(3.) Burden-carriers (Kawe).
The kawe consists of two long plaited bands connected by a cross-band at the middle, and is used for carrying burdens on the back (Plate 82, fig. 1). It really belongs to the section on belts and bands, but is of such extraordinary interest as to merit special treatment.
White wefts of flax are used in the construction. The method of beginning is the same as in baskets. The butt-tufts are plaited with a three-ply plait, with wefts on either side to form a keel. The wefts, however, are placed in pairs with the under surfaces in apposition, so that the white upper surfaces may show on either side of the bands. The stiff-leaved varieties of flax are not so good, and the wharariki (Phormium Cookianum) is the best kind. In the kawe I watched being made, six double wefts were plaited in on either side. The ends of the last butt-tufts were plaited on into the usual tail, as in baskets. Each double weft was then split into two with the thumb-nail, making twelve double wefts on either side. The wefts were ⅛ in. in width. The twelve double wefts on one side were then plaited with a twilled-two stroke into a band 2½ in. long. The width of the band at the plaited base of butt-tufts was 1¾ in., and this width was maintained throughout by turning the wefts back into the body of the band by a half-twist which turned up the surface of the other weft. In some kawe the wefts are turned in by merely bending them without changing the surfaces, as in the side edge of floor-mats. This does not make such a smooth edge as the twist. Having reached the desired length of 2½ in., the wefts are divided into two lots of six. The six wefts on the right are plaited through to the left, and continued on in a narrower band at right angles to the first part. Owing to the turns at the edges, it is now only ⅝ in. wide, and is continued on for about 17 in. The remaining unplaited portions of the wefts, of about 18 in., are tied together temporarily to prevent unravelling. The other six wefts are now plaited in a similar manner in the opposite direction and tied. It will be observed that at this stage the two bands are in the same straight line, with an absolutely straight even outer edge, so that they form one continuous band with two unfinished ends. The twelve double wefts on the other side of the keel are dealt with in exactly similar manner, so that we have made two long narrow bands with unfinished ends, joined together at the middle by a band 1¾ in. wide and 5 in. long.
The finish to the ends is done with dressed flax-fibre (muka). The unplaited weft-ends are untied, and divided into three equal parts of two wefts each. To each part a 3 ft. length of fibre is attached by looping the thicker end and incorporating the short portion with another weft-division. The three compound divisions of fibre and weft-material are then plaited on in the ordinary three-ply plait so as to produce a somewhat flattened cord. Note that the bending-back of a short length of fibre in another division and plaiting it down for a few strokes absolutely fixes the junction of fibre and weft, and allows it to stand the strain of heavy weights without becoming loosened. As the weft-ends become thinner and give out, the band changes from a flat band to the ordinary fibrous cord. This cord thins down until it is tied in a knot about 3 ft. from its junction with the wefts. The tail of plaited butt-wefts is doubled back and forwards over the middle of the connecting-band, and tied down to it by strips of fibre passed over the plait and through the plaiting on either side of it.
A burden is carried with the kawe in the same manner as a soldier's knapsack. It corresponds to what are called in this country swag-straps. The kawe is laid on the ground with the two bands parallel, and the burden is placed across the mid-part by the connecting-band. The two bands are brought over the burden and tied in loops loose enough to allow of the arms being inserted between the band and the burden. The connecting-band prevents the long bands slipping off the sides of the burden. The act of tying the fibrous ends of the bands is known as tui. The carrier usually sits down in front of the burden with his back to it, puts his arms through the loops, and is usually assisted to his feet by a pull on the arms. Failing assistance, the burden with the kawe in position is usually placed on something to raise it from the ground. From this we get the old proverb, Tuia te kawe, tairanga te kawe, ooi ko te kawe o te haere (Fasten the kawe, lift up the kawe, ah! it is the kawe of departure). This denoted readiness to depart on some project, whether on a military expedition or some more peaceful object.
The bands for encircling the loads were 8 ft. or 9 ft. long. Some were made much broader than that described. The flat band made it more comfortable for the shoulders, and the fibrous ends made the tying easier and firmer. The connecting-band in the middle prevented the long bands from slipping over the sides of the burden. Altogether, the kawe, with its simple but ingenious construction, was admirably suited for its purpose.
Burdens were carried on the back by women, commoners, and slaves. In the frequent war-expeditions extra provisions had to be carried on the back, and this necessitated a fair number of porters. It was the lack of transport facilities when departing from the coast that restricted military operations until the season when food was plentiful in the enemy country.
The point of extraordinary interest in the kawe is that it forms one of the increasing number of differences that are coming to light between the Maori and the rest of the Polynesians. Throughout eastern and western Polynesia the method of carrying burdens is by means of the balance-pole, so commonly seen amongst Chinese gardeners and porters. In Samoa, Tonga, and Niue it is to be seen in everyday use. In Niue men, women, and even children may be seen coming in from their plantations with a load of bananas, plantains, yams, or taros suspended at each end of a pole carried across one shoulder. In eastern Polynesia, from the Hawaiian Islands down through the old distributing-centre in Tahiti and Raiatea, on to the Maori nearest of kin, the Rarotongan, and away to the islands
farther east, the balance-pole is in universal use. In New Zealand it is entirely absent. That the old-time Maori was acquainted with it a study of the words connected with that form of transport would seem to indicate. The Polynesian root word for carrying on the shoulder is amo. In the Samoan dialect amo means “to carry on the shoulder,” and the name for the balance-pole is also amo. A burden is amoga. In Tongan, haamo is to carry on the shoulder burdens suspended from each end of a stick, and the burden carried as above is haamoga. In western Polynesia the Polynesian ng sound is represented by the letter g. In Niuean, to carry on the shoulder is hahamo, and the balance-pole is lakau hahamo. The Niue dialect has more aspirates than the Maori, as indicated in such words as uha, mohe, and tahi, which have the same meanings as the Maori ua (rain), moe (sleep), and tai (tide or sea). In Hawaiian, to carry a burden on the shoulder is amo; the burden so carried is also amo; and the balance-pole is auamo. In the Marquesan and Mangain dialects amo also means “to carry on the shoulder,” and in the Moriori dialect of the Chatham Island amo is “to carry on a pole.” Returning to New Zealand, in the Maori dialect amo means definitely “to carry on the shoulder.” In his Comparative Dictionary Tregear gives as one meaning of amo “to carry in any manner,” and quotes as an example, “Amo ake au i taku toki nei.” The phrase certainly means “to carry an axe,” but if any Maori were asked how the axe was carried he would unhesitatingly reply, “On the shoulder.” The literal meaning of the phrase is, “I carry up on my shoulder this my axe.” Similarly, if a piece of firewood is carried on the shoulder the word amo is used. If firewood is carried on the back the word waha is used. To ask a man to shoulder his axe by using the words “Me waha to toki” would be quite wrong. There is a special word for shouldering, which is amo. Another Maori word for carrying on the back is pikau. Waha and pikau refer exclusively to carrying on the back, hiki to carrying in the arms, and amo to carrying on the shoulder. The Samoans have a similar word for carrying on the back, fafa; whilst the Tahitians use vaha and the Hawaiians waha with a similar meaning. The two methods of carrying are here distinguished by different words; but in Samoa and Tahiti fafa and vaha apply more to carrying persons on the back than ordinary burdens.
It is clear from these comparisons that, though the balance-pole does not now exist amongst the Maori, they have preserved in the word amo and its present meaning the old original use of the word. But, in addition to this, we have a trace of the survival of the old use of the word as applied to the balance-pole itself. For the transport of sick or wounded men, and also of the dead to their last resting-place, a litter or rough stretcher was made of two poles, which were carried on the shoulders of two men. One name for the litter was kauhoa, but equally common names were kauamo, whataamo, and amo without any prefix. Whilst the litter itself was called amo, there can be no doubt that to use the word amo in connection with the act of carrying, the shoulder had to be associated with it. Maori stretcher-bearers, carrying the wounded on the ordinary military stretchers during the late European War, when they wanted to give their arms a rest would say “Me amo,” and the handles of the stretchers were unhesitatingly hoisted up on to their shoulders. “Me amo” meant “Let us shoulder it.” Sometimes, when time pressed and material was not immediately available, a wounded man was slung to a single pole carried on the shoulders. Furthermore, heavy burdens of food were often carried in this
way. In the story of Wairangi, carefully written-down verbatim from a tattooed warrior of the old school, mention is made of large eels being carried on a pole held horizontally on the shoulders of two men. In more modern times a pig was often carried in this manner. To this the term amo was applied. Hence we see that the pole and the shoulder are associated together naturally in the mind of the Maori.
What better evidence can we get in these days to support the fact that the balance-pole was known to the Maori at some period of his past? How came it to be abandoned? Dr. Brigham, in explaining the use of the notches on the ends of the auamo, or Hawaiian balance-poles, gives what seems to be the key to the problem in New Zealand. In comparing the Hawaiian auamo with the Chinese bearing-stick, he points out that the latter “is without notches, though one or two pins were inserted to answer the same purposes as notches. It is easy enough to keep the suspended baskets from slipping off in the flat country of China or most Chinese towns, but the Hawaiian had to climb most difficult paths in his native islands, and it would often be impossible to carry the pole perfectly horizontal.” The italics are mine. Let us consider the paths the Maori had to climb in his native islands. We know that the Maori dwelt on fortified hilltops. The forts on the flat, protected by stockades, were so comparatively few as to be not worth consideration. The steeper the hill, the better for defensive purposes. These hills were terraced, so that, in addition to their natural steepness, the communication between successive terraces was rendered artificially steeper. The cultivations for kumara, taro, and gourds were on the flats below. Fish and shell-fish from the rivers, lakes, and sea, birds, berries, roots, and all food-supplies, firewood, and water had all to be carried up the steep hillsides and through narrow, tortuous, and still steeper communication-ways between tiers of terraces, embankments, and palisades to their homes. The balance-poles, with burdens fore and aft, would be the worst possible means of portorage. Where the Hawaiian in his own land found it “often impossible to carry the pole perfectly horizontal,” the Maori in ascending the paths to his hill fort would find it always impossible; and no notch or even hole could do away with the disadvantages of the balance-pole. New conditions with insuperable difficulties led to the abandoning of the ancient method of carrying burdens. The balance-pole could not survive in Maori New Zealand. This in itself is sufficient to account for the introduction of a new method. The Maori had sufficient mentality to cope with the situation and evolve the kawe without outside assistance.
There are, however, so many things peculiar to the Maori as distinguished from the rest of Polynesia that there is a growing opinion amongst New Zealand ethnologists that these seeming anomalies are derived from a wave of pre-Maori people with Melanesian characteristics. Mr. Elsdon Best—than whom no one has gone into the matter more deeply—considers that, apart from the difficulties in the way of the balance-pole, the finding of a better method was rendered easy by accepting that already in vogue amongst the tangata whenua, or pre-Hawaiki and pre-Toi people. It is now accepted in most quarters that when Toi and his grandson Whatonga came from eastern Polynesia, two centuries before the Hawaiki migration, the country was fairly thickly populated. Both before and after this latter colonizing wave, also from eastern Polynesia, war was waged against the tangata whenua by the eastern Polynesians and their allies by intermarriage. Some tribes of the latter were exterminated, and others driven out of the
country, to find a temporary haven of peace in the Chatham Islands. Many of the men were spared to become slaves, and many of the women were taken in marriage. In fact, though all the tribes of the present day proudly trace their ancestry back to canoes from Hawaiki, we know that the crews of those canoes were comparatively few in number, and the blood of the tangata whenua tribes enters in some cases very largely into the existing tribes. Of the people absorbed, a large proportion must have been women, as very few are recorded in the passenger-lists of the famous Hawaiki canoes. Though the eastern Polynesians, by their higher mentality and aristocratic and warlike character, must have imposed their higher culture upon the resultant race, the bulk of the menial tasks in the cultivating of food and carrying of supplies into the hill forts must have fallen upon the slaves and womenfolk. What more natural, then, as Best suggests, than that they should carry the burdens for their lords and masters in their own way—namely, on the back by means of the burden-carriers, or kawe. The obvious advantages of the kawe over the balance-pole would be so apparent that the amo would speedily be relegated to the limbo of things forgotten, but the name, with its original meaning, remained as a memory of the past. Judge Maning describes, in Old New Zealand, a dilemma that occurred to the last canoe setting out on an expedition. When the food-supplies were to be transported down to the canoe it was found that all the slaves and commoners had departed in the other canoes. Not one of the chiefs or warriors could carry food on his back, and a catastrophe was only averted by a bright mind suggesting the brilliant idea of carrying the burdens down in their arms. Thus was the tapu avoided. May there not be some trace in this of the early clash of two systems? The proud and aristocratic eastern Polynesians, whilst allowing slaves, commoners, and women to adopt the new method, disdained to use it themselves, and perhaps perpetuated their conservative prejudice through succeeding generations by extending the anatomical boundaries of tapu from their sacred heads to their burdenrejecting backs. Ko wai ka mohio.