[Read before the Wanganui Philosophical Society, 26th January, 1916]
It would be hard to find anything connected with the natural history of New Zealand that has attracted more attention than the extinct moa. Over seventy papers, containing several hundred pages of matter, have been published in the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute,” and of this matter a large portion deals with the period of extinction; yet the date is by no means settled, and I have no doubt that any additional light that will assist in arriving at a solution of this much-discussed question will be welcomed by those who are interested in the subject.
Arguments relating to this discussion have been carefully studied and summarized by F. W. Hutton in a fine paper entitled “The Moas of New Zealand” (Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. 24, p. 93), and the writer, after careful deliberation, comes to the conclusion that in the North Island the moa was exterminated by the Maori not very long after their arrival in New Zealand—that is, not less than four or five hundred years ago—and that they existed for about one hundred years later in the South Island.
Among the gentlemen who held a contrary view—namely, that the moa was exterminated in quite recent years—I would mention J. W. Hamilton, J. and W. Murison, J. H. Coburn, James Hector, John White, W. T. L.
Travers, and de Quatrefages; and there are many others. Others, again, assert that the bird became extinct in prehistoric times, and that the Maori was almost in utter ignorance of its existence. Among these we find the names of B. S. Booth, von Haast, J. W. Stack, Colenso, Sir George Grey, Alexander Mackay, and J. H. F. Wohlers. These writers assert that the Maori had no tradition on the subject, no songs, and, with one exception, no proverbs. These gentlemen were for the most part studious Maori scholars; yet in this theory they were wrong, for the Maori certainly has references to the moa, but under different names. Every one knows that Maori songs bristle with untranslatable names of gods, men, and places connected with far-away Hawaiki, and it is therefore not surprising that such names as kura-nui and manu-whakatau were passed over without comment.
Briefly, the discussion has been on the following lines:—
The first collection of moa-bones was made by W. Colenso, W. Williams, and others about 1840.
In 1847 Mantell deduced from his discoveries that the moa had been eaten by man. In 1864 Buller published letters to the effect that the moa was extinct, but was contemporaneous with the Maori, as shown by the burnt and broken bones on the site of their feasts, and also by traditions still held by the Maori.
Next came the discovery of a skeleton with skin and ligaments attached. A discussion followed, arising from a paper read by Alles, when the general opinion was that the bird had probably been living within ten years. Then, in 1868, E. Newman concluded that the last moa died about 1800, or even later.
The same year Mantell pointed out that the extermination of the bird must have taken place shortly after the appearance of man, as the allusions to the moa by the Maori were so extremely rare. He also pointed out that nephrite appeared to have been discovered at a later date than the extinction of the moa, as it was never found in conjunction with bones at a Maori cooking-place.
In 1871–74 von Haast published papers on moas and moa - hunters, in which he denied the existence of Maori tradition, and sought to prove that the extermination had taken place by a race of people prior to the Maori—a race who were unacquainted with greenstone, and had not even acquired the art of grinding stone. Later von Haast modified his ideas somewhat, and stated that the moa-hunters had reached a certain stage of civilization. This arose from the finding of some polished instruments with moa-bones.
Colenso, in a very valuable paper on the subject, recognizes that the ancestors of the Maori knew the moa, but in a very vague sort of way, as it was extinct long before the genealogical descent of the tribes, which extends back some twenty-five generations. He says allusions are to be found to the bird in Maori poetry, but that these allusions are largely mythical. He mentions that there is a tradition among the Maoris of the East Cape district that the moas were exterminated by the fire of Tamatea, captain of the “Takitimu” canoe. As will be noticed later, the song evidence that I have collected bears out Colenso's arguments to some extent; indeed, according to the evidence now to hand, his deductions are probably nearer the truth than the theory held by present-day writers.
Mantell says, “The extermination of the moas must have taken place shortly after the Maoris reached New Zealand, as allusions to the bird in their most ancient traditions are very slight and obscure.”
W. G. Mair, a thorough Maori scholar, says, “In all these thousands of pages of Maori lore that I have written from the mouths of [Maori] witnesses there is not one word about the moa.” J. W. Stack says practically the same thing. On the other hand, a great number of writers affirm that the Maori knew the moa well, and has plenty of traditions touching upon its appearance, food, methods of hunting it, &c, some of which are purely romances, others probably true; but the weight of evidence by the bulk of writers is, to my mind, in favour of the ancient period.
In this paper it is not my intention of joining in a discussion to which there seems no finality; what I want to point out is a fact that was unknown or overlooked by both the Maori students and those gentlemen who gave their opinion in regard to Maori songs. The fact that they have overlooked is this: In several of the very old songs and proverbs, probably the oldest, the bird is known by several names—first kura-nui, second manu-whakatau, and (probably) at a later date moa.
I have carefully looked through between eight hundred and a thousand Maori waiata, karakia, oriori, and whakatauki (songs, incantations, lullabies, and proverbs), and have found a fair number of references, from which I have selected from three periods the following. The first and oldest is the last section of a very fine karakia composed by a tohunga named Tuhotoariki, who belonged to a period about one generation after the coming of the fleet. This song was composed on the birth of Tutere-moana, whose mother was in prolonged labour. As it almost entirely deals with the Maori ideas of conception, a full translation might be considered out of place; it is, moreover, apart from the present purpose. The last verse, therefore, will alone be given, also a table showing the period of the composer. As this song has been handed down from father to son right from the period of the migration, it proves to my mind that the moa was extinct, and recognized by the Maori as such, in Tuhoto-ariki's time—that is, a few years after the arrival of the canoes. Indeed, it is probable that he was a boy when the fleet arrived.
The word “manu-whakatau” probably means a bird superior to all others, as indicated by the following ancient proverbs: “Hopara makau rangi manu-whakatau” (The finest chieftain is like the manu-whakatau—moa). “Ko wax tou tamaiti; kapa ko te manu-whakatau?” (Is your child noble like the manu-whakatau—moa?).
Kura-nui had a somewhat similar meaning. The usual interpretation of the word “kura-nui” would be “great-red.” (“Red” to the Maori includes “brown”) “Kuranga o te ao” (The redness of the morning). Also, kura is applied to anything highly prized. A second meaning is a valued feather used for head-dress, such as a huia or amokura feather. Kura-nui was likewise used as a term of address to a high-born chieftainess. Tahurangi (the highest peak on Ruapehu) was another word of address representing the same high idea. Kura was also a term applied to sacred things connected with the whare wananga, or house of learning, in far-away Hawaiki.
I mentioned my discovery to the Rev. T. G. Hammond, of Hawera, who was exceedingly interested, and the day after our conversation sent me the following note, which adds additional interest to the words. “Since our talk about those waiata, I have seen an old Maori who confirms the names kura-nui and manu-whakatau as names of the moa. I have also learned that these names indicate varieties of the moa.” He was aware that there were great differences as shown by the remains, and this mav account for the word momo (race) in this connection.
A point that should be noticed is that in these, as in most of the songs and proverbs relating to the moa, the word “huna” is used, meaning “hidden,” never “ngaro,” which we would think more applicable, as it means “lost.” This seems to imply that the habit of hiding the head when pursued, characteristic of all wingless birds, had been noted by the Maori and the idea incorporated into his references. It is also worthy of mention that as early as Tuhoto-ariki's time the natives had noticed that the swamps held quantities of bones, and their attempt at an explanation of the fact is certainly noteworthy.
Owing to tribal variations in many of these ancient genealogies it is somewhat difficult to arrive at a satisfactory solution of Tuhoto-ariki's period. In Table I this well-known (to the Maori) tohunga is situated about one generation after Tamatea, or the period usually spoken of as “the time of the fleet” (A.D. 1350). It is now generally agreed that Whatonga and Tara flourished some considerable time before the “coming of the fleet”; and, if that is so, Tuhoto-ariki may have been earlier, but he could not well have been later.
In Table II we have Tuhoto-ariki placed about four generations before the “fleet” period, but in considering this we have the difficulty of Tamatea being mentioned in the song. Now, it is Tamatea-pokai-whenua, the navigator, who is usually credited with the destruction of the moa by his sacred fire, but if we accept this table we must look to one of the other Tamateas of that period (of which there were many) as the hero. In the life of Tamatea of the “Takitimu” canoe, as received by myself, and recorded in the history of Ngati-Kahungunu (“Journal of the Polynesian Society”), and also in the exploits of this man as recounted in Kauwae-raro, not a word about the fire myth is mentioned; consequently it is possible that an earlier Tamatea was the hero.
Table III gives an idea of the frequency with which the name can be met with, but in this particular genealogy it is probable that there was originally only one man bearing several names, which later came to be recognized as different men. However, as these Tamateas could scarcely have been aborigines, it is improbable that they could have been associated with the sacred fire.
Whatever way we accept the evidence of genealogy, it is clear to my mind that Tuhoto-ariki lived about the time of the fleet, and, on the evidence of the song, that the moa was destroyed by those who came hither with the migrations prior to the time of the fleet; and, further, that myth surrounded the memory of the bird as early as Tuhoto-ariki's time.