Volume 31 1922 > Volume 31, No. 121 > Maori somatology. Racial averages, by Te Rangi Hiroa (P. H. Buck), p 37-44
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THE measurements which form the data for this paper were made upon the officers and men of the New Zealand Maori Battalion, whilst returning from England in 1919, on the H.M.T. “Westmoreland.” Thanks are due to Professor Arthur Keith, of the Royal College of Surgeons, and Professor Karl Pearson, of University College, London, for their kindly advice and encouragement. Professor Keith assisted in obtaining the requisite instruments and selected from the Report of the Committee of the British Association on Anthropometric Investigation, 1919, the measurements that could be made in the time available on the voyage. Professor Pearson advised as to skin, hair, and eye colour, and lent his own von Luschan's colour standard for the skin. Through his good offices, the Karl Pearson head-spanner was obtained on loan from the Government Grants Committee of the Royal Society. We have to thank New Zealand Headquarters, U.K., for every assistance, and Dr. Owen Johnson for help in taking the body and limb measurements.

Before passing on to serious matters, it may not be out of place to relate an incident illustrative of the Maori sense of humour. Professor Keith was running over some of the measurements on two Maori soldiers in his room on the ground floor of the Royal College of Surgeons. During his temporary absence from the room, the two men who had been casting admiring glances at a large skeleton standing in the corner, expressed a wish to know who the ‘Big Fellow’ had been. The Professor, on returning, supplied the information that it was the skeleton of O'Brien, the Irish giant, which, since the air raids on London, had been brought down stairs from the Museum and placed in that particular corner for safety from bombing. To the two Maoris who had just returned from the fighting line in France, where wounded men were out of action and the freshly dead had to lie in the open till time and circumstances permitted their removal, the careful placing under safe cover from bombs, of a man who was so dead as to have become a skeleton, was to them unique amongst the many curious ways of the white man. It required many whispered admonitions in their own language to suppress their audible enjoyment and, for the rest of the interview, many a glance of puzzled envy was cast at the skeletal remains of O'Brien, the Irish giant.

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THE MATERIAL.—The returning members of the Maori Battalion numbered nearly a thousand men. Of these, however, no less than 148 were under 20 years of age and do not figure in the adult measurements. They had concealed their true age in order to get away to the war, but on the return voyage there was no object in concealing it. This is a fine tribute to the youth of the Maori race. Of the adults with Maori blood in their veins, the total number measured was 814, made up as follows:—

Full blooded Maoris 424
Three-fourths Maoris 178
One-half Maoris 61
Two-fourths Maoris 57
One-fourth Maoris 41
Mixed blood 53
Total 814

In addition, the head and face measurements of 34 New Zealand soldiers of European extraction were made for comparative purposes. In this paper the racial averages of the full blooded Maoris are dealt with whilst the tribal and mixed blood differences are referred to as occasion demands.

MEASUREMENTS.—As previously stated, the measurements made are according to those laid down in the Report of the Committee of the British Association with the exception of the one on the Antero-posterior diameter of the thorax. On Professor Keith's advice, this was taken at the level of the sternoensiform joint. The calculations for standard deviation, error and variation, are being made by Mr. E. V. Miller and will be included later.

POLYNESIAN INVESTIGATION.—Since making these measurements, I learned of the Bayard Dominick Expedition which is investigating the physical characters and racial affinities of the Polynesians, and I have been in communication with Dr. Louis R. Sullivan, who organised the field work and has charge of the analysing of the results. The first paper on Samoan Somatology, based on the field work of E. W. Gifford and W. C. McKern, has been published and gives extremely interesting data for comparison with the Maori branch of the Polynesians.


SKIN.—The Maoris themselves recognised various shades of skin colour. Several legends are extant concerning a red-haired, fair-skinned, pre-Maori race known as Turehu or Patupaiarehe. One of these Patupaiarehe tribes was known as the Pakepakeha, and according to one theory this is the origin of the word Pakeha which is applied to the fair skinned European as distinguished from the darker skinned - 39 Maori. To this day, it is a popular belief that where a fairer skin and reddish hair exists in full blooded Maori, they are inherited from a Patupaiarehe ancestor. A fair skin is known as Kiritea. There is also a ruddier shade known as Maurea. The great Taupo chief Te Heuheu, father of the late Hon. Te Heuheu Tukino, M.L.C., was a Maurea. With regard to the darker shades of skin these are known as Manauri or Parauri. Some of the legends concerning the pre-Maori people state that they were very dark skinned. A fair skin was admired whilst darker skinned people had, on occasions, to put up with the humorously disparaging remarks of their lighter tinted friends. Albinos exist and are known as Korako. In my visits among the various tribes I have seen only three cases.

The skin colour was recorded by means of von Luschan's “Haut-farhen-Tafel,” which was kindly lent by Professor Karl Pearson. The site chosen was the unexposed inner surface of the upper arm. No observations were made on the exposed surface though it was noticed that many who were very dark on the face, in many cases did not give a darker shade on the arm than those of a lighter face shade. The colour ranges from 11 to between 25 and 26 on the scale, but 17 and 18 preponderate. Sullivan, from the field work of Gifford and McKern, gives 14, 15 and 16 as the preponderating colour for the Samoans. From casual observations, I have always thought the Samoans to be a lighter shade than the Maoris with a yellowish tinge in the brown. The two sets of observations show the Maoris to be two shades deeper in colour, whilst the yellowish tinge is not so noticeable. In fact, it was the yellowish tinge in shades 14, 15 and 16 that forced me to place so many in 17 and 18. Though 24·7 per cent. of the Maori cases are grouped in 13, 14, 15 and 16, we can say that the predominating shade is a medium brown without a yellowish tinge.

No. on von Luschan's Scale. No. of Cases. Percentage.
11—12 10 2·3
13—14 11 2·6
15—16 94 22·1
17—18 306 72·1
22—23 1 0·2
25—26 2 0·5
Total 424  

HAIR.—The only observation taken on the hair was the colour. Most of the men had their hair close cropped in military fashion, and the face clean shaven except for part of the upper lip in some. The hair form was not noted, but this can be investigated later as can also - 40 the distribution on face, body and limbs. The collecting of hair samples for laboratory examination will probably have to be done by a European. Enough superstition exists at the back of the Maori mind, to suspect us of witchcraft if disaster occurred to anyone from whose sacred head, hair had been collected. Though the hair is mostly straight and wavy, words exist in the language showing that various characteristics were recognised from straight to woolly. Kapu as applied to hair means curly; Kapu mahora, slightly curled, wavy, though mahora, with some tribes means straight; Kapu mawhatu, separated into distinct curls; Mingimingi or Mingomingo, crisped, frizzled; and Kapu piripiri, woolly. Some of the pre-Maori people were reputed to have frizzly, woolly hair, standing up like a mop. When the hair is allowed to grow long, this characteristic is to be seen amongst isolated members of various tribes but we have no cases in this series. The general colour is black, but brown and reddish hair occur. Certain tribes have been stated to have had more than their share of red hair, and in these tribes it is said to occur in certain families. It was supposed to be more prevalent amongst the Tuhoe, Maniapoto and Upper Whanganui tribes. Red hair is known as Urukehu, and was popularly supposed to be another Patupaiarehe inheritance. Warahoe was a red-haired ancestor of the Urewera people at Te Whaiti, hence the proverb, “Ka urukehu te tangata, ka kiia no Warahoe.” “If a person is red haired, it is said to be from Warahoe.” Percy Smith quotes a saying from Mangaia in the Cook Group, “Te anau keu a Tangaroa.” “The light-haired descendants of Tangaroa.” Anau keu is the Mangaian equivalent of the Maori whanau kehu. In the Auckland Museum there is a hank of beautiful wavy red hair, obtained from a rock shelter near Waitakerei. That it belonged to pre-European days is proved by the root ends being plaited together and bound round with fine braid prepared from the same hair. Curiously enough, the only other specimen of hair in the same case is also bound round with fine hair braid and is dark-brown in colour. It was obtained from the same cave as the very old carved coffins from Waimamaku. Words denoting very fair or flaxen hair are korito or korako, the latter being the same word as used for an albino. As another example of the Maori belief in the inheritance of fair hair from certain ancestors, we have the proverb, “He aha te uru o to tamaiti? Kapatau he uru korito, he korako, he uru ariki no Pipi.” “What is the hair of your child? Were it flaxen hair or whitish, it would be the hair of high chieftainship from Pipi.” Pipi was a woman of the highest rank who flourished twenty-four generations ago and was an ancestress of the Ngati-Ira tribe. Although amongst the Maoris the confusion in colour caused by the Samoan and Tongan custom of limeing the hair, does not exist, yet, owing to the admixture of white blood, great care has to be exercised in recording cases of red - 41 or brown hair as being full Maori. To show the effect of white admixture, the figures for three-fourths, one-half, two-fourths and one-fourth Maori are given in Table II. One-half Maori means that the parents are full Maori and full European, whilst two-fourths means that the parents are half Maori on both sides. It is worthy of note that though the fraction of race should be the same in two cases, in the latter, where the white blood comes from both parents, there is a higher percentage of brown hair than where it is derived from only one parent. For purposes of comparison we have taken the same terms for hair colour as chosen by Sullivan who gives the percentage of black hair for the Samoans as 91·4 per cent.

Colour Number of Persons.        
  Full Maori ¾ Maori ½ Maori 2/4 Maori ¼Maori
Black 414 158 47 37 23
Dark Brown 9 20 14 19 14
Reddish-Brown 1 0 0 0 0
Light Brown 0 0 0 1 3
Blonde 0 0 0 0 0
Golden 0 0 0 0 0
Red 0 0 0 0 0
Grey 0 0 0 0 0
Total 424 178 61 57 40
Black 97·6 88·7 77·0 65·0 57·5
Dark Brown 2·1 11·2 23·0 33·3 5·0
Reddish-Brown ·2 ·0 ·0 ·0 ·0
Light Brown ·0 ·0 ·0 1·7 7·5

There was only one case, in the whole series, of reddish-brown hair and that was in a full Maori. Contrary to expectations, his skin colour was 18 on von Luschan's scale. The nine cases of dark brown hair, though two were 18, showed on the whole a lighter skin tint than the black haired.

No. on von Luschan's Scale 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
No. Dark Brown hair 1 1 0 1 2 1 1 2
No. Reddish-brown 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1

EYE.—Being unable to get an eye colour standard, on the advice of Professor Karl Pearson, a number of artificial glass eyes of different colours were procured and numbered, with the idea of comparing them - 42 with a colour standard later. These proved very useful in the observations of men of mixed blood, but as there was only a dark and a light brown in the set, they did not cover the shades of brown found in the full Maoris. In the latter, four distinct shades of brown could be easily distinguished. The heavily pigmented brown, with a certain amount of diffidence, is recorded as black, whilst a distinct shade between dark and light brown is classed as medium brown. For comparison with Sullivan's classification, probably dark and medium brown should go together. Blue, grey, blue-brown and grey-brown were absent in full Maoris.

Colour. No. of Cases. Percentage.
Black 29 6·8
Dark brown 171 40·5
Medium brown 18 44·3
Light brown 35 8·2
Blue 0 0·0
Grey 0 ·0
Blue-brown 0 ·0
Grey-brown 0 ·0
Total 422  

The condition of the conjunctiva was not recorded but from general observation, fully three-fourths were unclear. With regard to the epicanthic eye fold so characteristic of Mongoloid strain, it was regarded as non-existent in the men examined but in view of Sullivan's results for the Samoans, that in only 68·1 per cent. is it entirely absent, further observations on the Maoris will have to be made in this subject.

NOSE.—Unfortunately the general features of the nose, with regard to nasal bridge and direction of the long axis of the nostrils, were not individually recorded but we are correct in stating that in the greatest number, the nasal bridge is medium and the long axis of the nostrils, oblique.


WEIGHT.—In field work, it is difficult to transport a weighing machine about, but for the troopship an A very weighing machine was specially procured for the purposes of these investigations. Dr. Arthur S. Thomson, 1 who was Surgeon-Major to the 58th Regiment in New Zealand during the Maori war, gave the average weight of the Maoris without clothes as 140 pounds. The average weight of 384 men, in - 43 trousers and singlet and without boots, works out in our series as 163·9 lbs., or 11 st. 9 lbs. It cannot be argued that, as soldiers, the men were above the average in weight and physique. It must be taken into consideration, that the small Maori population first put a contingent of 500 men into camp in 1914, maintained troops on Gallipoli in 1915, and later, in France, maintained a battalion of a 1000 men up to full strength until the close of the war. For the First Maori Contingent in 1914, the weight restriction of 12 stone for recruits had to be removed as it was too low for the fine class of men offering. Towards the close of the war, the pick of the race had passed through civilised warfare with its huge toll from disease, wounds and violent death so that anyone who could pass the medical tests was sent away to keep up the strength of the Maori battalion in the field. Consequently the returning battalion contained men of 9 stone odd in weight and 5 feet in height, so that the measurements give a fair average of the race with, if anything, a tendency to the low side. As regards weight, it must also be remembered that the men had been in constant active physical training and had not had time during the voyage to regain the superfluous flesh of civilian life. The Maori, in his own environment, has a diet in which carbo-hydrates and fats figure largely, and unless engaged in constant physical work, he puts on flesh enormously. Therefore our figures are, if anything, on the light side and absolutely disprove Thomson's low average of 10 stone. Table 5 gives the numbers and percentages in groups of 10 pounds.

Weight in lbs. No. of Cases. Percentage.
121 to 130 1 ·2
131 to 140 26 6·7
141 to 150 57 14·8
151 to 160 73 19·0
161 to 170 109 28·3
171 to 180 62 16·1
181 to 190 35 9·1
191 to 200 10 2·6
201 to 210 9 2·3
211 to 220 1 ·2
221 to 230 1 ·2
Total 384  
Average weight, 163·9 lbs.    

The Ngati-Kahungunu tribe, of Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa, have always been looked upon as a weighty people. In this series, - 44 they maintain their reputation by returning an average weight for 68 men, of nearly 5lbs. above the racial average, viz., 168·1lbs.

HEIGHT.—The stature standard was prepared in inches divided into tenths from the inch scale on Flower's craniometer. From previous observations, the Maoris have been placed as the shortest of the main branches of the Polynesians. Denniker 2 gives the Marquesans as 1743mm. (5ft. 8⅝in.), Tahitians, Tabuaians, Paumotuans, 1733mm. (5ft. 8¼in.), Samoans, 1726mm. (5ft. 8in.), and Polynesians in general, 1730mm. (5ft. 8⅛in.). Sullivan quotes the average height of the Hawaiians as 5ft. 8¼in., and brings down the height of the Samoans, from the measurements of 69 male subjects as against Denniker's 25, to 1717mm. (5ft. 7⅝in.). For the Maoris, Thomson 3 gave the average male height as 5ft. 6¼in., and Denniker from 50 subjects as 1680mm. (5ft. 6⅜in.). Our series raises it to 1706mm. (5ft. 7¼in.). The range was from 5 feet to 6 feet 2 inches. The two tallest subjects were 6ft. 4in. and 6ft. 3½in., but as they were both under twenty years of age they are not included in these figures.

Height in inches. No. of Subjects. Percentage.
60 2 ·4
61 3 ·7
62 7 1·6
63 17 4·0
64 28 6·6
65 55 12·9
66 67 15·8
67 87 20·5
68 64 15·0
69 53 12·5
70 17 4·0
71 15 3·5
72 7 1·6
73 1 ·2
74 1 ·2
Total 424  
Average 67·3 or 1706mm.    

(To be continued.)

1   Arthur S. Thomson, 1859. The Story of New Zealand, Vol. I., p. 69.
2   J. Denniker, 1900. The Races of Man.
3   Thomson, op. cit.