Volume 47 1938 > Volume 47, No. 187 > Reviews, p 136-142
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ETHNOLOGY OF PUKAPUKA. By Beaglehole, Ernest and Pearl. Bishop Museum Bulletin 150, 1938. Pp. 417, 55 text figures, 6 plates.

The great ethnological survey of Polynesia undertaken by the Bishop Museum more than twenty years ago moves steadily ahead, the book under review being the latest and among the best of the monographs in the series. Dr. and Mrs. Beaglehole worked on Puka-puka from November 3rd, 1934, to June 13th, 1935, and they had the great advantage of preparing their manuscript for publication in Honolulu with possibilities of consulation and discussion afforded by the presence of Dr. Buck and his staff.

The work is excellently done. The sections devoted to introduction and environment occupy 31 pages. Economic organisation follows with 78 pages, and other important sections are: material culture 109 pages, social organization 37, life cycle 42, religion 18, and traditional history 35.

Christianization has resulted in the loss of all detail of the old religion. Sufficient remains, however, to warrant the view either that the original settlers lacked a priest, or, less probably, that the whole priesthood was wiped out by the tidal wave twelve generations ago. The principal god of the island was Mataliki, who, it may be suggested, attained that position through being the god of the i Tua lineage, principal chiefs of the island, and not through any priestly agency. The phrase atua tangaloa designates a class of departmental gods. Tangaloa, as a proper name, occurs only in what may be called secular tradition, as does the name Manawune. The names Tu and Longo are borne by a canoe-captain and his lieutenant in a secular tale.

The bulletin is full of interest; the following points, noted in the section on fishing, could be parallelled in each of the other sections. Among pearl-shell hooks one is noted which is three-eighths inch high and five-sixteenths inch wide. The tiny size recalls the familiar small hook of Ulawa, but it is probable that they are an old Polynesian feature; one of the same size has been measured, from Aitutaki. The fine drilling required for making such a hook was performed with a drill (wou), the balance of which consisted of half a coconut-shell. The same type of balance was used in the Solomons, but lest we should regard this as evidence of Melanesian influence, it must be remembered that the same device was used in the Tahitian group, and doubtless elsewhere in Polynesia. “The tails of the shanks are uniformly smooth on front, back, and lateral surfaces. In the opened grave, however, Talainga saw a bonito shank that had two paired lateral projections at the tail of the narrowing shank … The lateral projections are suggestive of similar projections on Melanesian hooks of the Solomon Islands.” - 137 It should be noted that similar projections occur in Micronesia, the area from which the Solomons probably derived their fish-hooks, while single pairs of projections occur at Tikopia, and in the shanks recovered by D. G. Kennedy from graves at Vaitupu, Ellice Islands. The bonito hook is well described, but a note on the function of the secondary hackle would have been appreciated, as this seems to be a unique feature. Of the one-piece pearl-shell hooks the type called matau is of special interest. The space between point and barb is concave, giving that part of the hook the appearance of an extended and flexed human foot. This form of point and barb is strongly represented in New Zealand, and hence may be supposed to be an ancient Polynesian feature. If so, it is strange that it is recorded in the Northern Cooks only at Pukapuka. At page 190 the term “gorge” is applied to a form more correctly described as a hook (cf. Balfour, Man, 9, 1915). The gorge is certainly an ancient feature of Polynesian culture, but it has not yet been recorded from the Cooks. It is worth noting that drilling by rotating between the palms of the hands was practised at Pukapuka, again an old Polynesian feature, as evidenced by its occurrence in New Zealand and the Society group.

The text closes with sections on master ideas of Pukapukan culture, and cultural affinities. Dr. Beaglehole's conclusions are as follows: “Traditional history seems to point to fairly close contact long ago with islands to the west. It is unfortunate that so many of the foreign lands mentioned in these accounts can not be identified. The modern Pukapukan firmly believes that such names as Tonga, Yamoa, Witi, Tokelau and others refer in the legends to Polynesian islands which bear these names today. For lack of other evidence I see no reason to deny this. In the light of this traditional history it is hardly legitimate to pose the question: whence came the Pukapukans? The modern Pukapukan has no answer. The modern ethnologist can not yet speak with finality. I take it as reasonably clear, however, that on a basic stratum of fundamentally Polynesian patterns, there has been superimposed a culture that has strong affiliations with both eastern and western Polynesia, but on the whole is marginal to the west. These strata, combined with certain specific elaborations or survivals in social organization, serve to give characteristic accent to Pukapukan culture when viewed against the background of Polynesia as a whole.”—H. D. Skinner.

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THE PROTO-INDIAN SCRIPT AND THE EASTER ISLAND TABLETS: (A critical study). By Dr. Alfred Métraux, Ethnologist on the staff of the Bishop Museum. In Anthropos, vol. 33, 1938, pp. 218-239.

It is in the nature of man to enjoy being puzzled; it is not in the nature of man to enjoy being baffled. Many men were puzzled, all were baffled by the hieroglyphs of Egypt until the finding of a key in the Rosetta stone. Then an old world, so long known to have existed, so long hidden in apparently impenetrable darkness, emerged into the light, its strangenesses self-revealed in the illumination poured upon it through the key stone as through a window.

The script of the Easter island tablets still is as the script of the hieroglyphs long was, puzzling and baffling. In the very first numbers of the Journal of the Polynesian Society 1 appeared an article: “The Easter island Inscriptions, and the Translation and Interpretation of them.” With the article were facsimile reproductions of the characters on four of the tablets, with alleged translations. The author, Dr. Carroll, M.A., M.D., gave an elaborate account of his preliminary studies of South American and Asiatic languages, and his methods of interpretation and translation. He made sure that anyone who might feel a desire to check his results by following his methods would have a most difficult task; and, as it turned out, one that would prove fruitless of anything but disappointment and chagrin. It is in the nature of man to enjoy being puzzled; it is very much against the nature of man to feel that he has been hoaxed.

Readers of the Notes in this Journal will, however, have gathered that at times during the past few years there has been a second rattling of the dry bones, and they may have been anticipating the staging of a second danse maccabre. In 1932 it was noted 2 that Sir Denison Ross reported in Nature that M. Guillame Hevezy, a Hungarian resident in Paris, had discovered that a number of signs of the prehistoric Indus (India) script on seals from Mohenjodaro also appear in the script of the Easter island wooden tablets, while some of the Easter island signs, not present in the Indus seals, are to be found in the proto-Elamic of Susa. A further note appeared in 1934, 3 regarding a work by G. R. Hunter, with introduction by Professor S. Langdon, on The Script of Harappa and Mohenjodaro and its connection with other Scripts, in the preface of which, by Professor Langdon, occurs the remark: “There can be no doubt concerning the identity of the Indus and Easter island scripts. Whether we are thus confronted by an astonishing historical accident, or whether this ancient Indian script has mysteriously travelled to the remote islands of the Pacific none can say.”

A note on the sources of our knowledge of the Easter island dialect appears at p. 87, J.P.S., vol. 46, 1937.

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Now appears in Anthropos, as quoted, this critical study by Dr. Alfred Métraux, who notes that M. Hevezy's paper, first presented to the Acedémie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres by Professor Paul Pelliot, a member of the French Academy, has been published in a number of scientific journals and popular magazines: In Belgium, December, 1932; in France (two places), 1933; in Germany, 1934; in British India, ?1934; in Chile, 1935. Besides these, I have personally received from M. Imbelloni a fully illustrated article that appeared in 1935 in Cursos y Conferencias, Ano 4, Buenos Aires, pages 633-699: “Los ultimos descubrimientos sobre la escriture indescifrable de la Isla de Pascua.”

M. Métraux notes that the same lists of signs, differing slightly in form, are reproduced in all the papers quoted by him; the texts are much the same; in some, certain comparisons have been abandoned and others suggested. M. Métraux had already studied Easter island closely 4 so these various publications, broadcast in this way, naturally attracted his attention.

Since the first publication of M. Hevezy's paper, the full series of scripts used by him for comparison have been published and made available, so that it is now possible, as it was hardly possible before, to make a comparison of the parallels used by him, and this M. Métraux has done in an apparently thorough and painstaking manner. He finds that M. Hevezy too often takes liberties with his signs. He picks out two, one in either script, that are suggestive of each other, and by altering one or both, only slightly it may be but quite unwarrantably, makes the similarity much more striking. To show the extent of the alterations made by M. Hevezy, a few of the signs are here reproduced:

a.—The sign of the Indus script., b.—The same sign “readjusted” by Hevezy., c.—The Easter island symbol on the tablets., a.—The sign on seal 428., b.—The same sign as reversed by Hevezy., c.—An Easter island bird in profile.
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a.—The sign in the Indus script., b.—The same sign “readjusted” by Hevezy., c.—The Easter island symbol reproduced by Hevezy., a.—The Indus sign copied correctly., b.—The Easter island symbol reproduced by Hevezy., c.—The same sign copied from the tablet Aruka-renga., a.—The sign as it appears in the Indus script., b.—The same sign reproduced by Hevezy., c.—The Easter island sign reproduced by Hevezy., d. and e.—The prevalent forms of this symbol., a.—The sign of the Indus script., b.—The same reproduced by Hevezy., c.—The Easter island symbol as reproduced by Hevezy., d.—The actual symbol on the Easter island tablet., e.—The sign enclosed in the oval as it appears most commonly on the tablets.

Dr. Métraux admits that some of the Easter island signs vary greatly from the average form; and in order to make this clear, he gives a whole page of such variations, one single symbol selected showing more than fifty forms. M. Hevezy, however, is not content to use one of the many variants available; if he feels the need for it, he invents a variant for himself. In our own alphabet we have scores of variants for every letter; but anyone dealing historically with our alphabet (supposing it to have become obsolete), whilst he might ‘quote’ any known form, would not be justified in creating one of - 141 which he could find no example in his text; yet this apparently is what has been done by M. Hevezy; his parallels are not actual, but manufactured parallels.

The subject is of such importance that it would be well if M. Métraux' article could be reproduced in extenso; but a summary of his conclusions must suffice.

A great number of the analogies between the two scripts exist only in the reproductions of M. Hevezy, but cease to appear when the original signs are compared. These similarities are the results of small adjustments—changing of portions, obliteration of small details, misrepresentations, and so forth.

The general method followed by M. Hevezy is scientifically inadmissible. When he compares the two scripts he chooses from the thousands of Easter island signs small variations which appear once or twice, and he pays no attention to the different forms that the same sign usually has. He does the same with the Indus script.

He has failed to explain how two scripts, separated in time by 4,000 years at least, can present minute and complicated resemblances in trifling details and at the same time be so completely different in all the essential elements.

No unbiased man who studies the tablets and the Indus script can fail to notice the enormous difference, not only in the system, but also in the form and type of the signs. Hevezy realised that it was too much to expect us to believe that Easter island could have preserved, for 4,000 years at least, an unaltered script. Four thousand years is a comparatively short time, for Hevezy considers the Easter island script more archaic than that of Mohenjodaro. If it is admitted with Mr. Hunter that the Mohenjodaro culture may have started 4000 B.C., the interval would be over 6,000 years. In order to span this gap Hevezy submits the curious theory that the tablets were taken to Easter island by its first immigrants, who guarded them carefully during hundreds, or thousands, of years, without either destroying them or knowing their meaning. He supports this hypothesis by a tradition reported by Thompson in which Hotumatua, the first settler, brought with him 67 tablets. But analyses have been made of the wood of several of the tablets, and the following woods have been indentified: Lauraceae, Myrtaceae, Fraxinus excelsior, Thespesia populnea, Podo-carpus latifolia, Pyrus malus. The tablet called the ‘Oar’ was engraved on a European oar of Fraxinus excelsior, a European wood much used for making oars. The authenticity of this tablet, which is in the Museum of the Congregation des Sacré-coeurs de Picpus at Braine-le-Comte in Belgium, has never been questioned, even by Hevezy; and whereas it has been said that the age of the tablets is quite unknown, the age of this one, which too is one of the best examples among them, is known to date from the end of the eighteen-hundreds or the first half of the nineteen-hundreds. It was collected by the missionaries about 1867 or 1868, at a time when the natives did not pay much attention to the tablets. This also means that so far from being 4,000 years or more old, the script was in - 142 use in quite modern times; and Thompson, whom Hevezy quotes, gives conclusive evidence that it was known and written by the natives until at least 1863: nor does Thompson's evidence of its modern use stands alone.

M. Métraux writes: “I could compare the Indus script with the pictographies of the American Indians and find as much resemblance as that discovered by Hevezy, especially if I were to adjust the signs. … My general conclusion is that between the Indus script and the Easter island pictographic writing there is no other connection than that which is bound to appear automatically between two pictographies whenever and wherever they appear. All the evidence, even good sense, is against Hevezy's view. Because of the unreliability of Hevezy's comparisons and his lack of scientific method, this hypothesis must be discarded or presented upon other basis … It would have been wiser for those who declare Hevezy's parallels ‘incontrovertible,’ and who even refused to discuss them, to check their accuracy before taking so decided a stand. … Hevezy has made much ado of the fact that both the Indus script and the Easter island ‘script’ are boustro-phedon—he plays on words. The Mohenjodaro script was usually read from right to left, but sometimes from left to right, a method which is called boustrophedon. On Easter island the figures on each line are upside down, as compared with those of the adjacent lines. The signs were engraved from left to right, and that is the correct way to consider them. However, clever readers did not bother to turn the tablet, but read the signs in reverse position, following them from right to left. This is essentially different from the boustrophedon method of the Indus valley.”

So closes or opens, another chapter on the mystery of the Easter island tablets.—J.C.A.


Readers are advised that Memoir 14, the New Zealand series of the fine collection of Pacific artifacts in the possession of Mr. W. O. Oldman, of London, is now available. The price to members of the Society is 5/-; to others, 6/- (postage 4d). Copies may be had on application to the Secretary, Mr. D. Foster, T. & G. Building, corner Grey Street and Lambton Quay, Wellington.

1   vol. 1, pages 103-106, 233-253.
2   J.P.S., vol. 41, note 471, p. 323.
3   J.P.S., vol. 43, note 493, p. 296.
4   See his paper “The Kings of Easter Island,” J.P.S., vol. 46, p. 41, in which he refers to the script.