Seventh Meeting: 17th October, 1888.
W. M. Maskell, F.R.M.S., President, in the chair.
Papers.—1. “Notes on the Decrease of the Pheasant in the More Settled Parts of the West Coast of the North Island,” by E. N. Liffiton. (Transactions, p. 225.)
Mr. Higginson considered that the want of sufficient grain-food was one of the chief causes of the decrease.
Major Campbell said that in parts of the North where there were few wekas the pheasants increased, but as the small birds increased the pheasants seemed to disappear.
Mr. Coleman Phillips attributed the decrease of the pheasants to the large quantities of poisoned grain that had been spread. There were great numbers of hawks in the Wairarapa district, especially where the rabbits were, and these hawks kept the pheasants away. The pheasants would increase when the rabbits were cleared off.
Mr. Park said he was able to fully corroborate all the author had said with regard to the decrease of pheasants and the corresponding increase of wekas in the Wanganui district. Both lived under the same cover; and as the weka had developed a proclivity for pheasants' eggs it was quite obvious that the native game must ultimately drive out the
imported bird. He thought the author was quite justified in his conclusion that the weka was largely concerned in the decrease of the pheasant.
Mr. McKay would merely remark that in the Bay of Islands district, where there were no wekas, plenty of dogs, and hawks were very rare, the pheasant had almost disappeared, although once plentiful.
The President said there appeared, as he had contended on a former occasion, to be some kind of law by which birds or beasts introduced from other countries became exceedingly numerous for a time and then died away. An important question raised now was, whether such birds or beasts must not be preserved more strictly if they are intended to increase, instead of following the usual New Zealand principle of letting a thing “slide” after you had once obtained it.
2. “On the Takahe (Notonis mantelli) in West Otago,” by J. Park, F.G.S. (Transactions, p. 226.)
The Hon. Mr. Mantell said that the western shores of Lake Te Anau were known to the primeval Maoris as “The Land of the Takahe.” This bird was plentiful there in 1851, but the natives set a high value upon it, and were unwilling to procure specimens for Europeans.
Mr. McKay said that it was true, as described by Mr. Park, that the supposed bird was hunted by torchlight two successive nights at the camp on Cascade Creek, and several hours each night were devoted to this purpose; but the bird was never seen. For the first time he now became aware that the bird had been seen by Mr. Park. At the time, he (Mr. McKay) was under the impression that all three supposed it to be the moa, and such it was suggested it might be by both Dr. Hector and Dr. Buller at the first meeting of the Society after the return of the expedition.
In reply to Mr. McKay, Mr. Park said he could not be mistaken, as he had taken notes of the occurrences at the time. At Cascade Creek Mr. McKay devoted very little time to hunting the strange bird, only assisting for a few minutes at the decoy-fire on the evening of the 22nd January. He did not join the camp at the Forks until the beginning of February, and was absent when the incidents narrated took place. In arriving at the conclusion that the strange bird was the Notornis Mr. Park said he was largely guided by the opinion of Mr. Buchanan, who was an accomplished naturalist. Some time after this Dr. Hector suggested it might be the Aptornis.
3. “The Knowledge of Cattle among the Ancient Polynesians,” by E. Tregear, F.R.G.S. (Transactions, p. 447.)
Mr. Coleman Phillips, whilst congratulating Mr. Tregear upon the research which his paper displayed, took exception to its heading. He had attended this meeting of the Society especially to hear what Mr. Tregear had to say upon “The Knowledge of Cattle among the Ancient Polynesians.” That was the heading of the paper. What he had heard was really very little else than a philological paper. Mr. Tregear's paper was actually a following of the root “ak” (from “yak,” the cow of the Oxus people, the generally-accepted early home of the Aryan race) through the different languages of the earth. In his opinion the paper this evening should have been so called. It was scarcely fair, either to the subject or to Mr. Tregear himself—the able author of the paper—to name it otherwise. A considerable amount of doubt was expressed concerning all Mr. Tregear's philological investigations, owing to the fact that he endeavoured to confine them strictly to New Zealand or Polynesia. In Polynesia. Mr. Phillips knew almost for a certainty that the present race of people there knew nothing whatever about cattle. He remembered in 1872 taking a ride of about twelve miles along the eastern
coast of Viti Levu, in Fiji, upon the first horse sent down to a plantation there in which, he was then interested. The marvel of the natives, who had never seen a horse, and their screams of astonishment as he cantered past the villages, were most amusing. The missionaries had told them of a bull and of a cow. Some of them may have seen these animals. But he only knew that the children ran screaming away, with the cry of “Bullumakau! Bullumakau!” They joined the names of bull and cow together, and so dubbed the horse. This fairly showed the state of knowledge of the present race of Polynesia upon the subject of cattle. As to the ancient race, Mr. Phillips pointed out that the languages of the present Polynesian might not have been used at all by the ancient race—that race of stone-builders which left behind the cyclopean remains still existing in the Carolines, the gigantic images of stone men still seen in Easter Island, the monoliths and trinoliths of Tonga, the remains of aqueducts in New Caledonia, &c. The present race of Polynesians knew positively nothing about these ancient stone-builders. Mr. Tregear's use of the word “ancient” was therefore scarcely warranted. He quite recognised the value of Mr. Tregear's work, and encouraged him to proceed in it; but he would prefer Mr. Tregear to treat it as a linguistic study.
In answer to Mr. Phillips, Mr. Tregear said he had little to say to Mr. Phillips's argument. As to the Polynesians being a stone-building people, although in Hawaii they had temples of stone, &c., yet in New Zealand there had never been one stone put on another in prehistoric times—a proof that before the separation they had not been a stone-using people. As to Mr. Phillips being qualified to speak about ancient Polynesians because he had spent some time in Fiji, Fiji was inhabited by a Melanesian people of different origin from that of the Maori, and Fiji was not a Polynesian island at all.
4. “On the Ancient Moa-hunters at Waingongoro,” by Colonel McDonnell; communicated by J. Park. (Transactions, p. 438.)
The President said that this was a question that had caused a great deal of argument. Sir Julius von Haast, Mr. Colenso, and others had taken one side (arguing that the moa was extinct before the Maoris came to New Zealand); while Mr. Mantell, Sir James Hector, and others had taken the other. He expressed surprise that Mr. Colenso should found a theory on the circumstance that there were no traditions or legends to prove otherwise, and questioned whether these traditions were of any value at all. Certainly he thought the testimony of a man who had actually seen and eaten the moa was worth ten thousand legends and traditions.
Mr. Tregear said that, although not prepared that night to speak on this question at length, a paper of his on “The Maori and the Moa” had been read before the Anthropological Society of London in May this year, and to prepare for this he had read up every available authority. His conclusions were that the Maori had never seen the moa; that his knowledge of the subject (if he had any knowledge) was traditional, and gathered from some older race inhabiting the islands when the Maori arrived, and absorbed by him. The negative evidence was very strong; the absence of any distinct notice of the huge birds in hunting-legends, and in descriptions of food-supplies, was very noticeable. The moa spoken of in the vague and fragmentary allusions to be found might have been any bird, large or small. In reply to Mr. Maskell, he would state that the comparison of native legends to worthless fairy-tales was unfortunate, because some of the most valuable evidence of the remote lives of our ancestors was being gathered together by comparative mythologists from fairy-tales, and it had been found that even nursery rhymes had
passed from mouth to mouth unaltered for ages. Literature corrupted tradition; and the semi-religious manner in which old songs and charms were handed down from priest to priest and from father to son gave them a value for accuracy beside which our current gossiping way of telling narratives or of compiling history was loose and valueless. Only those who knew and loved the investigations were competent to understand their value.
Mr. Park read an extract from a paper by the Rev. R. Taylor, which he said had a direct bearing on Colonel McDonnell's paper, and confirmed the incidents described by that author. Mr. Taylor describes how he visited Waingongoro in 1843, and again in 1866 in company with Sir George Grey, when he collected burnt moa-bones and obsidian-flakes, which were plentiful in the old Maori ovens at that place. Mr. Park said that the late Sir Julius von Haast always held the opinion that the moa was exterminated by an aboriginal race of Polynesian origin that inhabited New Zealand before the arrival of the Maoris. This theory, however, was based on two assumptions which had yet to be substantiated—first, that such a race did at one time occupy New Zealand; and, second, that the Maoris did not kill and eat moas. Mr. McKay, who assisted in the exploration of Sumner Cave, near Christchurch, went a little further and expressed the opinion that the extermination of the moa was the first work of the Maoris on their arrival in this country. In view of the researches of Mr. Mantell and Mr. Taylor, Mr. Park thought Mr. McKay might have gone further. It seemed now to be beyond dispute that the moa lived down into what might be called historical times.
The further discussion of this paper was adjourned.