II.—Of Plants Formerly Cultivated For Their Textile Uses.
1. I will first mention the Aute= Paper-mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), although, as far as I know, not a single vestige of this plant is now left in New Zealand! its name remains, and that is all. Few Maoris now living have ever seen it; and yet, in ancient days, it was commonly and largely cultivated throughout the country.* At the time of Cook's visit it was very common, and seen by those early voyagers everywhere, both growing in their plantations and worn in fillets by the chiefs in their hair; the thin white bleached paper-like bark contrasting excellently well with their ebon locks! Very many of the heads of Maoris, in the plates in both Cook's Voyages and Parkinson's Journal, are drawn thus ornamented with the aute. Yet though commonly cultivated, it was of small size, and never was used by the Maoris for clothing purposes, as it was by many other of the Polynesians. The chiefs also made ornamental paper-kites of it, which was one of their great diversions in times of peace, especially among the older men.‡
2. The New Zealand Flax Plants (Phormium tenax, and P. colensoi) in some of their many prized varieties, were also largely cultivated by the ancient Maori. First—they always had planted near to, if not adjoining, their food cultivations and their towns and villages, the commoner sorts of this useful plant, which was constantly used by them in its green state for the daily making into baskets and dishes for cooked food (all such woven dishes not being used a second time), and, also, for common and hasty tying purposes; but those common kinds (which grew spontaneously almost everywhere, except in the deep forests,) they did not make use of for making thread, cord, fishing-lines, nets, and garment weaving purposes; these superior kinds were cultivated. Second—of the varieties of New Zealand flax known (even now) to the Maoris, there are more than 50.‡ I have seen old plantations of this plant (or, rather,
[Footnote] * Parkinson, in his “Journal,” has more particularly noticed this plaut; he says (speaking of the Bay of Islands), “Saw many plantations of kumara, also plantations of aute, or cloth trees.” I once saw this plant growing, in an old plantation at the head of the Kawakawa river in the Bay of Islands,—that was in 1835. There was however but one small tree left, which was about 6 feet high, with few branches and not many leaves on them, it appeared both aged and unhealthy, and it soon after died. On my finally leaving the Bay of Islands in 1844, to reside at Hawke's Bay, I heard of some aute trees still living at Hokianga. I wrote to a chief of my acquaintance there (E. M. Patuone), who kindly sent me several good cuttings; saying (in a letter) that the plant there was nearly totally destroyed by the cattle of the Europeans. Unfortunately, my removing was so greatly hindered, in not meeting readily with a vessel, and the summer also advancing, that I lost them all.
[Footnote] ‡ For proverbs concerning it see “Trans. N.Z. Inst.,” Vol. XII., p. 145.
[Footnote] ‡ See the work on Phormium tenax. by Dr. Hector.
the remains of them) more than forty years ago in travelling.* The variety which was suited (in its prepared fibre) for making into fishing-lines, would not serve for making nets (which were made of unscraped flax); and what was required for the woof of their superior woven flax garments, would not serve for the warp of the same,—while another kind again was used for their dyed borders; they also used a different variety for the girdles of their chiefs; another variety for the hard, almost closely woven, sack-cloth-like lining of their prized dog-skin and kiwi-feather garments; another kind was used for the inner garment (or small apron) of the young girls of rank; another sort for the common shaggy rain-protecting shoulder mats; and yet another sort for making the all but impenetrable hard shield, or arm-buckler, used to receive and ward-off spear thrusts, in their assaulting of forts. The dressed fibre of some kinds was soft, of others glossy and silky, while of other kinds it was harsher and stronger, more linen-thread like; and the colours and lengths of their staple also greatly differed.
A similar question here arises in the mind, as has already been brought to our notice in considering both the kumara and the taro plants, namely—the old Maoris having many distinct and well-known varieties of their flax, how did they get them? And while this question is more easily and naturally answered, owing to the Phormium plants abundantly seeding, still, there is another (or more than one) remaining to be met:—Did the old Maoris, the ancient cultivators of the flax plant, did they accidentally discover all, or any, of those several sorts naturally produced? Or did they, in their cultivating of the plant, and so bringing together the finer and choicer specimens—did they, in their so doing, cause, or help to raise the new varieties?
This question, however, cannot readily be answered; although, duly considered, (especially in connection with what has preceded about those other cultivated plants), it will, I think, be found to have a good deal to do with that very important question which has yet to be solved—the great antiquity of the Maori race. Of which more anon.
[Footnote] * In travelling through the dense forests of the interior, on two occasions, I came suddenly upon a small cleared area of an acre in extent, which had been regularly panted with a fine variety named oue. At that time, and for many years, no one lived within miles of it, and my Maori companions gazed with wonder, some taking a leaf with them to show when they got home. So here, in Hawke's Bay, in 1845, there were the remains of old plantations of several varieties. In the spot where the township of Havelock now stands was a fine old plantation, and from it I obtained specimens of a prized sort, named tapoto, for Sir W. J. Hooker, which I thought to be a new species.