Art. VII.—On a Stone Relic found at Orepuki, Southland.
[Read before the Otago Institute, 11th November, 1902.]
A Very remarkable stone relic has been found at Orepuki, a small township on the shores of Foveaux Strait, in the extreme south of New Zealand. In this neighbourhood there are at the present time a few of the surviving Maori people of the South Island, living at Colac Bay and other small settlements. Just opposite, in the western entrance to the strait, is the
Island of Rarotoki, or Rarotonga, which tradition states was named after a Rarotonga of the olden time far away in the Pacific. It has always been regarded as a sacred island, and from time to time numbers of curious specimens have been found on the sandhills and the sites of old dwellings. The European name of the island is Centre Island.
The specimen which, by the kindness of Mr. Dunlop, the manager of the Orepuki Shale-oil Works, I am permitted to describe was ploughed up by a farmer a few years ago. It is made of a dark-coloured slaty stone, and has been carefully worked into the shape of the handle and guard of a dagger or small sword, and then covered with elaborate carvings in low relief. Unfortunately, it has been much damaged, a large fragment being split off from each side. Fortunately, however, the portions destroyed are recoverable by comparing the opposite sides, as the design is repeated as nearly as possible on each side, so that the whole of the design intended to be represented can be recovered. It measures about 92 mm. in length and 66 mm. in width. It is thus too small to be used as a dagger or weapon of offence, though the shape at once suggests such a purpose. The cross hilt is recurved with a fine bold sweep, and the general outline is well proportioned and elegant. There is also a large hole drilled near the butt, which has been bored from each side by a Polynesian drill somewhat unsteady in its action. Beyond the butt or handle and the cross-piece where the blade of a sword or dagger would come is the fragment of a shaft, circular in section, 20 mm. in diameter. It is, of course, impossible to say what length this part was originally—certainly not more than 6 in., probably less. It is also uncertain whether it preserved the same diameter or whether it tapered. There is no indication of tapering on the fragment remaining. The form of the cross-piece has been attained by drilling out a hole on each side of the haft.
Curious as the shape is, the ornamentation with which the stone is covered is still more interesting. The design is formed by cutting out portions of the surface, leaving the lines of the design in low relief. The chief figure is best seen by placing the hole, which is evidently made for the purpose of suspending the object, uppermost. It will then he noticed that the edge of the hole is bordered by a line which projects vertically at the top and which is joined at the bottom to another line forming part of the margin of a lozenge- or kite-shaped face. The line of the face is continued parallel with the first to the top of the hole and stops against the vertical line; above this second line is a third which only comes halfway down and then merges into the ornamentation of the sides. The inner line is carefully notched at short intervals. I take these three lines to represent the frame of a feather
head-dress, such as is common in the Pacific. The line bounding the face is not complete on either side, but, judging by the small perfect maskoid on one of the sides, it came to a sharp point, but no mouth was indicated. The eyes are indicated by lines forming concentric circles, two lines on one side of the face and three on the other. The difference is apparently accidental, and depending on the area to be occupied. Below the face the lines are somewhat difficult to follow, but on the one side it appears to be plain that the upper line on each side is intended for the arms, as there is a distinct indication of an elbow. I take the two lower lines to be legs, turned up in a way not unknown in Maori carving. The edge of the curve on the inner side is closely ornamented with notches, and also the somewhat triangular space between the top of the maskoids and the shaft. The arms and legs have a triangular space beneath, which I take to represent the body of the figure. The arms and legs terminate at kite-shaped maskoids, which have double concentric circles for eyes, no mouths; but they are angled on the central line, and this angle is notched from top to bottom. The notching is continued to the point of the curved portion. The other side is practically the same.
In relation to these two figures the maskoids are upside-down, for, although there is no mouth, the part intended for the lower part of the face is easily recognised; but when we examine the ornamentation of the side we find a small full-length figure so placed that the small masks on the curved part become the heads of these figures by super-position. As will be seen from the plate, one figure represents a male drawn in a very peculiar and archaic style. On the other side is a female figure, even more peculiar in contour. The extreme end of the butt has been ornamented, but the small fragment that remains does not give sufficient indications to justify a restoration. I think, however, that there were two small figures with their heads towards the central line.
The expanded triangular area at the base of the shaft is ornamented on each side with concentric circles in addition to the notches already mentioned. The whole represents great labour, and was doubtless a sacred or highly valued possession.
The small size precludes the idea that it was part of a weapon, and I have looked in vain for any similar object in Edge Partington's Albums and other works. The only possible resemblance that I can find is to the fan-handles made of wood or whale-tooth ivory, one of which is figured at pl. xxv. and pl. xlvii., No. 6, of Edge Partington's “Album
of the Pacific” as coming from the Marquesas. Here we have the same general idea, the central shaft, the human figures at the sides, and the curved anchor-like arms, with heads at the middle of the arms, only the reverse way to those on our specimen. A replica of the head-dress with the projecting spike for a feather plume is seen on the head of a figure on a dancing-stick from New Britain (pl., ccxlv., fig. 2, Edge Partington's Album).
I may call attention to the notched characters of the ornamentation, which corresponds to the markings on the specimens figured in “Maori Art” at pl. lvi., figs. 4, 5, and 6, and which I there state to have a special character of their own. The specimen figured on pl. xlviii., fig. 5, of “Maori Art” came from the same locality as the specimen under discussion, and has a similar type of face. The small object on pl. xlviii., fig. 3, is slightly notched along the ridge, and may have represented a small mask.
It is, of course, open to any one to suggest that this specimen is not Maori, and has arrived in New Zealand through the agency of whalers or others, seeing that it is so different from any known Maori ornament or implement. Granting this for the sake of argument, the question still remains, Where did it come from? It is generally a fairly easy matter for an expert to place a specimen by its character or workmanship, but, although I have had the pleasure of showing this to several gentlemen of great experience, they do not recognise its native country or use. I trust that by publishing the photographs. I may some day hear from some one that they have ascertained its origin and use. I myself think that it is possibly one of the older relics of the Maori race; and, although the use of fans is not known to the Maori of to-day, may it not have been a fan-handle used in sacred rites in the distant past, perchance in the Tihi Manono of some remote Hawaiki?