Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 1, 1868
This text is also available in PDF
(738 KB) Opens in new window

A Short Sketch
of

The Maori Races.

The traditions of the New Zealanders date back to times long anterior to the first arrival of their ancestors in these Islands.

According to these traditions, Po, or Darkness, was the origin of all things; and in the course of successive generations, through different orders of Po, Kore, or Nothingness, was arrived at. Then through different orders of Kore came at last—Ao, or Light. After successive generations of Ao came Rangi the Sky. From Rangi and his wife Papa, the Earth, are descended man, beasts, birds, trees, and all things here on earth. There is a very circumstantial tradition preserved by a few of the initiated of the Ngatiraukawa tribe which relates how the first female of the human form was formed out of the earth at a place named Onekura (red earth). How the female so formed gave birth first to an egg from which came all sorts of birds; how, secondly, a female was born from the same parents, from which female and her own father was produced a daughter, who became the mother of the human race, Tiki being the father, which gave rise to the proverb, “Aitanga-a-Tiki,” used to signify a person well-born. Then we meet with a variety of traditions respecting certain heroes or demigods, who lived in very remote ages, long before the migration to New Zealand, which, however, give evidence that the people to whom they relate were then islanders, for whenever any expedition is about to set out it is always related first how the canoes were repaired and equipped for sea.

The great fact observable from a consideration of the traditions to which I am now referring is, that the people had no idea of a Supreme Being, the Creator of all things in heaven and in earth. The idea pervading all their narratives is, that all things have been produced by a process of generation, commencing with darkness and nothingness. They believed, however, that when the body dies the spirit which animated it still exists, but retires to another place, situated under the earth, from whence he can return, on fitting occasions, to visit his

– 2 –

living descendants on earth.—His business there being to advise or punish those who break the laws prescribed to regulate their social state. These laws were wonderfully minute and complex, and must have been a grievous burden, from which, by adopting Christianity, they might be relieved. Hence it is not to be wondered at that Christianity spread rapidly at first among the younger men. All gods being spirits of their ancestors who had died, there was no idea involved in the teaching of the Missionaries repugnant to their sentiments; and their priests, when consulted as to the God of the white men replied, as I have been often told by them, “that Christ was a true God, and more powerful than theirs.”

Traditions, which speak of the first colonization of New Zealand by the Maori, are to be found among all the Tribes, more or less perfect and circumstantial.

The northern tribes called Ngapuhi have a tradition of one Kupe, who made a voyage from an island called Wawau-atea to New Zealand, who, having circumnavigated the North Island, and given names to different places there, returned to his own countrymen, who, in a succeeding generation, fitted out an expedition to seek for the land of Kupe and found their way to the North Island, where they remained. These first made the land at Muri whenua, the North Cape, and finally settled at Hokianga, where their decendants are now to be found, and are able to deduce pedigree in unbroken succession from those first settlers. The present northern tribes, however, are also descended from other ancestors, whose canoe first made the coast near the East Cape at Waiapu, some of whom migrated to the North and intermarried with those there located.

Hawaiki is the name of the island most generally referred to by the New Zealanders as the place from which their ancestors came. The causes which led to the abandonment of Hawaiki are variously related, but the most probable tale is, that a civil was having broken out among their ancestors, the weaker party determined to seek a new country, and embarked in several canoes, some of which, after a long voyage, reached the coast of New Zealand.

The two most celebrated of these canoes were named Tainui (full tide) and Arawa (shark). The latter of them made the land a short distance north of Waitemata, the harbour on which Auckland is situated; and a sperm whale (paraoa) being discovered stranded on the beach, the place obtained the name of Wanga-paraoa, or whaleport, from that circumstance.

– 3 –

Tainui first made the land near the East Cape, which was also named Wanga-paraoa, owing to a similar circumstance; hence, we may infer, that in those early times, when man had not hunted them in these seas, the sperm-whale frequented the northern coast of New Zealand.

It will be curious to trace what became of Tainui and its crew, after reaching New Zealand; as it will throw some light on the notions of this people on the subject of colonization and the acquirement of territory. They very quickly left a settlement a little to the westward of their first landing place, where their descendants, a tribe called Ngati-tai, still dwell. Thence they sailed to Tauranga, entered that harbour, and navigating its waters, left another settlement at Katikati—a rock named Te punga o Tainui, the anchor of Tainui is pointed out, and an extensive shoal Te ranga-a-Taikehu, was named after Taikehu, one of the Chiefs on board the canoe. It is affirmed that Taikehu having dropped a greenstone hatchet overboard, according to custom had recourse to a charm, which was so potent that the land rose and the water dried up, so that he picked up the lost hatchet without difficulty; that the shoal now exists is the evidence of the fact; and who may doubt it? Leaving Katikati, the next place Tainui touched at was Mercury Bay, thence it sailed on towards Waitemata, and some of them settled near there, at Tamaki—their descendants are also called Ngati-tai; who have the title Manawa-powatu, (stony-heart), to distinguish them from their kindred Ngatitai, who were left on the shore of the Bay of Plenty, and who were called in distinction Manowa-iti (little heart). Arriving at the head of the arm of the sea called Tamaki, the spot is still called Te apunga-o-tainui, the landing place of Tainui, the canoe was dragged across to the waters of Manukau, and passing out through the entrance of that harbour, thence sailed along the coast to the southward, till it arrived off the river Waikato. On seeing that river flowing into the sea, the priest exclaimed, “Waikato, Waikato-kau.” This jest of his gave the name to that river. As they coasted along the beach now called Te akau, he exclaimed, “Ko te akau-kau”—‘its nothing but beach.’ And when they arrived off Kawhia, he called it “Kawhia-kau.” At that place they landed, and the canoe was finally dragged ashore. Kawhia has ever since remained in posession of the descendants of its crew, who form a tribe called after it Tainui. This as well as all the tribes, more than twenty-five in number, which together are comprehended under the general name of Waikato, have sprung from a Tainui source.

– 4 –

Of the voyage of the canoe Te Arawa, and of the-history of its crew and their descendants, there exists the most circumstantial narrative I have met with; it preservers so many circumstances looking like truth. It is, however, too lengthy to give here. I may. mention that from it we ascertain the season of the year when these voyagers reached New Zealand; the rata tree was then in flower, for one of them, named Taininihi, threw away his kura, which was a head-dress made of red feathers, described by Cock as worn by the South Sea Islanders, thinking to get a new and better one from the rata flowers. This kura drifted ashore, and was afterwards picked up by a person named Mahina, who refused to restore it when asked. Hence the proverb still common now in use, kura-pae-a-Mahina, signifying a waif or godsend. Thus, if a person find anything which has been lost by another by the way-side or in the bush, and the loser afterwards hearing who found it, were to go and ask him to restore it, his answer would probably be, “I will not restore it: it is a kura-pae-a-mahina; if you wish to have it, you must pay for it.”

The Arawa sailed southward to the Bay of Plenty, and when they got to Katikati they found the Tainui settlers we have spoken of in possession; so they went on, and, leaving a small settlement at Mauganui, on the east entrance of the harbour of Tauranga, sailed to Maketu, about sixteen miles further to the east, and there settled. Before they reached the shore two of the chiefs stood up in the canoe and laid claim to all the land they could see. This with them could be done by a very simple process. It was only necessary to say, this land is the bed of my child, which would give his family so sacred a title that no one else of the colonists would dare to claim it. Hence we perceive that the New Zealanders brought with them their greed for territorial possessions: and if it is reflected that they came from islands of limited extent, where the increase of population tended to curtail the lands of each, we may thus perhaps account for their grasping at large landed possessions on their reaching New Zealand. Certain it is that two chiefs, Hei and Tia, claimed all the the lands for miles north and south of Maketu, for their sons Waitaha and Tapuika, whose descendants still claim them.

Such a system of colonization tended to disperse these settlers over very extensive limits and we consequently find that other chiefs started inland, each little family taking possession of a separate locality at a wide interval from any neighbour. The different territories thus acquired became the lands of their descendants, who came to be dis-

– 5 –

tinguished as a sub-tribe of the Arawa, the name by which all sub-tribes were known when spoken of as a body.

The territory of a sub-tribe belonged to the whole body, excepting such parts thereof as had been specially appropriated to families or individuals as cultivation grounds, fisheries, or otherwise; and their rights passed to their descendants. Other members of the sub-tribe had no right to meddle in any way with lands so appropriated; at the same time, lands never appropriated; specially belonged to the whole tribe.

It is true that chiefs of influence often sought to seize lands which did not rightfully belong to them, but such acts could only be carried through by might, and not by right; and were always pertinaciously resisted: and there is a favourite proverb that the best death for man is to die for his land, and that his blood be shed thereon.

It has been stated by many that a native title to land is so complicated that it is impossible to unravel it; indeed latterly the favourite theory has prevailed that the only remedy is to cut the knot. No doubt it is a troublesome matter thoroughly to investigate a native title; but such has been done in some cases, and could in every case have been done with the application of patience by a per son who understood his work and had sufficient intelligence. How much of talent, education and experience is brought into play to investigate the title to an estate in England when a purchase is contemplated! In New Zealand it has too often been the case to intrust the investigation of title to native lands and their purchase to men possessing no qualification fitting them for the office. It is much to be regretted that political influence should be suffered to intervene in such affairs.

To return to the history of the descendants of the crew of the Arawa: they spread themselves from Maketu to Rotorua and the adjacent lakes, thence to Taupo, and some-of them as far as Wanganui, near Cook's Strait, peopling the shores of the numerous lakes of the interior; but they did not extend themselves along the coast very far in either direction. They now form one of the most important natural divisions of the New Zealanders, their numbers amounting, on a rough estimate, to about one-sixth of the entire population, or perhaps to rather more. They have also some general peculiarities of dialect which distinguish them from the the Waikato tribes, and from the rest of their countrymen. The majority of this tribe have taken no part in favor of the Maori King; but have taken up arms to oppose the passage of the east coast tribes through their territory on their way

– 6 –

to join Waikato. They have had several sharp encounters with their own countrymen on this ground of dispute in which they have been finally victorious. Winiata Tohi Te Ururangi, one of their bravest chiefs and our firm ally, lost his life very recently in one of these engagements at Te Matata.

Eastward of the Arawa, in the Bay of Plenty, dwell the tribe Ngatiawa, whose ancestors are said to have come also from Hawaiki in a canoe named Te-Mata-atua. Their canoe came to land at Wakatane. The descendants of its crew have spread eastward and westward, touching the Ngaitai and the Arawa tribes, and, inland the Urewera tribe have the same origin.

Bordering on the eastern limit of the Ngaitai come the tribe Ngatiporoa, who extend all along the east coast as far as Wairarapa. The southern division, however, have for many generation taken the name of Ngatikahuhunu from their ancestor Kahuhunu, who came from the North Cape in search of a celebrated beauty whom he married, and settled in the country of his adopted tribe.

The Ngatikahuhunu were formerly much more powerful than at the present time, and extended along the north shores of Cook's Strait as far as Rangitikei, and over a great part of the Middle and Southern Island, where they still remain, and are there called Kaitahu.

The tribes now residing south of Kawhia, known as Te Atiawa, are also said to have come from Hawaiki, in their canoe Tokomaru. This canoe made the coast of New Zealand at night, and the land was first discovered in a singular manner, by the barking of a dog on board, which scented the carcase of a whale stranded on the beach. This, from the similarity of the circumstances mentioned, seems to have been the same place as that spoken of in the traditions of the Arawa, as their landing place. The story goes, that a dispute having arisen between them and the crew of another canoe, as to the proprietorship of the whale and of the land, Manaia, the chief of Tokomaru, resolved to go elsewhere. He and his party therefore sailed northward, till they arrived at the extremity of the land, and then coasted along the western shore till they made Taranaki, where they finally settled.

Subsequently to the discovery of New Zealand by Cook, the Atiawa were driven southward by Waikato, in the absence of a large portion of them who had joined Te Rauparaha in his wars against Kahuhunu of Cook's Strait and the natives of the Middle Island. When Colonel Wakefield reached New Zealand he found this division

– 7 –

settled at Waikanae and Port Nicholson from which places they had expelled the Ngatikahuhunu.

In their raid on the tribes dwelling on the southern shores of the North Island they were not able to conquer the tribes dwelling about the river Wanganui, as these fled up their river and found refuge in the protection of its rapids and its precipitous and wooded banks.

As to the Wanganui tribe, the tradition is that their ancestors came to New Zealand in a canoe named Aotea, and gave its name to the small harbour on the west coast, where they first landed. At that place the canoe was abandoned; and the crew, with their chief Turi, proceeding on foot, along the shore to the southward, at last settled on the river Patea. From Turi and his wife Rongo-rongo sprang the tribes Wanganui and Ngatimamoe. As they found no inhabitants as they came along the coast, this migration, if we credit the tale, must have been anterior to that of Te Ati-awa.

It is related by the other tribes that attempts have several times been made to return to Hawaiki; and within the last twenty-five years an instance occurred at Tauranga where a family fitted out and provisioned a canoe for a long voyage, and then put to sea with the design of returning to that island, having no better guide than the stars and the tradition of its position. The fate of these intrepid voyagers was, of course, never known in New Zealand; but that such an undertaking should ever have been deliberately planned and entered on is hardly credible; and we should look in vain for a more remarkable instance of the bold and adventurous spirit of this people.

From the genealogies of Chiefs, which we have noted down it would appear that only about eighteen generations have passed away since New Zealand was first colonized; that is to say, a space of time probably not much exceeding five hundred years. To test the probability of this conclusion the genealogies of Chiefs of different tribes were carefully collected and compared, and it was found that they all nearly agreed in reckoning the same number of generations from the time when their forefathers first landed in New Zealand. The remarkable uniformity, being undersigned, is the best proof we can have of their correctness.

The idea that these islands were not peopled at a very remote date is supported by the scantiness of the population very generally when first discovered by Cook, and more particularly so of the Middle and Southern Islands, which, according to the accounts given by the New Zealanders, were colonized from the North Island.

– 8 –

About ten generations ago all that part of the Middle Island which extends from Waipapa, a point about twenty miles south of Cape Campbell to Rakiura, or Stewart's Island, including Foveaux Strait, and a great part of the west coast, as far as the Buller (Kawatiri) appears to have been in possession of one tribe, who were called Ngatimamoe, and are said to have come from Wanganui, or its neighbourhood. Bordering on them to the north, was a tribe called Te Huataki, whose ancestors also came from the North Island and settled at Wairau. To the westward of them the country about Totaranui and Arapaoa, Queen Charlotte's Sound, was in possession of the Tribe Ngaitara, whose ancestors also came from the North Island under a chief named Te Pahirere. The fame of the pounamu stone, which was found on several streams or rivers on the west coast and in the interior of the Middle Island, stimulated large bodies of the Ngatikahuhunu, the powerful east coast tribe we have before spoken of, to make war on Ngatimamoe, and after many years, by dint of a constant supply of fresh forces, they completely subdued and took possession of all their territory. At present there are only a few broken hapus remaining, who were allowed to live on a small portion of the land once their own.

Subsequently, Te Rauparaha, with an army composed of Ngatitoa and several other septs of norther tribes, over-ran the southern shores of Cook's Strait, and having nearly exterminated the natives he found there, attacked Ngatikahuhunu, and carried the war south to Banks' Peninsula. The rapid spread of Christianity put a stop to his wars. So that the tribe Kaitahu retained still the greater part of the lands they had conquered from Ngatimamoe. But the south shores of Cook's Strait are now chiefly inhabited by natives who formed part of Te Rauparaha's army of filibusters or their relatives.

From the accounts given by the New Zealanders of their origin, and from what we know of the present relationship of the various tribes into which they are divided, it appears that the whole native population may be classed under six primary divisions, distinguished more or less one from the other by peculiarities of dialect, of physiognomy, and of disposition. These primary divisions have been traced to the crews of different canoes which found their way to the shores of New Zealand. Whether all the canoes which may have thus reached these shores proceeded from several different islands of Polynesia, or only from the two or three—the names of which are recorded—we will not pretend to say with anything like certainty. The traditions respecting the origin of their ancestors

– 9 –

pervading all the tribes in New Zealand are very similar; and although many peculiarities of dialect are observed to prevail very generally throughout the members of the primary divisions of which we have been speaking, yet the actual differences in dialect between the inhabitants of the most distant parts of the country are inconsiderable, and, in fact, no more than may be accounted for by lapse of time, added to the want of union, and, consequently, of familiar communication between each other.

It is an enquiry of some interest where Hawaiki, the island generally given by the New Zealanders as that from which they came, is situated. The reply we give is that it seems most probable that the island referred to is either the principal one of the Sandwich Islands group, pronounced Hawaii by its present native inhabitants, or one of the Navigators' written Savaii by the missionaries who are best acquainted with the language; both of which forms are dialectic variations of the New Zealander's pronunciation written Hawaiki.

That so long a voyage as that from the Sandwich Islands could be safely made in open canoes may appear to some almost incredible; but it is certain that, when skilfully managed, the canoe of the Polynesians can brave very rough seas. Besides, the nearest spot from which the first inhabitants of the country could possibly have come is more than one thousand miles distant; and we may fairly presume that a eanoe able to make a voyage of that length could, under favourable circumstances, have made a voyage three times as long. We know from the traditions of the people that when they landed the rata was in bloom, which determines the time of the year to have been February; a season most favourable for making a voyage in those seas.

In the Navigator and Society Islands, as well as in the islands of Polynesia lying further eastward, are found the same race of men as in New Zealand and the Sandwich Islands, speaking languages so much alike to each other that they may almost be looked on as dialects of the same language. And, as far as is known, the superstitions, customs and manners of their inhabitants have a general similarity.

At the Friendly Islands, however, the Polynesian race is found to be partially blended with a totally distinct race called Papuans, having a different language and different habits; while in New Caledonia, in the New Hebrides, and in other islands lying more to the west, as well as in the chain of islands connecting them with New Guinea, the inhabitants are all Papuans, New Guinea being the stronghold of that race.

It is a rational conjecture, that the primitive inhabitants of the whole

– 10 –

Indian Archipelago were also Papuans. This may be inferred from the fact that traces of the race are still discovered in many of the islands now occupied by the brown race, as well as in the Malay Peninsula, and even, according to some accounts, in Cochin-China, while the natives of the Andaman Islands, in the Bay of Bengal, have all the characteristics of the Papuan family.

A migration from the continent of Asia of a brown race of Indians appears to have taken place at a subsequent era, and to have established itself by force in the Malay Peninsula, in Sumatra, Java, Borneo, the Celebes, and several of the adjacent islands, as well as in the Philippine group, exterminating to a great measure, or absorbing the Papuan races in the conquered districts.

From the Philippines detached portions of the population of the brown race must have migrated eastward in search of new lands and thus peopled the Caroline and Ladrone Islands, whence they found their way to the Sandwich Islands and to the Navigators' and Society Islands and the islands comprising Polynesia proper, all of which, we have every reason to believe, were before then uninhabited.

The most convincing proof that the primitive stock from which the brown race of the Indian Archipelago and the Polynesians have sprung was the same, is derived from comparisons made between their languages. It is observed that the languages of both are constructed on the same grammatical principles, and present many striking points of agreement in other respects.

I was much struck by finding the identity of a root of the pronoun of the first person singular in the Maori of New Zealand with the root of the same pronoun in Malayan, and in the T'hay or Siamese, an allied continental language. In the Maori this pronoun has two roots, au and ku, just as in the English the same pronoun has two roots I and me. In the Malayan I is represented by one of these roots, ku, which becomes aku by the addition of the personal prefix a. In the Siamese language, the same pronoun is represented by the simple root ku.

The present native inhabitants of New Zealand are evidently, to a certain extent, a mixed race containing two elements, one of which may he called the pure Indian, the other being the Papuan. The marked characteristics of the former are a brown or copper-coloured skin, black hair, sometimes sandy (called by them hurukehu), straight, wavy, or curling, and a tolerably well formed nose, sometimes even aquiline. While those in whom the Papuan element is most marked have the skin

– 11 –

much darker, the hair black and crisp, (but not growing in separate tufts like that of the true blooded Papuans), the nose flat and broad at the nostrils, and the lips more full and prominent. Between these extremes, every intermediate variety of feature may be met with among the New Zealanders; but their prevailing type of feature is the Indian.

To account for this mixture some persons have suggested that a Papuan race was found in possession of the country by the ancestors of the New Zealanders when they first arrived, and that the mixed breed has sprung from alliances between the two races. It has even been stated that the Papuan element belongs more especially to slaves, who are supposed to have sprung principally from the subdued and degraded race. Such statements, however, have no trustworthy foundation; for the crisp hair prevails equally among the rdngatira, or gentleman class, and among slaves. Besides, the traditions of the New Zealanders speak of the country as being uninhabited on the arrival of their canoes from Hawaiki; and in the other Islands of Polynesia there exist similiar indications of a mixed race.

These traces of a mixed race are easily accounted for by supposing, as indeed appears certain, that the Indian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula were primitively inhabited by Papuans, and that the brown or copper coloured race, whom we have called Indian, invaded their country and took possession of parts of it; for a long time must have elapsed between their first invasion of the Malay Peninsula and their conquest of the Philippine Islands, from which points we suppose the ancestors of the Polynesians to have migrated. And during the interval, in which the two races remained so nearly in contact, while the one was being supplanted or absorbed by the other, alliances must have taken place between individuals of opposite sexes, giving rise to the appearance of a mixed race now observable.

Edward Shortland.