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Volume 53, 1921
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Art. L.—An Account of a (supposed Maori) Sharpening-stone.

[Read before the Otago Institute, 9th November, 1920; received by Editor, 31st December, 1920; issued separately, 12th August, 1921.]

Plate LXX.

In 1917, when travelling from Tauranga to Whakatane, I was informed of a Maori sharpening-stone near the Mimiha crossing, near, Matata, and I seized the opportunity of examining an object of such great interest. At that time the railway was not constructed, and the stone was near the coach-road, half under a wire fence bordering a piece of swampy land. It was almost embedded in very damp ground, and was partly covered with rank vegetation. From memory I should say it was about 4 ft. or 5 ft. long, and 2 ft. wide—a hard, volcanic-looking rock, possibly a meteorite, and so far as I could judge there was no sign of any stone in the neighbourhood the least approaching to it in character. The roads were not metalled, and there did not seem to be any of the usual andesite blue road-metal one sees in so many places in the South. Rarely did one see a pebble or a pebbly stream, but all along the coast there was an abundance of soft sandstone, and cliffs of sandstone and clay, so soft as to be curiously cut and channelled by the sand-laden wind, and also by the extraordinarily heavy downpours of rain occasional in that locality. The only hard rock I saw for many miles was Pohaturoa, the famous sacred rock at Whakatane; but even that appeared to me to be quite different in character. I had no chance of taking photos or even of making a careful description, with measurements, &c., being on the spot for only a few minutes; but what I saw of the stone was sufficient to make me anxious to learn something of its history, and, if possible, to secure photos. No one in Tauranga, where I made many inquiries on the three occasions of my visiting that town, could tell me much about it. People had vaguely heard of it; I could find no one who had actually seen it. The motor-driver, who often passed near it, had been told where it was, and said he thought he could find it for me. He had heard it said that the Maori of old came from far and near to sharpen their stones upon it; but he seemed to have remembered the mere facts, without the name of a single informant. No one in Whakatane seemed even to have heard about it, and I could find no reference to it in any book, nor could I learn anything from the leading authorities on Maori matters in New Zealand. After three years' endeavour I have, through the good offices of Mr. Arnold Woodward, surveyor, of Whakatane, secured some photographs, and he has also been kind enough to unearth what he could about its local history. The stone is in a spot about three miles north of Matata, and Mr. Fred Burt, who has lived there for thirty-five years, states that on his coming there the stone was covered with high. manuka, and had not been used for many years. It was uncovered by Mr. Burt's father, but until the railway was built it was periodically covered with, water dammed up by sandbanks after storms, and again left dry on the water breaking through the sandbanks.

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Mr. Elsdon Best has referred me to a description, made by W. Best, of Otaki, about thirty-four years ago, of a hoanga, or Maori sharpening-stone, in the Mimiha Creek at practically the same spot. The description appears in the Dominion Museum Bulletin No. 4, p. 90, and in the Monthly Review, 1890, p. 481; but, whilst the locality is the same, there are several differences that make it fairly evident that two different stones are in question. Best's is described as an enormous rock which had fallen from the cliff above, and was of sandstone, 20 ft. by 10 ft., and projecting 7 ft. or 8 ft. out of the water. Burt's stone is not half that size, is flush with the ground, and not near the stream, which, however, may have changed its course in thirty years. Best's rock was later on entirely covered up and disappeared, while Burt's has been uncovered and known for many years. It must be noted, however, that Best's stone was sometimes uncovered, sometimes covered with silt. In Best's the grooves were 3 ft. long, and 10 in. to 12 in. in depth; while in Burt's I should say from memory they were no more than 3 in. to 6 in. long, and 1 in. to 2 in. deep. Best's stone was sandstone; Burt's seemed to me to be hard like ande3ite5 or like a meteorite. The sandstone cliffs appeared to me to be very soft and not at all suitable for grinding. Captain Mair, in referring to this hoanga, said that the Maori asserted that they knew nothing about it, and that the grooves were the work of pre-Maori days.

The stone now lies almost on the road-line, and it is desirable that it should be. carefully fenced in and made into a little reserve; or, better still, the whole stone should be lifted bodily, if possible, and removed, to the Dominion Museum, Wellington, for it is certain that when the railway is opened and the stone cleared from surrounding vegetation it will very soon be chipped and broken by tourists and others endeavouring to remove portions as curios, and eventually destroyed.

As this stone has not heretofore been described, I felt the matter was of sufficient importance to bring forward, so that steps might be taken to have the stone carefully examined by geologists and ethnologists after it has been placed in a position of security.