Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 29, 1896
This text is also available in PDF
(914 KB) Opens in new window
– 169 –

Art. XII.—Notes from Murihiku.

[Read before the Otago Institute, 9th June, 1896.]

Plates VI.-X.
On Some Paintings on the Walls of Rock-Shelters in the Waitaki. Valley.

In America, in Australia, and in many countries of the Old World there are found occasionally, in suitable places, figures or symbols—painted, cut, or scratched—representing usually men or animals, sometimes symbols or marks which can in some cases be ascertained to have a definite meaning, or, at any rate, to correspond very closely with those whose meaning is either definitely or generally known.

In Australia a great number of carvings, paintings, and sculptures, made by the aborigines, have recently been described, and evidence has been adduced that the custom of making symbols or records on rock-surfaces has been prevalent down to the present time. For many years after the settlement of Australia little was known of the rock-records of the natives. The first to call attention to them was that observant navigator Captain Cook, and, later, Governor Phillip, Surgeon White, Captain Tench, Flinders, and the officers of the first Government on the establishment of the Colony of New South Wales. They were followed by Mitchell, Sir George Grey, and subsequently Leichhardt, and other explorers of the interior have pointed out paintings and carvings over a very wide field. A wondrous halo of romance and mystery lies over these mystic signs, for the scanty tradition of the Australian races throws no light on them. The problem of the origin of many of these paintings is a matter of great interest, and is attracting much attention.

It should not be forgotten that in the southern portion of the South Island, in the district or area formerly known to the Maoris as Murihiku, there are a considerable number of. rock-pictographs quite equal in interest to those of either America or Australia. The late Professor Von Haast described in several papers before the New Zealand Institute, and other societies, the rock-paintings at the Weka Pass, and thereby raised a considerable amount of controversy. There are other series of rock-pictographs in several places in the Canterbury District—on the Tengawai River, and other limestone dis-

– 170 –

tricts where there are caves or rock-shelters. Having spent most of the years that I have been in New Zealand in the North Island, I had never had an opportunity of seeing any of the pictographs of the kind described by Professor Von Haast until quite recently. Since the close of our last session I paid a visit to Duntroon, a small township on the Waitaki River, for the purpose of photographing the pictographs casually mentioned by the late Hon. W. B. D. Mantell in his address to the Wellington Philosophical Society on the moa, on the 19th September, 1868, published in the first volume of the Transactions. In that volume is given, on plate vii., a representation of a few of the pictographs, and amongst them one which Mr. Mantell took to be a moa feeding. Unfortunately, the address is only given in abstract, so that we cannot tell exactly what the lecturer said on the subject of these Ngatimamoe or Rapuwai works of art. The Takiroa cave or shelter is close to the road and the railway passing up the Waitaki Valley, and is the result of the usual aërial agencies acting on a limestone bluff in the river-bed. The photographs which I exhibit show that the cliffs are of a considerable height, and have a talus slope down to the level of the road of the fragments detached by the constant action of the wind and rain. The position of the cave is sunny, and, although a strong wind was blowing down the valley, I found the cave itself well protected from its violence.

On my first visit I carefully examined the walls of the rock-shelter, and found that the figures were easily divided into three classes—First, those painted on the surface of the rock with a thick medium of animal fat or oil in black or red (kokowai), those in black (charcoal?) being apparently the earlier. Secondly, by figures drawn in black without any medium at all, probably with a charred stick or piece of charcoal: these can easily be distinguished from the earlier ones, and careful rubbing will remove them, but has no effect on the others. Thirdly, there are a few initials and marks cut in with knives by the modern vandals or travelling swaggers—to say nothing of one ingenious man who has painted his name in a conspicuous position in orthodox oil-paint.

I took a series of photographs of all the black and red pictographs, and I have since had them enlarged considerably, and I intend taking these enlargements to the spot and colouring them from the actual paintings. In this way I hope to eliminate as far as possible the “personal equation” which disturbs so largely sketches made by even practised artists.

Professor Von Haast, in his paper, described elaborately the different figures from the Weka Pass, and laboured earnestly to invest them with mystic meanings, seeing therein altars and Tamil characters. Now, the figures that I saw at the Takiroa

– 171 –

Cave do not strike me as requiring to be interpreted by the imagination of the observer.

The officers of the American Bureau of Ethnology have recently published an enormous volume full of pictographs from the three Americas and other parts of the world, and these are some of their general conclusions: “The most important lesson to be learnt from these studies is that no attempt should be made at symbolical interpretation unless the symbolical nature of the particular character under examination is known, or can be logically inferred from independent facts. To start with a theory, or even an hypothesis, that the rock-writings are all symbolical, and may be interpreted by the imagination of the observer, or by translations either from or into known symbols of similar form found in other regions, were a limitless delusion. Doubtless many of the characters are genuine symbols or emblems, and some have been ascertained to be such. Specially convenient places for halting and resting on a journey, either by land or water, generally exhibit petroglyphs if rocks of proper character are favourably situated there. The markings may be mere idle scrawls or the result of more serious intention. Some points may be ascertained with regard to the motives of the painters and sculptors on rocks. Some of the characters were mere records of the visits of individuals to important springs or to fords on regularly-established trails. In this practice there may have been, in the intention of the natives, very much the same spirit which induces the civilized (?) man to record his name or initials upon objects in the neighbourhood of places of public resort. But there was real utility in the Indian practice, which more nearly approached the signatures in a visitors'-book at an hotel or public building—both to establish the identity of the traveller and to give the news to his friends of his presence and passage.”

The work* shows a surprising resemblance between the typical form among the petroglyphs found in Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Guiana, part of Mexico, the Pacific slope of North America, and even Japan and New Zealand. Interest has been felt in pictographs because it has been supposed that if interpreted they would furnish records of vanished peoples or races. All suggestions of this kind should be at once abandoned. The practice of pictography does not belong to civilisation, and declines when an alphabet becomes popularly known. Though the figures found do not disclose the kind of information hoped for by some enthusiasts, they surely are valuable as marking the steps in human evolution, and in presenting evidences of man's early practices. It is not denied

[Footnote] * “Picture-writings of the American Indians.” Garrick Mallory: Rep. Bureau Ethnol., 1888–89.

– 172 –

that some of the drawings on rocks were made without special purpose, for mere pastime, but they are of importance even as scribbles. The character of the drawings and the mode of their execution tell something of their makers. If they do not tell us who those authors were, they at least suggest what kind of people they were as regards art, customs, and sometimes religious belief.

But there is a broader mode of estimating the quality of known pictographs. Musicians are eloquent in lauding the great composers of songs without words. The ideography, which is the prominent feature of picture-writing, displays both primordially and practically the higher and purer concept of thought without sounds.

Having examined the walls of the rock-shelter, I easily recognised the figures given on plate vii. of the first volume of the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute.” The top figure on the right hand is figured as extending upwards in a series of dots. I was much interested to find that these dots are not part of the original figure, which is a very old one in red, painted with a fatty medium, but is, in reality, a charge of lead shot which has been fired into the rock at close quarters, as the shot are grouped together. Many of the shot still remain more or less imbedded in the face of the rock, which in this part has the hardened somewhat glassy surface which occasionally forms on a limestone face. Now, the figures drawn so accurately by Mr. Mantell were made in 1848, when he was travelling up the “River Dismal,” so that for nearly fifty years those shot have been sticking in that thin coating on the face of that rock. This is evidence that there has been very little change in the surface of that part of the shelter.

Being so close to the road, the rock-shelter has been frequently used by travellers passing up and down the valley, and their presence was attested by an examination of the floor of the shelter, in which I was most kindly assisted by several local residents. Beneath the surface-sand which covers the floor was a layer of fine rushes and grass, which had been cut on the neighbouring river-bed for sleeping purposes; tent-pegs and fragments of canvas were also found, together with a tin match-box and some buttons. Below this layer, and nearer to the wall of the shelter, was a thin layer of decayed vegetable matter, with some flax matting of a very coarse character, and very much perished. Great numbers of birds' feathers were met with between these two layers of bedding—mainly feathers of weka, quail, a large sea-bird (albatros?), paradise-duck, and shag. A large number of bones of the now extinct New Zealand quail, including twelve sterna, were recovered, and in the deep sand at the

– 173 –

Duntroon end I found a very perfect moa-feather, quite black—quite a new colour in moa-feathers. In different parts of the Maori level were found the following items: A tooth of the sea-leopard seal (Stenorhynchus); the whole of the natural surface had been polished off, and the fang-end rubbed thin to permit of the hole being bored in it: three fragments of bird-bone worked down to a sharp point: several cut pieces of Haliotis shell and three valves of Mytilus, the latter probably for preparing flax, the former for carrying paint in for the adornment of carvings or weapons: a few small lumps of red oxide of iron (kokowai): a few small Patellas and some valves of the small Unio from the neighbouring river: several (five) small thin sticks, about 5in. long, with thin strips of flax-leaf tied on to them in a peculiar knot, probably parts of bird-snares: four small chert flakes, with sharp edges.

I was not able to examine the talus slope by making a cross-section through it, as I should have liked to have done.

From the character of the part of the floor I examined it appears to have been used as a temporary resting-place for parties travelling up and down the river.

The only special note that I made about the paintings was that one very long figure was executed on a portion of the rock quite close to the present surface, and it appears that that portion of the shelter must have had the floor at a lower level when the figure was painted.

Reaching Duntroon in the evening, I went for a stroll to the limestone cliffs on the Maerewhenua, just where it touches the railway, and there I found a number of other pictographs, some having the appearance of great age, and others in a cave some distance up the cliff very fresh and vivid. Those on the lower level near the road have been nearly obliterated by smoke and time, but those in the higher cave have been disfigured by Europeans. I made sketches only of these, as I had used all my photographic plates on the Takiroa ones. The figures occur in various places on the cliffs, and there is one at the very end of the cliff towards Oamaru.

A road passed just in front of the great shelter-cave, which is about 120 yards long, and the process of cutting the ditches for draining it has made a convenient section of the talus slope in front of the shelter. I was pleased to find many moa-bones and broken and cut fragments of moa-bone, and was fortunate enough to pick out from the bank a well-made bone fishhook-barb, dropped or lost—who shall say how long ago? I believe that a systematic exploration of this cave and the bank in front would yield interesting results. For many years the cave has been used as a place for storing old reapers-and-binders and worn-out machines, and for a shelter for horses.

– 174 –

In the Maerewhenua Creek I noticed a very prevalent form in the stones, which would render it an easy matter to manufacture from a well-selected sample a stone mere of the form we frequently see in Otago, and Otago only. I give a sketch of two stone clubs of this form found in the vicinity (Plate VIII., figs. 3 and 4); they are remarkable for having the perforated hole in a most unusual position.

Before leaving the subject of the pictographs, I may say that a fragment of a map made by an old Maori—Te Warekorari—for Mr. Mantell, in 1848, shows several localities in which sculptured and painted rocks are to be found up the Waitaki, and I am making inquiries through some friends in the district to identify these spots.

Discovery of a Maori Kete at Upper Taieri.

Through the courtesy of Mr. W. G. Rutherfurd, of Rugged Ridges, I was enabled to examine a very interesting Maori kete, or basket, containing a number of articles of interest, which had been found in a small cave formed by an overhanging rock on the Puketoi Station, Patearoa, Upper Taieri, by Mr. D. M. Wright. The kete was a large one, laced up with a long attached cord, which passed alternately through the small loops on the opposite sides in the usual way, and was in excellent condition, the cave being clean and dry. The contents were as follows:—

  • (1.) Several bundles of dressed flax (whitau), in hanks (whenu). Two of the bundles were stained a beautiful black colour (parapara).

  • (2.) Two small mats, just commenced (kakahu).

  • (3.) A very large Haliotis shell (paua), which had a beautiful plaited-flax handle worked on to it, passing through the natural holes in the shell. The shell was still full of red paint, and a piece of an old mat soaked in the paint was in it to serve as a brush. The red paint would be either applied to the person or to the buildings or ornaments of a chief. There was a smaller paua shell not used.

  • (4.) Two bones from the wings of an albatros, cut off neatly at each end, and prepared for flutes; the holes, however, were not bored.

  • (5.) Several pieces of dogskin: one piece cut into strips for a chief's mat; colour, reddish-brown and white.

  • (6.) A bag about 10in. by 6in., beautifully made in several patterns, a long flax cord attached to the upper part. The bag was made of very thin strips of some leaf, and the Puketeraki natives at once recognised it as a kind called pukoro, this being the name for a particular kind of bag into which the fruit of the tutu (Coriaria) is put, and the juice expressed

– 175 –
  • through the interstices. I know of no other example of this. The bag itself was half-full of kokowai.

  • (7.) Another very small bag of flax(?) fibre, made in a peculiar way; about 5in. long. Inside this little bag or sachet was a piece of mimiha, a kind of pitch picked up occasionally on the beaches in Otago, and which was used by the natives as a masticatory. In the North it was known as kauri tawhiti.

  • (8.) Two pairs of sandals (paraerae), made from the plaited leaves of the cabbage-tree (Cordyline). One pair was quite new and single-soled (takitahi); the other pair had been worn, and were much thicker, being double-soled (torua).

  • (9.) Several large bundles of the tomentum stripped from the back of the large alpine Celmisia (tikumu). This was worked into warm and handsome mats.*

  • (10.) A small parcel of a sticky-leafed Celmisia (C. viscosa). These leaves have a very pleasant smell, and were probably gathered for the viscid sweet-smelling gum (hakeke). There was also a small packet of the fragrant gum of the Pittosporum.

  • (11.) A hank of twisted flax-threads, format-making (aho).

  • (12.) Fragment of a whitebait-net made of flax.

  • (13.) Small bundle of the vascular part of the cabbage-tree stem or root (kauru).

  • (14.) Small bunch of albatros-feathers.

  • (15.) Feathers of the kakapo.

  • (16.) Several Mytilus shells, which had been used for scraping and preparing the flax.

The kete thus contained, probably, the treasures of some industrious old Maori lady who had been up to the alpine country to collect the Celmisia tomentum for a mat for her lord and master. She had likewise collected some sweet-smelling gums, to be hung in a small sachet round her neck; and possibly the other articles were taken with her as fancy-work to occupy the hours of a wet day, when she did not feel inclined to travel. There were three very fine specimens in this find—the shell with the flax handle or loop for suspension, the bag for straining the juice of the tutu, and the little bag or sachet for the masticatory.

Discovery of Some Samoan(?) Mats at Hyde, Central Otago.

In August, 1894, Mr. Matthewson found in a small rock-shelter

[Footnote] * “At one particular place (near Mount Egmont) we met with a substance that appeared like a kid's skin, but it had so weak a texture that we concluded it was not leather, and were afterwards informed by the natives that it was gathered from some plant called teegoomme. One of them had a garment made of it, which looked like their rug-cloaks.”— Parkinson: “Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas,” p. 115, ed. 1773.

– 176 –

near a waterfall, about four miles and a half from Hyde, the following things:—

  • (1.) A kete, or bag, with a folding flap like the flap of an envelope, with a cord at the point of the flap of plaited fibre 8ft. long to wind round the bag as a fastening. The bag is about 15in. across and 8in. in depth, with the upper edges neatly finished. The surface is ornamented with three brown longitudinal lines about 1in. wide. The flap is ornamented in the same manner, but in the other direction. There is no join in any part, the whole being woven in one piece.

  • (2.) Inside this were two very large hanks of fine cord, as even as if made by the best salmon-line maker. I should think there would be 700 or 800 yards in the whole lot. Each hank was about 2ft. long.

Next was a piece of very soft white tappa-cloth, 6ft. long and 18in. wide at one end, tapering to a point; also an irregular strand of lace-bark, about 5ft. long.

[The section below cannot be correctly rendered as it contains complex formatting. See the image of the page for a more accurate rendering.]

The next thing was a strip of woven matting, 8in. wide and 7ft. long, of evenly-woven strips a little more than 1/16in. wide. One side of this is dull and the other side bright-yellow, the material still retaining the cuticle of the leaf.

Also a belt or sash of soft grass (?) of a brilliant yellow colour, but at the back the bright shining surface has been removed. The yellow central part is 5in. wide, with a narrow border on each side about ½in. wide, in which the two colours are alternated, the strips being produced so as to form a fringe on each side 4in. wide. The scarf is 7ft. long, and has a very pretty appearance.

The last is a small mat made of two strips, about 11in. wide. It has a narrow border, and the strips are frayed into a fringe 1½in. wide. The length of the mat is about 4ft. 6in.

The whole of the articles are spotless, and in perfect preservation, and look as if they had been made but yesterday by Samoans. The finder states that they were wrapped up in some old flax mats that fell to pieces and were neglected. When he returned for these fragments the wind had blown them into an abyss, and they could not be recovered.

The whole, probably, had been procured from one of the early whaling-ships by some unfortunate Maori, who, having hidden his treasures in the cave, died without leaving instructions about his property.

Skeleton at Stewart Island.

On a recent visit to Stewart Island I found a skeleton buried in a sand cliff at the “Neck.” It was in a sitting position, with the knees drawn up, and its head resting on its right hand, the other hand being on the left knee. On lifting the head I found three well-worked bone fishhook-barbs in the palm of the hand.

– 177 –

Description of Plates VI.-X.

Plate VI.
Rock-pictographs at a Cave-shelter on the Maerewhenua River, Waitaki Valley.

  • Fig. 1. Drawn in black on the roof of the rock-shelter.

  • Fig. 2. On the wall, in black.

  • Fig. 3. Probably portion of a tattoo pattern, in black on the wall.

  • Fig. 4. Portion of an obliterated figure, drawn in red.

  • Fig. 5. Some kind of insect (walking-stick insect?), drawn in red.

  • Fig. 6. Very indistinct, probably portion of a tattoo pattern, in red.

  • Fig. 7. A curious fish, drawn in black.

  • Fig. 8. Thick portion of line, drawn in red, the dotted portion in black.

  • Fig. 9. Outside line black, inside line red.

  • Fig. 10. Large fish or whale, in black.

  • Fig. 11. In red.

  • Fig. 12. A figure from the eastward end of the limestone rocks; there are remains of others at this place, but much destroyed by the weather.

Plate VII.
Rock-pictographs at the Upper Cave-shelter, Maerewhenua River, and also some of the Pictographs at the Takiroa Cave.

  • Fig. 1. On walls at back of cave, in black. All the paintings in this cave are in black.

  • Fig. 2. Probably a porpoise.

  • Fig. 3. Porpoises: some of these are full of action. There are many examples of this form.

  • Fig. 4. A pattern of this kind occurs in some of the patterns for rafter-painting in the mango-pare series.

  • Fig. 5. A variation in the porpoise form.

  • Fig. 6. From the rock-shelter at Takiroa. This in dark-red, and is within a foot of the present surface of the floor.

  • Fig. 7. In dark-red.

  • Fig. 8. This and the last figure are given in the first volume of the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute,” pl. vii.: it is the figure in which the charge of shot is embedded; dark-red.

  • Fig. 9. A figure in red high up to the right of fig. 11.

  • Fig. 10. This was regarded by Professor Von Haast as part of a moa feeding, the balance of the figure being supplied by fig. 12; in red.

  • Fig. 11. On the upper part of the wall of the cave.

  • Fig. 12. The so-called body and neck of the moa (?).

  • Fig. 13. A very large shark about to devour a man. There are numerous figures in the neighbourhood of this group that cannot easily be made out. They are close to the present floor. All the above figures are in red.

Plate VIII.

  • Fig. 1. A very fine stone mere found in the Strath Taieri. It was concealed in a little cairn built up of loose slabs of schist. At the end of the handle is the appearance of a second hole having been bored, and the extreme end has broken off, either during and on account of the boring, or by accident or intent afterwards. The same process will be observed in fig. 2, where both holes are in process of formation. This seems to indicate that it was the intention of the makers to have a lunate or double-pointed ornamentation at the end. Though there are at present few examples known, I believe that such was the object. The work on No. 2 precludes the suggestion

– 178 –
  • that the perfect hole in No. 1 was bored because the other was a failure or had been accidentally broken. The length is 20in. The surface is very smooth picked work, not polished. Fig. a is a section across the thickest part; fig. a, section through handle.

  • Fig. 2. A stone mere found in Otago, 18in. long, 3½in. wide, 1¾in. thick. It is of a closely-grained dark stone, very finely picked all over. No portion is in any way ground or polished. The figure is too small to show the numerous small notches along the sharp edges.

  • Fig. 3. A stone club of similar character, 9in. long, now in the Oamaru Athenæum Museum. It was found, I believe, in a rock-shelter near Ngapara. Fig. b gives a section of this and. fig. 4. The hole is bored in a very curious place, and both this and fig. 4 have grooves round the end of the handle for the attachment of the usual thong.

  • Fig. 4 is much the same, but has a well-bored hole at the point.

Plate IX.
Photograph of the Contents of the Maori Kete found in a Cave-shelter at Patearoa.
  • Fig. 1. Small mat, just commenced (kakahu).

  • Fig. 2. Partly-prepared New Zealand flax (whitau).

  • Fig. 3. Fragment of whitebait-net (he kaka).

  • Fig. 4. Pair of doubled plaited sandals (paraerae torua), made from the leaves of the ti (Cordyline).

  • Fig. 5. Pair of plaited sandals (paraerae takitahi).

  • Fig. 6. Bag with cord attached. The bag now contains kokowai, but was originally intended for making the tutu wine, the ripe berries being placed in the bag and the juice expressed through the meshes. This kind of bag was called pukoro.

  • Fig. 7. Small twist of partly-dressed flax.

  • Fig. 8. Bundle of finely-prepared flax, dyed black (whitau parapara).

  • Fig. 9. Two small mats, just commenced (kakahu).

  • Fig. 10. Small bundle of leaves of Celmisia viscosa, probably collected for the sweet-smelling gummy matter on the leaves.

  • Fig. 11. Large paua shell, with flax handle fox suspension, still containing kokowai, and the flax wad with which the paint was applied.

  • Fig. 12. Two pieces out from the wing-bone of an albatros: one has been made into a flute, and afterwards broken; the other has not yet had the holes made in it.

  • Fig. 13. Two Mytilus shells, used for scraping the cuticle from the flax-leaf.

  • Fig. 14. Small flax bag or sachet of flax of curious workmanship, containing a small fragment of mimiha, a native pitch used as a masticatory.

  • Fig. 15. Small packet of scented gum.

  • Fig. 16. Prepared flax (whitau) in hanks (whenu).

  • Fig. 17. Large flax kit containing the above, and four large bundles of the tomentum from the back of the leaf of Celmisia coriacea.

Plate X.

Haliotis shell, with worked-flax handle for suspension, contains mixed kokowai, a native oxide of iron, used as a red paint for many purposes.

A well-made bag used for straining off the juice from the fruit of the tutu (Coriaria ruscifolia). The juice was highly esteemed as a beverage.