Art. VI.—Notes on a Bone Pendant in the Form of a Lizard(?), found on the Sandhills at Wainui; and on some other Bone Objects.
[Read before the Otago Institute, 11th November, 1902.]
The sand-dunes which form the littoral of a large part of the coast of New Zealand have been very prolific in relics of the ancient life of the Maori, as in all suitable places there were settlements from which the fishers went forth to reap the harvest of the sea and to contribute towards the support of the tribe. For miles and miles, especially in the North Island of New Zealand, the winds disclose among the sand-hills the middens of old kaingas, and as the wanderings of cattle and the traffic over the sandhills increased, the binding grasses and sedges were destroyed, so that sandhills which have stood for centuries move on and perhaps disclose the remains of habitations of which the names and history have been utterly lost. Many of the relics thus uncovered are soon destroyed by the action of either the sun or the frost, or they may be again covered by the shifting sands. The more common things to be found in the neighbourhood of
old settlements are bone mat-pins, bone barbs of fish-hooks, bone barbs for bird or fish spears, and stone implements; but occasionally a rare jewel is found, lost perhaps in the loose sand by its sorrowing owner who shall say how many years ago. The subject of the present note is a bone pendant or ornament in the form of a lizard. At least, that is what I consider it to be, notwithstanding that the shape of the tail is unlike that of any kind of lizard known to me. It does not even represent a lizard that has lost its tail, as in that case it would be more truncate and not carefully finished off. Judging by the beautifully worked arrangement for suspension, it was made to hang head downwards. It is cut from a fairly dense fragment of a whale's bone. The extreme length is 111 mm. (about 4¼ in.), and the greatest diameter of the body is 32 mm. (about 1½ in.). The character of the workmanship is shown in the accompanying plate. From the snout to the end of the tail, along the central line of the back, is a row of small notches. It is perfect in all its parts, and is, so far as I know, unique.
The use of a lizard-form as a personal ornament amongst a Maori people must have been rare, as in most cases all kinds of ngarara were regarded with horror and aversion. The subject of the use of the lizard in ornamentations and on ethnographical objects by the Malays and Polynesians has been the subject of inquiry by many ethnologists.* Shortland mentions that the small green lizard was held in great awe, because atuas were believed to enter very frequently into their bodies when visiting the earth for the purpose of communicating their advice to mortals.† † Assuming this to be so, one specimen might have been the god-medium of some old priest, in the same way as the god-sticks were used on the west coast of the North Island. To the average Maori it was sufficient to show him a lizard in a bottle to put to flight the most doughty warrior, as Angas relates in an amusing passage.
In Melanesia and Micronesia the lizard is usually regarded as the incarnation of a god or spirit. Lizards are sometimes found carved on the slabs of a Maori house, but not often. They appear more frequently in the old cave paintings in the South Island.
I have received from Mr. Bendall, of the Mahia, at the northern end of Hawke's Bay, some fragments of a bone needle beautifully carved, which was picked up on the middens
[Footnote] * See D'Estrey, “Étude Ethnographique sur le lézard chez les peuples Malais et Polynesiens,” in L'Anthrop., 1892, tom. iii., No. 6; and Giglioli, “La Lacertola,” Arch. per l'Antropolog. e la Etnol., 1889.
[Footnote] † Shortland, Trad, and Superstitions of the N.Z., p. 58.
which line the shores of the sandy neck of land which joins the Mahia Peninsula to the mainland and separates Poverty Bay from Hawke's Bay. The material used is human bone, probably a portion of the femur. It has been rubbed down to form a needle originally about 10 in. long, nearly ¾ in. wide, and about ¼ in. thick. As usual in these needles, only one surface is carved, but the carving is deep, the cuts true and sharp-edged. Fortunately, I happen to have a photograph of a perfect specimen which is in the collection of Major-General Robley in England, and the pattern is so similar that they might have been made by the same artist. They are usually designated “thatching-needles,” but I think it more probable that these highly ornamented ones were for ceremonial use, such as stringing the first fruits of a fishing season, to be laid as an offering at the shrine of Tangaroa. Whatever their use, the workmanship is a fresh proof of the artistic capabilities of the Maori race in the days of old.
The length of Major Robley's specimen is 12¼ in. It will be noticed that there are two holes through which the cord is attached. This is characteristic of this kind of bone needle. Even the plain ones actually in use for passing the cords that tie on the bundles of reeds or grass to the roof-timbers of a house have these two holes. The specimen on the left of the plate is less elaborate, and has three openings at the top for the attachment of the cord. The number of holes not only affords a more secure fastening for the short cord which was permanently attached to the needle, but, by distributing the strain, lessens the chance of fracture. The binding-cord was attached to the cord on the needle by a temporary hitch, and was cast loose when drawn through.