Art. VIII.—Notes upon the probable Changes that have taken place in the Physical Geography of New Zealand since the Arrival of the Maori.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 29th August, 1874.]
In a paper upon the subject of the recent existence of the Moa I some years ago ventured to state my opinion that if the theory of its extinction before the coming of the Maori be accepted, a very great age must be accorded to the singularly well-preserved remains of those great birds, as from many of the traditions of this people we are led to the conclusion that the date of the first landing of their forefathers on these shores is much more remote than generally supposed.
It may have been that as well as possessing a knowledge of comparative anatomy which enabled them to determine to what order of animals the huge bones they found belonged, the Maori fathers were also acute geologists, but it seems more likely that the poetical story of the quarrel between the three brother gods of the volcanoes of Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Taranaki, and the flight of the latter down to the plain which now bears his name, tearing up as he fled the deep gorge of the Whanganui River, the taking of the remarkable truncated cone of Rangitoto from the lake on the northern shore of Auckland harbour, and other similar legends, have reference to memories of great disturbances witnessed by their ancestors at nearer and more remote epochs. Such as that when a violent eruption of Mount Egmont took place, and the altitude of its cone was increased, and when the peak of the third great volcano of the group that once stood upon “that huge flat cone,” the sterile pumice-stone plateau of Taupo sank down into the depths of the geyser-circled lake, as Arid Island has done in the Hauraki Gulf, or was blown up as Papandayang was in the last century,
leaving also a great lake to mark its site. This old volcano of Arid Island, with an area of some six miles in diameter, has subsided to the extent of at least 2,000 feet, Captain Hutton estimates, since the period when its lavas flowed over that portion of the adjacent country now known as Barren Island.
The events to which their traditions relate took place perhaps at a time when the stepping stones from New Zealand to the more ancient home of the Maori may not have been so far apart as they are to-day—-as far back, it may be, as the time when the skeletons of men of this most ancient type, now from time to time exhumed from their graves, deep in the solid limestone rock, and covered with the ashes of long quiescent craters, lay bleaching on the coral strand of Oahu.
As for Rangitoto, its name is an evidence that the natives have seen the skies ruddy with its flames, reflected in the Waitemata—“the glittering waters,"—as in their usual expressive, and often poetical phraseology they have called the arm of the sea which surrounds it with such beauty. This impression has received strong confirmation by a discovery, of which the following notice is copied from the Auckland Southern Cross newspaper. The correctness of the description of the locality is established by the careful examination of the spot by Mr. Theophilus Heale, Inspector of Surveys, a gentleman whose scientific acquirements are well known, who informed me that there could be no doubt upon the matter, and that the conjecture that a landslip had occurred there, was without foundation:—
"An exceedingly interesting relic of the very remote past is now to be seen in the office of the Improvement Commissioners. It is the root of a tree found in one of the cuttings being made under the direction of that Commission. The root has evidently been chopped through by a stone adze which was found beside it. There were also several small branches and roots of the same tree on which the edge of the stone adze had been tried, and the whole crown of the stump had the marks of having been laboriously and patiently cut through by the rude stone implement in the unknown past, and by one of an equally unknown race of human beings. The root was found when cutting the sewer up the middle of Coburg Street, near the lower end, a little above its junction with the continuation of Wellesley Street, and at a depth of about 25 feet below the original surface of the Barrack Hill at that place. From the surface downwards for about 14 feet, at the place where the root was found, the hill is composed of volcanic matter. Below that depth, for about 8 or 9 feet, there is a series of layers of a mixture of sand and clay, which appears to have been at one time deposited under water. Below that is a large bed of fine blue washdirt resembling blue clay. These strata and the blue clay do not seem to have been at all disturbed by volcanic action, and
the several strata are lying with the utmost regularity possible. It was in the upper portion of the bed of blue clay that the root was found embedded, standing upright as if it had grown there, and the several small branches which were found at the same place were of the same kind of timber, and bore plain and distinct marks of the stone implement upon them. The inference to be drawn is not only that the islands of New Zealand had been inhabited long anterior to the migration of the Maoris to them, but that they had been peopled before the extinct volcano in the neighbourhood of the present Mechanics' Institute had begun to belch its mud torrents and streams of melted lava. This conlusion seems to be inevitable, whether it be assumed that the tree grew where the root and the implement of its destruction were, or whether, as some incline to think, a river had run where the blue stratum is found, and that the root had been carried from a distance to its resting place. In either case the root must have been where it was found the other day, not only before the volcanic matter was deposited on the Barrack Hill, but for a sufficiently long period before that to permit a stratum of 8 to 10 feet in thickness to be deposited.”
The conclusion that the volcano was in a state of activity long after the tree was felled seems beyond contradiction, but that the hand that used the stone adze, with which it was laboriously cut down, was not that of a Maori is by no means a sequitur.
With respect to the old trachytic volcano of Taranaki, whose far stretching, symmetrically sloping buttresses, have guarded for vast ages from destruction by the ocean the tertiary deposits which fringe its eastern and southern base, and lie up to the flanks of Ruapehu and the ranges of the Ruahine and Kaimanawa, as strata of similar age cling like coral reefs, Mr. Jukes says, to those of the volcanic islands to the north of Australia, especially in the Timor Sea, it appears quite possible that considerable changes in its contour may have been witnessed by the remote progenitors of the present aborigines, at an era not perhaps more distant than that when the second city built upon the same spot was buried under the ashes of Vesuvius. Its crater not having sunk in, Mount Egmont does not present in a truncated cone the evidence of the changes in its appearance since it and its loftier rival Ruapehu stood also, perhaps, islands in the tertiary sea. From a platform, as described by Dr. Dieffenbach, at an elevation of about 5,800 feet above the sea the present crater cone rises, its cinders and slags of scoriaceous lavas cannot be distinguished in their lithological character from those of the more recent eruptions of the volcanos of Auvergne, which Mr. Scrope assigns to a date subsequent to the appearance of man in that region.
During the past summer there was less snow upon the mountain than has ever been the case before since the settlement of New Plymouth was founded—
indeed from that place scarce any was visible—and the ascent of the upper portion of the peak was made over scoria and ashes loose as those of the summit of Vesuvius. By rolling stones down into deep clefts or crevasses in the frozen snow and ice which fill the basin of the crater a good estimate could be formed of the great profundity of the abyss.
Whether witnessed by the Maori or not, from the materials which compose it and the small amount of dilapidation its peak has undergone, there seems no reason to doubt the activity of Taranaki Mountain during the human epoch in the Polynesian seas. Old men of the present generation have seen great changes in the aspect of a portion of the Savaii (the Samoan Hawaiki). Were the gently swelling plain of Matauto in that island—now dotted round with the villages of the natives amidst the groves by its margin, and covered with lavas which flowed early in the present century, so rent and fissured that it is next to impossible to reach their source in the deep sunken crater in its centre, the walls of which do not rise above the level of the surrounding sea of rocks—to be bulged up by degrees to a considerable elevation around the crater, and the huge angular masses of lava covered up with the showers of lapilli, volcanic sands, and torrents of moya ejected from time to time, it would present, on a lesser scale, much the same features, so far as the landscape is concerned, that Mount Egmont may have done to the first dwellers on the Waimate Plain, and when a higher crystalline cone is at length super-imposed, those which that stately mountain does now.
Persons who have no respect for the traditions of semi-barbarous men, forgetting how many of the most cherished beliefs of civilized peoples are founded entirely upon the ones handed down from the time when their own progenitors were in a similar condition, may smile at the production of such evidence, but as in the case of the Auckland volcano, proofs may yet be forthcoming of the correctness of the convictions of the natives.
Some time since a dispute occurred between the Taranaki and Puketapu tribes respecting the boundary line between their respective territories, and the claim of the latter to have it carried across the summit of the peak was resisted by their neigh bours upon the ground that the original pahs of their ancestors lie deep buried on its slopes. The debate was long and eager, but the traditional evidences produced were in the end received by the Puketapus as establishing the right of the Taranaki chiefs to the whole area of the mountain which destroyed during the great eruption the villages on its flanks.
Many persons are under the impression that it is an accepted fact that the history of the Maori in these islands dates back only three or four hundred years. But it is not so. Mr. Hale, who accompanied the United States Expedition, and who made the ethnology of the Polynesians his especial study, gives three thousand years as the period which has probably elapsed since the
first migration of the ancestors of the Maori took place to their present abode. Mr. Colenso, also, in his able paper, in which he does the justice so few do to the native race, states his conviction that the time of the first peopling of New Zealand is one of high antiquity.
Their own mythical stories vary; the first discoverer of the country, according to one, was Ngahue, who returned to Hawaiki with glowing accounts of the island of great birds which he had found; another was Kupe, who, putting to sea in quest of his fugitive wife, returned unsuccessful in finding either her or his brother who had carried her off, but bringing to his countrymen the news of the great and fertile land, where he had rested for a time, for which the fleet of canoes conveying the earliest colonists shortly steered their course.
Genealogical traditions amongst all, even the most civilized nations, are notoriously the most uncertain; none, we know well, are more utterly fabulous than those gravely published by some in our own country, and it seems somewhat strange that the very same persons who persistently decline to receive those handed down by the Maori as evidence of the contemporaneous existence of the giant birds, and relating to other subjects, such as were most likely to make an indelible impression upon the minds of a comparatively uncivilized race, should insist upon implicit reliance being placed in their chronology, based as it is of course solely upon their genealogical trees—heraldic sticks literally—whilst they find no difficulty in making up their minds to admit with the majority of the thinking men of the age that the genealogical tables given in the Mosaic records are not to be taken as a measure of the time that elapsed between those stupendous events which closed the elephantine period—as Cuvier puts it—and the next and greatest era in the history of man.
If, as Mr. Hale thinks, the voyage of the Maori Jason was undertaken at a period equally remote as that of the Argonauts, we may well expect to find the substratum of truth upon which their stories rest overlaid with, at all events, an equal mass of fiction as that which surrounds the mythological tale of the classical Greeks; and we might indulge our imagination with the consideration of still greater changes than those that we may reasonably presume have occurred since the first emigrants from famed Hawaiki came to the land of the Moa, without placing that event at quite so remote a date as that distinguished philologist has done.
If these long centuries have indeed passed away since then, we might venture to picture the early Moa-hunters following their grand game over plains still lying fair to the rising sun—much farther than they do now—the remnant of those wide savannahs through which in times far more distant flowed that great river which received all the torrents coming down from the lofty cordillera, robed with glaciers proportionate to its then greater altitude,
from the Waitangi north to those swollen by the melting snows of the Ruahine, when Cook Strait with its picturesque sounds did not exist, but, as Mr. Crawford suggests, a river flowed to the east, carrying off the waters from the innumerable winding glens that pierced far into the recesses of the mountains.
Putting out from some bay in their large double canoes with matten sails, such as the voyagers came in from Hawaiki, and which were still in use amongst the Maori in Tasman's and Cook's time, some families of these Moa-hunters may have been carried by a strong westerly wind to the furthest outlier of the old land, now known as the Chatham Islands, where they still found a genial climate, and large birds of the Moa tribe to supply them with animal food, * and founded the colony of the Morioris, whom we find, as naturally would be expected, had degenerated from their long isolation in this limited country where the means of subsistence were less ample.
Referring to the speculations regarding times alluded to more remote, it certainly is much more agreeable, and at the same time more consistent with the evidences we possess, to reflect upon the possible beauties and grandeur of the scenery of New Zealand, and its fitness for animal life in the days when its glaciers reached their greatest extension, than to shudder at the picture of the great island of desolation with those who would envelope it in a fall of ice and snow. It seems scarcely possible to doubt the long gradual process of subsidence which has been going on for ages diminishing the area of this country, the evidences of which are greater as we go to the north and east, as might be expected in a region the foundations of which have been taken away by intense volcanic activity, with occasional local elevations in limited districts. But when we speculate upon its former extent and features we do so only upon probabilities; and, seeing how constantly the progress of discovery causes the abandonment of positions deemed to have been established, theories affecting scientific questions are not safely to be built upon such foundation. Nevertheless, there is no more reason for scepticism regarding the belief that the Moa may have wandered by the banks of the river that debouched in the longitude of the Chathams, than there is to doubt the conclusion of distinguished
[Footnote] * My attention was drawn to the interesting fact of there having been large birds existing in the Chatham group in former times, by being told by a Maori, born in one of those islands, that large bones were found there; on my suggesting they might be seal's bones, he said, “No, big bird, all the same Moa.” It appears that the Morioris have traditions about a great bird, called by them Puoa. Its remains are found from time to time; the last were discovered at Karewa, a place in the main Chatham, known to the natives as Warekauri—perhaps in memory of the use in the end made of the kauri canoe which brought the ancestors of the Morioris from New Zealand. The leg bones found at Karewa are stated to have been as thick as an average man's wrist. Mr. Shand, a gentleman who has resided there for twenty years, and understands the Moriori dialect, informs me that the name Puoa had reference to its cry, and is pronounced with a deep guttural sound. The Morioris have a song about it, and repeat the first syllable as a chorus, Pu, pu—Pu, pu—Pu, o-a, in a manner which recalls the hollow drumming noise made by the emu. The word is probably a contraction for Pu-pu-moa.
geologists that stone-axe-using men followed the mammoth and the reindeer through the forests of the Thames and the Humber, whilst these rivers joined the Rhine in its course to the Northern Sea.
My chief object in these notes is to draw attention to the interesting memorial of by-gone times: we have in this hewn tree, under the sedimentary and volcanic deposits at Auckland, a proof of the insecurity of hypotheses based upon the idea of the alleged short period the Maori has been here established.
In the papers published in Vol. IV. of the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute,” which contain such a large amount of most interesting information regarding the remains of the giant birds, and the old umus in the South Island, Dr. Haast, F.R.S., whilst he admits the occupation of the country by man in remote times, urges that the Dinornis was exterminated by the autochthones of New Zealand “long before the Maoris settled here.”
That such a race may have existed it is impossible to disprove, especially if we consent to accept with him that the first Moa-hunters followed their game overland from Foveaux Strait to the North Cape; but they were certainly not surviving when the progenitors of the present aboriginal inhabitants arrived, otherwise their traditions would not be absolutely silent on the subject.
I may quite misunderstand Dr. Haast in presuming that he had changed his opinion as to this part of the question, but he concludes his third paper with a sentence which seems to indicate that he now thinks the Maori and the Moa-hunters were the same people. He says, “I have, as I believe, conclusively shown that the native race who hunted and exterminated the different species of Dinornis was a pre-historic people, and that the Maoris, the present aboriginal inhabitants of New Zealand,probably the direct descendants of the former, have not the least tradition about them.”
If the Maori be of the same blood, the direct descendants of the Moa-hunters, who were, he says, “a people in such a low state of civilization that it is difficult to conceive they could have built canoes strong enough to cross Cook Strait,” and therefore he is the more inclined to believe they were all to avail themselves of the overland communication, a most strange episode in the history of the human race is presented for our consideration; indeed the problem is distinctly proposed upon the following evidence by the same gentleman:—“I have,” he says, “shown that long after the Moa-hunters had ceased to exist, this locality continued to be a favourite camping ground of succeeding generations, who in the course of ages became more civilized, as shown by their polished axes and more finished stone implements.” So that the descendants of these savages, to whom the appellation of Moa-hunters is given as long as the great birds formed their principal support, who fell into so low a state as
to be even unacquainted with the art of polishing stone weapons, nevertheless, having in after times returned to agricultural pursuits, and taken to cannibalism, regained most of the remnants of that peculiar phase of civilization once prevailing amongst their still remoter ancestors, as well as amongst the allied races in the Samoan, Friendly, Sandwich, and other groups of islands tenanted by the Polynesians—such as the system of taboo—the inheritance of lands passing through females, etc.,—and presenting on the arrival of the Europeans equally fine physical characteristics, with a language little altered, and retaining the same or very similar traditions; those strangely interesting monuments of the more advanced state to which the progenitors of this widely scattered race had attained in the country from which they originally came.
It is considered by many of the ablest students of ethnology that the Polynesian belongs to one of the most ancient and well marked families of man, and certainly if the ancestors of this branch from the main stem were settled here before the islands were severed, a far more exalted antiquity is probably claimed for the Maori than even Mr. Hale proposes.
In adverting to the subjects touched upon in this paper, it is also with the hope that whilst some of the old men remain, with whom traditions may have lingered, affording valuable evidence possibly of the more ancient as well as recent changes in the configuration of the country which may be of service to our engineers, and also respecting its natural history, those who have the opportunity may endeavour to obtain all the information to be gathered bearing upon these interesting subjects, ere the chance of doing so is gone for ever, and more of its ancient denizens have passed away unknown—as theNotornis would have done but for Mr. Mantell.
Within the last seven years, in the wooded ranges behind Opotiki, a bird was killed, which, the natives say, used to be common and esteemed, unluckily for itself, a great delicacy; it resembled a goose in shape, with rufous plumage; being unable to fly, it was caught with dogs. My informant, who casually mentioned the circumstance, was there at the time, and never having heard of theCnemiornis, and not taking particular interest in such matters, was surprised at my evincing so much interest in his report of the existence of this, its probable still living congener. Very lately, too, at the edge of the forest, on the upper Whanganui, it is rumoured that a strange bird was seen which may belong to the same species.
In the recesses of the vast forests of the North Island, impenetrable to man, unless with time and labour expended in cutting a pathway through the dense undergrowth, it is quite possible that wingless birds may still survive, once familiar to the natives, but not mentioned by them to us in consequence of their being nearly forgotten from their rarity—being chiefly nocturnal in their habits they seldom stand the risk of being disturbed by the few chance
travellers on the narrow paths not often traversed; and they might still remain for long were it not for the destructive animals that have come with the Europeans. Rats have committed great havoc, amongst those especially which lay their eggs upon the ground, and wild cats have found their way into the very depths of the forests.
It is difficult—almost hopeless now—to obtain any remains of the Solitaire, still more so of the Dodo, birds a century or two ago plentiful enough to be caught for food by sailors frequenting the islands they inhabited. So it will soon be with the Apteryx in the South Island, and, as Mr. Buller says, the last Apteryx oweni may go into a “gold-digger's pie.” There are persons who earn a livelihood yet by catching “Maori hens,” as they call them, and destroy hundreds for the purpose of providing these luxuries. There may be some excuse for the hungry miner, but none for the epicures of our towns who encourage the destruction of the beautiful tui, hung up in numbers for sale in the open light of day.
The New Zealand Institute, under the able superintendence of its accomplished and energetic Director, Dr. Hector, F.R.S., has done much; its “Transactions” have made New Zealand known more in foreign lands than it otherwise would have been, and have gone far to redeem the colonists from the character attributed to them by more than one writer, of being a community entirely absorbed in the pursuit of gain. Now is the time, when peace prevails, and interest in things of the past is not totally lost amongst the Maori themselves, for all its members, who have the opportunity, to exert themselves in this direction.
Much might be done, possibly many old memorials which might throw light upon the past might be rescued from oblivion, were the agents now employed in all parts of this island instructed to avail themselves of the opportunity afforded by their intimate communication with the elders of the different tribes, whilst carrying out negotiations for the purchase of their ancestral domains, to obtain all the information practicable regarding subjects of interest to the world at large. The memory of such useful labours will secure the gratitude of future generations to this when all its other doings are utterly forgotten.