Nearly ten years ago Professor Ulrich, of the Otago University, handed me a letter which he had received from Professor Fischer, of Freiburg, in the Grand Duchy of Baden, the great authority on nephrite, making a series of inquiries on the subject of the Maori lore concerning this mineral and its uses. Professor Fischer is the author of a treatise or monograph on nephrite,—which, however, I have never been able to see,—and of several, probably numerous, scientific papers on the same subject. Professor Ulrich asked me to endeavour to answer the questions in so far as they related to Maori lore; but, as learned Maoris are rarer than black swans in the South Island of New Zealand, and as the North Island is a long way off and I have few opportunities of going there, I set to work to turn Professor Fischer's questions into English, add a few to them, and get them printed for circulation. Through the kindness of Mr. Hanson Turton, a Maori scholar, holding the office of Native Commissioner here, I obtained the names of many suitable men in the North, but I am sorry to say that the long printed paper which I sent out only came back four or five times with answers. I believe, however, that the answers which I did get give pretty nearly all that is to be learned on the subject of most of the questions; and some of the matter is undoubtedly of the very highest authority: but for satisfactory answers to Question No. 16, as to the customs, superstitions, traditions, and other lore concerning greenstone, further inquiries will have to be made in the North Island.
I sent copies of the answers to Professor Ulrich from time to time as I received them, and with them I wrote him several letters, of which I retained no copies, and in which I gave him the result of inquiries I had made on a flying visit to the North Island, and of some observations of my own. In the course of time I received from Professor Fischer a paper, which does not show in what scientific journal it has appeared, entitled “Ueber die Nephrit-industrie der Maoris in Neuseeland.” I was a little shocked to notice the number of errors to which my loosely-written letters had given birth. I found myself styled Professor Chapman—due probably to the circumstance that Professor Ulrich had referred to “my former colleague,”
in reference to the fact that I had once been a Law Lecturer at the University where he was Professor of Mineralogy. I found many slight mistranslations and misunderstandings; and when I submitted the whole thing to my friend Mr. Helms, of Greymouth (now, I think, of the Geological Survey of New South Wales), he pointed out several more. Again, I found that, with all the care which I and those who answered my questions had used, some of the Maori names had gone wrong.
I have lately determined to republish the results of my inquiries in English, for the above and several other reasons. In the first place, Professor Fischer's paper seems to have come out before he received the last instalment of matter—namely, a set of answers by the late Mr. John White, our leading popular Maori scholar, and those of Dr. Shortland, our most learned and philosophical writer on Maori matters. Now Mr. White has died, leaving his magnum opus the “Ancient History of the Maori” incomplete, and I have reason to think that the paper he sent me embodies some of the matter of the History, which may otherwise never see light. Another reason for going into print is this: I am told that Professor Fischer's paper has been reproduced with additional information in an American scientific publication—I do not know which. Now, as a rule, whatever the Americans do they do well, and the additional information ought to be published in New Zealand; but I have too appreciative a recollection of Washington Irving's story of the Art of Book-making to allow me to care to contemplate my ill-considered, roughly-written private notes to Professor Ulrich first Germanised by Professor Fischer, and then Englished by some one else. The author of the paper I have heard of will not, I am sure, object to a revised version. The questions are included in this paper, and are followed by the correspondence answering them; to which I have ventured to add some notes and criticisms of my own, by way of clearing up certain matters inadequately expressed, and certain apparent contradictions. I hope my correspondents will accept these notes in the spirit in which they are offered. Having now been nineteen years in the field as a collector and observer, I have a fair claim to be allowed a part in the discussion.
In the title of this paper the word “greenstone” occurs, and this word is used throughout the text. I am quite conscious that the term is not geologically or mineralogically correct; but the stone of which I am writing is known by that name throughout New Zealand, and, though here as elsewhere the scientific man employs that word to describe a totally different class of rock, I should run the risk of being misunderstood were I to use any other word for what is under
that name an article of commerce and manufacture in New Zealand. It is called pounamu or poenamu by the Maoris, and “jade,” “jadeite,” or “nephrite” by various writers, while old books refer to the “green talc” of the Maoris.
Too little has been said and too little is known of the way in which stone implements were made and used; and the reason is this: When the savage acquires an axe of steel his beautiful but ineffective stone weapon becomes useless, and falls from his hand. The rude whaler, who is his ideal white-man, looks curiously at the stone which yesterday served as a tool: but there the matter ends; and by the time a man who not only feels a little curiosity on the subject but desires to impart a little information to his curious countrymen dwelling in the remote Old World comes round, the savage and his savage children have gone to shadow-land; and the white-haired old whaler who witnessed the change points to the sandhills, which he calls Measly Beach, as the landmark between the two races, and shows where all his old acquaintances are buried. “Yes, Jacky Jack used a stone hatchet; have seen him make one.” But it is too much to expect the old man to describe how this was done; it happened fifty years ago. Even Mr. Wohlers, an intelligent missionary, whose letter I publish, picked up some erroneous notions in the early whaling days; but fortunately my communication was in time to induce the Rev. J. W. Stack, whose knowledge of Maori affairs and Maori ways is unsurpassed, to draw his information directly from the pure and undefiled well of surviving ancient cannibalism, and was also in time to secure answers from such men as Mr. John White and Dr. Shortland, each of whom had half a century's experience of the Maoris to draw upon.
With the exception of the tangi-wai, the various kinds of greenstone are all found in a restricted locality on the west coast of the South Island. The Taramakau River is one of the numerous rivers flowing from the main range to the sea on that coast. Like the others of that region, it is in size out of all proportion to the country which produces it: this is owing to the great rainfall. This river, at the mouth of which Brunner and Heaphy found a village in which greenstone was worked in 1846, coupled with the Arahura and the sea-beach between and about the two, is in all probability the Waipounamu (Water of Pounamu) of the Maoris, which has given its name to this great island. The name “Arahura” is more often mentioned in the traditional history of greenstone. It is a much smaller stream, nine miles south of the Taramakau. The next river is the Hokitika, a little farther south, where the chief town of Westland stands, in the bed of which, however, greenstone is not found. The word “Hokitika” means
in Maori “Return direct.” Its course is the nearest road, via Browning's Pass, to the east coast, and it plays an important part in the history of the subject.
It must be remembered that on the West Coast shingly river-beds are highways. In the primitive times the dense forest between them was almost trackless. The greenstone is found in boulders in the deposits of gravel in the two valleys referred to; and these boulders are also cast up on the beach by the waves, having been formerly carried into the sea by the rivers. I do not know whether the dyke, or vein, has ever been found. In the early days the stone was rare and expensive. Litigation about the ownership of a block reached the Court of Appeal—an expensive matter in those days—and disclosed the fact that the stone had a high pecuniary value. It is now very cheap, as it is washed out of the great gravel-beds in the valley of the Taramakau in the process of sluicing for gold, and the gold-miners sell it to the storekeepers at a very moderate rate. Picked stone is only worth 1s. per pound, but exceptionally fair pieces command a higher price. A great deal is now thrown away owing to the want of a regular market. It is not easy even now, however, to get a perfect piece of large size. When Professor Ulrich and I, at the request of the Germans of Melbourne, chose the piece for a presentation paper-weight for Prince Bismarck, we had a difficulty in getting a perfect piece of the best quality as large as an octavo volume, though we had some tons of stone to choose from. The kind of stone known as tangiwar (tear-water) is very inferior, and is easily scratched with a knife; but it is sometimes very beautiful. It is found at Piopiotahi, or Milford Sound, and perhaps at other places. It is sometimes taken in slabs off serpentine boulders, and may be obtained on the beach at Anita Bay, near the mouth of the sound. Damour, of Lyons, has analysed it, and finds that it is chemically quite a different stone from the pounamu.