[Read before the Hawke's Bay Philosophical Institute, 9th May, and 12th June, 1881.]
Last year I had the honour and pleasure of reading some historical and traditional papers before you respecting the ancient Maoris of this East Coast. At that time I did so with some diffidence; for, first, I did not know how you might receive them; and, secondly, I did not know whether such papers would be published by the Parent Society. Now, however, we know, that those papers, read here and approved of by you, have been also published in the forthcoming volume (xiii.) of the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute;” and this encourages me to bring some others of the same class, and obtained from the same sources, before you, during this winter's session; only these are still more ancient, and, I think, more curious and interesting. Of course I have only very recently known of those papers having been printed. Had I earlier known of it, or of their having been approved of, I might have got some more ready during the autumn; for, I confess, the translating of some portions of them is exceedingly difficult, being written (or handed down) in language which, in some places, contains words and phrases that are very old, and have almost become obsolete.†
[Footnote] † Particularly in the matter of charms, spells, invocations, exorcisms, etc.;—also, owing to their allusions (often by a single word) to still more ancient events, persons, (ancestors and semi-deities), and things; and to their largely abounding in ellipses and aposiopesis;—as I have formerly observed when on this subject.
For my own part I may again repeat (what, I believe, I have said to you before), that it is to such sources we have primarily and mainly to look for much that relates to the manners and customs of the ancient New Zealander. In those old narrations we get to know what they really were; and even then more, perhaps, from casual or incidental matters than from the main subject itself. But then such must have been related by the ancient men themselves, chiefs and priests (tohungas) of the olden time, and not by the present loquacious and mendacious generation, be their position what it may,—for all such are not only grossly ignorant of the past, but are also more or less vitiated concerning the same, through their intercourse with Europeans, both willingly and unwillingly. And when, in addition to all this, what they may have to say is frequently taken down and translated by “free and easy” young interpreters,—often ignorant of the first principles of the noble Maori language, and too much inclined to dress up what they hear, as if writing a novel or romance,—the result may be easily guessed.
And here, perhaps, I may be permitted briefly to mention that—(as it is pretty well known I have collected, during my long residence among the Maoris, very much of their old history, traditions, etc.)—I have been often requested to publish, in a separate form, what I have so amassed and known; but that I have hitherto refused to do so, for I seek neither pelf nor fame (as a book-maker), but merely to relate, in plain words, what I believe to be genuine and authentic, leaving it for those who may come after me to “make the book,”—to fuse together the ores I may have laboriously sought out, and collected, and brought to the surface.
In all those historical traditions we shall find much of war,—of bloody, desolating wars, with all their hideous and savage accompaniments ! far more indeed than we could wish.* But war, as Cook early and sagaciously detected, was the very life and genius of the people; hence, too, they did not fear death. Not, however, but that it might have been better among them, for it will be found that, in almost all cases, their wars arose from some thoughtless or gross infringement of common rights. Yet even here we shall meet with much of extreme courtesy, and of fine feelings, which would have adorned a chivalrous European age; and that, too, in the midst of dreadful harrowing recitals of burning revenge for wrongs,—of extreme cruelty,—of great, yet simple superstition,—and of hair-breadth and marvellous escapes.
[Footnote] * But the most famed and civilized nations of antiquity were, in this respect, quite as bad,—e.g., the Assyrian and Egyptian “Records;” and Polybius, (who had himself seen the savage doings of the Romans), says, “when a town is taken by storm by the Romans, not only human beings are massacred, but even dogs cut in two, and other animals hewn limb from limb,” (x. 15.) Note, also, Saul's slaying of the Amalekites, (1 Sam. xv.)
Of their human sacrifices and cannibalism, which always and everywhere nationally accompanied their battles, I would say nothing at present; only (as I have before observed),* that I never could consider those savage customs as even approaching, in cruelty and abomination, the well-known doings of that thrice-accursed institution of the so-called Christian Church—“the Holy Inquisition!” in which Christian kings and queens, bishops, priests, and saints (! !) took their unholy and murderous parts with a zest! Indeed, I hesitate not to affirm, that all such conduct as that of the New Zealand savage towards the dead—and that, too, in hot blood, after a deadly hand-to-hand combat with sticks and stones,—is as nothing when fairly compared with the modern and Christian (!) modes of wholesale mangling and destroying the living! (it may often be innocent and unoffending women and children, in the sieges and assaults of towns!) with shells, bombs, mines, mitrailleuses, dynamite, torpedoes, etc., etc.
Those historical stories will also show much of the cool courage, stratagem, endurance, patience, etc., of the ancient Maoris. From them we shall gather not a little every-way applicable to the so-called “Spiritualists” of the present day, showing, at least, that their modern lying “mediums'” deception was known long ago to the savage New Zealander! From those narrations we may also learn that such preternatural doings as that of Joshua commanding the sun to stand still,—of Jonah and the whale,—of supernatural visitants from the sky,—of wonderful achievements and miracles,—of miraculous conceptions,—of resurrections from the dead,—and even of ascensions into heaven, were not unknown to the ancient New Zealander. From them we may learn not a little of their (supposed) skill and belief in controlling and commanding the higher powers of Nature; and all this, too, both quietly and unostentatiously done and related without a single extra remark of the wonderful, or a note of admiration! And from them we shall also learn a good deal of their prayers (?), charms, spells, exorcisms, adjurations, and religious ceremonies—of their great simplicity and (may I not add?) utter uselessness. Or, rather, perhaps, not quite “utter uselessness” in one sense at least, for they, no doubt, felt strengthened in their belief, that, having followed closely in the footsteps of their forefathers, having done all that was required, they should certainly reap a corresponding benefit. And this belief would naturally re-act upon them, and stimulate them to continuous and future exertions to bring about the same, and thus would prove beneficial. In all those charms, spells, etc., we shall find (if I mistake not), three things, like three golden threads, always running through them; viz., (1) their firm belief in their knowledge
[Footnote] * “Essay on the Maori Races,” “Trans. N. Z. Inst.” Vol. I., § 29 of Essay.
and use of the powers of Nature; (2) their relying on their own strength and ability as able men; and (3) their often invoking their deceased ancestors to help them in times of great need; or, more frequently, encouraging themselves, at such times, with the bare recital or recollection of their ancestors' names* and prowess.
Now all this strong and common, yet (if I may so term it) quiescent belief in the supernatural or miraculous, in my opinion forms a very peculiar and characteristic trait in the old New Zealander. (I know, of course, of those miracles related in the Old Testament, and that, too, generally, in like simple manner, without note or comment). No doubt all ancient nations felt more or less the influence of the Divine in Nature, or of the power of Nature; but as they knew her but imperfectly, all remarkable or unusual phenomena appeared to them as manifestations of supernatural powers, divine or demoniac (as the case might be), or as miracles, which, while they inspired some peoples with awe, did not so act on the minds of the ancient Maori. Not but that they had plenty of signs and wonders, akin to the Roman fictions of prodigia and portentæ, † which served to announce important events; but, while they saw and observed, talked of and magnified them, they never feared them; rather ridiculed them, or treated them lightly; and even when all things turned out well and satisfactory, and in keeping with their belief in, or expectations from, those higher powers, no such thing as thanksgiving to them was ever dreamt of!
Moreover, it should also be briefly noticed, that while they laughed and mocked at earthquakes, at pealing thunder, at vivid lightnings, and at terrific storms, they exhibited great dread at merely unexpectedly seeing a small, common, and harmless lizard; at a gaseous flame suddenly shooting forth, with crackling noise, from their private fire towards them; and at a big spark bouncing therefrom in a similar direction ! etc., etc.
The subject of my paper this evening will be some of the doings (and their consequences) of a powerful chief, named Uenuku, ‡ who dwelt here on the East Coast of New Zealand, between Table and East Capes, about twenty-five generations back, § or (say) A.D. 1000,—time of our Danish
[Footnote] * See “Paikea's Spell,” in the Story of Ruatapu and Paikea. (infra.)
[Footnote] † Livy, III., 10: XLIII., etc.; Lucan, Phars., I.; Pliny, H.N., II., VIII., XVI., etc; Plutarch, Cæs., 63.
[Footnote] ‡ There were several chiefs and personages of ancient days named Uenuku; some of them bearing an additional suffix to distinguish them. One is said to have dwelt at “Hawaiki” before the so-called migration hither. (See Grey's “Polynesian Mythology,” p., 123, etc.) Uenuku is, also, a name for the rainbow.
[Footnote] § One of the genealogies gives twenty-eight generations, (viz., three additional names). This may be owing to an early branch, commencing with the son of another wife. (See Appendix, Genealogy).
kings. His descendants are still residing there, who, also, rest their claims to their ancestral estates through their being such. The beginning, however, of their genealogical line goes much further back.
I may also add that this remarkable traditional story I have received in two separate narrations from two sources; and, further, that they wonderfully agree in all their main points, including, also, the charms, spells, and prayers (?) used.