Volume 34 1925 > Volume 34, No. 136 > The Kaingaroa carvings, by H. Hamilton, p 356-362
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AN important addition to the number of questions requiring to be solved in New Zealand archæology has lately been made by the finding of a series of rock carvings in a cave-shelter on the Kaingaroa Plains near Rotorua. On a brief departmental visit of inspection the following notes were recorded, and a series of measurements were made, and photographs obtained, and in view of the general interest that these carvings have aroused, the following particulars are published for the information of those interested.

DISCOVERY AND LOCATION.—The Kaingaroa Plains consist of an elevated plateau stretching southwards for forty miles from the thermal lakes of Rotorua to Taupo, and bounded by the Rangitaiki and Waikato Rivers. On their eastern side the plains break down into long spurs and gulches running to the Rangitaiki River. These gulches are often narrow, and some of them remarkable on account of the canyon-like formation at certain parts. Vertical cliffs of no great height, and composed of soft volcanic rock, rise on one or both sides of the gully. The gullies are sometimes of considerable length, the one down which the old road to Fort Galatea passes being seven miles in length. Much of the plateau area has been afforested during recent years by the State Forest Service, and large plantations are gradually extending southwards. One of the preliminary acts in afforestation in this area is the burning off of the heavy growth of bracken fern to make way for the young seedling trees. On 9th September of this year the Forestry employees were burning off an area immediately to the south of the 35-mile peg from the main road across the plains from Waiotapu to Murupara. After the burn, two of the employees, Charlie Kereopa and Ronald Jansen, discovered the rock shelter containing the carvings, on the northern slope of one of the small gullies or gulches above referred to

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Photos by H. Hamilton. Bed of rhyolite overhanging face on which carvings are cut.
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Photos by E. Traughton Clark. Wall under bed of rhyolite; the carvings shew up well in the third figure.
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Diagrammatic plan of Kaingaroa carvings. Scale, 1 in 56.

trending toward the Rangitaiki River. The news of the find was communicated to the Rotorua officials of the Forestry Department, and eventually I visited the spot on behalf of the Dominion Museum.

PHYSIOGRAPHY.—The rock shelter containing the carvings is formed by a “butte” of rhyolite out-cropping on the slopes of a small stream-fed gully. (See Plates 1 and 2). This rhyolite forms a bed from 12 to 16 feet thick overlying a softer rhyolite tuff that has either been weathered out naturally or under-cut artificially by Maori occupants. The under-cutting varies from 4 to 10 feet in depth, and the back wall, about 8ft 6in in height, is practically vertical. The floor of the shelter, into which I had no opportunity for digging in order to examine the nature of its contents, consists of several feet of humus, probably derived from the decay of accumulated bedding materials, such as grass and bracken fern. The vertical wall under the over-hanging roof is about 80 feet long, but at the time of my visit the mouth was to some extent obscured by plant growth, and it was not possible to obtain a panoramic view of the carvings. By means of a series of measurements and sketches, however, the accompanying diagrammatic plan of the carvings was made, and wherever possible photographs were taken of the groups and of individual carvings.

THE CARVINGS.—It will be seen that the great majority of the carvings have a conventionalized Maori canoe as the motif. Certain other elements, such as chevrons, detached spirals, and unidentified markings, are subsidiary to the canoe motif. Apart from the actual design of the canoes, several interesting points will be noted. It can be said with some degree of certainty that the sixteen canoes from right to left are the work of the one carver, and probably were started - 358 and finished within a short period of time. They all stand out from the rock in raised relief, and have many features in common, one being that they are all heading the same way—to the left. Like Maori canoe-models made at the present day, the carvings are evidently not to scale. The date of the carvings in the group to the left of the shelter is probably subsequent to that of the main group, and this later work is not in relief, the outlines being incised lines up to one inch in depth. Here again the work is evidently that of one individual, and it looks as if opposition had caused the artist to head his canoes to the right, directing them toward the other fleet; though it may equally well be that he drew his canoes in the way that came easiest to him, since it is a well known fact that unless a person has been trained to become ambidextrous it is easier, or more convenient, to sketch in one direction than in the other. If any fact of historical value is likely to be derived from the study of these carvings, I am of the opinion that it will come from the main group on the right of the shelter. There is a suggestive fleet-like formation of the canoes, as if a war-like expedition were being depicted, with scouts in front and the larger canoes in the rear.

STRUCTURAL DETAILS.—The majority of the canoes have a curiously exaggerated bow ornamentation. Either the sculptor was not well acquainted with the types of canoe ornamentation as we know them, or he was depicting a type of which we have no record. Before condemning his artistic ability, it would seem that we must extend our comparative researches into canoe types of other Polynesian islands. It may first be permissible, however, to suggest that the ordinary waka taua (war canoe) of the Maori is depicted. For the purpose of comparison I have prepared silhouettes of three accepted types of Maori canoe-prows—(1) the Northern or Nga Puhi type; (2) the general type of waka taua; (3) the fishing-canoe type. It will be seen that the prow carvings of the rock-shelter canoes more closely approach the silhouette of the waka taua type. The fishing-canoe prow is less likely to be perpetuated, and, to my mind, cannot be paralleled to the designs of the rock carvings. Likewise, it is improbable that the northern or Nga Puhi type of canoe prow is intended to be represented, as the silhouette of this type shews great dissimilarity with the Kaingaroa type. (See Plate 3.)

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Photos by H. Hamilton. Nearer view of canoes, shewing spiral ornamentation.
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Photo by E. Traughton Clark. Canoes with incised outlines.
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Various known types of bow-piece compared with the Kaingaroa type.

A more striking parallel can, however, be seen in a model Maori canoe now in the Napier Museum. Besides having the conventional tauihu (prow piece) there is another carved portion of the hull projecting under the tauihu. No explanation can be offered as to the origin or meaning of this projection, but it was evidently a structural feature of some type of canoe known to the artist.

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All of the canoes have the taurapa (stern piece) of the conventional type used in war canoes. On one of the carvings it is possible to trace the two vertical bodies that formed the strengthening backbone of the taurapa. The scale-drawing will allow of comparison in sizes between the various canoe carvings, and it may here be noted that the largest carving is over 8ft in length, and 7in in depth of hull.

ORNAMENTATION.—Several of the canoes are decorated by spirals and double spirals, lightly graven on the hull, bow and stern piece. In one or two cases it is possible to recognize the representation of a rauawa (top strake) also decorated with spirals. The chevron patterns to be seen in several places on the cave wall are possibly the conventionalized representation of water. 1 There are other patterns, but these are now so weathered as not to be identifiable with any degree of certainty. One of these may have been a human figure, or an image, but it is very indistinct. As the spiral and other known ornamental patterns are indicated, the carvings were apparently done by one acquainted with ornament such as has been known to exist for at least a century or so; and this, as Dr. Buck, who made an inspection on behalf of the State Forest Service, notes, indicates either that the carvings are comparatively modern, or that the fine ornamentation of the larger Maori canoes is an art that had developed much longer since than has hitherto been supposed.

PRESERVATION.—The rock out of which the carvings are raised is extremely soft and friable when exposed to the weather. The natural protection offered by the tall bracken fern and fuchsia trees has kept out the destroying elements, and the growth of moss and fern over the face of the carvings has further arrested decay.

AGE AND HISTORY.—It is impossible, with present knowledge, to say by what tribe the carvings were executed. The Ngati-Manawa tribe has held the lands for ten or twelve generations past, prior to which the Marangaranga tribe was in occupation. There is perhaps little remarkable in - 361 the fact that nothing is known about the carvings by the Ngati-Manawa tribe; but what is rather remarkable, as is pointed out by Dr. Buck, is that the Ngati-Manawa did not even know of the existence of the shelter. Usually all localities of any use or importance are well known to the occupying tribe, and each has its name; this shelter was neither known nor named—at any rate, no one knew it at the time of the present enquiry. This may mean no more than that the carvings are older than the memory of the oldest man among them. Their village is only seven miles from the shelter. The dispossessed Marangaranga tribe was defeated in battles only a few miles distant. Everything seems to indicate that the shelter was at most a place of convenience; not of importance. All this country is well known to Elsdon Best, and he says that it is composed of poor soil, and that there was no permanent occupation of it in former times. The permanent fortified villages were situated in the Rangitaiki valley, or in or near forest areas. These poor lands of light pumice with a small amount of humus were covered only with a growth of short bracken fern, flourishing better in the gullies. At Motumako, not far from the shelter, there was a patch of bush where the Maori occasionally lived; they were living there in 1869. They visited the pumice lands in question for the purpose of taking birds and the Maori rat, attending to their traps perhaps twice a day; sometimes but once. Dr. Buck also notes that there is in places a deposit of from 6in to 3ft of ash and burnt material on the floor; river-worn stones used for the earth ovens were found, pipi shells, a piece of obsidian flake, an old pounder—but nothing in the way of tools or implements by which the occupants might be identified. Further search may reveal more. The presence of a small stream below the shelter points to one reason for its having been chosen, for the stream is one of only two within miles.

Rock paintings, with which these may be compared, were first found in the Takiroa rock-shelter on the bank of the Waitaki in 1848, and several have been found in the South Island since then; but whereas Haast, in a long descriptive paper in 1877, assigned mystic meanings and signification to those found that year in the rock-shelter at Weka Pass, A. Hamilton, in speaking of them and those found at the Opihi in 1896, deprecated these attempted - 362 interpretations—they were rather the idle play of idle people, forgotten as soon as done.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.—I gratefully wish to acknowledge assistance in the way of transport from Mr. F. Moorhouse, of Rotorua, and to Mr. E. Traughton Clark for allowing me full use of excellent photographs taken by him, and to Elsdon Best and Dr. P. H. Buck for much of the information regarding past history, etc.

The Department of Internal Affairs being responsible for the preservation of historical spots such as this, has arranged with the Forestry Department to have the area securely fenced and otherwise protected. It is now necessary for all visitors to obtain permission from the Director of the Dominion Museum to examine the carvings closely.

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FIG 1., FIG. 2., FIG. 3.
Maori Burial Chests in the National Museum, Melbourne.
1   This horizontal chevron pattern was the representation of water in the Egyptian hierogliphics, and from it the letter N is derived.—Editors.