Paper.—“Did the Maoris discover the Greenstone in New Zealand?” by Joshua Rutland. (Transactions, p. 29.)
Sir J. Hector said this paper raised a question of very wide interest, but did not give much help towards its solution. Greenstone, or jade, seemed to have been used in all parts of the world in early ages, before metals were discovered. Jade was almost the only earthy mineral or rock that was both hard and not brittle, and so resembled a metal, and could be used for making tools and weapons with cutting edges. There was no good reason why the first Maoris who settled in New Zealand should not have brought a knowledge of greenstone with them. The name “Te Wahi Pounamu,” or “locality of the greenstone,” which they gave to the South Island, points in this direction. The idea of a previous race who taught the Maoris, as the author suggests, did not help matters, as the question of who taught that race would still remain. It was chiefly found on the west coast of the South Island.
Mr. Tregear said the paper was full of interest, but it touched upon many debatable points. Investigation was still going on into many of those, and, till much more time and labour had been expended in searching inquiry, they should still be considered as open questions—for instance, until quite lately the fact of the Maoris having been in New Zealand only five hundred years was accepted as proved by their genealogies, but since the Polynesian Society started, about six years ago, an immense mass of evidence has been accumulated, notably by Judge Gudgeon and Mr. Elsdon Best, proving that New Zealand must have been inhabited for many centuries before that period. Who the inhabitants were and to what race they belonged it must be the work of anthropologists to attempt to discover. That because the Maoris did not make pottery their ancestors had never known the use of pottery is “not proven.” As to their discarding bark-cloth, and not making advance in spinning and weaving, it is doubtful if they ever wore bark-cloth, and any one who has seen the beautifully woven fine Maori mats of flax could hardly say that no advance in weaving had been made, if it ever be proved that the strips of the bark of trees beaten into cloth was once their only material for making garments. Mr. Rutland appeared convinced there were two distinctly marked periods in the occupation of New Zealand—viz., that of the pit-dwellers and of the modern Maoris. The evidence for the pit-dwellers had been mainly collected by Mr. Rutland himself, and the general consent of Maori scholars to the theory had not yet been expressed. Moreover, the very important point had to be settled as to the race to which the pit-dwellers belonged. Were they Maoris of a prior migration to that we know of as the migration from Hawaiki—when the Arawa, Tainui, Aotea, and other canoes came? Were they autochthones or Melanesians? Was it certain that they used palæolithic instead of neolithic tools and weapons? A people that employed chipped stones as tools would probably have no knowledge of greenstone, a material that needed grinding in the manner we call
“neolithic.” There seemed no reason for the Maoris to have brought reverence for jade with them to New Zealand in order to make it valuable in their eyes. It was true that in many parts of the ancient world —Egypt, Europe, China, America, &c.—jade was looked upon as a sacred as well as a precious stone, but its rarity in New Zealand would make it considered of high value even if the few articles of that material handed down from time immemorial had not been hallowed by passing through the hands of mighty ancestors. For instance, one well-known ear-drop of greenstone named “Raukaumatua” was supposed to have been brought here by Ngahue, the discoverer of New Zealand, and to have been part of his celebrated “fish.” Another piece of jade in the shape of a hatchet, having the name “Awhiorangi,” was not only valuable because brought hither by Turi, in the Aotea canoe, but was regarded as the identical tool with which were fashioned the props, the supports, on which the sky rested to prevent it coming crushing down on the earth. When the knowledge of the locality where plenty of greenstone existed became known beyond the small tribe of Ngatiwairangi it soon spread. Parties set out with goods to trade for the stone, and expeditions went from other places to fight for its possession. Even when it became comparatively common its extreme hardness, its usefulness, its beautiful appearance, the reputation or sanctity which attached to the successful weapons of great warriors, and the fact that the ornaments had been worn by mighty chiefs, would induce a reverence for some of these greenstone articles quite sufficient to account for the high value placed upon them, without our having recourse to the supposition that jade was a sacred stone to them because they had inherited the belief from having dwelt in other lands. He had mentioned that the Maoris considered greenstone as a “fish”; he did not know why. They also believed that when found it was quite soft, but that it grew hard when exposed to the air. This showed that until comparatively modern times they really knew nothing of the material, and that they only judged by the few and rare ancestral heirlooms. The paper was of value, as all Mr. Rutland's papers were, because they evoked discussion; and if he wished (as he certainly did) to know more himself and to impart knowledge to others, he could not do better than by continuing writing his thoughtful papers. It was only by discussion and by free scope being given to dissentient views that they could peer into these interesting anthropological matters with hope of any profit or a chance of finding matter worth investigation.
Mr. Hustwick said this was a very interesting paper. He would like to know the origin or composition of this greenstone, and to what its colour is due.
Sir James Hector replied that it was an anhydrous silicate of magnesia, and the colour was due to chrome. The New Caledonia jade was only slightly stained, probably by nickel. In Sir George Grey's collection there were three kinds of greenstone. In Barn Bay there was a vein of it, and they cut it up to take to China, but it did not sell. It was marked with chromic iron, and was quite different from greenstones from other places. There was a fine block in the Museum from the west coast of the South Island.
The President said that in a pamphlet published thirty years ago Major Heaphy described how the Maoris worked up the greenstone into ornaments. It would be a good thing to reprint that pamphlet. Mr. Colenso said the natives thought the greenstone lived, and some called it a fish. There were sacred stones in almost every country.