Volume 33 1924 > Volume 33, No. 129 > Visit to a Maori village, by George Pitt-Rivers, p 48-65
A VISIT TO A MAORI VILLAGE.
Being some Observations on the Passing of the Maori Race and the Decay of Maori Culture.
A PROBLEM that is exercising the minds of anthropologists and students of culture, is the relation of culture to race. The question appears to be in danger of being obscured by the antagonism of two schools of thought. We need not enter into the arguments brought against the cultural and psychological schools of anthropology associated with the works of Frazer, Freud, and Jung by the historical or archæological school associated with Elliot Smith, Rivers, and W. J. Perry; to say nothing of the objection to both schools displayed by the geographers who insist upon explaining all ethnological questions in terms of “climatic control.” The writer is concerned here only to attempt to explain, in terms which accord best with his own approach to the subject, what he actually observed in a present-day Maori village, or took down from the mouths of its inhabitants.
The question is perhaps most clearly summed up by saying that the culture level of a people at a particular time is conditioned by three factors: by their heritage of culture-forms (traditions, art-forms, beliefs, customs, and social organization), together with culture-accessories (implements, weapons and mechanical discoveries), and by their culture potential (a term here applied to innate constructive ability; power of expression; the capacity to develop, under suitable conditions, artistic, scientific or technical skill; and temperamental dispositions). Culture-forms are not simply bequeathed to a people and in turn handed on by them intact, but are evolved and modified by successive generations; while at every stage culture is conditioned by the capacity of people to give expression to it.- 49
We have to face the problem of racial capacity to become adapted to changed environmental conditions. An examination of population tendencies in the Pacific regions and in America appears to show that people are far less adaptable to great and sudden changes in culture-form than is generally supposed. The more specialized a people become through segregation and the agency of selection, the more closely adapted are they to the culture-forms they have evolved. Any drastic change in mode of living and in culture-form imposed upon them from outside and not evolved or modified by themselves leaves them, for this reason, ill-adapted to the innovation. It is a psycho-physical problem, the physical consequences of which are illustrated in the phenomenon of the gradual extinction of unadapted peoples. This conclusion is supported by an analysis not only of Maori demography, but of the demography of peoples all over the Pacific and in America, where a biological substitution of population is taking place. Apart from a systematic analysis, however, the facts are apt to be obscured by the gradual infiltration of foreign blood into a declining population, and the frequent inability to discriminate between the unadaptable and unmixed stock that is declining and the new miscegenated stock which is capable of surviving under the changed conditions. 1
We are now witnessing an ethnic and cultural meta morphosis of the Maori population, in which each generation represents a distinct step in a new direction.
When Mr. Elsdon Best agreed to accompany me during the inside of a week on a visit to one of the little Maori hamlets that lie along the Wanganui River, I hoped that I might be privileged to see and observe, not exclusively with the eyes of a stranger and a twentieth century European, but that I might, with his assistance, gain something of perspective and peep back through borrowed spectacles into the intimacies of history that is past, and attempt to understand the view-point of a forgotten as well as of the present Maori generation. If I have attained any measure of success in my endeavour I owe it to him.- 50
The answers and conversation of three generations of villagers may be used as an illustration or indication of the psychological aspect of this psycho-physiological problem. Each of the three living generations had their distinct and contrasted view-points as they attempted to account for the decay that had overtaken their race.
Within the restricted time limit of the enterprise, and the space limit in relating it, neither a complete nor even a wholly adequate picture can be presented. Certain features only can be selected, such for instance as the present influence of the Maori concepts of mana and tapu; and in so far as these are typical and represent the mental back ground of the people, the picture conveyed will be a true one.
Starting from the town of Wanganui a nine hours' journey up the river brought us to our destination, a collection of little tin-roofed, match-boarded houses grouped round the Church and the meeting-house.
About a quarter of a mile away from the Church, surrounded by a low fence, stood a solitary small house differing from the rest by the possession of a projecting veranda and brightly painted doors and windows.
It was obviously the house of someone of importance. As it transpired, it was the house of the man who was to be our host, the Chairman of the District Council, a body which, like the Village Committee (Komiti Marae) had been brought into being by the Pakeha 2 for the better control and administration of the Maori body politic.
The steamer had dropped us and the mail-bag at the same time. I first met our host, who had come to collect his letters, when the village postman handed them to him as he sorted them out.
It was hard to imagine that the khaki-shirted man, who quietly pocketed the many typewritten envelopes, was the son of a tattoed old native who had never been able to speak a word of English.
He knew Mr. Best, who had visited the village the year before, and we were invited to stay in his house, where we received the most generous hospitality.
We were not formally introduced to the village until the evening, when a special meeting of the villagers was convened for the purpose.- 51
Meanwhile, tea was prepared for us at the house by an old lady, who was a relative of our host; and as we waited a girl was sent to fetch a gramophone, which was set to work on a jazz record.
The room we were in might easily have been mistaken for a kitchen-room in an English labourer's or artisan's cottage. On a dresser by the door was a row of a dozen or so books. I recollect the titles of three in incongruous juxtaposition: one of Ballantyne's Books for Boys, a copy of New Zealand Hansard, and the Book of Mormon. It appeared that as well as the Church of England, the Seventh-day Adventists and the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” were in active competition for the souls of the villagers.
Anxious to know how much the younger generation knew about their own history I asked one of T—'s nephews, a schoolboy of about thirteen, what he learned at school. He had learned about the Wars of the Roses, and was now learning about the 100 Years' War, but he had never been told of the fighting along the Wanganui River during the Maori wars that had taken place sixty years ago; neither had he heard of the famous tradition of the old Pa 3 of Operiki, whose overgrown ramparts still stand on the terrace above the river.
In all its long history never had the old Pa of Operiki been taken by an enemy. Many generations ago the Waikato tribes had had to retire in confusion from the impregnable Pa. The very old men still remember the song of derision sung by the Pamoana warriors as they climbed the top of the earth-works to jeer at the retreating enemy. 4
The younger generation are guarded from all knowledge of their pagan past. They know little or nothing of the pride, ambitions, hopes and outlook of men who lived in another world incompatible with the present one. There came a time, after the disastrous and depressing catastrophe of the Maori War, when the rising generation re- - 52 fused to look back into the past, refused to learn the names of the long line of ancestors which their fathers, now the very old men, still take a pride in remembering, back in many instances, to thirty-four generations ago. 5 There was too great a bitterness in the memory of what had once been their greatest pride, and there may also have been a feeling (perhaps not altogether conscious) that they dare not know too much about the past, it might prove too great a handicap in their struggle to adjust themselves to the present. After them came a new generation, a larger proportion had white blood in their veins, the Maori wars had been forgotten, and the past of two or three generations ago seemed mythical in its remoteness and its unreality. Now and then it would stimulate the curiosity of a young man, and he would turn for information to a European like Mr. Elsdon Best, who had preserved this knowledge for him. This fact was gracefully acknowledged by the Maori vernacular paper “Te Toa Takitini” (dated October 1st, 1922). In it the writer admits that: “although a Pakeha, Te Peehi (Elsdon Best) is the survivor of the bygone Maori elders (Kaumatua Maori e ora nei), because his knowledge of old-time lore, even going back to the islands from which our. ancestors came, is superior to the present Maori generation.”
Race consciousness is still very strong in the full-blooded Maori, and it is strong in the mixed blood, but in each new generation there are fewer to pride themselves on their pure-blood ancestry.
To all outward appearances there was nothing in the life of a present-day Maori village to suggest that the influence of the old war-like pagan life had not been completely obliterated, yet there is a very distinct contrast in the outlook and adjustment of the three contemporary generations that compose the present Maori population, and I will now attempt to illustrate the difference as far as possible in the words of each.
The older generation, the majority of whom could not speak English, were purely retrospective in their outlook; for them the Maori world had come to an end. The middle - 53 generation, of which our host might count as an example, gave expression to a more hopeful feeling. It was a feeling rather of determination to face the future at ail costs and to blot out completely the painful memory of the past with its failure and disappointment, than of unquestioning confidence in the future or of mere indifference to the proud records of their once unchallenged race. It is a realisation that they can only stand up to the European by acquiring his knowledge. It was expressed thus: “We have now finished with the past, there is no going back, we accepted Christianity because our old gods failed us. Henceforth we we must copy the European and acquire his learning and knowledge. When I was a lad, my father wished to tell me about the old times and the old customs, but I would not listen to it; they are of no more use to the Maori; the only thing left is to follow the white man, instead of learning the names of our ancestors, and learning their customs. It is too late to go back now. Afterwards, when I was grown up, I went to the Pakeha school and learned to speak English with the children. The only thing is to learn to make things like the Pakeha. Yet how many of the young men who go to college become wasters, they come back to the village with so much knowledge that they do no work and loaf about like superior beings.”
When Europeans criticise the present-day Maori for having acquired all the vices of civilization they should remember that it is our prosletyzing culture that has arbitrarily sought to stamp out all the meaning, and therefore all the virtues, of the past. Thus Colenso writes in 1878: “It must be born in mind that the present generation of Maoris is a widely different one from their forefathers—inheriting nearly all their vices (with those heavier and commoner ones, too surely attendant on ‘civilisation’) and but little of their virtues. It is further illustrative to observe that by far the largest number of their proverbs are in support of industry, and against slander, gluttony, and laziness—their present three common vices.” (W. Colenso, Trans. of N.Z. Inst., Vol. 12, p. 112, 1878.)
Now let the rising generation express itself, in the pride of its new outlook and stilted English, in the following letter of a Maori schoolboy of seventeen to his uncle.
“My dear Uncle,
Prompted by my tender affection I am taking advantage - 54 of this opportunity of writing you a few lines before I return to Wellington, as in all human probability I am unlikely to see you again for some unknown period, unless, of course, something unforseen happens.
I have a suggestion to make and that is, if you like, I'll put you through the Native Interpreter's Examination. I'll send you some papers in connection with it, viz., “Copy of Deeds,” etc., which is essential in the above examination, and I am sure if you work at it in accordance with instructions which I will forward with the papers you will easily pass, for I know instances where men of minor education, or even inferior to yours, have qualified for this examination. This is an opinion which I should venture to explain to you more distinctly had I the opportunity of seeing you personally.
I am enclosing a snapshot of myself as a souvenir. It is one taken with my little camera.
I haven't any more to say to you, and so I'll bid you, with a French farewell, “Au revoir,” which means “Adieu until we meet again.”
Your affectionate nephew, A—B—.”
Truly “follow the Pakeha” is the watch-word and ruling thought of the present generation!
The older men look with a wider perspective. It is no longer the outlook of men facing the unknown, they have already seen changes taking place, and have formed an idea of the direction in which the trend of events is moving. There is more of disillusion than faith in the power and value of the white man's promises.
The following is a close translation of the old Maori's speech of welcome to us at the evening meeting. The general tenor and refrain of his speech was often repeated to us by other of the older men whom we questioned.
“Once numerous, now diminishing and dispirited, our women no longer bear many children, and our villages are emptying. White men brought us wonderful things—white bread, which looked good, but when eaten swelled and blew out our stomachs, and we were sick—he also brought us diseases, which killed many of us. He brought us Christianity, and we accepted it—but he broke our tapu—and our mana left us.- 55
“When our mana was destroyed the whole world became dark, and if this work of yours will bring light (referring to anthropological investigations) it will do good, and we will gladly assist you and welcome it. In the past we expected much, but were more often disappointed. In the old days the Pakeha brought his knives and tomahawks and bought our lands with them, but we did not know the value of what he brought.”
The present infertility of the Maori women is often referred to in the villages. It is worth noting that the Maoris frequently maintained that their women were more fertile if mated to Europeans than to their own stock. In his “Lore of the Whare-Kohanga” Mr. Best writes: “A noticeable feature of the modern life of the Maori is the ever increasing lack of fertility among the young women of the race. This is not so noticeable by the casual observer, on account of the custom which obtains among childless married women, of adopting one or more of those of her relatives whose quivers are better stocked. But when engaged in the task of making out the genealogies of all living members of the Tuhoe tribe, I was enabled to note the great number of couples, many of them young people, to whom no children have been born. The birth rate of the Tuhoe tribe is very low, and the cause of this decadence probably lies in the changes wrought in social conditions, etc., by the advent and settlement of Europeans in this land.”
The constant allusion still made by the older men to the destruction of their tapu system by Europeans needs some explanation, because of the great importance of the idea and its associated beliefs even at this late stage.
In a private communication Mr. Best writes as follows: “The coming of missionaries and other Europeans to New Zealand led to the breakdown of the institution of tapu, and the weakening of the influence of the chiefs. The missionaries strove to abolish tapu, and did so to a great extent. They destroyed it as a corrective force, as a highly useful element in the life of the people. Apparently no missionary ever studied or understood this remarkable institution, and so they knew not the harm they were doing. In the end we saw the Maori, like a rudderless ship, drifting passively, aimlessly, hopelessly, down the stream of life. The mauri ora is the spiritual side of the physical life principle, the - 56 most important of all human attributes. It is intensely tapu because it is a kind of immaterial shrine or abiding place of the protective power of the gods. Should this highly protective quality be vitiated, polluted, as by some infringement of tapu, then the gods withdraw their protective powers, and the person becomes utterly defenceless against the teeming dangers that surround him. He is helpless, his physical, intellectual and spiritual welfare is no more. When the mauri oraof man becomes noa (i.e., common, ‘tapuless,’ virtueless) he cannot, according to the Maori, flourish under these conditions.”
These ideas are worth studying and taking seriously, because they do actually symbolize a psychological and a physical truth, the truth that the old Maori stock is not capable of being adapted to incompatible culture-forms; it is in consequence gradually being extinguished and replaced by stock with a white blood infiltration.
A very old Maori summed up the matter in native terms (of which I supply the explanation) thus:—“The mana (i.e., supernatural power, prestige, influence) of my people comes from Hawaiki, and when my people come over from Hawaiki in their canoes they brought the mana and the favour of the gods. The mana lasted until the Pakeha arrived bringing their hot-water.” (In the vernacular wai wera; the idea being that the European used the same pot to cook his food in and heat water to wash his head, the most tapu part of the body. Cooked food was the most powerful agency of pollution—so in a lesser degree were the female organs—consequently cooked food was frequently used to break a tapu. The tapu of a man's head must be kept inviolate, otherwise he would become virtueless, common or unclean. The Pakeha proved they were ‘tapuless’ by the nature of their daily ablutions. The Maori's subjection by a ‘tapuless’ foreigner made him also ‘tapuless’ or noa, common. In the early days when the Maoris were constrained to accept Christianity, they frequently went through a ceremony of destroying their tapu by warming water in a cooking pot and pouring it over their heads. Old settlers back in the thirties have described how they saw Maoris undergoing this ordeal with every outward manifestation of abject terror.)- 57
“Since the coming of the Pakeha's hot-water,” continued the old man, “the Maori people have known no prosperity and only disease. On account of our tapu becoming violated the mana of the Maori people was destroyed. In the old days man was tapu, God was tapu, and his resting place (moinga) was tapu. Now none of these things are tapu, and man is defenceless against all evils and diseases, that is the only reason. The only thing that troubled the Maori before the Pakeha arrived was the black magic.” (Makutu i.e., the anti-social force as opposed to the good magic of mana.)
When I asked the old man why then his people had accepted this new Christian God whose followers had destroyed the mana of his people, he replied: “In the old days our gods (atua) listened to all appeals we made to them, however trivial, which the Pakeha God does not do, for he only listens to big things, but by the imported hot-water (wai wera) which we used we lost the favour of our gods, who became angry, so we had nothing left, and had to turn to the Christian God of the Pakeha.”
The young men knew nothing of the old Maori religion and lore, and it was curious to see some of them crowd round Mr. Best, a foreigner belonging to a different people, to ply him with questions about their own race and traditions. One young Maori, who had served in the European War, was listening to Mr. Best discussing with one of the older Maoris the old Maori conception of 10 (the esoteric Maori idea of the Supreme Being). The young man here-upon interrupted with the remark that “after all, the old-time Maori faith was like Christianity in that both religions worshipped only one God.” This comment showed clearly that he knew only the European teaching, since in the old Maori cult, Io, the supreme being, was esoteric knowledge known only to the higher order of the priest-hood and men of high rank (tohunga). The highest gods known to laymen and commoners were the departmental gods: Rongo, for agriculture; Tangaroa, for fish; Tawhirimatea, wind, etc. The name of Io was extremely tapu, and could only be mentioned in the tapu school of learning (whare wananga). The second-grade priests would not direct their ritual to anything higher than the departmental gods; under the departmental gods were the two grades of tribal gods and - 58 ancestral spirits to whom ritual could be directed by the lower orders.
With the destruction of the Maori tapu system, and the consequent extinction of the Maori mana, the Maori chieftainship necessarily decayed. The mana of the chiefs was automatically involved in the destruction. Few Europeans appear to understand how profoundly this has influenced the whole social and individual outlook of the Maoris, or how intimately this fact is connected with the depression and despondency which the Maoris will reveal to a sympathetic observer, but which is more usually attributed by Europeans to the Maori's incurable laziness—the last vice of which he was formerly guilty.
The social organization was peculiarly strong and efficient in the old days, because rulership, privilege, function and responsibility were so closely bound together. A chief was a greater slave to duty than the slave. The chief's sense of stewardship is well illustrated by an incident related by the Land's Court Officials: An old chief in one of the Northern Tribes in the North Island negotiated a sale of some of his tribal land. A sum of money was handed to the chief who, after much pondering, divided up the money, keeping nothing for himself.
Do the people regret the departed glories of their chiefs? The following discussion which took place between an old blind Maori of 75, a middle aged man, a middle aged woman, and a young man, may suggest the answer. All contributed to the discussion which took place in Maori, and all were unanimous.
I had asked through Mr. Best how it is that in the old days the people worked hard and cheerfully for their chiefs, while now the people have to have village committees. The old man answered: “Since the Pakeha destroyed the mana Maori nothing remains except the Pakeha law and authority (mana), and the Village Committees are a part of the Pakeha mana, whence they derive their authority, that is why the people do not work so hard or so quickly as the Maori people did under their own mana, yet even now there is still just a little Maori mana left. (The Committee is not recognised as Maori mana since it is a foreign institution.) For instance, a purely Maori matter is still discussed in much the old way, but the Committee takes no part in that; - 59 its members may take part as Maoris, but not as Committee-men. For instance, lately we have been meeting to discuss the welfare (ora) of the Maori, and those matters that your friend (indicating me) is enquiring about. With the Pakeha things are different, money is the real god of the Pakeha. In the old days women hoped to have industrious and hard workers as husbands, and tried to be married to them. If a husband proved idle and did not work she often left him, but nowadays the women only think of the money, and only care so long as their husbands have money and property.”
By undermining the Maori chieftainship the communal spirit became destroyed at the same time; for the true communism of primitive sociology is invariably aristocratic, in so far as its organization is at all developed. The democratic tendency inherent in the ethics, politics and economics of modern European Christendom is intensely individualistic. All emphasis is placed upon the ‘good’ and the supreme ‘value’ of the individual; collectively their ‘good’ must be measured quantitively, each individual ‘good’ being of equal value. But in the more primitive sociology of communistic aristocracy the ‘individual good’ becomes merged in and identified with the ‘good’ of the social unit, the clan or tribe, which is brought to a focus in, and articulated by, the chiefs. In terms of Jung's psychology the modern democrat of the European culture ‘introjects’ upon himself the collective good of the State, while the old-time Maori tribesman ‘projected’ his ‘good’ upon the clan or tribe. Consequently, while the former tendency now operates as a socially disintegrating one, the latter tended towards social integration.
The matter could be illustrated by describing the mechanism of any communal enterprise undertaken in pre-European times, as related by the old men. When, for instance, the need arose for building a whare puni, 6 or a whare whakairo, the matter would be proposed by an ariki (always an eldest son of a family of high rank, pedigree and primogeniture being all important to the Maori) and then discussed. If the enterprise was decided upon, and the labour involved more men than the hamlet could produce, the help of neighbouring hamlets might be required to co-operate. - 60 They would never think of inviting the neighbouring clanhamlets, these would always proffer their assistance without invitation, when they heard of the scheme. The men of the local clan-hamlet would assemble (the women would take no part, and the site would be tapu to them), and each stage of the operation would be discussed and decided by the people in consultation. Tasks would be allotted to various groups: one party to get the three main supports of the ridge pole, another to fell and bring in the huge tree for the ridge pole, another the side-posts, another for reeds, thatch, battens, rafters, another to do the carving, and so on. During the work the greater part of the food was supplied by the local hamlet, but the assisting visitors would probably bring a little food which they would contribute to the common pool. When the house is completed a big feast takes place. At this feast not only all who took part would be present, but also neighbouring clan-hamlets would be invited. The invitation would be conveyed by a special messenger (always a rangatira 7). The messenger as he approached the village to be invited would strip his clothes, and prancing into the village would start intoning a song of invitation. 8 The clans who had taken part in the building of that house would always retain some mana over the house. They would always refer to it as “their house.”
Before the feast an opening ceremony had to take place. The main object of the opening ceremony was to remove the tapu on the building so that the people could enter. This was accomplished when, in the course of the ceremony, while the tohunga (priest) was intoning his ritual, at a certain word a woman would cross the outer threshold, then advancing across the veranda of the whare, would at another word cross the inner threshold. By this means the tapu was removed and anyone could enter, since the female element being noa (common or ‘tapuless’) destroyed the tapu.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DECAY OF THE MAORI ART.
Among those who aver that cultural capacity is unrelated to ethnic dlistinctions, and that the fruits and evidences of cultural development may sufficiently be accounted for by - 61 the diffusion of cultural elements during the process of a socio-historical evolution, the development of art will be similarly explained. On the other hand, those of us who find this type of explanation inadequate, must show that the explanation of diffusion and a mechanical development cannot sufficiently account for the high excellence of artistic achievement at certain periods among certain races, only to be followed by the loss of that capacity when the race becomes absorbed or obliterated. For instance, how are we to account for the art of the Aurignacian and Magdalenian epochs, which are known to have been the work of one race, the art-loving Crô-Magnon, or how explain why with the extinction of that race its art too should have disappeared completely? 9 In accounting for the gradual elaboration and development of an art culture, an artistic instinct or inheritable ability must be taken into account as well as the technique of a handicraft, which may easily be passed from one race to another. It is, of course, true that the social environment, its organization and its values in whatever way they may be derived, colour and invest with their own ‘zeitgeist’ the art of a people; the expression and execution of these values, however, is limited and determined by the culture-potential or capacity inherent in the ethnic composition of the people, no less than by their acquired technique. Races and culture are relatively so seldom segregated for a long period of time that it is rarely possible to trace an art to its autochthonous origin, although there may be examples, as in the Crô-Magnon culture, where “the art of engraving and drawing was almost certainly autochthonous, because we trace it from its most rudimentary beginnings” 10 Somewhat more frequently, however, we find examples of a people like the Maoris, who, arriving in a new region with an already highly elaborated and complex culture of mixed origin, proceed to develop it along specialized lines during a long period of segregation, thus making it peculiarly their own. So we have to discover which elements of their art are peculiarly endemic to the people, and which may be traced back to some common root-origin by which they may be related to the arts of - 62 other regions such as those of Polynesia and Melanesia. According to Mr. A. Hamilton, whose authority may be trusted, “Maori traditions ascribe to Rauru, son of Toi, who lived in the Bay of Plenty about twenty-six generations ago, the invention of the present pattern or style of Maori carving. No other branch of the Polynesian race uses exactly the same designs, so that tradition is supported in claiming an endemic origin for the art of New Zealand.” (op. cit. p. 7.) Similarly, Mr. H. D. Skinner, who has made a scientific study of the evolution of Maori art, maintains that it is in its most characteristic forms native to New Zealand, though some of the motifs are derived from Melanesia. Particularly valuable is his work in tracing the evolution in design and form of characteristic Maori weapons, as, for instance, the evolution of the mere out of the adze head. 11 He has shown too that evolution of form, shape and design is often profoundly affected by the material worked upon, whether it be wood or greenstone, etc.
A good deal, at any rate, of the recent criticism of the evolutionary theory of art, represented by such works as A. C. Haddon's ‘Evolution in Art,’ and H. Balfour's ‘The Evolution of Decorative Art’ is beside the point. For instance, A. C. Goldenweiser in his ‘Early Civilization’ 12 devotes some space to disproving the idea that so elaborated and specialized an art as that of the Maori, the Marquesas or the Haida, can be looked upon as a stepping stone to something later, and less ‘primitive,’ such as modern European art. This may well be admitted, it may even, if required, be conceded that the Maori art is or was more specialized, and in some—perhaps many— respects may claim to have reached as perfected a standard as modern European art, provided, indeed, that anything sufficiently typical exists which can be looked upon as representing modern European art. At the same time, we must remember that all art histories have had an evolutionary history in the course of which a certain general standard of perfection and excellence has gradually been reached, often followed by a period of degradation, or a disappearance. It should also be remembered that so mixed and heterogeneous are most modern European communities that almost every - 63 ethnic type which has contributed to their racial history is represented in varying and continually altering proportions in their population, while cultural and artistic capacity is correspondingly uneven, the mean level and standard falling far below the capacity of a small minority. Comparisons drawn between the culture level of European nations and more homogeneous peoples are necessarily precarious, difficult, and seldom of much value.
The specialization of Maori art makes it a peculiarly reverberant index of Maori culture, and it is no less individual because some of its motifs show traces of having been derived from a common Indo-Oceanic source. This may be said, for instance, of the frequently recurring device representing the conventionalized human figure with the two supporting bird-headed manaia; a similar design is met with in Melanesia, and in India. Vishnu is sometimes depicted flanked by two bird-like figures. It is very probable, too, that the characteristic scroll pattern—the pitau spiral—derives its origin from Melanesia; other scroll patterns showing a close affinity, are found in both Melanesian and in Maori carving. If this surmise is correct the pitau is not originally a phyllomorph representing the circinate fern frond, but a zoomorph derived from the frigate bird; its Melanesian derivation having become lost, it subsequently was thought to represent the curling shoot of the tree-fern. 13
Many other less speculative examples from Melanesian art could be aduced illustrating the gradual metamorphosis of designs by accidental or conscious variation. This particular class of examples shows that the chief motive has been to embellish a house, weapon or other object with carving in the most pleasing and decorative way possible, and that, in such instances, the symbolical significance of the device may be so relatively unimportant that it may frequently be changed or may dissappear altogether. On the other hand, there exists both in Melanesian and Maori art patterns, devices and carved representations in which the symbolical meaning and significance is supremely important. Even where the symbolical meaning of a pattern - 64 or device may have become obscure its association with an individual or a social unit would often serve to indue it with tribal ‘value.’ “Each tribe has its own rendering of a conventional type in the ornamentation of an article …… departure from traditional lines was an aitua or evil omen to the carver.” 14
In this way art becomes highly charged with the socioreligious values of the community. It not only expresses the culture of the people, but indicates its condition; and by its coherence and consistency, by the direction of its evolution, whether towards greater perfection or towards decay, and by the importance with which it is regarded, it reveals the tendency towards integration or disintegration of the people it reflects.
This thought was in my mind as I looked at the newly carved barge boards or gables that had just been nailed in place on the renovated tin-roofed whare at Koriniti. The old discarded barge boards and the carved figure of the ‘ancestor’ lay discarded in a heap on one side. In that contrast between the hesitating and poorly carved lines on the thin ill-fitted sawn planks of the new gables, the garish European paints, the modern and untraditional introduction of a realistically painted bird, the patent evidences of the economy of labour, skill and taste, which characterised the renovated whare and on the other hand, the better workmanship, the bolder design, the more solid material and the evidences of a surer hand and eye, on the much better carved old barge boards that had been discarded, lay the whole story of a decaying culture. “Year after year the ‘devouring tooth of time’ has obliterated carvings and works of skill that can never be replaced—not only on account of lack of practised skill in the present representatives of the race, but on account of differences of environment caused by the tide of colonization.” 15
Need we express surprise at this decay? If we ask: How, or why, does art arise? Or when we seek for the origin and motive of art in the more primitive communities, we observe that by his attempt to beautify an object, to lavish skill, thought and care upon it, man thereby indicates that he values it. Similarly when man depicts anything, he - 65 does so because the thing depicted has special significance or meaning for him. When he lavishes his best decorative art on his canoes, on the images he makes of his gods or of his ancestors, on his houses—especially his sacred or communal houses—on the tattoo designs of his chiefs or his women, or in his depiction of the wild game he loves to hunt or the beasts he most dreads and wishes to avoid, he relates, in all these examples, the significance which these objects have for him and the place they occupy in his life. As his art evolves in elaboration he makes it also a medium for the symbolization of qualities, virtues and abstract ideas, which are ascribed to certain objects or associated with them Thus we see that the meaning or value of all objects implicated in man's daily life, and his desire to give expression to that value, is the motive force which produces art. Art is in this way closely related to religion and sociology, of which it is a reflex.
The destruction of the meaning and of the values that supply the motive force in the art involves necessarily the destruction of the impulse that leads to artistic expression. The meaning and values symbolized in Maori art have been destroyed, hence it is inevitable that the art itself should also have suffered corresponding destruction.
1 A demographic analysis supporting this thesis was embodied by the writer in a paper entitled ‘Variations in Sex Ratios as Indices of Racial Decline,’ and read before the Anthropology Section of the Pan-Pacific Science Congress held in Melbourne, August, 1923.
2 Pakeha, i.e., European.
3 Pa, fortified village.
4 The song starts:—
5 Tamarau gave Mr. Best the genealogy of his own clan (Ngati-Koura) back 34 generations, involving between 1, 400 and 1, 500 names, with many explanations of occurences.
6 Sleeping house, or a superior house adorned with carved designs.
7 Person of rank.
8 For the words of the song, see Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. 35, p. 108.
9 Cf. H. F. Osborn's review of Crô-Magnon art in “Men of the Old Stone Age.” Chaps. IV. and V.
10 Op. cit. p. 324.
11 ‘Evolution in Maori Art’. Jour. R. Anthrop. Inst., 1916
12 Op. cit. chap. IX.
13 Professor Haddon expressly rejects the theory of a Melanesian origin for the Maori scroll; more recent students of Maori art, however, favour the idea. It may, for the present, be left an open question.
14 Ex. Hamilton's ‘Maori Art.’