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Volume 20, 1887
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Art. XLVIII.—On Maori Ancestry.

[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 5th October, 1887.]

In the last volume of the “Transactions” of the Institute there are several valuable papers upon the subject of “The Whence of the Maori;” but I think they dwell too much upon the argument from language, and almost entirely omit any reference to physical characteristics. Now, if there is anything more remarkable than another in the history of the human race it is the persistence of types. If we look at the ancient sculptures of Egypt, and observe the present inhabitants, we find that the ancient Egyptian is still represented by the Copt of to-day; and the Negro of Africa presents the same type that he did many thousands of years ago. The Jew of to-day has the same form and features as his ancestors of the sojourn in Egypt. The dress is different, but the type is the same. If we consult the form and features of the old statues of Greece and Rome, or the frescoes of Pompeii, or the monuments in the cathedrals and churches of Western and Central Europe, we find the type is similar to that of European peoples of the present day. We do not find the brown or the black races represented. The Aryan type is prominent throughout.

Carried into more detail, we find varieties among the Aryans, and various crosses of these varieties, which are clearly distinguishable. Thus, in the British Isles, which contain a very mixed population, it is easy to make out the districts which are chiefly inhabited by descendants of Anglo-Saxons, or of Jutes, or of Scandinavians, or of Celtic races, whether or not the language has been retained; and it is said that in the southwest of Ireland there are evidences in form and feature of Turanian origin. Crossing the Channel to France, it is easy to see where the original Celtic race of ancient Gaul is predominant, and where it has been mixed with Norman or Teutonic blood. The difference in size and character is evident. But all the nation, with the trifling exceptions of the people of Brittany, and perhaps some Basques in the Pyrenees, speak French, and that being a Romance language, the French say that they belong to the Latin race, which, if taken to mean that they are Romans, is an absurdity. By the argument from language they may be held to be Romans, but as a matter of fact they are not Romans. Granted that the Romans may have founded cities, and sent some colonists to Gaul, so did the Phœnicians and the Greeks.

I could go on with similar remarks upon Italy, Greece, and other countries. In Italy the whole nation speaks Italian; but physically and mentally there is great difference between the

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Gothic Lombard and the Greek Neapolitan. Greece has retained its old language with very little change; but the population must have been much modified by importation of Albanians, a Sclavonic people. Malta is peculiar. In Valetta, Italian is spoken, but outside the capital the language is, I understand, Phœnician, a tongue which I do not understand. It gives one the idea of being like Arabic, but I suppose it to be older than that language as now spoken. A pure-blood Maltese has a peculiar form and features. He is not like an Italian, nor is he like an Egyptian. The argument from language may connect him with Tyre, or with Carthage, and possibly this descent may be in the main the true one.

In Russia we find people as fair and as intelligent as German, and others as swarthy as Tartars, which they are. Both speak the Russian language; but the former are Aryans, which the latter are not.

Let us see where the argument from language may lead us: A passenger, without previous knowledge of European history, arrives at Jamaica, and asks who the inhabitants are. He is told they are English, and he finds that they speak English, and are proud to call themselves “Englishmen.” They tell him how their countrymen, Lord Nelson, Duncan, Howe, and Jervis, “licked” the French and the Dutch, and, though caring most for naval victories, still admire the Duke of Wellington, and brag of what “we” did at Waterloo. Nevertheless, these darkskinned Englishmen are not Aryans—the language gives them neither the form and features nor the mental qualities. Instances of a similar kind might be multiplied, but the above will suffice.

Now, I will proceed to take a further view of the question of descent. Colour is generally looked upon as a matter of climate, but I think that is a theory which will not bear inspection. There may be said to be three well-defined colours in the human race, viz.: the white, the black, and the brown, the latter including the red and the so-called yellow.

The white man resident in the tropics may become much burnt by the sun; but his progeny is no darker than that of other people. Against this may be put the fact that many of the Aryans of India are very dark; but this has perhaps been mainly caused by intermarriage with Turanian races. The Parsees and the high-caste natives of India are dark, but they are not black; although the Indian Portuguese, from constant intermarriage with black races, are now very black. The negro seems very persistent in colour. He is as black, after many generations in the temperate regions of America, as when his ancestors left the shores of Africa, and his mental characteristics are similar. The brown races seem also to be persistent in character. China extends from tropical to almost arctic regions.

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The Chinaman is brown in colour throughout. He does not get black in the tropics, nor white in the cold latitudes. The Eskimo, inhabiting the Polar regions, is dark. America extends from North Polar regions to Cape Horn; the aboriginal inhabitants are all of the brown type. As in China, they do not get black in the tropics nor white in the colder regions. The Maori race extends from Hawaii to New Zealand, some 6,000 miles. The colour is similar throughout, unless when a cross with the Papuans can be detected. “The Whence of the American races” is as difficult a problem as that of “The Whence of the Maori.”

I do not believe that the Maoris are Aryans, because in physical appearance they are unlike any tribe of Aryans whose acquaintance I have made. I do not claim that the Maoris are inferior in appearance, but they are different. The Maori is brown in colour of skin; he has blue-black hair; his nose and lips are more fully curved than those of an Aryan, and, therefore, in some respects more handsome; his limbs are more fleshy, and his cranium seems peculiar. One may sometimes be startled by a peculiarly fine specimen of the race showing what may be Aryan characteristics, but these are exceptions.

Now, whom do the Maoris resemble?


Some of them are not unlike Chinese, but they differ enormously in character from that industrious people, and the Maoris knew none of the arts which have so long been cultivated in China.


I have seen Maori women very like what I remember of the Indians at Talcahuano, in Chile, and what struck me was that these were very like seals, both in the fat cheek and the expression of the eye. This is, however, an inferior type of Maori woman.


The Ceylonese or Cingalese is not unlike the Maori; his colour is similar, but he is much smaller. There were two Ceylonese boys on the Whanganui River who might well have passed for Maori girls.


What shall we say to the Egyptians? I believe a Coptic people, crossing by intermarriage with another race, might have originated the Maori race.


The Dravidians of India, mentioned by Thomson, I have never seen, and therefore cannot found an opinion upon my own observation. I would suggest that the ancestry lies between them and the Egyptians. Either supposition would allow reasonable data for the settlement of Madagascar by the Maori race, as well as the Eastern Pacific.

We have, however, not got beyond the region of speculation, and everything yet remains to be proved. I would suggest that

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the first step to be taken is the same as that adopted by Prince Roland Bonaparte—viz., to have a collection of photographs made of the various brown races. With these collected before us, we might be in a position to prosecute further inquiries in the matter of language and tradition.

It must surely have been at a very remote period that the Maoris broke away from their original home in Asia, or else where, for they do not appear to have even learnt the almost universal art of pottery, were unacquainted with the use of metals, and of building in stone.

The question also should be worked out whether or not the Maori race had any connection with America, North or South. Some names of places, such as Amecameca in Mexico, seem to suggest a Polynesian origin, although the generality do not, and we find the old names in these countries much replaced from the Saints’ Calendar, with a multitude of names such as San Paolo, San Luis Obispo, San Jose, etc., etc. From what I remember of the Indians of South America, I should say that the Peruvians differed much from the Maoris, being short in stature, demure, and sulky in character, but that possibly the Indians in the south of Chile had some resemblance to them.

I have not seen enough on the Mexican side to be able to offer an opinion, but I am told that many of the customs of Samoa are of Mexican origin; it strikes me that communication between Peru and Samoa would be much easier than between Mexico and Samoa. In the former case the navigator would have a “soldier's wind;” in the latter he would have to cross the line, get through the calms, and contend against the northeast trade winds.

I have observed that some American carvings very much resemble those of the Maoris, and a careful study of the patterns of carvings in wood might bring strong evidence to bear on the question of descent. Pictures of carvings on Burmese figureheads, etc., should be examined.

I have not hitherto alluded to the old theory of the Malay origin of the Maoris, although Wallace considers them to be a cross between the Malay and the Papuan. I do not think this theory is satisfactory; probably the Maori is a more ancient people than the Malay. He is a more powerful animal, much more lively, seldom has straight hair, but has one quality which is present in the Malay and other Eastern peoples, but often absent from the European, viz., a dignified politeness.

One must not confound the spread of the Maori throughout the Eastern Pacific, from Hawaii to New Zealand, with the original migration of the race from some other country. It is not likely that the whole of the Pacific islands, now occupied by this people, were settled simultaneously. Possibly the first colonists arrived in Hawaii, or in Samoa or Tonga, and spread

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from one centre; and there is no reason to suppose that New Zealand has been inhabited by the Maoris for a longer period than their own traditions allow—viz., some 600 years. Until I had visited Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa, I had felt a difficulty in seeing how the Maoris had navigated the Pacific with the means at their command; but after seeing the numerous groups of islands, and scattered detached islands, I at once perceived that, although hazardous, in even large canoes, the exploit was not very difficult. It required skill, courage, and obstinate resolution. I suppose that some of the Pacific groups of islands may have been colonised for many centuries before the others, and that the pressure of increasing population, or intestine troubles, caused portions of the people to seek from time to time fresh homes.

The more interesting questions are: How, when, and whence the Maori found his way to the Pacific? Where was his original home, and when did he leave it? I think the tentative attempts to prove part of the above from the evidence of language are highly praiseworthy; but I doubt if they have been successful. I now suggest that the focus should be turned upon the physical and mental characteristics which may be found to connect the Maoris with races in other parts of the world; that particular attention should also be directed to the patterns of ancient carvings in wood; and that language may be also brought in as an accessory. I do not attempt to solve the question, for it might require the application of a long life, and should be undertaken by a man who combines the technical education of a comparative anatomist with the feeling of an artist, and facility as a linguist.