XXIII.Notes on the Maoris of New Zealand,
 and some Melanesians of the South-west Pacific


[Extracted from The Journal of the Ethnological Society of London, vol. 1, no. 4 (1869), pp. 364-71.]


1. It may prepossess my hearers in favour of the Maoris of New Zealand, when I tell them that they are "born disciples of inductive science." Never did I meet with men more averse to hasty generalizations themselves, and more keen in showing up our tendency thereto. Perhaps I may be allowed to give an instance, though I would preface the story by saying that I am not going to tax your patience by illustrative anecdotes generally, bearing in mind a dictum of Chalmersthat there is a stage of [p.365] life lower than that of dotage, and that is "Anec-dotage." But I must illustrate my statement that the Maoris are disciples of inductive science, by recording the remark of a chief on the west coast, named Nepia Taratoa, when he heard that some English newspapers characterized the Maoris as savages, murderers, and cannibals, because some men had committed atrocities deserving of the name. He said that in the year 1850 a chief had gone to England and been presented to the queen, who had something the matter with his left eye; that in the year 1855 another chief, who had lost his left eye, went to England and was presented to the queen. Now, said he, if I was to send that wall-eyed nephew of mine to England, I should expect to see in the next file of English newspapers that "all Maoris have lost one of their eyes."

You may judge from this that we are obliged to be on our P's and Q's when arguing with a Maori; and I hope that I have so far learnt my lesson as to say that I shall now present to your notice observations I have made during my sojourn in New Zealand since 1850, and leave others to frame theories as to their Semitic, Aryan, Turanian, or mixed origin.

2. Races.No one can live much among the Maoris (a word meaning "natural") without observing that there are two different casts of features and types of mind in New Zealand, besides the extranatural Ma-ori-oris found in the Chatham Islands.

These last are of a debased type as compared with either of the others, probably in consequence of their having been for some years slaves to those roving pirates, as I may call them, the Ngati-awa (the children of water).

I have had the teaching of some of the Ma-ori-oris, and found them duller of intellect and heavier in body and mind than any other Polynesians I have ever seenin fact, more like some of the Australian Papuens whom I have had to teach, and whom I observe Mr. Wallace connects with Polynesians. But as with the Maoris, so with the Australians, I have seen and taught two perfectly distinct types of mental and bodily structures in both races. One Australian was as heavy, thick-lipped, broad-featured, and amiable as a Ma-ori-ori; the other was as keen, sharp-featured, and self-willed as the highest type of Maori; I say the highest type, because the chiefs generally, and some of the finest tribes, such as the Waikatos, have the high forehead, the straight nose, long hair, and intellectual haughty expression of what is, or used to be, called the Caucasian race; while the great mass of the people have the crisp woolly hair, the thick lips, the broad face, and good-humoured look of the negro, though highly improved and developed. If I remember right, [p.366] there is a description, in Merivale's 'History of the Romans under the Empire,' of the two types of Kymrian and Keltic face and character found in France, well illustrating the two types in New Zealand and in Australia.

3. Caste.The only remnant of caste that I have observed, is the philological fact that the word which denotes a man's occupation, is the same as names the whole tribeof which this is, I believe, the first attempt at an explanation; and Sir G. Grey, who is present, will be able to form an opinion of the value of my philological criterion. This word is Kai. If tunu means "to bake," kai-tunu is a baker. If mahi means "to work," kai-mahi is a workman. If whakawa means to "try a cause," kai-whakawa is a judge. But this word kai is, in the southern island, the same as Ngati in the northern island, which is the prefix of all, or nearly all, the tribes of New Zealand, and means "the children"such as the Ngati-awa of whom I spoke just now, "the children of water." But the natives, near Dunedin and Canterbury Colony, are called Kai-tahu, "the children of fire-lighting."*

Emigration seems to have done for the Maoris (supposing they had any such thing as caste in their original homes) what it did for the Greeks of old, when the Pelasgi and Hellenes had reached Europe. The old names of the Grecian tribes in Attica and Epirus, such as ergatai, aigikoreis, ippeis and elloi [Greek], would seem to speak of workmen, herdsmen, knights, and priests, who soon broke through their monopolies, and established the remarkable contrast that the Emperor of the French has observed of ancient and modern civilizationthat every Roman (and he might have said Greek) was a statesman, a lawyer, a soldier, a sailor, &c., instead of having any such division of labour as we now pride ourselves on. I would say that in New Zealand every Maori is his own butcher, baker, fishmonger, poulterer, lawyer, and now, I may nearly add, his own clergyman, besides being a first-rate soldier, sailor, and statesman. [Absit omen! soldier, sailor, tinker, and tailor, &c.]

4. There seems always to be amongst the Maoris a form of government which Cicero considered to be the best, viz. a "temperamentum" of chief, with his aristocracy of birth, and a general democratic assembly. In fact, Mr. Gladstone's brilliant sketch of the Homeric "constitution" just accords with the Maori form of government as it existed when the English [p.367] came into the country. There was the vasileus [Greek], or chief, the vouli [Greek] of the aristocratic families, and the laos [Greek], or democracy, with the inevitable public opinion, or press, in the shape of tis [Greek] in the Iliad, and with the name of tikanga in New Zealand, and (perhaps you will say) "the no less inevitable" priesthood controlling all. Nothing can be more mistaken than to represent the New-Zealanders as a people without law and order. They are, and were, the slaves of law, rule, and precedent, as much as some people that we know of in this civilized hemisphere. That dictum of Burckhardt's, quoted in Dean Stanley's 'Lectures on the Jewish Church,' p. 192, is strictly applicable to the Maoris. "There is no contradiction between the wild habits of the Bedouin and an elaborate, though purely traditional, system of social and legal observances."

The only class of which I have anything to say is the priestly. It is clear now to many of us that they were eggastrimithoi [Greek] (ventriloquists), and that they maintained their influence by pretended communications from their gods, which were really nothing more or less than very clever feats of ventriloquism. I shall never forget the surprise of some native Christians, when they heard, as they thought, a quarrel outside the door between two men, and, on rushing to see what was going on, found no one there; and when they were told that it was really done by a young Irishman who was sitting amongst us, they understood how their priests, in former times, had seemed to be receiving oral communications from a god in the form of a spider on the ceiling. Spiders were consequently special objects of reverence to Maoris, and as the priests further told them that the souls of the faithful went to heaven on gossamer threads, they were very careful not to break any spider's webs, or gossamers.

Lizards were also supposed to be chosen by the Maori gods as favourite abodes; and when the worship lately revived, I accidentally came upon a templum, or sacred enclosure, in which the lizards were caught, and supposed to be attracted by blood poured into a trench round a pole stuck into a small mound of earth; involuntarily I quoted Horace's words "Cruor in fossam confusus, ut inde Manes elicerent."

Sir George Grey, the late Governor of New Zealand, who is here present, could tell us that on the west coast, where the war has lately been raging, there was a tribe who worshipped idols; and on the east coast, near where the late massacre occurred, he found they worshipped trees (and serpents, I believe). Another special object of worship in every part was the rainbow, under the name of Uenuku; and its influence was generally supposed to be kindly, whereas the Melanesians (of whom I shall have something to say later in the evening) almost invariably dreaded [p.368] the rainbow, fled from it, and hid themselves, saying that "it pinched them." There are numerous stories of dragons, like our dragon of Wantley, afloat among the natives; and I have just received from New Zealand an account of one such in a freshwater lake: "it had jaws like a crocodile, and spouted water like a whale" (J. Hadfield), which pursued some bathers, and which I have very little doubt was a very large conger-eel, as the Maori's have frequently described attacks made upon them by such creatures. But whether conger eels can live in fresh-water lakes, I do not know.

There is one more belief, while I am speaking of priestcraft, which I would mention as often stated to me; and that is the peculiar gift of certain men, who, by their nervous sensibility, can discover where the beautiful greenstone of the south island, so like malachite, lies; just as in Devonshire and other parts of England, we all know that certain men profess to be able to discover a spring of water by holding a hazel-wand in their hands; and so old was this belief and assumption of power, that I remember, when I was a boy, learning from Ovid and the early Latin commentaries on the text, that "Virginea Water," the spring in the Roman forum, was so called because it was discovered by a damsel holding such a hazel wand in her hand.

5. I have a few words to say on cannibalism and Maori usages. I once heard an old chief defend the practice of cannibalism by the following induction. "Te kai a te manu, whaka-te-manu; te kai a te ika whaka-te-ika; te kai a te kuri whaka-te-kuri; te kai a te tangeta whaka-te-tangeta;" that is, "the food of the bird is birdward; the food of the fish is fishward; the food of the beast is beastward; the food of man is manward."

This is a striking corroboration of the argument used by Mr. Hutton at the Church Congress 1869, to the effect that the Christian law of pity was no Darwinian development of any physiological laws of nature. See 'John Bull,' October 9, 1869.

With regard to Maori usages, I have heard from a Maori of most reliable character, that he has observed his children, within three hours of their birth, exhibit certain ancient Maori warlike usages, such as putting out the tongue, quivering the hand, and turning up the eyeball.

6. As specimens of their intellectual power, I would say that their cosmogony is only inferior to the Mosaic, deriving matter from mind, and creation from no material atoms. I would say that their mode of expressing "Eternity" is in itself a clear and grand conception:"No tua iho whakarere a mua tonu atu" ("that which exists before the stream of Time infinitely onwards"). Their word for conscience is "the hidden woman." I would further observe that Hochstetter, the Austrian geologist, [p.369] stated that their mythological legends about the volcanic mountains of the northern island were wonderfully exact descriptions of the geological formations. I would again observe that though they only knew the islands by different tribes sailing round them in canoes, their survey of the shape was nearly as correct as our own.

7. With regard to the language, I would preface what I have to say by remarking that there is, strangely enough, only one word of our own language (a congeries of three or four) which that simple language cannot express. You will smile when I tell you that it is the word "digestion." "O dura maiorum ilia!"

Max Muller has, if I recollect, divided languages into those that say "cart-horse" and those that invert the order. The Maori inverts it, and says "hoiho-kaata." There is only one exception, I believe, to this in the language; and that is the word "tino" for "genuine;" "a thorough man" is "he tino tangata." And so again the Maori inverts the order of compounds of "facere" in Latin. The Maori has the exact word "whaka" for "facere," and most of them pronounce it "faka;" but whereas the Latins say calefacere (to make warm), the Maori says whaka mahana. They also have the word pu, which seems to have been very much akin to [Greek], fio.

There is a remarkable peculiarity in their pronunciation which I wish Mr. Max Muller would explain. They have no letter l nor s in their own language; but yet the moment they have learnt to pronounce s, if that sound follows r (which they have in their own language), they turn our r into l; thus the English word rice becomes in their mouths lice; and, again, though they have no s, the moment they have mastered our words ending in ch and beginning with p, they prefix an s to the p, and for punch say "spunch," as Sunday-school children say "Spontius Pilate." The commonest sound in their language is the nasal ng; but it is always soft, like our word "singing," till they change it into k, as I mentioned just now. The Maori, like all of our European languages, has two forms of the pronouns; as we say I and me, so they say ahau and noku (for the possessive case).

I would conclude by saying that the common trade-charge brought against the Maoris, that they have no word for gratitude, is a mistake: they have the work koha; but they say, and they are right in saying, that "the aroha, or love, which precedes, is better than the gratitude which follows."

I must be brief upon the Melanesians, who, lying direct north of New Zealand, to the west of 180 east longitude, towards the equator, are most of them, as their name implies, black, woolly-haired, thick-lipped men, as compared with the copper-coloured [p.370] Polynesians. I may say that M. Quatrefages, in the 'Revue des deux Mondes,' in the year 1864**, gives a surprisingly correct account of them, so far as I have been able to judge. The Melanesian languages have not the softness of the Maori, owing to their pronouncing consonants together, and ending their words in consonants as frequently we English do ours. The following names of boys that I have taught will illustrate this:Sellok, Uben, Kaletong, Nabong, Didimang, Kowembat.

All these Melanesian and Polynesian languages have, as far as I have known or heard, one peculiarity in common; and that is, they express number in two different ways, according as it is spoken of men, or any other animals or things. Three persons, that clumsy word of ours, is toko-toru in Maori, and ava-tene in Nengone; whereas three things is e-toru in Maori, and tene alone in Nengone.

The natives of Nengone, near New Caledonia, have two languages, according as they address a chief, or an equal, which perhaps will explain the old homeric formula of dn Xanthon kaleousi theoi andres de Skamandron [Greek]. The only common word that I remember as resembling an Indo-European language, is the word for "woman" in Nengone, which is minewe, and resembles the Singhalese word miniha for man.

There are probably upwards of 200 languages in the 100 islands within the range I have spoken of, any two of which are said by Bishop Patteson, who has learnt ab initio and reduced to writing, grammar, and literature at least 20, to be as different as Dutch and German. The remedy for this Babel of tongues is the wonderful love of enterprise that inspires them, and leads them to run down against the quarter of the trade-wind in a canoe, whenever the wind changes for a few days. If they miss their mark, they go out to sea and are lost. A successful explorer is the cynosure of all eyes; and therefore a knowledge of half a dozen languages gains the blue riband of Melanesia. I can illustrate what Sir J. Lubbock says, in 'Macmillan's Magazine' for April 1869, of the Malay ships infesting these islands; the lads of Erromanga and Solomon's Isles have often told me that huge pirate ships, as large as our men-of-war, crowded with copper-coloured natives, occasionally infest their seas.

This love of enterprise is the counterpoise to their extraordinarily conservative habits. The Bishop of New Zealand had an opportunity of observing this conservative tempor at Santa Maria. As he sat in his boat, he was reading Don Quiros's narrative of his voyage thither 200 years ago; Don Quiros said [p.371] that the people at the entrance of the harbour received him kindly, but when he left them, and was rounding a point, they shot poisoned arrows at him. So their descendants did kindly receive the bishop at the entrance, and then he saw them march off to the same point, and then they shot their arrows; but the bishop took Don Quiros's hint to keep out of range of their shot.

I cannot conclude this short and hasty sketch of them without saying that I have heard them trying to tempt some of us to come and visit their islands, and teach them our religion and civilization; and they have used the very identical words that the great myriad-minded poet puts into the mouth of Caliban; and I have often wondered at the insight he had into all human natures, when I have heard one of them say "ipsissimis verbis"

"I prithee, let me bring thee where crabs grow,
And I with my long nails will dig the pigments,
Show thee a jay's nest, and instruct thee how
To snare the nimble marmoset. I'll bring thee
To clustering filberts, and sometimes I'll get thee
Young scamels from the rocks."The Tempest, Act ii. Sc. 2.

And I will only add this one word about the curious way in which they get fresh water on some of the coral islands, such as Nangone, where there is none on the surface. Two go out together to sea, and dive down at some spot where they know there is a fresh-water spring, and they alternately stand on one another's backs to keep down the one that is drinking at the bottom before the pure water mixes with the surrounding salt water.

* I may observe upon this change of ng into k, that the roving Ngatiawa, when they settled upon the south island, adopted the southern use of k for their own ng, and call (e.g.) their home Whakapuwhaka for Whangapu-wanga. "Graecia capta," &c.
** February; also published in a separate work, 'Les Polynesians et leurs migrations,' Paris.