurred; though we believe these were perpetrated generally in revenge for some neglect of [15/16] the husband, or perhaps to escape the trouble of rearing the child.

Impetuous and daring, the New Zealander courted rather than shrunk from danger; and the spirit of enterprise led many of the young chiefs to venture as common sailors on board the whalers that frequented their coasts, in the hope of visiting other lands, and becoming acquainted with other nations. [They too often paid dearly for this love of enterprise, in the brutal treatment they received on board.]

Their favourite pursuit was war, nothing else seemed worthy of their energies; and the custom of "utu," or demanding a payment in human life, for any insult or injury, real or supposed, of however remote a date, was always at hand to supply them with a pretext for attacking a weaker tribe, and indulging the spirit of revenge that lay deep within their breasts. [There were instances in which forty years had elapsed since the offence was committed.]

Peeling themselves lords of the ocean, their great delight was in their war-canoes; and they lavished all their skill and taste in making and adorning them. These formidable vessels were simple in their construction, and, when practicable, made from the hollowed stem of a single tree. They were often seventy or eighty feet in length, and would contain two hundred men. The sail was triangular, something like the lateen sails of the Mediterranean, and woven of flax or rushes. There were sometimes fifty paddles on each side, a paddle also served them as a rudder, and their speed was about seven knots an hour. The head and stern, rose high above the hull, and, as well as the margin of the [16/17] boat itself, were elaborately carved, in sane places inlaid with a pearly shell, and ornamented with feathers.

The Maoris' hatred of their enemies equalled their attachment to their friends, and a New Zealand battlefield presented a more than usually frightful scene. The preparatory war-dance was accompanied with tremendous yells and shoutings; the impetuous stamping of the feet made the very ground to tremble; and every face and limb was distorted till they scarcely seemed to be human beings--all their mats were laid aside, their naked bodies were smeared with red and yellow ochre, and the parrots' feathers in their hair were supposed to add to the fierceness of their appearance. ["What nearer approach to demons," said Captain Fitzroy, on witnessing one of these dances, "could be made by human beings, than is made by New Zealanders when maddening themselves for battle, by this dance of death?"] The older women of the tribe, daubed also with ochre, often accompanied the men to the field, dancing and yelling, and instigating to deeds of daring and cruelty. The younger women and the slaves remained a little way behind; to them were committed the prisoners and the slain; the bodies of the latter they were to prepare for the feast, and their heads were to be embalmed as trophies.

Destruction and devastation followed every battle; the victorious party laid waste the country, burnt the villages, destroyed the plantations, and dragged away the women and children into perpetual bondage. The native Maori weapons were a "pattoo," or long spear, tipped with a sharp stone, and a "mery," or flat club, made of the green jade of the southern island; and these had proved sufficiently destructive in the hands [17/18] of so savage a people. The introduction of the musket by the whalers that frequented the Bay of Islands increased the destruction and the misery; and the beautiful Ahina-maui seemed destined to become depopulated. The treatment of the prisoners and the captives was most barbarous; they were the absolute property of their master, to be dealt with exactly as he pleased; and dreadful tales are told of the use too often made of this power. Hard work, hunger, and contempt were the every-day portions of these unhappy slaves; the slightest offence was punished with stripes; and their sufferings whether of body or of mind were the subjects of derision and merriment. The by-standers often would amuse themselves by mimicking the groan of pain and the writhe of agony of the sick or dying slave; and not unfrequently the passing Missionary has been the only being to take to the poor sufferer a little water to cool his burning lips, or to assist him to move his aching limbs.

The life of a slave was held more cheap than that of a very dog; and a fit of passion or some sudden impulse was often sufficient to lift the hatchet of a chief against the man who had perhaps long and faithfully served him, but who was now doomed not only to death, but to satisfy the unnatural appetite of his master. [Men of the same tribe rarely quarrelled, and never struck each other. Should any dispute occur, mid one of the disputants feel his anger rising above control, instead of venting it on his opponent, he would rush away and destroy the first article of his own property he met with. Sometimes a canoe was cut to pieces, but the hatchet more frequently descended on one of his own slaves, who was afterwards eaten. Instances have occurred in which a friendly chi been the victim. See Chapter XV.]

Death must always be an unwelcome visitor to those who know not the God of their salvation; and to the New Zealanders, with their strong affections, it was almost intolerable anguish to be separated from those they loved Their own death they contemplated with alarm and dismay, and lavished every token of sorrow and respect upon the remains of any deceased member of their family. The body was laid out upon a bier; the nearest relatives assembled round it with green boughs wreathed about their heads; the men sat on the ground in mournful silence, while the deep, loud wailings of the women, and the blood flowing from the gashes they had made in their faces, arms, and necks, testified their grief for the departed. In the case of an "ariki" or chief, the head was sometimes embalmed and preserved to be wept over by surviving friends; the bones were for some time preserved in a kind of chest made of carved wood, and placed in some chosen spot near the dwelling, whence, at the end of a few months, they were removed with great ceremony to some sepulchral cave.

One or more slaves, according to the rank and age of the departed, were always killed and eaten, that ho might not hick attendants in another world; and though there was no law for the self-immolation of the widow, yet where the attachment had been very strong, as often was the case, the head wife generally hung herself, and was held in honour for so doing.

With regard to the religion of the New Zealanders; all the accounts we have seen have been so vague, that we are inclined to believe they had themselves no very distinct ideas on the subject. They had an undefined and confused notion of some supernatural power they [19/20] called "Atua," but this term was likewise often applied to anything incomprehensible to them, even to inanimate objects, such as a watch, a barometer, or a compass.

There were many inferior deities whom they held in reverence, and to whom they offered prayers and incantations; but their religion, like that of all heathen nations, was one of fear, and their supplications were for the most part addressed to some evil principle, to deprecate expected calamities. [For instance, Maui who fished up the island from the bottom of the sea; hence its name, Ahina-Maui, the child of Maui. Sir George Grey's late work, "Polynesian Mythology," contains some very curious stories of the exploits of this demi-god, such as his catching the Sun in a noose to hinder its speed, that t be days might be longer!]

The souls of their departed chiefs were considered as a kind of inferior Atuaa, capable of doing either good or harm to those on earth. When the spirit of an ariki left the body, it ascended, they thought, to the skies, and there leaving its left eye to become a star, descended again to earth, and travelled down a rocky cliff near the North Cape to "Reinga," the place of the departed, where they follow the same pursuits as while on earth. Occasionally these spirits re-visit their former abodes, but they are never seen; and their voices are only heard by some of their fellow arikis, or by the tohungas or priests.

These tohungas, as may be supposed, exercised great influence over the people. The kumera [Sweet potato.] field must not be touched, nor the potatoes dug up, till the tohunga had performed his incantations; nor was the horrible banquet of victory partaken of till he had blessed it by [20/21] taking a piece of the flesh, eating part of it himself, and hanging the rest on a tree as an offering to the Atua. But there were no definite acts of public worship among this people; no processions, no religious festivals, either stated or occasional; and the only office of the tohunga that could be considered as a regular religious ceremony, was a sort of baptism undergone by every child when a few months old. On these occasions, the priest took a green bough, dipped it in water, and sprinkled the child with it, all the time muttering incantations, devoting it to some evil spirit, probably the god of war, and praying for its bravery and success. [We have not met with any account of the origin of this rite.]

It is confidently asserted on the authority of the people themselves, that whatever worship they paid to their Atuas was direct, and without intervening symbols, that the distorted figures cut in jade and worn round the neck, or carved in wood on their utensils, were not idols, but merely memorials of some ancestor or departed hero; and the contempt with which they at first treated the Popish images and crucifixes, seems to confirm this. And yet it is difficult to understand how persons, who in other cases could so skilfully imitate the human face and features, could make such hideous figures as representations of their ancestors. [While Hongi was at Parramatta, in 1814, for a few weeks, Mr. Marsden laughingly told him he should cut off his head and send it to England, to show his friends the tattooing with which it was ornamented, unless he could carve one like his own. Upon which the chief, without any hesitation, took the top of a wooden post, made a graving tool for himself from a piece of iron hoop, and cut out a very good likeness of himself, marking the pattern of the tattooing most correctly. This head was sent home, and we believe is still in the Church Missionary House. There is an engraving of it in the Quarterly Paper for Michaelmas, 1816.]

[22] The most remarkable of the religious observances New Zealand was the "tapu" or "taboo," which, how ever injurious and absurd in some of its requirements, tended in other points to prevent the wanton destruction of life and property. For instance, a field planted with kumeras was "tapu;" so was a house left for a time unoccupied; so also a canoe left on the beach, storehouse of food, a tree fit for a canoe, &c. None of these must be touched, save by the owner; or "Atua" would be offended, and punish the transgressor. A canoe in which any one had been drowned was "tapu," and must be broken up; the chief cone of the volcano of Tongariro was "tapu," and must not be approached; nor must the hair of another person's head be touched. If the blood of a chief had been spilt, the instrument, however innocent, was "tapu," and became the property of the injured person. We read of a meeting among the natives that was to be held on the shores of the Taupo Lake. The presence of To Heu Heu was desired, and a new and highly ornamented canoe was sent to fetch him. As he stepped into it, a splinter pricked his foot; the wound was very trifling, but a few drops of blood flowed; immediately every one quitted the vessel, another was sent for, and the offending canoe was hauled up on the beach, and became the property of the wounded chief.

In many points, however, the "tapu" was attended with inconvenience and suffering, particularly when it was applied to persons instead of things only. "Women were tapu while engaged in cultivating the land, men and women while attending the sick or engaged in the long-continued funeral ceremonies, &c, &o.; and while under it, must not touch a stranger, nor take food with [22/23] their own hands; but must be fed by others. [The New Zealanders, even when not under tapu, never allowed their lips to touch the calabash from which they drank, but poured the water from it into their mouths, like the Hindoos.] Any departure from the strict laws of tapu was punished with death. But the most painful part of the system was the necessity it laid upon all sick persons to be immediately removed from their own house, and placed under an open shed, or sometimes only under a fence, till they should recover or die, and where of course their sufferings were aggravated by exposure to the weather. We meet with many instances of this, and will briefly mention one that is related by Mr. Clarke, who writing in May, 1824, the beginning of their winter says, "I went with Mr. Kemp and Mr. Puckey to see a sick chief named Whyduah; we found him lying under a rush fence, intended to shelter him from the wind. The priest was lying by his side, and the ground all round was "tapu," except a narrow path by which the slaves, of whom there wore many in attendance, brought the food. We reasoned with him on the risk of lying thus exposed to the sun by day, and to the cold by night; but the chief paid no attention, he was entirely under the influence of the priest, and dared not do the smallest thing without his leave. We proposed to feel his pulse--but were referred to the priest, who gave a reluctant permission. The poor man had a cold, and a little cough, but no bad symptoms; and if properly treated would probably have been well again in a very few days. We offered him some of our food, but he must eat nothing cooked over our fires, nor must he move from the present spot till he was better; of which under his present treatment [23/24] there could be no hope. The poor man attributed his present illness to disobedience to the priest, who a day or two before had forbidden him to eat anything on a long journey he had to perform. As he was returning, feeling very faint and tired, he ventured to take a little food, and was immediately afterwards seized with so much pain in his limbs that he could scarcely get home, which he said was sent him by the Atua as a punishment for disobeying the priest, nor would he listen to any arguments as to its being the effect of cold and fatigue. A few days later we visited him again, he was on the same spot, and his disease had gained ground, but though pleased to see us, he would not shake hands with us, as he said the Atua had punished him for letting us feel his pulse by depriving him of the use of that arm!" In what worse than iron bondage does the god of this world hold his captives!

We will now turn to the time when these islands became first known to European navigators.

Project Canterbury