Volume 41 1932 > Volume 41, No. 161 > The late Elsdon Best, p 1-49
THE LATE ELSDON BEST, F.N.Z. Inst.
[See illustration at the end of previous article]
Foundation Member of the Polynesian Society; President, 1922-1924; Associate Editor, 1924; Joint-Editor, 1925-1931.
The following is an extract from the Evening Post, Wellington, of 11th September, 1931:—
“The funeral of the late Mr. Elsdon Best took place this morning, and was attended by a large and representative gathering, including members of the Government, heads of Government Departments, members of the Board of Maori Ethnological Research, the Polynesian Society, the Geographic Board, and there were also present a number of Maoris—members of the race who held Mr. Best in such high regard for the interest he took in their history and welfare.
“The service at St. Paul's Pro-Cathedral was conducted by the Right Rev. F. A. Bennett (Bishop of Aotearoa), Canon James (Vicar of St. Paul's), and the Rev. J. E. Ashley-Jones (Vicar of Wadestown).
“The chief mourner was the widow. The pall-bearers were Sir Apirana Ngata, Messrs. Johannes C. Andersen, P. J. Kelleher, A. Morris Jones, W. R. B. Oliver, W. J. Phillipps, H. R. H. Balneavis, and Dr. E. Marsden. Amongst those present were the Hon. H. Atmore, Messrs. H. E. Holland, M.P., H. D. Bennett, W. T. Neill, M. Crompton-Smith, H. Baillie, H. Coventry, A. E. Pollock, Chief Judge Jones, T. L. Buick, R. H. Hooper, A. H. Maciver, A. J. Harper, G. E. Hunter, B. C. Aston, Sir F. Chapman, L. E. Ward, the Rev. D. C. Bates, E. T. Norris, W. W. Bird, H. Fildes, A. Leigh Hunt, E. W. Kane, E. N G. Poulton (representing the Minister of Internal Affairs), Captain E. V. Sanderson, J. S. Tennant, Dr. C. E. Adams, R. Pomare, G. Durnett, A. R. Atkinson, T. H. Heberly, Professor H. B. Kirk, F. M. Luckie, Lady Pomare, Miss Paterson, Mrs. J. C. Andersen and others.- 2
“Wreaths were received from the New Zealand Government, Polynesian Society, Turnbull Library staff, Dominion Museum staff, Wellington Philosophical Society, Mr. and Mrs. T. Hallett, Mr. and Mrs. A. Turnbull, Mr. and Mrs. A. Vaughan, Mrs. B. Halcombe (New Plymouth), Miss M. Turton, Miss V. Laishley, Nurse Baker, Miss E. Sturdy, and Miss H. Turnbull.
“The committal service at the crematorium, Karori, was conducted by Canon James and the Rev. J. E. Ashley-Jones.
WORDS OF FAREWELL.
“‘We are met together this morning to bid a last, long farewell to the mortal remains of our brother, ’ said Bishop Bennett, in the course of his address at the Pro-Cathedral. ‘This is not a time for many words. One would prefer to sit in silence and contemplate—contemplate the virtues and gifts of intellect of our brother here departed; but I feel that it is necessary that at least one side of his work should be emphasised.
“‘You have already read in the newspapers very full descriptions of the wonderful work he has done. I feel, however, that it due to him that I, as one of the children of the Maori race, should take this opportunity of expressing our regard, our admiration and our gratitude for the great work he has done in bringing before the world the spiritual conceptions, the mythology, and legends of the Maori people.
“‘In the symbolism he was so fond of, I come as a child of the Maori race to place upon his mortal remains the pare-kawakawa. It was the custom of our Maori people when lamenting the loss of a great one to wear a pare-kawakawa as an emblem of grief. That emblem has three main lessons. First of all, there was the plant itself. The leaves of the kawakawa, when bruised, have a bitter, painful, and pungent taste. On an occasion of this sort, when we are lamenting the death of one who occupied such a high position in the regard of both races, there is the pain which comes from a sense of loss of the mortal side of our brother. On the other hand, let us not doubt that the great soul of our brother has not come to an end. Although he has been taken from our midst, his soul and - 3 influence still live on. In the symbolism of the Maori people he loved so much as a student, I, as a representative of the Maori race, place figuratively upon his mortal remains this wreath. He has been called to a higher existence.
“‘Farewell, Elsdon Best, chief and father of the Maori race! Farewell! Haere ra! Haere ra! e koro. Haere ki to iwi! Haere ki to kainga! Haere ki to Ariki! Depart! Depart! O father! Depart to the people! Depart to the home! Depart to thy God!’”
In addition to many messages by telegram and letters received by Mrs. Best, letters of appreciation of the late Elsdon Best and his work have been received by the Society as follow:
From SIR CHARLES FERGUSSON, late Governor-General of New Zealand, Ayrshire, Scotland.
My wife and I were both deeply grieved to hear of the death of Mr. Elsdon Best.
It was only during the last year or so of our stay that we got to know him, perhaps because of his modest and retiring nature; but the acquaintanceship we then formed with him became a great pleasure. It was my wife who saw most of him, as she had taken up with much enthusiasm the study of the history and ancient customs of the Maori people, in whom we have always taken a deep interest. The kindness and patience of Mr. Best in helping her in her enquiries can never be forgotten by her, nor the interest and enthusiasm which he brought to every aspect of that subject, which, as everyone knows, lay nearest to his heart.
Others are more qualified than I to speak of his great work of research into the origin and history of the Polynesian race—I imagine the value of this is incalculable. For ourselves we shall always remember him, not only for this, but for himself and his kindly personality, and we venture to hope that even for the short time we knew him, we may have been numbered among his friends.- 4
From THE RIGHT HON. G. W. FORBES, Wellington, Prime Minister of New Zealand:
The late Mr. Best achieved a reputation far beyond the shores of his native country by virtue of his indefatigable efforts to collect and preserve the traditions and myths of the Maori, and of the gift of applying to the collation of the material he so laboriously and lovingly pieced together a sympathetic understanding inherent in his nature. A newer school will arise—has arisen—with up-to-date training in the science of anthropology, with a better appreciation, perhaps, of the implications of facts and traits, and a greater facility for classification and comparative work. It has been said that he was immersed too deeply in tribal traditions and local detail. But his writings reveal a grasp of the mentality and almost of the soul of the race he studied. In many passages he identifies himself so clearly in mind and spirit with the old-time Polynesian warriors, orators and priests, that he spoke for them rather than of them.
His ashes will have an abiding and honoured place in the minds of New Zealanders.
From THE HON. J. G. COATES:
Those of us who knew Elsdon Best will miss his tall, spare, soldier-like figure in the streets of Wellington. Surely if ever a man was devoted to a singleness of purpose, that man was Elsdon Best. In his earlier years he had created opportunities for himself in order to study the old-time Maori, to set down in painstaking detail what he could observe and learn of the Maori mode of living, and, much more difficult, to record for posterity the spiritual and poetical concepts of a noble race.
Amongst the Tuhoe people in particular he lived for many years and noted their material culture—their stone weapons, their methods of fishing and bird snaring, their houses and carvings and the lore surrounding these material things. His writings on Maori agriculture, astronomy, - 5 warfare, and play must be the standard for all time, and those later research workers who wish to compare the culture of Malay, New Guinea, and such places with the culture of the Maori, will find in Elsdon Best's writing a wealth of detail that will be invaluable in years to come.
Many others have set down valuable information regarding material culture, but Mr. Best had an insight into the higher spiritual concepts of the Maori than perhaps was vouchsafed to any other Pakeha. The early missionaries learned from the Maori about the lesser deities, those of war, agriculture, etc., but not to any outsider would the old-time Maori possessed of the higher knowledge give any real confidence. But many years’ residence with the wise old men who knew of Io, the Supreme Being, gave Mr. Best the knowledge of the higher teachings. These sacred teachings were preserved by Mr. Best, and as the old people passed away he became recognized, even by the old Maoris themselves, as one who was guarding and preserving the higher knowledge. This is the great value of Mr. Best's later work. He has preserved for all time, a knowledge of the Maori's spiritual concepts, which, but for Mr. Best, would perhaps have been lost for ever.
I know that in his later years he felt that he was working against time in an effort to get all the important material from his many note books put into publishable form. He devoted himself entirely to his self-imposed task. When I was Minister of Native Affairs we made it possible for Mr. Best to prepare all his important material and get it published. As an instance of his preoccupation in things Maori, I asked him one day what his salary was, and he did not know! So long as he got enough to live on frugally, money did not worry him. He was immersed in his life's work.
Although those of us who knew him naturally regret his passing, we can say that he, in a very large measure, - 6 did the work he had set his life to—a work that no one but he could have done. Amongst all the fine workers in the field, Elsdon Best, perhaps, has made the greatest individual contribution to our knowledge of what the old-time Maori thought and did.
Te Peehi—Haere ra!
From H. E. HOLLAND, Leader of the Opposition, House of Representatives, New Zealand.
Inevitable as the rising of the sun over the ranges that lie eastward is the coming of Death to one and all of us. To some the “stern and silent usher” will come in the morning of life when the human task is hardly begun; to others when the shadows are lengthening and the work undertaken is still far from finished. It was while his work was yet incomplete that Death claimed Elsdon Best. He died at 75 years of age, and, consequently, while we mourn his passing and deeply regret that it was not possible for him to finish the work to which he had set himself, we still rejoice that he lived to such a ripe age and that out of the plenteous storehouse of his knowledge he found it possible to bequeath to New Zealand the rich literary heritage that is represented in his numerous publications. I knew him personally, and on valued occasions was privileged to discuss with him the lore of the great Maori race among whom he lived in a bygone day and whose people he had learned to know and love. But, like a host of others, I knew him better through the wealth of his contributions to the literature of Maori Ethnology. When. in years that are long past, I first explored the library shelves that held the literature built up around the Native Race of Maoriland and gained access to the works of Elsdon Best, it seemed to me as if no phase of Maori life had escaped the range of his investigations or had been missed from his accumulations of information. Within his writings—whether in the pages of cloth-bound books - 7 or paper-covered bulletins and monographs, or in magazine and newspaper articles—one found concisely stated, and yet with no sacrifice of necessary detail, the essential facts relating to the lives and doings of the Maori—their physical and mental characteristics; their concepts of the creation of the universe and the origin of man; their astronomical knowledge; their division of time, and their great achievements in seafaring and colonising; their traditional history and its teachings; their myth and folklore; their religious beliefs and practices; their groping for light through the murk of their period, and the slow dawning of their day of science; their social customs and marriage rites; all that had to do with birth, death, burial, and exhumation in the history of the tribes; their joy of life—their games and pastimes, their vocal and instrumental music; their methods of warfare, both in offence and defence; their domestic economy—their agriculture, fishing devices, forest lore and woodcraft, and their textile arts; their dwelling houses and storehouses; and a host of other subjects of compelling and captivating interest. Others have made valuable contributions to the literary collections that have featured Maori custom, legend, and history; but, it seems to me, Elsdon Best will remain supremely the ethnographer and historian of the Maori Race. I join with the Pakehas in bringing wreaths of remembrance, affection, and appreciation to his tomb, and with the Maoris in lamenting the loss of one who has passed away over the broad path of Tane.
From THE HON. SIR FREDERICK REVANS CHAPMAN, Wellington; a Foundation Member of the Polynesian Society.
I might find it difficult were I to try to say something different from what has, in all probability, been already said as to Elsdon Best's character, personality and public services. I had known him for many years, but I cannot say how many. There is nothing in my original personal - 8 contact with him, soon resulting in warm friendship, capable of being chronologically dated. We came to know each other I do not know when or how, and this contact endured for the rest of his busy life. If I wanted an answer to any question concerning Maori or Polynesian matters I went to Best and never came away unenlightened; this indeed applies to many matters widely beyond these special topics.
Personally he was a most engaging man, and I think that what as much as anything made him so was the ease and grace with which he readily imparted a share of his apparently limitless knowledge, within certain boundaries, to anyone who resorted to him. What he left behind him in his vast array of published matter is the best testimony to the extent of his knowledge, but it stands most patently to suggest that he had, so to speak, by no means emptied his comprehensive mind upon his great array of papers. That he remains largely unappreciated arises from the fact that he was always addressing a limited audience. His work, however, stands for the whole world and for all time. What he has written would have remained unrecorded but for his unceasing, careful, and accurate work, wonderfully free from error, and expressed in a literary style which cannot fail to attract those to whom the subject offers attractions. His work is his monument: better than stone or brass to confer immortality.
From A. C. HADDON, Anthropologist, Cambridge, England.
Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Elsdon Best I have always had a sincere regard for him, as it was evident from his writings that he had a sympathetic nature and was a man of high intellectual power. The amount and value of his researches into Maori ethnography are well known to students of Oceanic ethnology throughout the world, and all must feel that our science has suffered an irreplaceable loss by the death of the eminent scholar who was a link between the old order of things - 9 and the present conditions. The Maori have lost a true friend and faithful interpreter of their ancient life, ideas, and ideals. It will be difficult for a younger man to carry on his work, but if this could be done it would be the best tribute to the memory of Elsdon Best.
From GEORGE PITT-RIVERS, Manor House, Hinton St. Mary, Dorset, England.
In the death of Elsdon Best the Maori race of New Zealand has lost its foremost historian and ethnographer, and the Maori people one of their best friends. He was always anxious to promote a true understanding of the people amongst whom he lived so long, and to help visiting ethnographers to attain a deeper and more sympathetic insight into the psychology and aspirations as well as the disappointments and the past glories of that proud branch of the Polynesian stock.
I learnt to appreciate his spirit of generous helpfulness to the genuine inquirer when he accompanied me to some of the Maori villages of the Wanganui district in February, 1923, after the Australasian Association Meeting in Wellington.
No one knew the Maori as he used to be when New Zealand was first colonized more intimately than Elsdon Best. He knew his native friends not only superficially and to talk to, but also their old traditions, customs, folklore, myths, and religious ideas; and knew them far better than the present-day Maori himself, who, under the influence of our proseletyzing culture, has forgotten most of the old traditions and manners of his people.
Best, in addition to being the greatest authority on the Maori, represented that very fine type of pioneer settler who colonized New Zealand a generation ago. His parents came of sturdy Northumbrian stock, who in olden days may have been among the most lawless and fearless of the cattle-raiders in the Border country, yet rigid in their code of honour, courage, loyalty to friends, and the inviolability of their pledged word.- 10
It is not surprizing that a descendant of such a family, inheriting such instincts, acquired the power to read so sympathetically, and with such remarkable insight, into the minds of an alien Polynesian race endowed so liberally with these same instincts.
Porirua was nothing but a small clearing in dense bush some twelve miles north of Wellington when, in the early fifties of last century, the Bests first started to turn that small barren clearing into a home; and this was the home in which Elsdon Best was born in the year 1856. The little shanty was still standing on the hill-side at Porirua, and was used as a fowl-house, when I visited the spot in 1923.
Speaking about the Tuhoe folk of Ruatahuna, amongst whom he lived for many years, I recollect him telling me that about twenty years before they decided to erect an old-time stockaded village, equipped and fortified in accordance with the old traditions; with elevated outer and heavy inner stockade, carved posts, and fighting-platforms. It was built for no possible utilitarian service, but simply as a tohu or “sign of the old-time life and as a token of the mana of the tribe, ” as a monument of the old spirit. Thus the pa should be a credit to the tribe and preserve something of its ancient fame.
It was in this same spirit that Elsdon Best laboured with selfless devotion to build up a monument to the fine and rugged ideals of a people, lest they should be lost to sight and memory under the disintegrating influences of an introduced and alien culture. And his work abides also as a worthy tohu of himself.
From FRANK O. V. ACHESON, Judge, Native Land Court, Auckland.
The Death-Canoe has sailed, bearing away over shadowy uncharted seas the soul of Elsdon Best, the outstanding Pakeha voyager our modern Maori world has known. Nevertheless he lives; for the Islands-of-Knowledge “fished - 11 up” by him out of the blue depths will remain to gladden the eyes, hearts, and minds of men.
Our friend had elements of greatness. He appreciated the infinitely delicate details as well as the sublime peaks of research work. Even when pushing up the Sky-of-Knowledge from horizon to horizon he could still tarry by a stream, fascinated (as he told the writer once) by the way in which an eel enters a hinaki trap. And it is certain that, a hundred years hence, his name and work will be known to wider Fame.
In the same way that a high-class tattooing expert of old would examine the face submitted to his chisel and then visualize how that face tattooed would look in joy or anger, in life or death, so Elsdon Best in dealing with the Maori of to-day always kept before his mental gaze the ancestral Maori, the Caucasian Maori—mystic, navigator, warrrior, bard—and thus was able to give life, colour, and reality to all he wrote.
In one respect he was privileged as only a few of us in later days have been privileged, for he had as friends many of the aged ones of the Tribes. They were men steeped in the tapu lore of their fathers, men who had lived very close to the old Earth-Mother, men who in their long years of life in the bush had heard strange whisperings of forgotten things. In their company, upon the ears of Elsdon Best sounded from out the past a multitude of voices, many easily interpreted by his trained Pakeha mind, but many, alas, using a language of mystery which only the old-time Maori himself might truly understand.
So it came about that Elsdon Best became the resting-place of much knowledge which but for him would have been lost to mankind. Yet to the last one great regret was his. He confessed to the writer, whilst exchanging strange experiences, that he had seen only the bottom palisades of the Hidden-Pa-of-Knowledge which guards the secrets of mind-control, the projection of the thoughts, and - 12 the weird power of the makutu. What marvels of the mind might not have been proved to a materialistic and sceptical world if only our early pioneers and religious leaders had exercised an inquiring and open mind as to the powers of the tohungas? Aue! The ruthless destruction of knowledge both good and bad! The ruin of a rich and virgin field! Yet perhaps not wholly ruined, O Elsdon Best! Taihoa!
From DR. T. WI REPA, Hicks Bay:
Elsdon Best has been relieved of the cares of this mortal life. His ashes are all that remain to testify to an existence of incessant toil and happy service in the “Land beneath the Long White Cloud.” Worthy citizen though he was, yet in the sad conclusion to man's earthly race he was not exempt from the ordeal of passing under the arch formed by the outspread lower limbs of Hine-nui-te-po. In the language of the myth he studied so deeply he has gone to where Păpă, the mother of all created things, has been sent by Tane, the source of life. At least, all that is mortal of him. Peace to his ashes.
But his wairua, his mind, his mauri, his soul, his tawhito, has ascended up on high by way of the Toi-huarewa of Tawhaki to Tikitiki-o-rangi, the twelfth heaven, to enter Rangiatea and Mata-ngireia, there to join Ruatau and Rehua in the higher service of Io-matua. Elsdon Best desired no greater distinction. The glory of the world may pass, but the glory of his mind will remain enshrined in the monumental contribution he has made to ethnology upon the subject of the Maori race.
It is fitting that at the funeral the Maori race should have been represented by Sir A. T. Ngata, Native Minister, and other gentlemen whose respective vocations have brought them into intimate association with our people and their departed friend and annalist.
“The greatest student of the Maori race”: that is the unanimous verdict of our people, and, I believe, of both - 13 peoples of this country. In fact, it is safe to say that, but for Elsdon Best, most of our systematic knowledge of ourselves as an ethnological entity would long ago have been consigned to the limbo of forgotten things. He knew our history better than we do ourselves.
Elsdon Best or Te Pēhi (as he was known to his beloved Tuhoe) lived with our people amidst their primitive surroundings, and during this period of voluntary exile amongst them, he carefully, quietly, but earnestly and intensively studied every department of their life. He did all this great work without ostentation or fanfare of trumpets. This faculty of modesty seems inherent in all great minds. He was a most careful observer and painstaking recorder of facts. Like an honest scientist, he placed stern restraint upon his high imaginative faculty in the interest of truth. He hesitated to generalize upon the subject of the Maori. He preferred to be a plain recorder of facts concerning the Maori race, and no more. This is very evident in his literary contributions. It is for the scientist of the future to draw weighty conclusions from the evidence Elsdon Best has accumulated. For such a scientist to succeed and not cause pain to the immortal soul that now dwells in the Holy Courts of Io-taketake (Io the Eternal) he must address himself to his subject in the same spirit of honesty, sincerity, humility, and patience.
These homely virtues met in Elsdon Best and produced a wonderful combination. All seekers after truth would do well to study the methods of that remarkable man. He was a “full man” in the Baconian sense, yet he hesitated to give publicity to his views until after long and serious consideration. His honest soul soared above the storms of passion and petty dialectic strife; and smiled kindly and without reproach upon the unseemly haste of the novice and the volubility of the ignorant.
Elsdon Best's range of knowledge upon every detail of our life and nature was remarkable; and in his observations upon them he was most accurate. In fact, it might - 14 almost be suggested that he had been admitted behind the veil of the Maori mind, and so was able to interpret social and other phenomena in terms of that mind. “A Pakeha-Maori indeed in whom there was no guile!”
We as a race heard little of his voice, but he reached our soul by means of a facile pen which carried a sweet odour peculiar to itself.
In physical, domestic, social, moral, industrial, military, and other matters, Elsdon Best has described the Maori as he has not been described before. All subjects connected with the Maori which he touched, he imparted to them the colour of life. In fact, he made the valley of dry bones shake and rattle with life.
His “Lore of the Whare-Kohanga, ” a pamphlet describing Maori obstetrical practice, will convince any medical reader that midwifery amongst the Maori was not the haphazard affair that it is now. It is full of interest for the student of the “History of Medicine, and will reveal to the reader what wide interests Elsdon Best's mind covered.
Some years ago his notes on “Maori Medicine and Surgery” formed the subject of a thesis presented by the late Dr. Goldie for his M.D. degree at the Edinburgh Universtiy—another proof of the intense care and concentration which characterized his note-taking.
If we as a people owe Elsdon Best a debt of gratitude for helping to conserve our material culture, we yet owe him a far greater debt for his revival of the cult of Io-matua. The concept of Io-matua as an over-ruling providence, and a universal father, was a distinct advance in the evolution of religious thought amongst our people. Best's researches have shown that in the worship of Io-matua, the highest order of our priesthood in the neolithic stage of our mental development had evolved a religion which to them possessed a spiritual potency comparable to the highest forms of religious observance amongst the most enlightened races - 15 of mankind of that period. The revival of interest in the Io-cult has revealed the true motive force by which we are able to explain many deeds of almost Christian merit wrought by our fathers in the midst of cannibalism. In other words, the Maori was first a person of some culture; his cannibalism was a mere lapse, forced upon him by stress of inexorable necessity. For this new and wider outlook upon the standard of mentality of our forefathers, we have to thank Elsdon Best.
But the cult of Io was an esoteric cult, and was kept in the strictest secrecy from the vulgar; or from even those of the lower order of the priesthood. Elsdon Best has made it exoteric; and any one may now have access to the sacred material of the “Whare Wananga, ” which has been placed on record for us by that distinguished ethnographer. But, dear reader, if you love the simple lovable soul we mourn with such sincerity, pray do not approach the subject in any other frame of mind but that of our great master. This subject he has endowed with the dignity which his rhythmic prose alone could impart to it. In his literary contributions on the subject of Io-matua or lo-taketake, his prose is like blank verse, which is a fitting garment for a poetic theme. “Te Uruora o te wananga” of Io and Tane has gone from us to join the great ones who await his arrival on the sacred courtyard of Hawaiki. He has gone, but he has left behind him a wealth of literary material by which he will be remembered even to the remotest generation.
“Ka tere te parata; ka maunu te ika i tona rua.”
“The great fish of the pool has left his hole.”
From TE RANGI HIROA (DR. P. H. BucK), Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Death has deprived New Zealand of her greatest student of Maori lore and culture. Elsdon Best was born in the early settlement of Porirua, near the city of Wellington, in 1856. In 1865, his family moved to Wellington, - 16 where, after passing the Junior Civil Service examination, he entered the office of the Registrar-General. His country and bush upbringing had implanted in him the love of the open spaces which remained with him through life. One year of office work was enough, and he sought the open air of the Poverty Bay district in 1874. After some years of station life, the opportunity for adventure drew him into the Armed Constabulary at Wellington, from whence armed forces were sent to Taranaki to disperse the gathering of Maori tribes under Te Whiti at Parihaka. Here he was associated with a contingent of “friendly” Maoris, and one can imagine him sitting by the campfire at night encouraging them to unfold tales of their ancient lore. He left the Armed Constabulary after the arrest of Te Whiti and Tohu in 1881, and returned to the East Coast. In 1883 he wandered abroad through Hawaii to California and other States, where he had experience of timber work and ranching. He had many adventures amongst the wild spirits of those parts but met with no serious trouble, for he never “packed” a gun. The display of weapons was an invitation which was quickly accepted in those regions.
In 1886, Elsdon Best returned to New Zealand. After some years of sawmilling, he went to the newly-opened Urewera Country as an officer of the Lands and Survey Department. He quickly realized that the Tuhoe tribe, in the forest isolation of that region, had retained a greater mass of their ancient culture than the tribes in closer proximity to white settlements. He set to work to record the native lore and history of the Tuhoe tribe, the Children of the Mist. His interest in local culture broadened out to include the culture of the Maori people. His love for delving into Maori lore became his absorbing interest in life. He earned the confidence of old men who were the repositories of the knowledge of their tribes. Throughout Elsdon Best's later writings there are constant references to Tutaka-nga-hau of Tuhoe, and Hamiora Pio of Ngati-awa. These experts, and others, admitted the keen student of - 17 another race behind the screen that stands between two cultures. He saw things with their eyes and felt with their feelings. They unfolded to him the intricacies of their spiritual and mental concepts. He learnt their psychology from practical observation and constant association. Out in the open, one of his teachers told him of the sacred name of Io, the one supreme god. When he sought further details of Io in the evening beside the camp cooking-fire, a blank curtain descended over the face of his erstwhile vivacious teacher. The sage knew nothing. Later on, under the free expanse of heaven, his teacher turned to Best and said, “Never again mention the name of Io under a roof or near a cooking-fire.” And so the student came to know when and how to put questions. During a goodly portion of this period, he lived under canvas and moved camp from time to time to be nearer sources of information that could be tapped. He worked during the day to provide the necessaries of life, but the evenings were devoted to study, questioning, listening, and recording. Thus in a field-camp pitched beside woodland streams or in deep glades of the forest of Tane, there was laid the foundation of that knowledge which subsequently shed an illuminating light on Maori culture and enriched the world's store of information concerning the study of man.
The outstanding feature of Elsdon Best's achievement was that he took up the study of ethnology without encouragement or financial assistance from outside sources. In these days, ethnology is a recognized science taught in universities. Research funds are now more or less available to enable students to conduct investigations in the field. Research funds were not only not available to Elsdon Best, but he accepted a mere pittance to keep body and soul together in order that he might continue to live in a locality that had no financial openings, but was rich in the lore which his scientific mind valued above gold and pecuniary advantage. His was the spirit of the true pioneer. His only encouragement was association with kindred spirits - 18 such as Colonel Gudgeon, Percy Smith, and Edward Tregear. It was this quartette, under the leadership of Percy Smith, who were responsible for the formation of the Polynesian Society in 1892. Mr. Best was a member of the first Council of the Society. Later, he served as President; and in the years preceding his death, he was the Joint-Editor of the Journal with Mr. J. C. Andersen. He was a constant contributor to the Journal from its very inception.
Elsdon Best was fond of repeating Colonel Gudgeon's advice to him in his early recording days: “Young man, collect information for twenty years, and then begin to write.” Such advice, though sound, would not suit the modern student who, after taking a university course in anthropology, dashes off into the field for six to twelve months and writes a thesis for his Doctorship degree. Though Elsdon Best may not have waited twenty years, certain it is that he had a sound knowledge of his material when he began to write his longer articles on Maori subjects. Curiously enough, his first article in the first volume of the Polynesian Journal, 1892, was on “The Races of the Philippines.” His first article in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute appeared in volume 30, 1897, and was on a subject that he had made peculiarly his own: “Tuhoe Land; Notes on the Origin, History, Customs, and Traditions of the Tuhoe or Urewera Tribes.” His shorter articles appeared in the Polynesian Journal, while to the Transactions were submitted the longer and more detailed subjects such as “The Art of the Whare Pora, ” “Maori Eschatology, ” “Maori Forest Lore, ” “Maori Medical Lore” and a number of other valuable papers.
After the formation of the Maori Health Service under the Department of Public Health in 1900, Elsdon Best was appointed Health Inspector for the Mataatua Maori Council district, which included his Tuhoe country. By this time, the great work that he was doing was recognized. Later he received the appointment of Ethnologist at the Dominion - 19 Museum in Wellington. Though his salary was quite inadequate for a man of his attainment, the position gave him the opportunity of settling down in comparative comfort with the access to libraries that he needed in order to write up the rich wealth of material he had accumulated. In 1912, his exhaustive monograph on “The Stone Implements of the Maori” appeared as Bulletin no. 4 of the Dominion Museum. This followed on the series inaugurated by Augustus Hamilton, when he was director of the Museum. Elsdon Best was the first to formulate a terminology for stone adzes of the Polynesian area. His outstanding work was recognized by the New Zealand Institute, which, in 1914, awarded him the Hector Medal “for research work in ethnology.” It is characteristic of the modesty of the man that he stoutly maintained that the medal should have been awarded to his colleague, Percy Smith, before himself. Another Dominion Bulletin on “Maori Storehouses and Kindred Structures” followed in 1916. In 1919, Elsdon Best was elected one of the twenty Foundation Fellows of the New Zealand Institute. Whilst his work continued unabated and manuscript after manuscript was completed, a cessation of printing took place until 1922. In 1922-23, a series of six invaluable Dominion Museum Monographs appeared. The Dominion Museum Bulletin, series was resumed in 1924 with the first section of “Maori Religion and Mythology, ” followed in 1925 by a magnificent volume on “The Maori Canoe.”
Elsdon Best's writings and his personality had been exercising a profound influence on the inarticulate students of Maori lore who had Maori blood in their veins. Ngata, Pomare, and myself felt that we should do something to carry on the work begun by Best, Percy Smith, and others of the white race. The result was the establishment of the Board of Maori Ethnological Research with funds to assist research and provide for printing. Elsdon Best was appointed a member of the Board and served on it until his death. The Board set to work to print Mr. Best's - 20 manuscripts as speedily as possible. Though still appearing as Dominion Museum Bulletins, they were printed under the direction of the Board. Thus, in 1925, appeared two further bulletins—“Games and Pastimes of the Maori” and “Maori Agriculture.” The remaining numbers of the Bulletin series were “The Pa Maori” (1927), “Fishing Methods and Devices of the Maori” (1929), and “The Whare Kohanga” (1929). Two other works were published as Memoirs of the Polynesian Society: “The Maori, ” in two volumes, and “Tuhoe, ” also in two volumes. A smaller form of “The Maori” was printed as a New Zealand Board of Science and Art Manual under the title of “The Maori as He Was.” Before his death, Mr. Best was busily engaged on the second part of “Maori Religion and Mythology, ”
Elsdon Best was widely read, and covered Polynesia and more distant lands in his references and comparisons. His major works, together with the numerous papers in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, Journal of the Polynesian Society, and other periodicals, form a stupendous contribution for one area by one man. His work throughout maintains the highest standard of reliability, for he was essentially a field-worker dealing with first-hand information obtained in a native language which he thoroughly understood. Though he pondered at times over striking similarities with ancient Babylon and Sumeria, he never committed himself to any fanciful theories. He was a gifted writer, for he put into English words what Maori orators had told him. While drawing attention to Maori mytho-poetic forms of expression, they flowed through his fingers into his pen. He was honest to a degree, for when he found archaic terms and expressions in old-time songs and chants that his informants could not explain, he recorded the words but refused to guess at translations. In spite of his wide reputation, he remained a simple, modest, lovable man, approachable by all. Nothing pleased him more than to interest people in his subject and assist them in obtaining - 21 a true perspective of the race which he had made a life-long study.
Mrs. Best survives her husband. Through all the strenuous years in the Urewera Country, she accompanied him in camp and field. She was the perfect helpmate and comrade, for she was imbued with the same high spirit which brushes aside personal inconvenience and discomfort for the sake of the quest. May the love and affection of her husband's many friends assist in bringing her surcease of sorrow in the House of Mourning.
The reputation of Elsdon Best is established throughout the scientific world. His work forms an imperishable monument to his memory. As long as the race shall endure, men and women of Maori blood will owe a debt to the man who toiled so long and so arduously to record their ancient culture with its halo of romance and achievement, “that he who runs may read.” We shed our tears on the Plaza of Death for him whose head rests on the pillow which cannot be removed. The giant totara tree has fallen. The lofty peak of the mountain has been levelled. A horn of the crescent moon has been severed. An open face has passed along the sunset trail of the Broad Pathway of Tane. Te Peehi! Farewell.
From W. H. SKINNER, New Plymouth; a Foundation Member of the Polynesian Society.
A PERSONAL APPRECIATION
The passing of Mr. Elsdon Best, an old and honoured friend of the writer, came as a great personal sorrow, as it doubtless has to all those who were privileged to claim his friendship. As a Foundation Member of the Polynesian Society, and sometime member of its Council and Editor of the Journal, we were for many years brought into close contact with one another in connection with the promotion of the objects and interests of the Society. From this - 22 connection, and a common interest in the nature of the work, a friendship followed, ripening as the years advanced, which remained unbroken to the last.
His prompt and valued offer of assistance given on the death of Mr. S. Percy Smith, the Founder of the Polynesian Society and Editor of its Journal from its inception, whose passing created a crisis in the affairs of the Society, saved the position when its fate hung in the balance. Mr. Best's undertaking to relieve me of the supervision and editing of all material forwarded for publication, into which the intricacies of Polynesian dialects entered largely, made it possible to continue the issue of the Journal and thus saved the Society from extinction. Writing at that time, he said: “Though by no means a tamariki in years, yet I have the feeling of youth and ignorance when I think of our late friend (S. Percy Smith). The idea of trying to fill his place myself, would of course be an absurdity, but I shall ever be ready to assist in your work in my small way. It remains for us to carry on his work as well as we can and so long as we can.” This proposal he loyally and most efficiently carried out to the last.
Mr. Best's contributions to the pages of the Society's Journal rank as second only to that of our Founder, but they are far surpassed in bulk—and probably in importance—by what he published through the Dominion Museum.
As to the nature and surpassing value of those contributions to Polynesian Anthropology, I am leaving this to be dealt with by workers in the expansive field of ethnographic research over the Pacific area.
This brief contribution is tendered as a testimony to the memory of one held in the deepest respect—a scholar self-taught, yet unsurpassed in his particular branch of science, a gentleman of sterling character who leaves an unblemished record in both his public and private life.- 23
From H. D. SKINNER, Lecturer on Anthropology, University of Dunedin.
By the death of Elsdon Best, New Zealand has lost the greatest of Maori ethnographers. The publication of his work changed the whole field of Maori ethnography. In his books and monographs he incorporated with full acknowledgment all the published data of earlier workers, but neither in amount nor in quality was this equal to his own contribution. He was especially interested in Maori psychology, in Maori philosophy and religion, and in social life and organization, and his greatest contribution was made in those departments. But his contribution to the study of Maori material culture was almost equally important.
His fame will rest on his accurate observation and record of a great amount of difficult data, a great part of which must inevitably have been lost had he not observed and recorded it.
From RAYMOND FIRTH, Lecturer on Anthropology, University of Sydney.
I have always had a deep admiration for Elsdon Best both as a writer and as a man. He may truly be called the greatest of our ethnographers in the Maori field, and it is largely due to his efforts in gaining the confidence of learned elders in the Tuhoe and other tribes, and inducing them to divulge their jealously-guarded secrets that we owe the well-documented accounts which have made the Maori such a rich source for the study of primitive ritual and belief. Best's work is monumental, hardly less as a literary feat than as a contribution to anthropology. His long series of articles, bulletins, and monographs, his thousand-page account of the Children of the Mist, his two volumes of The Maori, will form a permanent memorial to his patience and industry, no less than to the depth of his research.
And what gives this record its peculiar value is its accuracy. Best's care in sifting evidence, combined with - 24 his unique knowledge of the vernacular ensures the scientific accuracy of his data; he is always ready to check a point, even in the smallest detail. As an index of his patient scrutiny one may recall the questioning of his old friend Paitini in the matter of the rat hinamoki. He received an opinion which he accepted at the time, though with caution. He then returned to the attack. He says, “But observe! I waited five years….”! How many of our professional anthropologists could pursue such a trail so long?
The work of Elsdon Best, because of its richness of information, is not always easy for the student to digest, especially if he applies to it for an orderly conception of Maori society. He finds elaboration of detail rather than systematic exposition of institutions, and the working of fundamental aspects of the social structure, such as the kinship system, presented by inference rather than by explicit formulation. Best was always restrained in his systematization as in his theoretic speculations; he conceived it his duty as a field-worker “in the dark places of the earth” simply to collect data and place such on record, and to leave the arrangement and interpretation of it to others. Modesty was his guiding star. It was the pride of his modesty also to refrain from translation of the many valuable formulae gathered and published by him. They abound in archaic words and cryptic expressions of which the meaning is sometimes doubtful, and if he could not speak with certainty he would not speak at all. Students of the future, unversed in the Maori tongue as spoken by the elders of past decades may, perhaps, come to regret the scientific honesty which made him scorn a rendering of waiata or karakia that was not flawless.
In addition to paying tribute to the volume and quality of the data made available in almost every field of Maori lore one must also render homage to the charm of his style. At times crisp, nervous, and vivid, at times embroidered - 25 with rich patterns of the flowers of speech, always it has a flavour of personality. The bare statement of fact is illumined by characteristic expressions, unusual words, little anecdotes of personal experience with their quaint turns of humour, which all combine to give life and colour to his prose, and lift it free from all trace of dullness. As in his published work, so in his private letters; the same picturesque facility obtained, and so too did his habit of concluding with an apt Maori phrase or proverb.
One felt that here was a man who had long looked on the realities of life, steadily and unafraid, always with a twinkle in the corner of the eye, with somewhat of a contempt for many of the trappings of civilisation, but with ever a kindly word for the fellow-creature borne down by them.
Whatever understanding we may have of Maori culture in its deeper esoteric aspects is largely due to Elsdon Best. Moreover, all his work was infused with that sympathy which brought him so many friends among Maori and Pakeha alike. Well may we mourn his passing.
A lament from a distant land:
Alas! my father, skilled in all the arts of men, has gone, has slept beneath the earth. We who still dwell here go blindly, as orphan children.
My paddle from the stern of my canoe- 26
From the bow
Has slipped away
Buried beneath far skies,
From DONALD J. KENNEDY, Tarawa, Gilbert Islands:
The sad news of Mr. Best's death reached me only a few days ago. I should like to express my sympathy with you in the loss of so able a colleague. All of us who are interested in Polynesia suffer a loss—his work is irreplaceable and the Journal will not look the same without his authoritative articles.
I hope there will be some movement among the members of the Society to perpetuate the memory of one who is perhaps the most famous of Maoriland's ethnographers.
From KENNETH P. EMORY, Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii.
I had the privilege of making the acquaintance of Mr. Elsdon Best in June, twelve weeks before his regrettable death.
Since 1925, when first an opportunity to visit New Zealand hovered almost within reach, I had cherished the hope of meeting Best. The desire to see him was one of the strongest influences which drew me to New Zealand when circumstances were contriving toward my return from Tahiti to Honolulu last June, via San Francisco, instead of New Zealand.
We met in his cozy study at the Turnbull Library, a few hours after the boat from Tahiti had docked. His hearty welcome was the prelude to many delightful hours of conversation during the succeeding four days. When Elsdon Best led me through the cold, blustering streets of Wellington to the Dominion Museum or the collections in the Farmer's Institute, I marvelled at his not bothering to put on an over-coat. Though he complained of failing powers, the carriage of his tall frame gave the impression of rugged health.
During these several days, Mr. Elsdon Best professed to a keen enjoyment of life, which he attributed to his - 27 deep interest in the Maori, and the ever unfolding revelations of present-day Polynesian research. He hoped a few more years might be spared him to continue the work of expanding his careful notes taken down in those happy years when much of Maori life which has now passed out of existence, could be observed and studied.
It is only now that I can appreciate what I would have missed had I postponed my meeting with Best. For, while his writings reveal his varied and vast knowledge, and the clearness and directness of his thought, only his resonant speech and the sharp, honest twinkle in his eyes, reveal fully the charm of his robust mind.
I cannot conceive of anyone coming away from a meeting with Elsdon Best, without being the richer for it.
From T. W. DOWNES, Wanganui:
It is over thirty years since I first met the late Elsdon Best, whose death we all so deeply deplore, and during that time many letters of encouragement and assistance were received from him. Having at times had access to his note books, the writer can testify to the methodical systemized thoroughness in all his compilations and research work; and his intimate knowledge of the old Maori, his language, his arts, his mythology and (although Mr. Best himself would not allow it) his very mind, is shown in the vast accumulation of records arising from such knowledge, and is known to us all.
He loved his work, and it was almost impossible to keep him from it. In one of his last letters to me he writes: “I am somewhat shaky, but still in harness.” This was characteristic of our late friend, as also was his deep humilty, as may be gathered from an extract from another letter in which he says, in reference to Bulletin no. 12 (Fishing Methods and Devices of the Maori): “the same is a dashed bad paper, utterly inadequate, but I know nought of fishing.”- 28
But he has passed into the unknown beyond. He tarried with us till his years were ripe, but his mental vigour was not abated, and now the call to the wandering yeoman has come, and he has faded into the mist, leaving sad but pleasant memories and the rich fruit of his many years of toil and prowess as a master ethnological worker. The vast records written by his most facile pen will go down through the ages, and, in the years that are drifting on, his life's labour, which was a labour of love, will be the foundation and admiration of all who study or have an interest in the Polynesians and the riddles of the Pacific. Moe mai, e koro, moe mai i runga i te rangimarie. 1
From H. TAI MITCHELL, Rotorua, for the Arawa Tribes:
Mr. Elsdon Best will have a deserved niche in the hearts of all those who love the Maori race. A rare chronologist, the more he delved, the more the rich treasures of the “nohera of the Maori” revealed themselves unexpectedly to a discerning soul and a searching mind. At the time of his passing away none held, because of intensive and faithful investigation, a more genuine admiration of the philosophy of life as the Maori of the past lived it.
Lovable and humble man, the Arawas bid you, “Haere ki te po, haere ki te aomarama, haere ki te iwi.” 2
From GEO. GRAHAM, Auckland:
It was with much regret I heard of the death of our esteemed colleague and friend, Mr. Elsdon Best.
His acquaintance it was my privilege to have enjoyed for the past thirty years or more. During all that time we were in continuous correspondence concerning matters of Maori history, philology, customs, etc. The resultant records I treasure as among my most valued possessions.- 29
Now his busy pen is laid aside, and he has gone hence to his well-earned rest. There we may hope he is again re-united with those old Kaumatuas, Pakeha and Maori, with whom in labours of love he delved to “fill the baskets of knowledge.” Those who follow must continue that task, till indeed those “baskets be filled to overflowing.” Of him, therefore, may truly be applied the proverb “Kapu te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi.” 3
Mr. Best's work in putting on record the Maori past is worthy of an enduring monument. But perhaps no better monument can there be to his memory, than the splendid literature he has bequeathed to us, passing on thereby to the generations to come the knowledge of “the Maori as he was.”
May I conclude with this my poroporoaki: Pass on, O sire, from this, to that other world of life. There meet thou the many who have gone before thee. Await thou us who but briefly tarry here, following thee on the morrow's tide.
From CHARLES E. MAJOR, Auckland, Foundation Member of the Polynesian Society:
The work of the late Elsdon Best is not only of far reaching importance to ethnologists in this hemisphere, it also ranks equally high in the northern. The writer, who knew him many years ago, can quite understand that his immolation among the Ureweras was borne cheerfully, even happily, in the knowledge that he was engaged upon an ethnological magnum opus. It is known he weighed his facts and assessed them truly. Those who are acquainted with his work, and are able to bring some knowledge to his fount, recognize the rare merit of all he wrote. If he had lacked in his make-up that subtle attribute which begets confidence, he could never, however transcendant his ability, have gained from the lips of the chiefs and - 30 tohungas the rich store of knowledge he has bequeathed as a legacy to all students of the story of the human race. The writer, with an almost intimate knowledge of the Maori people of sixty years ago, realizes the pains taken by our author to make irrefragable everything he has said affecting their tribal lore and history. Whilst deeply lamenting the death of the possessor of so earnest, able, and charming a personality, one is suffused with a high regard for his memory which will ever be perpetuated. By his works he shall be known.
By HENRY M. CHRISTIE, Wellington:
A great white tohunga has passed away over ara whanui a Tane (the broad path of Tane), and his friends are left lamenting. We are poorer for the loss of one who has given many years of his life in recording the great store of knowledge which he possessed. This we know, that we are richer for his labours, and although many of the present generation may fail to appreciate to its fullest extent the importance of his work, the coming years will find the name of Elsdon Best still foremost among those who have saved for posterity the lore of the Maori race.
His later years have been a race with time, and the work is unfinished. This inability to continue troubled him, and a few days ago he was discussing the possibilities of others carrying on the work, for “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few.” His friends know well of his untiring energy; how he has continued his work even while too ill to leave his bed. Always ready and willing to help, courteous, cheerful, and endowed with the “Gift of the Gods, ” he was a gentleman to know and a friend to admire. His heart was in his work and he never tired of adding to his store of learning.- 31
How much his intimate acquaintance with the Maori race and its traditions has been appreciated may be gathered from the remarks of Sir Apirana Ngata on 23rd February, 1922, at the opening of the new Native Affairs Committee Room at Parliament Buildings, when Sir Apirana said, “There is not a member of the Maori race who is fit to wipe the boots of Mr. Elsdon Best in the matter of the knowledge of the lore of the race to which we belong.”
The years spent with his Maori friends, “The Children of the Mist, ” in his old bush camp away back in Tuhoe Land, were times of enjoyment, and they left him full of pleasant memories of the wild barbarians who had shortly before left the war-trail and settled down to peace. There the wise men told of the history of the tribes and the wisdom of the past, knowing full well that the words were in safe keeping. He visited the veterans at Porirua and Hongoeka, and heard much of the early days of our district. An act of kindness by the late Elsdon Best led to his having the records of Ngati Kahungungu opened to him, and the ancient history of Wairarapa and Welling ton made known to us.
The writer has spent many happy hours in the company of the late Elsdon Best, and only a few weeks ago at his bedside heard him recite the passing of the great tohunga Te Matorohunga, the last of the priests of the Whare Wananga (School of Learning) as given to him by the pupil of that tohunga, the late H. T. Whatohoro.
The late Elsdon Best had in Mrs. Best one who shared with him his interest in all things Maori. He has had a devoted helper in his work, and our sincerest sympathy goes out to her in this sad loss.
“Haere ra, e koro e! Haere ki te Hono-i-wairua.”
(Farewell, O Sir, fare on to the Meeting-place of Spirits.)- 32
From JOHANNES C. ANDERSEN, Wellington:
The first nine years of Elsdon Best's life were spent in the Porirua district, where the bush ran wild, and the Maori ran wild, too. In 1865 his family moved to Wellington, living in Tinakori Road close to the old Prime Ministerial residence, “Arikitoa, ” the hills above still being covered with their original forest. His life on a pioneer holding at Porirua had filled him with the same wild life as that of the bush and the Maori, and he preferred roaming alone in the Tinakori bush before the games and company usually so attractive to boys.
In 1867, when about ten and a half years old, he saw school for the first time. He did not regard it with favour, though he used to say that was no fault of the schoolmaster, a well-read man and sympathetic teacher. In this school, and later in a grammar school, he endured life till he was sixteen; and when he entered the office of the Registrar-General, he still found the confines of four walls most irksome; he was there only a year, and a long year it seemed.
He was away to Poverty Bay in 1874, engaged first in station work, then in bush-contracts; strenuous work. but out of doors, which made all the difference. He could wield an axe for a long day with pleasure; but an hour wielding the pen made him feel that he was one of a chain-gang.
Reports of Maori trouble in Taranaki drew him again to Wellington, where he joined the Armed Constabulary. He found drilling irksome, not because he could not endure discipline—or not altogether—but because he could not put his thoughts to it sufficiently. He would be marching with the others in a squad, his thoughts far away, when he would suddenly be recalled by the loud voice of the officer: “Now, then, young man, will you remember that the others haven't got legs nine feet six long?” His stride had taken him away in the lead of the squad, and in his abstraction - 33 he had failed to notice it. He was very tall and spare, and his long-acquired habit of “stepping” distances was implanted early, and never left him. Many people of Wellington knew the tall figure, dressed in grey, usually with Norfolk jacket, that strode deliberately along Lambton Quay, his look far away with his thoughts, as if, like his beloved Polynesians, he were scanning distant sea-horizons. As one of the Constabulary he was at Parihaka, but saw no fighting.
In 1883 he began wandering—to the Sandwich Islands; to California, not gold-digging but lumbering and ranching; then lumbering at Elk River in the Sierra Nevadas; then south through the States, and into Texas, meeting adventures a-many without having to seek them. The gunmen of the movies were there, but Elsdon Best found that the best defence against them was to have no gun; if you had one, the inference was that you wanted to shoot, and naturally the other man wanted to shoot first. He once went into a saloon with a friend, and his friend threw money on to the counter for drinks. It was big money that needed change, which tempted a bystander, who snatched at it. But Elsdon Best's friend could shoot quicker than the man could snatch—and there was a pretty mix-up. What actually happened Best did not know, for he did the Pacific slope—and awaited his friend elsewhere.
Toward the end of 1886 he was again in New Zealand, though he had heard while abroad that the Tarawera eruption had wiped a great part of the country off the map. He engaged for some years in saw-milling; then, on the cutting-up of part of the Urewera country in 1895, he was sent there by the Survey Department, remaining there until 1911—sixteen years of busy, fruitful life.
As he had learned Spanish, so he learned Maori—by mother-wit, the help of one or two good books in the Language, and contact with the people about him. The Maori people among whom he lived learned quickly to regard him - 34 rather as a friend than as an official, and since that time the relations have been the same whenever he has been among them. Before very long he knew their language, their history, their traditions, so well that they accepted him as one of themselves, as a kaumatua, a friend, a father. Moreover, he was not content merely to learn and keep the knowledge stored in his mind, to perish with him; he made extensive notes, and how extensive few could realize, few could believe. He obeyed the advice (how difficult a thing to do!) of one from whom he had much assistance—the late Leiutenant-Colonel Gudgeon, himself one of our good Maori scholars. “Young man, ” he said, “collect as much as you can, and whenever you can; but don't write anything for twenty years.” Elsdon Best told me more than once that he realized what sage counsel that was.
Whilst he noted all he was able, he was extremely cautious in his statements and inferences, allowing himself theories, perhaps, but taking care to keep these well in the background in his writing. He was painstaking beyond belief, filling notebooks, copying out fair, and indexing everything thoroughly. As he said, “Notes are of no use unless you can put you hand on them at any moment.” If, then, he felt it was somewhere near time to write a paper on, say, Maori Agriculture—a huge subject—from his index he was able to turn up every note he had ever collected on the subject—and more than that; everything that he had ever read on the subject also. He indexed, not only his own notes, but all the books he read, particularly New Zealand books, not relying on his memory or on the author's index—if there was one, which too criminally often there was not. And it must be remembered that his only convenience was that afforded by an eight by ten tent and ordinary camp furniture. I have heard that his camp was a model good to see, and that he always kept himself spruce and trim, never allowing himself to slack in appearance, even though in the company of uncritical, but not unobservant, Maori companions or rough labourers.
- i Page is Blank- ii
ELSDON BEST AND PAITINI WI TAPEKA, 1920.- 35
(From Paitini and his wife, Makurata, Best learned a little over 400 songs.)
It is in his role as collector that I have known him personally during the last fifteen years only; it is as a collector that I can speak more certainly of him, and as a friend of the Maori—what they themselves call a kaumatua—an elder, an adviser, the repository of their tribal lore. An idea may be had of the amount of material he has gathered when it is said that from one old couple alone, who looked after his camp, he gathered one winter the words of over 400 songs. Again, the Tuhoe tribe, among whom he lived long, suddenly awoke to the fact that their own kaumatua had gone, and lamented that their history was being lost; much had already been forgotten by them. But Elsdon Best was one of them; he was a friend of those departed kaumatua, and from them had learned much of their lore; he had written it down, and from those notes afterward wrote out what he called a “fragment” of their history, which in part was printed—an octavo volume of over 1, 200 pages, with a supplementary volume of 34 quarto sheets, some folded, of genealogies. These include only the principal names of the tribe; he could have added hundreds of others had it been deemed necessary—but space and expense had to be considered. I wonder how many realize what this means to the Tuhoe folk, the People of the Mist, and how they venerate this Pakeha who in his love and sympathy has preserved the lore so precious to them, and so lamentably lost. They would realize it if the tremor the thought awakens in my heart could be communicated to my pen ….
I have watched him among the Maori. I was with him when, in a street of Rotorua, I saw an old bent Maori approach, watching Elsdon Best with shining recognition in his brown eye. He watched Elsdon Best as he approached, eagerly, seeking to catch his eye, but doing nothing, saying nothing to attract his attention—Peehi may have forgotten; and if so, who was he that Peehi should remember? But Peehi had not forgotten; suddenly recalled to the present in time and place, he saw him, greeted him, bent to him—and - 36 the face of the old Maori broke into smiles and flashes of pleasure good to see.
I was with him, up the Whanganui, when evening after evening he had given joy to a blind old man, getting him to remember stories and incidents of the past—the old man bubbling over with the pleasure of it, gesticulating, posturing in his recitals, as if he saw it all—which in his inner consciousness be sure he did. Then one evening after a short pause the old man broke out—“E Peehi!” (Elsdon Best's name in Maori), “E Peehi! you are making me remember things that your fellow Pakeha have been forty years trying to make me forget.” It was true; so little was Maori lore valued by the great bulk of the Pakeha—so little, therefore, has ever been collected—so little, that is, in comparison with what has been lost irretrievably. And one evening the old man recovered a pearl from the dark sea of dimming memory—“a curious old folk tale” as Elsdon Best said, half to himself, when the tale was finished—“the story of a young woman who was loved by an eel.”
Again, I was with him at Gisborne when two old Maori men were sitting conversing together before singing into a dictaphone. Elsdon Best listened, as a junior should. They were on tribal matters, and Elsdon Best caught the drift of their discussion; he made a short remark now and again, as a junior might. The old men took no notice; they talked on; but after a time I noticed that their remarks were becoming shorter—Elsdon Best's longer—until at last it was Elsdon Best who was making the long remarks, the old men throwing in brief interested ones now and again. Presently one old man turned to the other and said, “We had thought this man was a Pakeha.” He had been able to elucidate some doubtful point in their tribal history.
On yet another occasion, we had just arrived at Pipiriki, or in its vicinity rather, when one of their wise men stopped us and addressed himself to Elsdon Best. “Ha!” - 37 said he; “I have heard about you. You are supposed to know something about Maori matters. Ha!—I will just ask you a question or two, ” and he assumed an interrogatory attitude and demeanour. “Tell me now—who was the deity looking after the parera—the grey duck ?” “Well, ” said Elsdon Best, deliberately and deferentially, “we can't be too sure of these matters; but in such a place they say so and so, and in such and such a place….” And he went into some detail giving name and authority, and so on, our catechistical friend standing leaning on his staff listening intently. “Right!” said he when Elsdon Best came to an end, “Right!—now then—tell me ….” and he put another poser, which was answered again with a deferential show of hesitation which was evidently balm to the Maori—wherein he showed a characteristic common to him and his Pakeha brother. “Right!” said he; and he put another, with like result. Then Elsdon Best held up his hand and said, “Stop; that'll do; not another question, or you'll floor me.” The implied compliment was truly in the Maori manner. The man was gratified; he was satisfied that Elsdon Best knew more than any other living man, and he himself was willing to add a drop to that sea of knowledge.
Thus did Elsdon Best make friends everywhere, and reaped his harvest, whereof we are now enjoying the palatable and well-baken bread. To be sure, it had some inconvenient consequences, as when he received laconic communications (as he did) like the following: “E Peehi, tena koe; a shirt; I want one; send it, ” and, of course, it had to be sent. It entailed, too, a very voluminous correspondence on his part. In one instance the request was for a concertina. Elsdon Best of course sent one; it cost him £2. “Will they send the cash?” I asked him. “Oh, maybe, ” said he; “perhaps in a week—perhaps in a year—it will be all right”—and he smiled, and his look was far away. I could see he was enjoying their enjoyment of the concertina.- 38
I had a great admiration for Elsdon Best; I felt a great affection for him; and am most pleased that through the formation of the Board of Maori Ethnological Research, almost altogether of Maori creation, his writings, one after another, were published, and I am quite sure that the publication of each one added at least another year to his life, and fresh vigour for the next accomplishment. I feel a great respect for that Maori Board; it has more heart than most Boards.
Much has been said of his modesty; his kindliness; the few stories I have told will shew I have not been insensible to those qualities. Of course he had his asperities, but usually those who experienced them deserved them; pretenders in ethnology he could not abide; “people who want to be at the top without climbing to get there, ” as he put it; and “whose work isn't worth a hoot in Hades, ” as he said, borrowing something of Maori picturesqueness of diction.
In 1914 the New Zealand Institute awarded him the Hector Memorial Medal for his researches in ethnology; five years later the Institute elected him a fellow—honours were deserved.
Those who see his work will know, as I know, that he is the greatest Maori collector we have had—and that is saying a great deal when we remember such names as Sir George Grey, Edward Shortland, William Colenso, S. Percy Smith, Lieutenant - Colonel Gudgeon, Richard Taylor, John White, Edward Tregear. He is greater, because his interests have been wider, and his sympathies no less. Maori and Pakeha are equally fortunate in having had him as a friend. Through his energy, following worthily in the steps of those mentioned (there are, of course, others also) the reproach that there is no Maori literature will soon be quite wiped away.
Dr. Peter Buck has, with courtesy natural to his Maori blood, spoken of Mrs. Best, now left solitary in the home - 39 where two made a world. I have known her almost as long as I knew her husband; and from what he let drop occasionally, and from what I have seen, she has been an unfailing help to him, unselfishly sacrificing herself, womanlike, to help him in his first and final grand passion—the understanding of the Maori, and the interpretation of him.
A mere list is sometimes imposing, so I have attempted to make a list of Elsdon Best's writings; and when the bulk of many of those included is remembered, it forms a record of which any man might be proud; yet I have often heard him lament having come so late on the scene. “If only I had come on the scene earlier, ” he has said more than once, “I might have been able to gather something.”- 40
LIST OF PUBLICATIONS IN VOLUME FORM, AND CONTRIBUTED ARTICLES BY ELSDON BEST.
(This, as regards Articles, is fragmentary in places and is known to be incomplete; some of his early cuttings are undated, and some articles not known for certain to be his have been omitted. He wrote under various pen-names—“Raurimu, ” “Tua o Rangi, ” “Tuhoe, ” “Ira-tahu, ” “Mohoao, ” the last two given to him by the Maori themselves—and he may have used others. The list has been inserted here, thanks to the assistance of Mrs. Best, so that it may be seen how continuously he kept his loved Maori before the public, and so that it may be seen how largely it is through Mr. Best that the sympathetic and brotherly feeling toward the Maori that exists in New Zealand, and elsewhere, has been awakened and fostered.)
BOOKS AND PAMPHLETS.
DOMINION MUSEUM MONOGRAPHS.
DOMINION MUSEUM BULLETINS.
POLYNESIAN SOCIETY PUBLICATIONS.
ARTICLES IN PERIODICALS, MAGAZINES, AND NEWSPAPERS.
The following abbreviations in names of Periodicals are used:
ARTICLES IN PERIODICALS, ETC.
1 Sleep on, O sire, sleep on in peace.
2 Depart to the otherworld; depart to the world of light; depart to the people.
3 Folded away is the old net; the new net now works.