Volume 14 1905 > Volume 14, No.2, June 1905 > Notes and queries, p 102-103
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- 102

[178] On the word Moa, &c.

In the study of the origin of the Polynesian people or at least an approximate history of their intercourse with the Malay Archipelago and thence to the Asiatic continent, the first great factor is no doubt that of language, but there is also a seemingly less important line of research in the consideration of the animals held in domestication by these people—the dog (kuri), the pig (poaka), and the domestic fowl (moa)—all three of which we may assume came originally from Asia. We may ask, were these animals traded from one race of people to another living at a distance from their original habitat, or were they brought by a Polynesian people direct when they presumably first left the great continent of Asia (that is should they ever have come from thence).

Can we trace their Polynesian names as originating among any race of people now resident in India? For all we know at present the name poaka may be of Spanish or Portuguese origin,1 but what of kuri and moa.

The Maori of New Zealand used the name moa to denote the many varieties both large and small (apparently without distinction) of that wonderful race of birds the dinornidæ, and on Captain Cook introducing the domestic fowl, which he brought to New Zealand “from the islands,” the Maori gave it two names other than moa, which to me seems positive proof that the emigrant Polynesians of the Arawa and those later migrations, came in actual contact with the dinornis, and that these birds were not previously killed out by a previous race of people whose traditions like themselves had become extinct.

I would ask any of our members who may be in a position to do so, to send in the native names which may be used to denote the cassowary and the emu in the Malay Archipelago, Australia and in Madagascar, as the name of the extinct epiornis.

When a new animal is introduced to a country it is generally the custom to accept of the animal's original name also, as used by those who convey it, and so we may reasonably expect to trace its original home by this means.

If we are unable to trace the word moa as denoting the domestic fowl somewhere on the Asiatic continent, may we not assume that moa originally denoted the dinornis and not gallus domesticus, and if so that the Polynesian first knew the moa as a dinornis during the existence of a great southern continent now submerged—the lost Hawaiki? This is a very bold suggestion, but is it not well to give a thought even to what may at first sight appear most fabulous?

We have Maori tradition that the Polynesian voyagers brought in some of their canoes the kuri (dog), the kiore (rat), the paroquet, and the swamp hen, and even it is said lizards, but no mention is made of the arrival of the moa, the kiwi, or the weka, and yet these three last mentioned are of far more food value than those said to have been brought, and must, especially the kiwi and weka, have at all times been a staple article of food, moreover the swamp hen pukeko is not found elsewhere, except perhaps at Norfolk Island and some other islands. We may therefore place no confidence in this tradition, or at least take it cum grano salis.2

- 103

On certain Pacific islands the ironwood tree (casuarinus) is named moa, can this nomenclature originate from the drooping foliage of the tree as in some degree resembling the feathers of the dinornis?

It is a matter of surprise that the pig (poaka) was not imported, the more so when it was said by Captain Cook that the New Zealanders knew the name of the animals when seeing them on board his ship—a pig being of omnivorous appetite would be more easily fed during the voyage than a dog—yet both would consume any garbage even human excrement. I would be inclined to suppose that the fowl and pig were introduced to the Pacific islands subsequent to the grea Maori heke. Yet I believe the pig and fowl were found by early European navigators even at Easter Island.

On this same subject of moa, to my thinking the late Rev. William Colenso has led us astray in reference to this bird. Writing from memory of an article published in Transactions N.Z. Institute, he says: “Moamoa, small heaps of a shining metallic looking substance, possibly iron pyrites, seen in the vicinity of Cape Turnagain.” Now I have resided for a number of years in that district, but have never found any metallic objects; but when a fire has passed over the land, a careful observer will notice small collections of scattered polished pebbles, so finely polished as to have a shiny appearance, in one case I found a number of broken bones mingled with these stones, a sufficient proof that the stones were the gizzard stones of a large bird, and these are the moamoa seen by Mr. Colenso, who, no doubt, wrote of them from remembrance many years after he was shown them by the Maoris. These stones were collected by the bird with difficulty, being rare and of necessity the hardest in texture to be met with, mostly a kind of flint possibly. I have these bones and gizzard stones yet in possession. Mr. Colenso also gives moa as a name for a boring implement. No doubt the Maori intended to show the moa stone by which the implement was pointed.—Taylor White.

1  We do not think this possible, for the name has been known to the Polynesians ages before the Spaniards discovered the New World. It is probable it meant any animal formerly.—Ed.
2  The pukeko is common in Samoa and other islands.—Ed.