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Volume 11, 1878
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Art. IV.—The Maori Canoe.

[Read before the Auckland Institute, 10th June, 1878.]

The time is fast approaching when the Maori will hear only of the weapons, garments, and utensils of his ancestors in traditional story—when the tomahawks, spears, paroas will have disappeared—a few meres remaining as decorations or indications of chieftainship—when native kakahus, in all their varieties, having ceased to be manufactured, will have perished, and when the stone toki, or axe, being indestructible, will remain to be wondered at, but not understood.

Not only will these matters of every-day use be no more, but the grander works—their pas, their canoes, their ornamented whares will have decayed, and the few surviving fragments of pre-pakeha civilization will have to be sought for in our museums.

It is a duty, then, devolving upon us to endeavour to preserve for the information of the future races, both white and Maori, such remnants of history as yet exist, and with this object I have persuaded Paora Tuhaere to lodge here some of the carvings belonging to the once well-known canoe, Toki-a-tapiri; and as canoes of that class are now uncommon, I propose to give a short account of their construction, and a word or two as to their history.

Our first accounts of these Islands, resulting from Tasman's voyage to them, more than two centuries ago, brought into notice the canoes of the people; and naturally enough, for what the horse is to the Arab, the camel to the dweller in the desert, the canoe was to the inhabitant of New Zealand; a country abounding in bays, harbours, creeks, rivers, and destitute of roads and beasts of burden. Water-carriage was a matter of prime necessity. In addition to which the dearth of quadrupeds caused fish to be much depended upon as an article of food. Our Waitangi treaty shows how highly the Maori prized his fisheries. But in Tasman's time the canoes he saw were all double; though Cook, who was so much longer on the coasts, if I remember rightly, much more frequently mentions single canoes than double ones, and this latter class must have gone out of fishion soon after Cook's time; for I never heard even the oldest natives mention them as used in their own day, save temporarily, when two might be lashed together for the purpose of erecting a fighting-stage on the platform between them, so as to be able to overtop therefrom the stockade of some water fronting pa.

Canoes occupying such a leading position in native estimation, many of their legends and traditions have reference to them—even the mythical Ika-o-Maui, the first drawing up of this island from the ocean, was not to be accomplished without a canoe—the accounts of the seven different canoes

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which brought from Hawaiki to this country the progenitors of the present race of Maoris are familiar to most of us; one only of these—the Tainui—is always mentioned as being double; and as some ships of our navy have been immortalized by the prowess of their crews in celebrated engagements, so many of the Maori waiatas or songs are in honour of their ships—most often in praise of their celerity, by dint of which some enemies' pa had been surprised, or their women and children carried away into captivity.

Canoes may be divided into four classes—Waka-taua or waka-pitau, war canoes, fully carved; the waka-tetee, which, generally smaller, had a plain figure-head and stern; waka-tiwai, an ordinary canoe of one piece, and the kopapa or small canoe usually used for fishing, travelling to cultivations, etc.

The Toki-a-tipiri belonged to the waka-pitau, which differed from the waka-taua in having an untatooed figure-head with a protruding tongue, and being less elevated forward.

Canoes, being of vital importance, whether for war, or as a means of procuring food, a superstitious race naturally attributed to the tree set apart for the hiwi or hull of the canoe some power over its future fortune; not only was a particular site or aspect in its growth deemed lucky, but it was supposed that incantations by a tohunga or wizard bestowed upon the living tree would increase the virtue of the wood when used.

Special trees were sometimes the cause of war between two tribes, were set apart, or made tapu, by a father for an infant son, remained even as an heir-loom for the grandson, and occasionally, in early land sales, were specially reserved.

Totara was the tree chiefly prized, on account of its durability. Kauri was next in estimation, and in the north was easier to procure of large size. I have seen a waka-tiwai—that is, a canoe entirely of one piece, carry, beyond its crew, three-and-a-half tons of potatoes in a seaway. Kahikatea was sometimes used; it is light but not lasting, and I have known rimu canoes, but these are too heavy to be popular.

When a tree had been selected either by an individual rangatira or by a hapu who had determined to build a war-canoe, it was first necessary that a sufficient stock of food to supply the workmen employed upon it should be available; if the tree grew in a place distant from the pa, a special cultivation as near as possible to the locus operandi might be made for the purpose, otherwise a particular patch of kumera, or other esculent, was planted and set aside; then the future canoe had to be draughted; certain naval architects were the Symonds or Reeds of their day, and were occasionally fetched from far to design a craft which was required to possess extra speed; many a deliberation of the Kaumatuas or elders took place over the prepared model, ere the shape was finally settled.

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The next step was to consult the Tohunga as to the day for commencing the falling; the state of the moon must be considered; an inauspicious day for beginning would surely cause the canoe to capsize—the taua or war-party using it to be defeated, or, if not to be a waka-taua, no fish would be caught therefrom.

When stone-axes and fire were the only means of falling the tree, the task of bringing down a totara four or five feet through must have been tedious; the first iron hatchets used were those procured from Captain Cook, and those obtained at Manawaora a century ago, when Marion's crew were ashore and slaughtered, whilst getting out a spar; probably it was not till thirty years later that iron-axes became sufficiently abundant to super-sede those of stone entirely. Some care was needed that the tree in falling should not be broken nor shaken; an accident of this kind is by no means uncommon, and many fine spars are now lost in this way. The destruction of a specially large tree, after the labour of falling had been incurred, must indeed have been a calamity.

Though when an outlying tree of sufficient scantling could be found, it was preferred to one forest-grown, as our shipwrights considered hedgegrown better than plantation oak; yet, in most instances, the totara or kauri tree stood in a forest miles from the sea-shore, and so far from anahingas or cultivations that relays of women were needed to carry up provisions for the workpeople; a road for-hauling out by would also require preparing; secrecy, too, was often needed, for a hostile tribe would be only too glad either to attack the pa weakened by the absence of many of its men, or to surround and cut off the party while engaged at work.

At last, however, incessant labour has fallen the tree, cross-cut the log, and dubbed down the outside to somewhat near its destined shape, and fire and adze have partially hollowed out the riu, or hold, dry rewarewa wood being used for the charring; the amount of excavating done at this stage depending upon the distance to which the canoe has to be hauled and the danger of its splitting on its journey. In peaceable times there is a great feast, and all the friendly neighbouring pas contribute hands to haul out, by dint of akas, or vines, over rollers or skids, the still weighty mass. The workmen pull together over the steeps to the songs of the women.

It is not always fated to reach the water. At the foot of Wairere Hill, in Whangaroa Harbour, there lay, some years ago, the two sides of a mighty canoe which had been fashioned on the elevated plateau above the bay. Whilst a party of some thirty slaves were engaged in lowering it down the steep hill-side, a vine broke, the canoe rushed headlong to the bottom, and split from end to end; a cry of despair from the awe-stricken slaves brought their rangatiras to the spot, and instant death was the punishment meted out to the unlucky slaves for their neglect or misfortune.

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But even when the hiwi, or bottom piece, has reached the sea beach or creek in safety, but a small portion of the work has been completed. This piece has to be redubbed and further hollowed; this operation, too, is repeated as the timber seasons after the canoe has been in use. Then trees have to be fallen for the rauawa, or top streak, not much smaller than the one first mentioned. These top streaks in the Toki-a-tapiri are each about seventy feet long, and eighteen or twenty inches deep amidships. These have to be dubbed down to their proper thickness and shape, to be dragged out, and fitted to the hull; holes (puerere) require boring through both, so as to lash them along together—a simple enough business with a brace and bit, but a very different matter when kiripaka or quartz was used, though the natives had learned to construct a drill armed with this pointed stone; the tete, or figure-head, and rapa, or stern-piece, have to come, and you have only to look at these to form some notion of the time, taste, and skill requisite for their manafacture; a very slight mistake, an unskilful blow, and the thing is ruined; another seasoned log must be got, and the work be recommenced. It is not everywhere that this carving can be executed. The Arawa and Wakatohea, Bay of Plenty tribes, were long celebrated for their knowledge of designing and carving the ornamental parts of canoes, and their services were obtained by hire, or the requisite carvings (of course I am speaking now of modern days), were procured in exchange for guns, blankets, horses, or European goods. In earlier times raids were made, and men carried as slaves to carve for their masters. Only a small portion of the tracery must be cut out at a time, lest exposure to the sun should cause a crack. A fully ornamented stern-post was months or years even before it received its finishing touch, though the pattern had been sketched from the first. These portions of the craft have to be carefully fitted and bored for seizing on; the taumanu, or thwarts—frequently of manukau wood—must be cut, worked out, and lashed to the niao, or gunwale. On the proper fitting of these, which took the place of our deck-bearers, much of the strength of the canoe depends, and the women spent days in preparing the muka, or flax for these lashings (kaha).

Then along each side of our canoe has to be fitted a batten, called taka, covering the joint of the hiwi and rauawa, and the kaha has again to be carried over this so as to secure this streak firmly to the side. These pieces, too, were of great length, some 30 or 40 feet, so as to have only one joint or splice on each side.

Our canoe is now pretty well built, but yet again requires many fittings—the kaiwae, stages or platforms, usually made of small manuka sticks, upon which the kaihoe, or paddlers, either sat or knelt, a kind of grated deck, running the length of the craft, with openings here and there to

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communicate with the riu, or hold; one or more of these apertures were supplied with a tiheru, or bailer, for toughness' sake made of mangiao wood; for many a sea in rough weather would break on board, and were it not for the caulking (puarupuru) with huni, or flower of raupo, a supply of which the women had gathered in the swamps, much water would have found its way through the joints and holes. The native substitute for oakum is impervious to wet when properly applied.

The next process is to paint our vessel; and for the prevailing red colour in fashion, karamea, a species of clay, which needs to be burnt before being applied, is most valued. The parts to be coloured are first cleaned, then sized with juice of sow thistle and the poporo shrub, after which the karamea, mixed with water, is rubbed on; this yields the most brilliant colour, and is very lasting. Kokowai is a kind of pigment, burnt, dried, and mixed with shark-liver oil. This is a good deal darker than the former.

The batten, carved stern, and head, if a wakataua, are usually blackened with powdered charcoal, or lamp-black and oil. The wakatetee has usually a red head. On gala days the taka would be adorned with albatross feathers, and wreathes of pigeon or wild duck feathers flutter upon the stem and stern.

The equipments are still to follow. According to size, sixty to a hundred paddles are requisite. One very large canoe, formerly in Taraia's possession, could seat 140 paddlers; but the hiwi of this was 96 feet long, the projecting stern and stem adding 14 feet to this huge length. It is said that Toki-a-tapiri could stow fifty on each side, steer-paddles, too, which are much longer than ordinary ones, and usually with carved handles.

Then the masts (rewa), steps for which have been left when the riu was hollowed, with the booms, and cordage, and the queer sails, supposing our canoe was made as far back as forty years ago, must not be forgotten.

These last, ere the days of duck or calico, were made of long leaves of the raupo, kept in their places by an interlacing of flax-twine (aho); the butt or wide part of the leaf was uppermost towards the boom, the small ends of the leaves converging to a point at the tack, making thus a triangular sail. Two or three masts were used according to the canoe's length, and small as the amount of sail appeared to be, I have seen a great pace obtained under raupo alone.

We yet want a plaited flax cable, and an anchor. Of these last there were three varieties: an oblong stone, with a hole through the smaller end, a stone enmeshed in a netting of flax or vines; or three or four crooked pieces of pohutukawa lashed together with a stone between the shanks and the curved points, forming a rude grapnel.

Sometimes, though the hull might be new, the carved portions of worn-

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out canoes would be re-used, being renovated for the occasion; formerly, the stem and stern pieces were detached and stored in sheds when a warcanoe was laid up in ordinary.

Our canoe is now at last ready for launching, nearly as much time having been occupied in its building as would in England have turned out an ironclad; a feast marks the event; and though to the rangatiras of the kainga, the day was one of rejoicing, fifty years back it would have been a poor hapu that could not afford a slave or two as a kinaki, or relish, for such an occasion.

The canoe is run over the skids into the water and anchored; many are the comments on the way she sits; presently another one is launched, crews of young men are found for each; they paddle out some distance quietly, turn and race back, animated by the cries and gesticulations of the assembled spectators.

As with us a name is fixed upon as soon as the keel has been laid, so, I think, with the Maori; at a very early stage of the work the appellation is agreed upon.

I do not know what led to the name of Toki-a-tapiri being given to the canoe to which these carvings belonged. I had hoped to have interested you with a narration of battles in which she had been engaged—though sea-fights were not common—or voyages she had made, but can only tell you that she was built by the Ngatikahungunu, of Hawke Bay, and given by a chief of that tribe to Hone Ropiha, better known as “John Hobbs,” during Governor Browne's administration; at that time the canoe was not an old one. Hobbs afterwards sold her to Aihepene Kaihau and other Ngatiteata chiefs at Waiuku for £700. At the commencement of the Waikato war she was seized at Waiuku by a party of volunteers and militia, composed of Messrs. J. C. Firth and others, and brought to Onehunga. She was subsequently conveyed overland to Auckland, by order of the late Mr. John Williamson, when Superintendent, for the purpose of landing H.R.H. Prince Alfred, on the occasion of his first visit to Auckland, and was used by the natives when the Orakei land claim was investigated.

I can only add that her length was some 78 or 80 feet, and beam about 6½ feet.

In Auckland's infant days, twenty or twenty-five of these war-canoes rom the Thames alone might be found hauled up in Mechanics' Bay. Where, alas! are these now ?