Volume 26 1917 > Volume 26, No. 3 > Note on the manaia in Maori carvings, by Elsdon Best, p 130-131
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IT is passing strange that all the writers (so far as I know) on the subject of the manaia—the many suggestions that have been made as to what it is, its origin, and meaning—appear to have overlooked the fact that this is a Samoan name for a lizard. The name as applied to a lizard is lost in Maori, and (I think) in all other dialects of the wide spread Polynesian language. Investigations so far made seem to show that the Samoans were the first to enter the Pacific and, no doubt, they brought the word with them, whilst the later migrations have lest the word.

The manaia is often depicted in Maori carvings as a lizard apparently feeding on the ear of the human figure to which it is usually attached. Or, it may be, whispering some (? evil) counsel into the recipient's ear. Sometimes the manaia has a snake-like appearance rather than a lizard, and again, it occasionally has a bird-like head.

This is not, however, intended to be a dissertation on the manaia, about which much might be said; but rather to call attention to a drawing to be found in the “Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute,” Vol. XLVI., page 440, where we see a coiled snake with large head feeding, or at any rate touching the ear of a human figure, precisely as we see it in Maori carvings. I quote below the story of this picture as given by the Hon. John Abercrombie, F.S.A., Scot.:— He says, “Among the few letters of Miss Blair preserved in the Royal Scottish Museum is an envelope containing a photograph, a reproduction of which is given by Figs, B.C. The envelope is docketed outside as follows: …. ‘photos of the Queen of Sheba's idols that are in the Museum at Bombay (I think); were found near Aden when repairing the dam built by the Queen of Sheba in recognition of the benefits she had received from her visit to King Solomon.’ It was afterwards ascertained that this sculpture was not in the Bombay or Calcutta Museum.”

The accompanying plate is taken from the picture on page 440 of the work quoted, but the picture itself on that page is by no means

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(Copied from the “Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute,” Vol. XLVI., p. 440.)

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clear, so it cannot be said for certain whether the figure with the snake attached is male or female. It is possible the “idol” is intended to represent the Biblical account of the temptation of Eve prior to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden. There are marks on the chin of the principal figure that may be taken for tattoo; a primitive form of the Maori and Egyptian kauae, or chin pattern of tattooing.

The smaller double figures in the picture has a considerable resemblance to figures carved on the Fox pataka in the Auckland Museum, and a drawing of which is also to be seen in Bulletin No. 5, p. 18, Dominion Museum. The attitude is very much the same, and is that of copulation.

Aden (surely the most barren looking place on earth), where Queen Sheba's “idol” is said to have been found, is in the ancient “Land of Saba,” the southern corner of Arabia; and it is from this country the late Judge Fornander, of Hawaii, in his book, “The Polynesian Race,” claims that the Polynesians originated. He has been followed by others, as the late Judge Fenton and Lieut.-Col. Gudgeon; but, as I have stated in “Hawaiki,” I do not think the traditionary evidence places the original Fatherland so far to the west.

The similarity in apparent motif of the Maori manaia and the Queen of Sheba's “idol,” is well worth following up.

The three pictures in the same publication (Plates XXV-XXVII) originating from the same locality, show an “idol” that is somewhat like the Easter Island type of face, etc.