Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 14, 1881
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Mr. Romilly, Deputy Commissioner for the Pacific, then gave an interesting account of a recent inspection of some of the less-known islands of Western Polynesia, illustrated by the exhibition and description of a large collection, numbering several hundred objects of ethnological interest. The islands visited were San Christoval and Carteret, in the Solomon group; Fischer's Island, in New Ireland; Jesus Maria, in the Admiralty group; Astrolabe Bay, in New Guinea; New Britain, Woodlark Island, and Teste Island, in the Louisiades. From all these places articles used in warfare and domestic life were exhibited, and their uses explained. He pointed out that Mr. Wallace was in error in supposing that the Natives at Astrolabe Bay were to be distinguished as a race that did not use bows and arrows, or manufacture pottery. The latter he had seen the women making, and he produced specimens of both pots and powerful bows and arrows, the latter with bamboo tips, which he had obtained there. Among the articles shown was a singularly massive coat of armour, made out of cocoanut fibre by the Natives of the Hermit Group, and some magnificent mats, woven by the Natives of Rotumah from the leaves of the screw pine, one being highly ornamented with featherwork.

Mr. Chapman asked whether Mr. Romilly had made any observations comparing the races on the seaboard and interior of these Islands, as to which was the most powerful and likely to prevail and displace the other in the constant warfare going on.

Mr. Romilly said that the Natives in the interior were smaller and darker-coloured men, but were much better armed, especially with stone weapons. Although always at war with the coast Natives, each seemed to maintain their own districts.

His Excellency Sir Arthur Gordon said that apart from the mere interest of examining any large collection of curious and unfamiliar articles which had been made from such an extensive archipelago, two facts were suggested. The first was the extraordinary similarity of form in objects made in places furthest apart, while on the other hand each little group of islands, even when quite close, had produced objects having distinctive and peculiar characters. It was easy to understand how a novel form is adopted, but what is difficult to account for is the similarity between articles in the possession of different races separated by many thousand miles. This might at first sight suggest a common origin for the people who designed these works, but he thought it unreasonable to suppose it must always be so, and that the similarity should rather be attributed to the gradual development of the designs under similar circumstances. For instance, stone axes, whether they belonged to the prehistoric period in Europe or the existing time in New Zealand, were identical in form so long as the material of which they are made is of the same nature. As an instance, he might mention that the earthern pots made in Fiji were identical in form with those made by the Natives on the Upper Orinoco. The inhabitants of these countries have not the least affinity, and the similarity in design arises from their having both taken for their model the nest of the mason wasp. The proof of

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affinity between races should not therefore rest upon the designs of their handiwork, which is often quite opposed to the results of an examination of the structure of their language, which, of course, is a much, surer guide. He spoke of the affinities of race which really do exist as most wondrous and suggestive, and mentioned that one form of the Malagash (i.e. Madagascar) numerals was identical with those of Fiji, which again closely resemble those of New Zealand.

A discussion of a conversational character ensued, Dr. Hector pointing out the interest of the observation made by Mr. Romilly, that, after battling for many days with a strong adverse current, a sudden change in its direction had carried them in the wished for course without a change of wind, as bearing on the intercourse of the inhabitants of the different islands.

The thanks of the Society were recorded to Mr. Romilly for his interesting address.