Art. XLV.—Ancient Alphabets in Polynesia.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 10th August, 1887.]
New Zealand possesses few relics of archæological interest, and fewer still remains of what may be considered as inscriptions. The pictures in the cave of the Weka Pass,* and other cavepaintings, are mere rude pictures, in which, apparently, there has been no effort to produce anything beyond mere representtation, and not rising even to the rank of picture-writing. Further investigation and study of these drawings may evolve hidden meanings in some of the smaller marks, but at present there is no light on the subject. In other parts of the Pacific inhabited by the fair Polynesians there are many localities worthy of the study of the archæologist. The “Stonehenge” remains in the Tonga Islands; the pyramids of Tahiti; the wide paved platforms of the Marquesas; the great carved images of Easter Island; the stone temples of the Sandwich Islands: all these are full of interest. But the inscriptions are as yet undiscovered, or they have not as yet been brought to the knowledge of inquirers. Easter Island, with its well-known carved tablets of wood, marked with the incised forms of curious hieroglyphics, which have taxed the learning and ingenuity of many wise men fruitlessly, is the only place where anything like an alphabetical or hieroglyphical system of writing has come to light
On Pitcairn Island is a rock-inscription in picture-writing. A copy can be found in “Te Ika a Maui.“† To its faithfulness I can testify, having received an original drawing of the inscription, similar in every way to that in “Te Ika;” and I was furnished with additional particulars not mentioned by Mr. Taylor. The incisions are deeply cut into a very hard rock, of the kind generally known as the “French whin,” situated near the base of a steep cliff, the foot of which is beaten by the sea,
[Footnote] * “Trans. N.Z. Inst.,” vol. x., p. 52.
[Footnote] † By the Rev. R. Taylor, edit. 1870, p. 702.
and the cliff is only descended at the risk of life. There seems to be no reasonable doubt as to the authenticity of the carving: the symbols are common to the religions of the ancient world, and are scarcely likely to have been sculptured in such a place by Europeans, castaways or others, although there is reason to suppose that subsidence of the island has taken place. Large tanks or cisterns hewn out of the solid rock, and other traces of long ago occupation, were found by the mutineers of the Bounty in taking possession of Pitcairn. But there is nothing in this drawing which can be called aught but picture-writing in its most primitive form.
Since no inscriptions are available, we may turn to ancient alphabets, and see if any trace of them exists in the living record, i.e., the language of the people. The letters in ancient alphabets bear plain evidence of their picture-writing birth, in the names by which they are called. Thus A was not called a but aleph, that is “the ox;” B was not called b but beth, “a house.” The researches of antiquarians have demonstrated the theory that the art of writing began with the Egyptians, passed from them to the Semitic nations (Hebrews, Arabs, etc.,) and was adopted from the Semites by the Aryan Greeks and Latins. Picture-writing preceded the alphabet, and the hieroglyph was the mother of the letter. The Aryans nowhere seem to have invented an alphabet for themselves; they always took over borrowed forms from peoples of earlier civilization: the “Ogham” writing of the Irish is comparatively a modern script, and remained only locally known. It consisted of strokes drawn on either side of a centre Hue, according to the value of the letter represented, and is supposed to have been originally copied from a tree-branch with leaves on each side. A decisive proof that the Greeks took over the names of the letters, as well as their forms, is that alpha, beta, etc., are meaningless in Greek, but translatable in Hebrew: the alpha, our a, having still the old resemblance to the head of the ox (aleph), reversed ∀.*
I propose to take three letters or signs, as examples of the others, and to show that if the Maoris (i.e., Polynesians) did
[Footnote] * The derivation of the Sanscrit word lipi, “writing,” as Dr. Burnell (“South Indian Palæography”) has pointed out, is not decisively known. The derivations from likh, “to scratch,” or lip, “to smear,” do not satisfy scholars: lipi has been best connected with the Achœmenian word dipi, “writing, edict.” As the first Sanscrit writing seems to have been incised, as in the rock inscription of Asoka, I believe we have the first, or very early, form in the primitive and ancient Polynesian word, found in Maori as ripi, “to cut;” and in compounds, maripi, “a knife;” koripi, “to cut;” in Hawaiian, lipi, meaning “an axe,” and “sharp”-cf. (Eng.) rip “to tear open, cut open;” (Middle Eng.) ripen, “to search into, probe;” (Swed. and Norweg.) ripa, “to scratch”; (Danish) oprippe, “to rip up.”—Skeat, “Etym. Dict.”
not call letters by these names, they had similar names for the things by which these letters were known. In the ancient world there was far greater activity and intercommunication of peoples than is generally believed. The wide distribution of jade (greenstone) as ornaments, and of the tin necessary for the production of bronze, (both tin and jade being found in few places,) give proofs of widely extended travel and perhaps of commerce. The three letters in question are k, f, and t.
The Letter “K.”
The hieroglyphic system of writing is of immense antiquity, of a time so remote as to be almost, beyond our realization. As a script it was beginning to fall into disuse before Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt–that is, before the national birth of the Hebrew people. Att the events which, occurring in Palestine, have so affected the history of the world, took place since the hieroglyphic system of “verbal phonograms” passed away; it can scarcely be doubted that this early form of writing originated in Egypt, not later than 8,000 years ago. The Hieroglyphic passed into the Hieratic, and it was this form which was adopted by the Hebrews.
The k found in the hieroglyphs is called kaph, and is written as a cup or bowl (see Plate XX., fig. 1). In the Hieratic script, kaph is written as a hand, with bent or looped fingers (fig. 2); this form merged into the Jewish kaph. Kaph is usually held to mean “palm of the hand,” or, more probably, as. Böttcher suggests, “the bent hand.” “The form of the Hieratic character in the Papyrus Prisse seems to be decidedly in favour of this explanation, as will be seen by placing the two figures side by side.”* The Hebrew form (fig. 3) evidently represents the hand and fingers. The Semitic k—i.e., kaph, “the hand.” became the Greek k or kappa, early Moabite kaph (fig. 4), Nineveh kaph (fig. 5), Baal Lebanon kaph (fig. 6). The Baal Lebanon inscription was written on bronze fragments, which when discovered were broken up smaller by a peasant, in order that he might ascertain if they were made of gold. The inscription states that: “This vessel of good bronze was offered by a citizen of Carthage to Baal Lebanon, his Lord.” The Pelasgic = k, but the Etruscan and Oscan as in fig. 7; the Messapian = fig. 8. These last show resemblance to the kappa of the Thera inscriptions. The island of Thera (Santorin) is said to have been the place where Cadmus invented the Greek letters. The island is a long-extinct volcano, but under its ashes inscriptions have been found upon the rocks, and these are supposed to be the oldest Greek inscriptions in the world. One of these (see fig. 9) reads κριτοφύλον; not only is the kappa turned, but the writing
[Footnote] * “The Alphabet,” Taylor, vol. i., p. 172.
is in the Semitic manner, from right to left. This kappa shows how the K form was derived from the Egyptian Hieratic (fig. 2) through the Hebrew kaph.
Egyptian words showing the connection between “hand” and “cup” (or bowl) are kaf, “the hollow of the hand;” kefa, “a fist;” Kep, “the fist;” kep, to “seize, catch;” khep, “one hand;” Kabti, “two hands;” kab, “libation, liquid;” kaf, “to seize; to claw with the hand.” If we now compare Polynesian, we shall find the word “cup,” and “hand,” in its primitive shape and sound. In New Zealand Maori, kapu* means “the hollow of the hand,” “curly,” “to close the hand,” “to drink out of the hollow of the hand;” kapukapu, “to curl,” as a wave; kapunga, “the palm, of the hand;” Kapuranga, “a handful;” kapo “to snatch at,” “to catch.” This “hollow of the hand” is the primitive “cup,” the first bowl from which our early ancestors drank. When the Maori chief was tapu, so that no vessel might touch his lips, he held the hollow of his hand, turned upwards, beneath his lip, and the slave poured the liquid into his master's mouth. So the Brahmin in India receives his drink, lest the brass lotah should touch his mouth and then be polluted by even the shadow of another.
It will, of course, be objected that, according to the “cut and dried” rule, no one should be allowed to compare a Maori word with an Egyptian or Hebrew one: but there are some words which I believe to be “world-words,” and which were of either very wide adoption or else the root-formation of ancient languages is as yet totally misunderstood. “Cup” is one of these, (including the idea of “hand,” and “concave,”) and with change of the p, through ph, into f and v, seems almost universal. The Greek κύπελλον, “a cup;” κύπη, “a cavity,” “cavern;” κνμβαλονα, “a cymbal” (from its hollow shape; cf. Sanscrit, khumba); the Latin cupa, “a tub;” cavea, “a cavity,” “a coop;” caverna, “a cavern;” “to make hollow;” Irish cupan, cupa, copan, copa, all = cup. Scottish cuppel, “a small tub;” Lithuanian kupka, “cup;” Breton kop, Polish kubek, ancient Slav koupa, Servian kupa; all mean “cup.” Scandinavian kupa, “a round vase;” Danish kop, Swedish kopp, French coupe, Spanish kopa, Italian coppa, Icelandic koppr = cup. Icelandic koppr also means “the eye-socket;” spé-koppan, “a dimple in the cheek,” Kupa, “a bowl,” haus-kupa, “the skull,” kupadr, “bowl-shaped;” Russian kopani, “a cistern;” kubu, “an alembic,” kopati, “to hollow out ground, to form a trench;” Sanscrit kambi, “a ladle or spoon;” kambu, “a shell;” kumbhika, “a small pot or pitcher; kûpa, “a well, cave, hollow;” kûpî, “a bottle,” “the navel;” kumbhi, “a pot, or jar.” Assyrian kabutu,
[Footnote] * The short a of kapu is better represented in English letters by kup-poo than by káh-poo.
“a goblet,” and kuppu “a cage” (i.e., coop).* Zend khumba, “a pot or jar;” Cymric cwm (for cwmb), “a valley or combe;” Anglo-Saxon cumb, “a measure of liquids;” Middle German kump, “a vase or cup.”
These examples, from Central Asia to Iceland, show a field of vast extent covered by this word to the westward. Let us take up the Polynesian, and carry the same word thousands of miles to the eastward.
Samoan, 'apu, “a cup or dish made of a leaf.” This is really kapu, as the apostrophe implies a lost k, and is heard as a slight catch or break in the voice; apulautalo, “a taro-leaf cup;” apo, “to cling, to.” Rarotongan kapu, “a cup;” Mangareva kapu, “a cup,” “to enclose,” “to contain;” Marquesan kapukapu, “to take up water with a cup;” Tahitian (also lost k) abu, “concave, or hollow,” as abu rima, “the hollow of the hand;” abu mata, “the socket of the eye;” apuroro, “brain-cup,” i.e., the human skull (compare Icelandic above quoted); apu, “the shell” of nuts, seeds, etc.; aapu (for kakapu), “to take up with the hand;” aabu, “the shell of nuts,” etc.: “to hold out any cup or concave vessel to receive anything.” Also, compare aipu, “a cup,” “a cocoanut-shell used for a cup,” with the Tongan ipu, “a cup,” and the New Zealand Maori ipu, “a calabash.” This last shows clearly an abraded form of the word. Hawaiian (lost k) apu. “a cup made of cocoanut-shell for drinking awa” (kava); apu, “a dish or cup of any material;” aapu, “to warp or bend,” as a board in the sun, “a concave vessel;” hoo-aapu (causative and reduplicate = whaka-kakapu), “to turn the hollow of the hand upwards;” aibu, “a cup;” aipu, “a cup,” “a cocoanut-shell used as a cup.”†
I do not think any other conclusion can be arrived at, in reference to these words, than that they radically imply: 1st, the curved hand; 2nd, anything curved or hollow; 3rd, a cup or container. This, as either kap, kup, kaf, or cav, from Iceland to Hawaii.
The Letter “V.”
Vau, a nail.
This is the name given to the Hebrew letter V, whence sprung our F and V and Y (W). In the sense of “nail” it does
[Footnote] * See “Cuneiform Inscriptions,” Schrader, pp. 199 and 292.
[Footnote] † Massey's remark (“Book of Beginnings,” vol. ii., p. 154) that the Egyptian fa, “the hand,” is a worn-down form of kefa, kaf, or kep, “the hand,” is doubtful, if we compare the Maori wha-wha, the Tahitian fa-fa, “to touch or feel with the hand.” The Polynesian is too primitive (apparently) in construction to allow of kapu becoming fa-fa, and it is probable that these words are from separate roots, but common to both languages. Cuvier and Blumenbach are the authorities that the ancient Egyptians were members of the Caucasian race, and that their skulls are purely Asiatic. Baron Bunsen also lends the weight of his great name and learning to this belief. The Icelandic Fá, to “touch, grasp, take hold,” is also Polynesian.
not seem to have been of wide distribution, and perhaps the uncertainty of its sound, vibrating from F and V into P and B made it difficult for the first scribes of language to fix its fluctuations. Under the name of “digamma” it was used in one Greek dialect, and has proved useful in philology in showing how transitions of words have taken place, as, to use the old school-boy example, Foĩvoç (i.e., ονοç) into Latin vinum, wine. It was a fancied resemblance to one gamma superimposed on another, F, which led the grammarians to relinquish the old name of Fa? for this letter. As the name of a nail, it does not seem to have been adopted by the Aryan nations (so far as I can ascertain). Taylor gives the meaning of vau as “a peg or nail,” but says, “rather, hook, as a hook fastened into the wall for holding clothes.” Farrar* gives vau, “a tent-peg or hook.” The tent-peg would seem the more probable origin among a pastoral and probably a tent-dwelling people, as once the children of Abraham were.
The Polynesians seem to possess a word of nearly the same sound and signification. Maori whao, “a nail, any iron tool, a chisel;” whaowhao, “to carve wood;” kowhao, “a hole;” urukowhao, “leakage in a canoe through the holes made for the lashings of the rauawa” (attached sides). Samoan fao, “a wooden peg or nail; any kind of gouge used in making the sinnet-holes in canoes; to punch holes in the side of a canoe;” faofao, “a long shell, formerly used as a gouge in making the sinnet-holes for lashing together two planks of a canoe.” Tahitian fao, “a nail or chisel;” “to make holes with a fa.o;” faoa, “a stone adze;” haoa, “a hard stone, of which adzes were formerly made;” “an adze” made of this stone. Hawaiian hao, the name of any hard substance, as iron, the horn of a beast, etc.: strained tightly, hard; haoapuhi, (puhi, “an eel,”) the name of a stick used instead of a hook for catching eels; ohao, (for kohao,) “to tie,” as a rope or string.
The last word brings us to the consideration of the New Zealand Maori words: whao, “a nail,” and whau, “to tie;” i.e., fastening with a peg, and fastening with a cord. Whau, with Samoan fau, “to tie together,” and Tahitian fafau (redup.), “to tie together,” have sister words throughout Polynesia. I believe that the notion held by one or two Maori linguists, that the word fau, used as a verb, “to tie,” arose from the noun naming the tree fau, (whau, or whauwhi,) is incorrect, as the word fau is applied to different species of trees the bark of which is useful for cordage, or clothing. The Hibiscus tiliaceus, the Broussonetia papyrifera, a species of Urtica, etc., have this word fau applied to them in different islands, a fact which points out that fau was used as a word meaning “to tie,” or “fasten together,” before the dispersion of the Maori race in the Pacific.
[Footnote] * “Language and Languages,” p. 117.
Tau, The Letter “T.”
I now approach by far the most interesting and difficult part of my paper.
The Semitic tau was written X; the Aryan tau was written T; both being forms of crossed lines. In writing on the subject of the tau, “the headless cross,” I shall carefully avoid any (intended) allusion to “the cross” as a Christian symbol. The tau form of the cross was in use for untold centuries before the Christian era, and it is to this ancient form of the tau that I refer. I do not wish to touch on such perilous ground as the religious side of the question, and am only concerned with the philological and mythological bearings of the letter.
The variations of the letter appear as follows:—The forms, which extend over a vast geographical surface, and over thousands of years of time, differ very slightly. The English capital T is the old Hellenic τ (tau) and Ethiopian tawe; Moabite × tau, Nineveh τ and ×, Hebrew ×, Thammudite × and + Sabean ×.
Everywhere in ancient Egyptian painting and sculpture do we find this sacred symbol, “the cross of Taht.” It was the emblem of the new life into which Osiris led the souls of those who in life believed on him. In the opinion of many investigators this cross represents “reproduction,” and is the emblem of Phallic worship: it is unnecessary, as it would be unprofitable, for me to open up that question here. A single quotation from a work, in which the wonderful industry of the author is not the least astonishing part, will suffice. “The most sacred cross of Egypt, that was carried in the hands of the gods, the Pharaoh, and the mummied dead, was the ankh (Pl. XX., fig. 12), 'the sign of life, the living; a covenant, an oath; a pair; to couple and duplicate.'”* How widely this sign of “the cross of the three quarters” was distributed, may be conceived when we consider by what diverse peoples it was adopted and cherished. From the Hebrew (who called his cross tau) to the Celt, in Britain of the West, all had adopted the emblem. “It is a fact, not less remarkable than well-attested, that the Druids in their groves were accustomed to select the most stately and beautiful tree as an emblem of the deity they adored, and, having cut off the side branches, they affixed two of the largest of them to the higher part of the trunk, in such a manner that these branches extended on each side like the arms of a man, and together with the body, presented the appearance of a huge cross, and in the bark in several places inscribed the letter tau.”†
Since, then, it must be conceded that the Semitic and Aryan tau had a wide distribution, we will proceed to endeavour to
[Footnote] * “The Natural Genesis,” Massey, vol. i., p. 423.
[Footnote] † “Indian Antiquities,” Maurice, vol. vi., p. 49.
ascertain if in any case it had the signification of cross or letter in Polynesia.
The Polynesian word “tau” has many and differing significations. I will deal with those which bear upon the subject in hand, leaving the other meanings awhile: feeling confident that if their genesis could be traced they would lead up to one primal fount of original meaning.
“Tattoo” is one of two Polynesian words adopted into English: the other word is “tapu” (such and such a subject was tabooed). Tattoo, in the sense of punctured markings of the skin, is a Tahitian word, derived from the writings of Cook, but not so written by him. He writes it as “tattow,” thus giving very nearly the sound which in Polynesia we write as tatau. Tatau, in the sense of tattooing, is not a New Zealand Maori word; the word ta is used instead; ta=“to tap, strike, to strike the tattooing chisel with a small mallet.” It should not be forgotten that there is another meaning in English for “tattoo,” viz., a drum-beat (etymology unknown). But the idea of “striking a skin (drum-head) with a stick,” is common to both English and Polynesian meanings of “tattoo.” The word tau, without the duplicate syllable, (in ta-tau,) has the following meaning in New Zealand:—Tau, “to alight, to rest upon” as a bird; taupua, “to rest, to support oneself;” tautari, “an upright stick in the walls of a native house, supporting the small battens to which the reeds are fastened;” tauteka, “a brace, a prop;” tauware, “the thwart of a canoe.” Although these words may have some remote connection with the idea of a cross-piece, there is nothing to guide one in any way to such conclusion. “But in Hawaiian dialect (where the Maori t changes to K*) we get a glimpse of light. Hawaiian kau, “to hang;” “to hang up,” “to suspend as an article out of the way;” “to crucify,” “to hang up as a criminal;”† kau, “to light down upon,” as a bird, “to rest upon;” “to stretch over;” kaulua, “to put two together,” “to yoke together;” kaulai, “to hang up.” With this idea of resting—viz., to hang upon, to hold up, we return to New Zealand Maori, and find tautinei, “to hold up or support a sick person;” tautoko, “to prop up or support;” tautau, “a string or cluster;” tauhokai, “a stake in a river, to which a net is fastened.” Most of the words, however, seem to have connection with tying. Let us return to the cross, and see its early form. The primitive ankh (cross) was a loop of cords with the
[Footnote] * It would perhaps be nearer the truth to say that the sound which we write in New Zealand as t is in Hawaiian written k.
[Footnote] † As crucifixion is not known to have been a Polynesian punishment, this meaning of kau may perhaps be explained by the fact that in Hawaii, the sacrifice, whether man, hog, or fruit, was “hung up” on the tree which was to be used in building a heiau (temple). This sacrifice was called kuma-kalehua.
ends crossing each other, “the ankh tie.” Wright* has a rare English word, taw, “to twist or entangle,” “to tie.” (Obsolete words are invaluable to the student.) In Maori, tau means “the string of a garment,” “a loop or thong on the handle of a weapon,” “a loop forming the handle of a basket;”† tatau, “to tie;” tautau, “to tie in bunches,” “a string,” “a cluster;” taukaea, “thread used for fastening a fish-hook to a line;” taura, “a rope or cord,” etc. In this sense of tying, we find in other Polynesian dialects: Hawaiian, kaukau, “to set or fix a snare for birds;” kaula, “a rope;” kauhilo, “to fasten with a rope the sticks of a building, while in the course of erection,” etc.: Tahitian, taura, “a rope, cord, lace, or thread;” tauete, “a noose or loop fastened to a mast to fix the sail to:” Samoan, tau, “to be anchored;” tauama, “the name of a rope in a sailing canoe;” taufatu, “to tie on a stone as a weight to a fish-hook;” taufoe, “to tie a fishing-line to a paddle,” etc. These instances are a few of many hundreds of similar words. But as the Tahitian tatau (tattoo) is the Maori ta, other meanings of ta may be considered. Ta, in New Zealand Maori, means “to net,” “to make the meshes of a net”—that is to say, to entwine threads by crossing, this crossing having the ankh tie. The Egyptian tat is the cross sign; crossing, tying, and knotting are synonymous. Ta, in Egyptian, means “a tie, a knot;” “to tatt.”
Has all this any bearing on the alphabet in Polynesia? Yes, if this letter T was understood in its primitive sense by the Polynesians as a cross. But it meant something more. Did they ever know it as a letter? Somewhat may be inferred from the following evidence: In Maori, tatau (which is our Tahitian friend “to tattoo,”) means “to count,” “to repeat one by one;” but in Hawaii the corresponding word, kakau, means “to write,” “to make letters,” “to write upon,” “to print or paint upon kapa” (native cloth, i.e., tapa), as in former times,‡
[Footnote] * “Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English.”
[Footnote] † Compare the German tau, “tow,” “cable-rope.” (Kluge, in his “Etymologisches Wörterbuch,”) as being connected with our English tow, “to drag.” But if so, we have the Maori verb to, “to drag,” “to haul,” as a canoe, in a very ancient incantation used on the landing of the Maoris in New Zealand from Hawaiki:—
“Toia Tainui ki te moana, Na wai eto?”
“Drag Tainui (canoe) to the ocean!
Who shall drag her?”
[Footnote] ‡ “The tapa is often printed with colours in patterns. This is performed in a mode similar to that used in Europe before the introduction of copper rollers. Instead of engraved blocks, they form tablets (about as thick as binders' boards) of pieces of large cocoanut leaves, by sewing them together. One side of this tablet is kept smooth and even, and upon this cocoanut fibres are sewn so as to form the required pattern, which is, of course, raised upon the surface of the tablet. These tablets are wet with a piece of cloth well soaked in the dye, after which the tapa, which for this purpose is well bleached and beautifully white, is laid down upon them and pressed into close contact. The dye is made from herbs, etc., of various colours.”—Wilkes' “U.S. Exploring Expedition,” p. 112.
[Footnote] Compare English taw-maker, the “person who, in weaving, works flowers into his work.”—Wright's “Dict. Obs. and Prov. Words.”
“to put down for remembrance,” “to describe,” “to mark out,” “to designate,” “a writing;” kakau-kaha, “to print, paint, or mark on the skin;” kau, “to put down,” as words on paper, “to fix the boundaries of a land or country,” “to dot,” “to give publicity to a thing,” “to rehearse in the hearing of another that he may learn;” (cf. Maori, tauira, “a pattern,” “copy,” “teacher,” “pupil;”) kaukau, “to take counsel,” “to revolve in one's mind.” Tahitian, tatau,* “to count,” “to number;” ihotatau, “reckoning up of descent,” “genealogy.” Samoan, tau, “to count,” “that which is right and proper;” tau'ese, “to count wrongly;” tavfau, “to teach a pigeon.” Marquesan, tatau, “to reckon,” “count.” The general idea to be gathered from them all is to mark or dot (tattoo) for counting, or for making signs or emblems by which one thing could be known from another. That the word should stand for “teaching; learning; fixing boundaries; giving publicity,” etc., awakens serious thought.†
“Nature,” reporting a meeting of the British Association (last but one), says that Mr. Haliburton, when speaking on the subject of the tau, affirmed that the natives of the Queen Charlotte Islands, one of the most isolated groups in the Pacific (near the American coast), used this symbol “on large sheets of copper, to which they assigned a high value, and each of which they called a tau.” Here, then, we have evidence of it as writing, and as a medium of exchange. But the most conclusive evidence of the value of tau as in counting, in its meaning “ten,” and its exchange use, is in the consideration of a totally different word, the explanation coming from far-off Madagascar. The Malagasy contains many Malay and some Polynesian words: among them the equivalent for the Maori hoko, “to barter.”
Hoko, in Maori, has two distinct meanings: one is “to barter,” now used in modern speech as “to buy or to sell;” the other meaning, when hoko is used as a prefix to numerals, signifying ten times the subjoined numeral. Toru = three,
[Footnote] * When the Roman officers numbered their soldiers after an engagement they wrote a tau, T, against the names of the living.
[Footnote] † Tekau, the Maori word for “ten,” if equivalent to the cross sign, shows a form of crossing by the clasping of the ten fingers, or two arms. Thus, the Roman X, the decem (“ten”), is only the Asiatic form of tau, and it may be found that tekau (worn down) was the “tek” of ωεκα., deg, teg, etc., as “ten.”
hokotoru=thirty; whitu=seven, hokowhitu=seventy, etc. If we look in Malagasy for this word, we shall find that h is represented by v, as Maori hoe, “to paddle, to row”=Malagasy voy, “the act of rowing;” Maori hua, “fruit”=Malagasy voa, etc. Looking, then, for the Malagasy equivalent of Maori hoko, “to barter,” we find vokovoko, “a cross, the figure of an X.” This, then, was the medium of buying and selling, the tau; and the Maori prefix hoko, “raising the number ten times,” was used because the hoko or voko currency was marked with a tau, “X,” or ten. With this meaning of sale, ten, and X, must be compared the Tongan faka-tau, “to barter, buy, or sell” (whaka or faka = causative prefix). The word tau, in its meaning of “a year,” may be explained in connection with “ten” as in Tagal, Mangarevan, and other Pacific dialects, in which tau means a year divided into ten months.
Was this sign, this means of communication, merely the net-crossing, the cord-crossing, or the real tat cross? It would appear that the tau was used in Polynesia, certainly in religious ceremonial and connection. The New Zealand word tauira, given in Williams's “Dictionary” as “counterpart,” (and so “teacher, pattern, pupil, copy,”) means in Maori mythology much more than this. Constantly in the ancient invocations and poetry we find the tauira alluded to as some sacred being or beings. In Dr. Shortland's “Maori Religion and Mythology,” he translates Tauira as “a person who is being instructed by a priest, or by the spirit of a parent or ancestor” (p. 108); but in his translation of the “Piki ake Tawhaki” poem, (p. 24) he leaves the tauira to signify one of the (untranslatable) heavenly personages to whom Tawhaki was ascending: “to your Ariki, to your Tapairu, to your Pukenga, to your Whananga, to your Tauira.” Also, tau-tohito means “an adept,” and taumaha “a thank-offering” (White). It is to the other Polynesian islands, where far more elaborate systems of ceremonial and worship were observed than among the simple New Zealanders, that we must look for the religious signification of tau. In Hawaiian kau (tau), “to light down upon,” as a bird; “to light down upon,” as the Spirit or Divine influence upon one (Lorrin Andrews). Hence, probably: kaula, “a prophet,” one who predicts future events; kaukau, “a heap of stones made into a rude altar;” kauila (see Maori tauira, quoted above), “to offer sacrifice at the close of a kapu (tapu);” kaumaha (see Maori, above), “to offer in sacrifice, to kill a victim-in sacrifice, to offer a victim on the altar.” Samoan taula, “the priest of an aitu (deity);” taulaga, “a sacred offering;” tauto, “an oath, to take an oath.” Tongan tautau, “an offering to the god of the weather.” Marquesan (dialect drops r) taua (for taura), “a priest.” But most important of all is Tahitian, where tauhá (ha = four) means “the four stars called the Crosier (Southern Cross);” and taumaha, (in Maori, a
“thank-offering,”) not only “a portion of food offered to the gods or spirits of the dead,” (the Latin “manes,”) but also these “stars of the Southern Cross.” In the Maori constellations, the “Pointers” of the Southern Cross* are called the taura, generally supposed to mean “cable” (from taura, a rope), as the cable of the stellar figure called “the canoe of Tamarereti;” but as taula means “an anchor” in Tongan, and katau “an anchor” in Marquesan, it is probable that the Southern Cross is the tau, the tau-hâ (four-cross), or taura.† It may well be that Massey has solved the problem of the connection between tatau “to mark,” (tattoo,) and its connection with the cross in the passages treating of the rite of “young-man-making.” The pubescent one had crossed and become established in his manhood; hence he was tattooed with the cross, as the sign of foundation. This is the Egyptian tat (the cross, or phallus), and tattu is the region of establishing for ever, in the eschatalogical phase: the place where the tat cross was erected when the child Horus had crossed and been united with his masculine force or virile soul, and the two had become one in tattu (eternal).‡
The point may well be raised: What was the character of the “tatau” among Polynesians formerly? Tattooing seems to have been general, in greater or less degree: the Hawaiians and New Zealanders being the two great sections of the family with whom the face was tattooed as well as parts of the body. In New Zealand, the curves of the modern tattooing (“the tattooing of Mataora”) are said by Mr. White (whose knowledge of the ancient Maori is very great), to have superseded a different fashion for marking called “the mokokuri”—from the description given to Mr. White by the old priests I drew the picture forming the frontispiece of his new work “The Ancient History of the Maori.” It can be seen by this (see Plate XX.) that a peculiar system of marking existed: horizontal and vertical lines arranged in sets of threes. This certainly seems to be more like some kind of writing than the decorative flowing curves of modern “moko,” Let us consider the next figure, that of another Polynesian, a Bowditch Islander, drawn from a sketch in Wilkes' U.S. Exploring Expedition record. Here the lines are replaced by arrow-heads; and, although I do not pretend to discern any analogy between these marks and the arrow-headed (or the cuneiform) writing of the Asiatics, I may remind my readers that in Scandinavia, in the Runic system of writing, the letter answering to the Greek tau was called tyr, and written as an arrow-head,
[Footnote] * α and β Centauri.
[Footnote] † The feast of the cross was solemnized by the ancient Persians (according to Dupuis) a few days after the entrance (crossing) into the Zodiacal sign of Aries, at which time the Southern Cross was visible at night. See “Nat. Gen.,” vol. ii., p. 337.
[Footnote] ‡ See “Book of Beginnings,” p. 437.
(our “broad arrow”). This may be mere coincidence: on the other hand it may be a real link connecting tau, τ the cross-letter, with the Polynesian ta-tau, “to write, paint, puncture, dot, count, describe, and worship,” especially as the Scandinavian tyr or tir was worshipped as a divinity.* To those who would remind me that printing is modern, I would say that the first writing of Asia was the printed (stamped) arrow-head of the cuneiform script, on clay cylinders.
In Maori, the word used for “cross” is ripeka; its meanings, “lying across one another,” “to lay across,” “to mark with a cross,” “to crucify.” The root is (apparently) peka, “a branch,” “to branch,” (a branch, whether of a tree or of a river,) “to turn aside;” pekanga, “a branch road.” As the Egyptian pekh, “to divide,” pekkha, “division,” and peka, “a gap,” seem to coincide with this, we may also consider if the Teutonic beck, “a stream,” has not the same derivation as Maori peka, “a branch stream.” Close to English and England is the Breton pech, “a division.” Skeat (our greatest authority on English etymology) says of this word beck: “Root unknown.” Again the Hawaiian comes forward with a well-preserved ancient meaning: Pea (the Hawaiians lose k = peka,) means “to make a cross,” “to set up timbers in the form of a cross,” “a cross, or timbers put crosswise,” thus: X, formerly placed before the temples as a sign of kapu (taboo). Mr. Andrews (“Haw. Dict.”) then gives this most valuable example of the use of the word: “e kau pea, ‘to place in the form of across.’” In this sentence (e tau peka), tau, used as a verb, is placed with peka; and I think the × (the Asiatic tau), placed in front of the temples as a sign of taboo, quite conclusive as to the sign being considered a sacred one.
A gentleman whose name carries weight as an expert in the Melanesian languages, the Rev. Lorimer Fison, informed me that he considered kau was the radical part of the Maori word rakau, “a tree,” “timber “—wood generally—its compounds in Fijian, etc., leading him to this conclusion. A close study of the Polynesian dialects convinces me of its possibility, the interchange of k and t being much more common than is generally supposed; not only between Hawaiian and the other dialects, this being regular and seldom departed from; nor as in Samoan, where it is a modern innovation, but even within the New Zealand Maori language itself: makuru and maturuturu, whakiwhaki and whatiwhati, etc. Thus, it is possible that tau “to float, to rest,” may be connected with kau “to swim.” If that be the case, and that kau may mean wood, it
[Footnote] * I do not know if tir, the “arrow-head “letter of Scandinavia, is connected with the Persian tir, “an arrow;” bat, if so, it is probably represented among the Maoris (who do not know the bow and arrow) by tiri, “to throw one after the other,” “to throw one by one.”
would explain many Maori compounds of kau, such as kaunoti, kaurimarima, kauahi, etc., terms for sticks used in producing fire by friction. The Egyptian for wood is khau. But if kau corresponds to tau, then this cross set up, to which such sacredness was ascribed, is the child of the old Tree-worship, wherein our own Teutonic ancestors, as well as the men of eastern lands, delighted. The Maori Tiki, the carved and sacred post, was thus a deity of the Tree. A Mangaian myth concerning the great Maui and his brothers relates: “At the earnest solicitation of Maui they consented to follow him. Accordingly he went to the old post of their dwelling, and said as before—
“O pillar! open! open up!
That wo may all enter and descend to the nether world.”
At these words the wonderful pillar at once opened, and all four descended. Maui showed them all the wonders of the spirit-world,” etc.* The spirit-world was Avaiki, the New Zealand Hawaiki. It was through the pillar, the sacred Tree, the Kau or Tau, that entry to that wonderful unknown land of the shadows could be made with safety. I do not know if there is any connection between the Maori tahu, “to kindle” (passive tahuna) and tau, but the sister word to tahuna (passive form of tahu, “let it be kindled,”) is the Hawaiian kahuna, “a priest or person who offers sacrifices.”† To whom were the sacrifices offered? Probably in ancient times this “kindling” of the sacred fire was in honour of the Sun, the Lord of Fire, the god whose power was first recognised by men, and who has been worshipped at some time in every place.
Whatever kau may mean outside Polynesia proper, it is certain that rakau is, with slight variations, the true Polynesian word-Samoan la'au, Hawaiian laau, Tongan akau, Tahitian raau, etc. The compound there is kau and ra, and Ra is the Polynesian word for the Sun, as it is the Egyptian, and the ancient Celtic. La means “a day” in Gaelic, Irish, Egyptian, and Maori. “La, the Druidical name of God, obsolete in Gaelic but retained in the best Gaelic dictionaries.”‡ In Sanscrit, ra means “fire, heat, warmth” (Monier Williams). When men—the dwellers in caves, the savage hunters of savage beasts—had through the great discovery of fire-kindling made their first step towards civilization, learnt to cook food, to clear forests, to make canoes, surely their first dawn of worship would be veneration for this spirit of the Sun-fire Ra dwelling in the wood, whence it could be evoked by friction. Almost all the great deities of the ancient world were but solar impersonations. Osiris, Horus, Baal, Samas, Thammuz, Hercules, Phaethon,
[Footnote] * “Myths and Songs of the South Pacific,” Gill, p. 70.
[Footnote] † Tahu, in Tahiti the name generally employed for “sorcery.”
[Footnote] ‡ “Gaelic Etymology,” Mackay.
Mithra, Agni,—all were Sun, heat, warmth, fire. Taht was a lunar deity: by him men first began to count and reckon time (as in the Polynesian tatau, “to count, to write”), for the counting time by moons is the first natural division. Of Taht it is said: “Ra created him a beautiful light to show the name of his evil enemy…. Thou art my abode, the god of my abode; behold thou shalt be called Taht, the Abode of Ra.”* And every meaning of the Polynesian ra or la finds common meaning in the Aryan languages. Thus ra or la means not only “sun,” but “a sail:” in Danish raa means “the yard of the sail;” and in Scottish, ra means “the sail-yard.” The name of the great Maori kite in the shape of a hawk (presented by Sir George Grey to the Wellington Museum) is Ra. In Egypt the sun was represented with a hawk's head:
This sun-god was not only worshipped, but worshipped in a peculiar manner: everywhere with sacred (i.e., new-kindled) fire. Among the Latins we come across the passage concerning the “new fire made in the secret temple.”§ So in India, Agni (fire) is called “the child of Dyu (the sky), the son of strength (i.e., produced by the strong rubbing of wood), the light of the “sacrifice.”∥ “They worshipped Agni. with logs of wood, with praise.”¶ In the Zend Ayesta, the sacred book of the ancient Persians: “Oh Spenta Armaiti, this man do I deliver unto thee: this man deliver back to me against the day of resurrection; deliver him back as one who knows his Gathas, who knows the Yasna and the revealed law; a wise and clever man, who is the Word incarnate. Then shalt thou call his name Fire-creature, Fire-seed, Fire-offspring, Fire-land, or any name wherein there is fire.”** Men approached the tree, the bearer of the “fire-seed,” with awe and devotion; the tree itself they worshipped as a god and as the gift of a god. Surely the imagination of man never conceived a more mysteriously awful and majestic figure than that of the Scandinavian Odin hanging on the Life Tree. In the words of the Rev. Sir G. Cox,†† we read: “The Kosmos so called into existence is called the ‘Bearer of God’—a phrase which finds its explanation in the World Tree
[Footnote] * “Records of the Past,” vol. vi., p. 111.
[Footnote] † Compare the Maori ra-whiti, the east.
[Footnote] ‡ “Book of the Dead,” Birch, cxxxi.
[Footnote] §; “Adde quod arcanâ fieri novus ignis in æde Dicitur, et vires flamma refecta capit.”—Ovid, in Fasti.
[Footnote] ∥ “Rig Veda Sanhita,” mandala i., sûkta 165: Max Müller.
[Footnote] ¶ Idem.
[Footnote] ** “Vendidad,” fargard xviii.: M.M.
[Footnote] ††“Mythology of the Aryan Nations,” p. 371
Yggdrasil, on which Odin himself hangs, like the Helene Dendrites of the Cretan legend—
“I know that I hung, on a wind-swept tree
Nine whole nights, with a spear wounded,
And to Odin offered myself to myself,
On that tree of which no one knows
From what root it springs.”*
It may be urged that I have before stated my conviction that kau and taura were both cattle-words. My opinion is unchanged (nay, rather strengthened); but the consideration of this subject would cause this paper to be of objectionable length, and it must be left for the present. I will only notice two points briefly. Taylor, in “The Alphabet,” when speaking of the Hebrew letters, says: “Tau, the last of the letters, is the ‘sign’ or ‘cross’ used for marking the ownership of beasts (see Ezekiel ix. 4). The early form of the letter is + or ×, which would be the easiest and most natural mark for such a purpose.” It has been stated that from consideration of some other Aryan forms the Latin taurus, a bull, and taura, a cow, are words which have lost a prefixed s, the corresponding word in English (from Teutonic sources) being steer: this is made doubtful, perhaps, by Greek ωτανρç, ancient Slavonic touru, Russian turn, Irish tor. But if we allow that formerly ταυροç possessed a prefixed sigma, we get ωτανρç, a cross!
The cross of life and the tree of life were transferable images. The Buddhist cross was a tree of life, which brought forth flowers and leaves, as did the worshipped Asherah, “tree,” (the “grove”) of the Assyrians. When they were, whether in Europe or in Asia, approaching the shrine to offer the “new-made fire,” it was with the sacred fire-cross that they drew forth the offering of flame—with the holy Swastika cross. If the tau everywhere (as × and τ) represented the cross, then reverence and deification of this form of the tree or wood would be speedily granted by the minds of simple men; and the place whereon it stood become holy, as its presence made sacred the temples in the island of Hawaii.
[Footnote] * “Odin's Rune Song,” Thorpe's trans, of “Sœmunds Edda,” p. 340.