Volume 35 1926 > Volume 35, No. 139 > The value of tradition in Polynesian research, by Te Rangi Hiroa, (P. H. Buck), p 181-203
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TRADITION has been defined as the handing down of opinion or practices to posterity unwritten. This definition can only apply to a people with a written language. In the case of a people without writing, all information whether applying to the past, present, or even future, must of necessity be handed down to posterity unwritten if transmitted at all. With the native races, the term tradition has come to be more closely associated with historical narratives that, in the absence of writing, have been orally transmitted. For the purposes of this paper, tradition may be regarded as history derived from an unwritten source.

Civilized man has become more and more accustomed to learning through the eye and less and less through the ear. The eye of civilized man depends on notes and books. The ear of uncivilized man has to depend on memorizing. As the taking of notes increases under our modern educational system, so the cultivation of memory decreases. Even for the passing of examinations, memorization is often of a transient nature. It has thus become difficult for civilized man to adequately realize what the human memory is capable of amassing or to credit the vast amount of information that uncivilized man has handed down to posterity unwritten.

Many people consider tradition to be so full of error that it is of little or no value in ethnological research. It seems natural that the less a person is capable of trusting his own memory, the more he distrusts tradition. This attitude of condemning without investigation is, to say the least of it, unscientific. In seeming contrast to the distrust of tradition is the ready acceptance of unverified printed matter. It is, however, just as unscientific to accept the one without confirmation as to discard the other without investigation. Some authors have earned the right to be - 182 regarded as veracious,—but many have not. Much of the ethnological data concerning native races has been derived from the writings of people who had no training in the importance of accurate detail. Sailors, travellers, traders, and missionaries were the first to come in contact with native races of the Pacific. They naturally viewed the manners and customs of uncivilized man from their own culture-plane, and many could not or would not see things from the same angle as the natives. In many cases, ignorance and prejudice created a barrier that was rendered even greater by the barrier of speech. Owing to the rapid changes that have occurred in the culture and even physique of native races exposed to civilization, the ill-considered statements of many early writers have assumed a value that is often out of all proportion to their actual merit. Useful information has been recorded as regards material things, but when it comes to the interpretation of the abstract, such writings stand on more doubtful ground than ever did tradition. There is no comparison between the inaccurate writings of a globe-trotting European and the ancient traditions of a cultured barbarian.

A glaring example of what ethnologists have to be on their guard against is the following, quoted by Elsdon Best 1 from one W. Tyrone Power who lived in New Zealand for many years.

“The Maoris have no history, no songs or ballads, and scarcely even the semblance of a tradition to roughly shadow out the past. No Homer or Ossian has handed down in popular strains the name of warrior, sage, or poet. No Druids or priests have kept alive oral tradition; and there is barely an individual in New Zealand whose antiquarian lore ascends beyond his own times. Their solitary tradition is that they are descended from Maui, who, with a canoe load of companions, came from ‘somewhere’ and settled here. From these uncertain data, there is a sad hiatus in Maori chronology, the next fact rewarding one's researches being the arrival of Captain Cook in the island.”

With regard to the phrase “rewarding one's researches,” one can only say that the reward was quite in keeping with the value of the researches. The extensive - 183 writings of Percy Smith, Elsdon Best, John White, and others, together with 35 volumes of the Polynesian Journal, teem with Maori traditional history. Over a thousand songs have been recorded, and not one-half of the labour has been completed. In the two memoirs of the Polynesian Society on “Things Celestial” and “Things Terrestrial,” we have the oral traditions transmitted through only one of the many priests of the several Houses of Learning. Best states that Tamarau Waiari in the “nineties” of last century, took three days before the Native Land Court to recite the genealogy of the Ngati-Koura sub-tribe of Tuhoe. The completed table showed the descent of all family groups, and all living persons of the clan, from a single person who flourished about 800 years ago. It necessitated the recital, in correct order, of over 1400 names. It may be further mentioned that the Board of Maori Ethnological Research has just published Mr. Best's histroy of the Tuhoe tribe. This relates to one tribe only, and contains over 1200 pages, whilst the genealogical tables are printed in a second volume. Heaven protect any native race from the Powers of this world.

TRANSMISSION OF TRADITION.—Polynesian historical narratives were not idle stories that were bandied about from lip to lip without supervision or restraint. Taking the Maori as an example, their oral histroy was transmitted from generation to generation in proper courses of study by priests and teachers who had themselves graduated in the Whare Wananga or sacred Houses of Learning. The god Tane obtained from Io the Parentless the three baskets of knowledge. They contained the knowledge of Things Celestial, Things Terrestrial, and Ritual. The contents of those baskets were taught in properly constituted Houses of Learning, which had an unbroken succession from ancient times. In Best's 2 monograph, a list of the ancient schools that succeeded one another is given. The wise men of the various canoes, after they settled in New Zealand, established their schools. Thus Turi of Aotea built Matangirei at Patea. The Tokomaru school is mentioned in the following lament:—

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“O Friend, recline in death on Tokomaru,
The Canoe of Whata.
Rakeiora it was who hither paddled
And landed the children.
The house was named Marae-rotuhia
And stood on the banks of Mohakatino.”

Rakeiora was navigator, priest, and professor, and taught the tradition of Tokomaru in the sacred house of Maraerotuhia. Too much emphasis cannot be laid on this phase of the canoe traditions, the almost immediate establishment of the Schools of Learning on their arrival in New Zealand in order that the unwritten records might be carried on in unbroken succession.

As generation succeeded generation, the genealogical tables grew in length, and the historical narratives, rich in detail, increased in volume. When successful voyagers returned, they told their adventures to admiring audiences. They were cross-examined by the old men, and the official narratives were added to the traditions that were handed on. Thus when Kupe the Navigator returned to Tahiti from New Zealand, we find the old men questioning him about the physical geography of the new land, the character of the soil for agricultural purposes, the foods, and inhabitants, and asking the significant question: “In what direction must the bow of the canoe be held to reach this land?” The information retailed was handed down in the school. On this traditional information, Toi and Whatonga sailed down to the new land eight generations later. As a result, various tribes of New Zealand carry their descent back for from 28 to 30 generations to Toi Kai-rakau who dwelt at Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty. On the traditional sailing directions of Kupe, there came another eight generations later the historic colonizing fleet of canoes. All tribes in New Zealand trace their ancestry back to one or another of those canoes which are famous in song and story. The arrival was from 22 to 23 generations ago, or approximately about the year A.D. 1350. Tradition states that they brought the seed of their food plants the paper mulberry tree, and the dog, with them. If tradition is worthless, and the coming of the Maori due to drift voyages, how can we account for the presence in New Zealand of non-indigenous tropical food plants, the Broussonetia papyrifera, and the dog, when the - 185 first European navigator, Captain Cook, arrived at these shores?

The later schools were not so much a separate house specially built as they were courses of instruction taught in a house rendered tapu, or sacred, for the occasion. The sons of chiefs and priests were selected for instruction. They went through an initiation ceremony, and observed a certain ritual during their course that stimulated to the highest pitch of mental endeavour. The thirst for knowledge was so great that graduates of one school have visited other schools to exchange views and add to their scholastic attainments.

PRIDE OF RACE.—There could be no native race, or any race for that matter, that took a greater pride in their traditional history than the Polynesian, as exemplified by the Maori. The expert genealogist who could recite the innumberable ramifications and alliances of the tribe, and the orator who could call up the glorious achievements of the past, were admired and honoured. No one of any rank or prestige could maintain his position without having a thorough knowledge of tribal history. To a race given to public speaking on every possible occasion, it was natural that the gift of oratory was highly developed. Oratory apart from modulation of the voice and appropriate gesture, was based on a wide knowledge of traditional history, mythology, genealogy, and an extensive repertoire of proverbs, incantations, and classical songs. Apart from the sacred schools young men learned their traditional history from their elders in order that when etiquette demanded that they should speak at public functions they should not bring shame upon themselves or their family by exposing their ignorance.

My own youth was spent amongst a European community, so that I had little opportunity of coming under the influence of the elders of my mother's people. At the age of eighteen, I left college and visited the homes of some of my fellow Maori students on the East Coast. As I was a guest from another Maori tribe, I was publicly welcomed by the local chiefs at the various village meeting-houses. Their speeches teemed with references to ancient Maori lore and tribal history, and were punctuated with classical songs and incantations. Never shall I forget the tide of shame that surged through me as with trembling knees I stood - 186 up to reply in the crowded meetings, and with faltering speech sought to justify my existence. I had been taught English grammar, but knew little of the beautiful idioms of the Maori tongue. I knew as much as a youth of eighteen should know about the written history of England, but nothing of the unwritten traditions of the Maori. I knew the date of the Norman Conquest but was ignorant of how many generations had elapsed since the coming of the historic colonizing canoes from the tropical homeland in distant Hawaiki. My ignorance appalled me, and ever since I have sought to rectify the omissions of a mis-spent youth.

SAFEGUARD TO ACCURACY.—Based on an organized and continuous system of teaching, and stimulated by pride of race, Maori traditions are as thorough and as accurate an account of the history of the past as any unwritten record can hope to be. Though exaggeration may have crept in in unessentials, and different schools may differ in some details, there was a very strong safeguard against wilful departure from the oral texts of the schools. This was the fear of punishment by supernormal agencies. Much of the knowledge of the schools was regarded as tapu, sacred. 3. The students as well as the teachers were rendered tapu during the course of instruction by the opening ritual. In the absence of written note-taking, the lectures had to be committed to memory. But the teachers were not satisfied with a general grasp of the curriculum. The only standard for a pass was the perfect memorization of all details, even to the actual words. Thus in the ritual pertaining to the various gods, the incantations had to be committed to memory wordperfect. When placating the gods, if a single mistake of a word occurred, it was the fearsome hapa, a broken ritual. The supernormal agencies that were being placated to ensure success, brought down disaster and even death on the - 187 unfortunate guilty of a lapse of memory. With an impending fear of punishment, perfect memorization was stimulated, and any attempt to depart from the text was, to say the least, discouraged. The dire consequences of mistakes was carefully in-grained into the minds of the pupils by their teachers. Thus did the keepers of the ancient traditions safeguard the purity of the unwritten text.

LANGUAGE IN WHICH TRADITIONS ARE EXPRESSED.—The Maori had his own idioms and forms of speech, which may differ widely from that of the student of another race who may be studying Polynesian traditions. The Maori had no scientific terminology with forms of speech capable of only one exact meaning. He was close to nature, and he had a vivid imagination which delighted in a mytho-poetic form of expression. He personified abstract things, not because he was so material that he could not conceive the abstract, but simply because that form of expression appealed to his poetic nature. He was apt at naming. Just as he named his voyaging canoe and gave proper names to the steering-paddles, the bailer, the pole, and the anchor, so he personified the various phenomena of nature without sacrificing poetic thought. Thus he named the sun, Tane, the god; the dawn, Hine Titama—The Dawn Maiden; and the night, Hine-nui-te-po—the Great Goddess of Night. When in Maori myth, the god Tane pursues the beauteous Dawn Maiden across the world toward the west until she descends the Long Slope of Tahekeroa and becomes the Goddess of Night, the Maori merely expresses in mytho-poetic language, as Mr. Best 4 has pointed out, that the dawn must flee away to the west before the rising sun, and be succeeded by night. The trouble is that when people of lesser poetic fancy study these tales of a lower culture, imagination is curbed in the scientific search for exact details. Our tendency is to interpret tradition literally in the language expressed, and lose the inner thought through the outer garb. Thus the myth of Maui fishing up the North Island of New Zealand as a fish on a fishing-line is so obviously ridiculous that we overlook the echo of a traditional Polynesian explorer who by discovering a new island literally fished it up out of the depths of the unknown. As time - 188 elapses a tradition based on historical fact may by accretions of the marvellous become distorted into a myth.

Similarly, when the proud descendant of Kupe the navigator, generally credited with discovering New Zealand, sings in honour of the achievements of his ancestor, we are inclined to treat his song as an example of the childish effusions of a race on a lower culture stage.

“I will sing, I will sing of my ancestor Kupe.
He it was who severed the land
So that Kapiti, Mana, and Aropawa
Were divided off and stood apart.”

Literally speaking, it is childish to ask a European to believe it. The fact remains, however, that Kupe was the first recorded man to sail between those islands and prove that they were separated from the mainland. This is all the poet intended to convey. He little thought that he might be misunderstood by the literal interpreters of another race who look askance on his claims to deep-sea navigation.

LITERAL INTERPRETATION BY THE MAORI HIMSELF.—Even the Maori, who had not graduated in the School of Learning, was inclined at times to attribute a literal meaning to incidents of tradition. In Wellington Harbour, there are two small islands named Somes Island and Ward Island. The pre-European Maori names are Matiu and Makaro. Matiu and Makaro were two daughters of Kupe referred to above. I have heard old Maori stoutly maintain that these two islands were the actual petrified remains of the daughters of Kupe. I do not know whether these later historians were influenced by the Biblical story of the conversion of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt. Te Matorohanga, a graduate of a recognized school, in his account of the adventures of Kupe, mentions that Kupe was accompanied by his wife and daughters, and in the ordinary narrative style goes on to say that the two small islands in Wellington Harbour were named Matiu and Makaro after those daughters. They, however, returned alive to Hawaiki. Kupe was a Polynesian master-mariner, and like European explorers named geographical discoveries after friends or relatives. It seems a human tendency to subsequently regard rocks, hills, and islands that have been so named as the transformed remains of the people honoured by the discoverer.

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ADDITIONS TO TRADITION.—Sometimes we, or the Maori themselves, read into a tradition something that the original narrators of the tradition never attempted to convey. Thus in the Mokau-Kawhia area on the West Coast, there is a littoral plant known as the tainui plant (Pomaderris tainui). The Maori name in full is Nga Rango-o-Tainui (the skids of Tainui). The “Tainui” was one of the historic colonizing fleet of A.D. 1350. When its long voyage was over, it was beached in the Kawhia Harbour and hauled over skids to its last resting place in a grove of manuka below the sacred place of Ahurei. Great interest was taken in the tainui plant because it was said to have grown from the skids of the canoe which had been brought from Hawaiki. But alas! botanists revealed the painful fact that the Pomaderris tainui did not grow in the Society Group where Hawaiki had been located. Here then was another traditional statement that had been proved to be wrong. But was it wrong? Had the statement ever been made?

Let us reconstruct the story. Picture the “Tainui” canoe paddling into the Kawhia Harbour. It beaches at Maketu. There is a new land to be settled with room for all. The long sea voyages are over. It is decided to draw the canoe well up on the shore beyond the reach of the tide. Wooden skids are needed. Shrubs with stems of the requisite thickness are growing plentifully along the shore. Voyaging canoes did not carry skids. The native plant provides the skids, rango. Over the skids, the canoe is drawn to its final abiding place. The plant that provided the skids was new to the voyagers. There was nothing resembling it in their old home. It had to be given a name. What was more appropriate than Nga Rango-o-Tainui, the skids of Tainui? Association of ideas, probably in more recent years, explained the name by saying that the plant itself came from Hawaiki. It is erroneous explanations such as these that throw discredit on the truth of tradition.

CROSS-BEARINGS ON TRADITION.—It is necessary with tradition, as with other avenues of research, to endeavour to get confirmation from other sources. Civilized man, to locate a position exactly, takes cross-bearings with a prismatic compass. The Maori when he first found himself on a good fishing ground, located the site on the surface of the sea by glancing ashore and getting two natural objects in - 190 line. When satisfied with the permanent nature of his landmarks, he glanced in another direction and selected two other objects in line. He knew that these two lines converged upon himself and the new fishing ground that he had discovered. All he had to do in the future was to paddle out to sea keeping two of his landmarks in line behind him. He kept on until he saw his other two landmarks in line. He was then at the crossing of his bearings and above his fishing-ground. In Polynesian research, we are trying to locate some of the things that happened in the past. Tradition gives us one line along which we may venture forth but we are not sure how far we should go. We require another line from the traditions of another branch of the race or from another branch of science. By such metaphorical cross-bearings, we hope to locate the fishing-grounds of the past.

CONFIRMATION FROM OTHER TRADITIONS.—There is a tradition that the ancestors of the Maori made voyages between the Sandwich Islands and their own Hawaiki or Tahiti of the Society Group. Te Matorohanga 5 gives the Maori tradition as follows:—

“In laying a course for the canoe to Aotearoa from Ahuahu (which is the full name though some call it Ahu), come straight to the south from Maui-taha and Maui-pae. These are twin islands outside of Ahuahu. The bows of the canoe must be directed straight to the south and the same course leads on to Hawaiki.”

Though Aotearoa is the North Island of New Zealand, remember the above directions refer to the first part of the voyage. Later on in the narrative, the directions from Hawaiki to New Zealand are given as a little to the right of the setting sun, which Percy Smith maintained was correct from Tahiti. Thus we have a tradition of the sailing directions from an island in the north named Ahuahu or Ahu to Tahiti.

In a Hawaiian tradition given by S. M. Kamakau and translated by Professor Alexander, the sailing directions are given for the voyage from that group to Kahiki (Tahiti). Hoku-paa (the North Star) was left directly astern; or in other words, they sailed south. When they arrived at the

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MAP 1.
Showing Maui-taha and Maui-pae.
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Piko-o-Wakea (the equator), they lost sight of the North Star, and Newe was the southern guiding star.

According to Professor Alexander, the Island of Oahu, upon which Honolulu is situated, was originally called Ahu, the O being subsequently prefixed.

Thus we have the traditions of two widely-separated branches of the Polynesian race, describing voyages south to Tahiti. In one, the northern point of departure is the the Island of Ahu and in the other, the location is definitely the Hawaiian Group. In the latter, one of the most important islands is that of Oahu originally known as Ahu. If we look at a map, which was denied to the teachers of the traditions, we find that the sailing direction of south was approximately correct for Tahiti is only ten degrees east of south from Hawaii. This in itself is significant, but not enough. (See Map 1.)

The Maori tradition says they sailed south from two twin islands named Maui-taha and Maui-pae which are outside of Ahu. If we again look at a map of Hawaii, we find outside of Ahu (Oahu) in a south-easterly direction, the two twin islands of Lanai and Kahoolawe. They are off the west coast or to the side of the large island of Maui. Both Maui-taha and Maui-pae mean Maui to the side. They are little Mauis at the side of big Maui. These are the Maori traditional names for the twin islands, and from their situation, there could be no better descriptive names for Lanai and Kahoolawe than Maui-taha and Maui-pae. It is not stretching imagination too far to consider the two sets of names as applying to the same islands. We have thus advanced a step further toward an effective cross-bearing from another tradition.

The Maori tradition says they took their final bearings from these two islands. As they were going south, it follows that the most southerly of the two must have been the last point of departure. The most southerly is Kahoolawe. If we now turn to Hawaiian tradition, we find it definitely stated that the Hawaiian voyagers left from a point or channel called Ke ala-i-Kahiki, the Road to Tahiti. According to Percy Smith it is a point on Kahoolawe. If I remember rightly, Admiral Rodman, of the United States Navy, told me it was the channel between Kahoolawe and Maui. Whichever it is, the Road to Tahiti which is the Hawaiian - 193 final point of departure, is definitely associated with Kahoolawe, the most southerly of the twin islands. Our cross-bearing is now complete. When we consider that the Maori sailing-directions are attributed by tradition to Kupe, who discovered New Zealand in approximately the year A.D. 950, and that for nearly nine centuries they had ceased to be of practical use to the Maori, we must be struck by the fact that oral tradition has retained in a surprising manner the records of so long ago.

THE MAGIC CALABASH.—The Hawaiian voyage to Tahiti was 1750 nautical miles. The equator lay somewhere about mid-way. It was named Te Piko-o-Wakea, the Navel of Space. It was the mid-point in the vast space of ocean. The Hawaiian tradition is quite definite about it, because when it was crossed the North Star of the northern hemisphere sank into the sea behind, and the voyage was finished with a star of the southern hemisphere as guide. The return voyage from Tahiti was fraught with romance. Admiral Rodman, quoted above, made inquiries into the Hawaiian voyages whilst stationed at Honolulu, and I am indebted to him for the following information:—

“At the time of the return, the prevailing wind was from the south east so the voyagers took the starboard tack; they sailed to the north east. They kept on until they recrossed the equator and picked up Hokupaa, the North Star. The problem was how to find Hawaii in the vast expanse of ocean. They knew they were too far to the east, but what course could they lay from the equator and what guides had these neolithic navigators who were without modern compass, sextant, and chart? They took the only course that seems feasible. They kept on until they judged that the North Star was the same height above the horizon as they remembered it in Hawaii. Then the prow of the canoe was turned to the west and, checking the height of the star each night, they sailed boldly and surely down to Hawaii.”

In the beginning, the height of the star must have been judged by eye; but the realization of the eye's limitations led to mechanical invention. Some wise Polynesian navigator, whose name is unfortunately lost to posterity, invented the magic calabash. An ordinary calabash, some-what deep, had the top cut off, leaving a vessel with a perfectly level rim. Some distance below the rim, four - 194 holes were bored through on the same level and equidistant from each other. When the way-worn voyagers had crossed the line and the North Star rose higher and higher, the magic calabash was consulted. It was filled with water to the level of the holes. Keeping it perfectly level so that the water would not spill through the holes, the eye was applied to one of the holes and an observation made. When the North Star appeared on the far rim of the calabash, it was the same height as in Hawaii and the course was set due west. Why was it the same height as in Hawaii? Simply because the calabash was prepared in Hawaii and the rim whittled down after various observations until the star occupied that position. Of all the Polynesian exploits in the Pacific, none can appeal to us more than the thought of neolithic man boldly making a voyage of nearly two thousand miles, crossing the line, and finding his position for the run home by taking a shot at the North Star through the holes in a calabash.

But this is tradition. We require confirmation. It is happily forthcoming. Admiral Rodman was enabled to examine one of these traditional calabashes. The angle between the level of the water and the line from the observation hole to the far rim of the vessel was measured with scientific instruments. It proved to be an angle of 19 degrees. Hawaii is on the 19th degree of latitude north. “Thus,” said Admiral Rodman, “they had an instrument of mathematical accuracy.” Tradition is hereby vindicated from the highest source.

DATE OF DEPARTURE TO NEW ZEALAND.—The date of departure of the last colonizing group of canoes from Hawaiki (Tahiti) to New Zealand has been approximately fixed as 1350. This has been calculated from the average number of generations from various ancestors who came in those canoes. The time of the year in which the canoes set sail is of great traditional interest. According to the version from the “Takitimu” canoe, the branch or division of the year was Tatau-uru-ora. From the Maori calendar, this corresponds roughly with November. The Polynesian months were divided into nights, and not days as with Europeans. The night of the month on which the canoes left was the Orongonui. This in most Maori tables is the 28th, but in some it is the 27th. The Orongonui night - 195 follows the Otane. They were named after the gods Tane and Rongo.

Night Maori Mangaia Tahiti Hawaii
26th Otane Tane
27th Otane Rongonui Ro'onui Kane
28th Orongonui Lono

The above table shows that the same names, in the same order and denoting practically the same period, were used by four important branches of the Eastern Polynesians. The initial o in the Maori and Mangaian names are merely prefixes, the Tahitians drop the ng sound and the Hawaiians change t into k and r into l. This same order and similarity of names is not so closely observed with the other nights. It seems likely, therefore, that the above dates were of so great importance that they were kept unchanged by these various branches of the race. According to the Takitimu tradition, the right date for sailing to New Zealand was some time about the end of November. It must be noted, however, that the Maori month was a lunar month, and would not, usually, coincide with our calendar month. The lunar or synodic month is 29.5 days (though in law it is reckoned as 28 days); but as it starts with the new moon, and the new moon may appear on any night of the calendar month, it is evident that there can be little actual correspondence between the nights of starting of the Maori months and our calendar months. The exact corresponding date of the ancient sailing for New Zealand could be derived only by an astronomical calculation,—and then only if we knew the exact year in which it took place. This we are not so sanguine as to believe we know, though we place it approximately at 1350.

Another tradition from the “Tainui” canoe shows that the sailing date was shortly before the first quarter of the new moon. The 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th nights of the moon are known as Nga Tamatea, each being a Tamatea with some qualifying word. The period of the Tamatea nights was looked upon as being rough and stormy at sea. When the “Tainui” canoe was ready to sail, the old men who were remaining behind strongly advised the chief and his crew to wait until the Tamatea nights were over. But Hoturoa, eager to set out for the new land, said: “No; I will - 196 meet and fight the Tamateas in the open sea.” This proximity to the first quarter, shows that Hoturoa was prepared to sail somewhere about the end of the month.

Rarotonga in the Cook Group was a port of call for most of the canoes. The Rarotongan traditions say that the right time to sail down to Avaiki Ta'uta'u, as New Zealand was called by them, was at the end of November or early in December.

Further confirmation of the date of sailing comes from tradition supported by botany. Early European navigators, in observing the sailing powers of Polynesian sea-going canoes with a fair wind, have stated that seven knots an hour was easily accomplished. From this, Mr. Elsdon Best 6 shows that the journey from Rarotonga would take about 15 days. If the canoes left for New Zealand toward the end of November, they must have reached their destination by the middle of December. We find various canoes of the fleet sharing the common tradition that when the fleet made their landfall at Whangaparaoa in the Bay of Plenty, the shores were ablaze with the scarlet blossoms of the pohutukawa. This is stressed in Maori tradition by the fact that one of the chiefs cast his red head-dress or kura into the sea, saying: “There are kura in abundance in the new land that lies before us.” The pohutukawa (Metrosideros tomentosa) is in full bloom during the month of December. Thus we have Maori and Rarotongan traditions supporting each other, and further confirmed by the flowering of the pohutukawa.


(a.) RA'IATEA.—The captain of the “Aotea” canoe was Turi. The Ngati-Ruanui tribe of South Taranaki, own him as an ancestor. Their tribal saying is:—

“We will never be lost—the seed which was sown from Rangiatea.”

Percy Smith has shown from Tahitian traditions that Turi was a well-known ancestor who lived on the Island of Ra'iatea in the Society Group and left for other parts. As the people of this group have dropped the ng sound, we can now readily understand the New Zealand descendants of Turi saying that they come from the seed which was - 197 sown from Rangiatea or Ra'iatea. As Ra'iatea contained the famous sacred marae of Opoa which furnished stones for sacred marae in newly-discovered islands, there was probably some further significance in the confident assertion that they would never be lost or die out.

(b.) RANGITAHUA.—Tradition records that in mid-ocean, the “Aotea” landed on the island of Rangitahua to repair and tighten up the top-sides of the canoe which had been loosened by the rough seas that she had encountered. Here a dog was killed as a sacrifice to the god Maru. The necessary repairs were effected, and she proceeded on her voyage. The only islands on the course from Rarotonga to New Zealand are the Kermadecs. In the Auckland Museum, there is a stone adze and other fragments that were collected on Sunday Island in the Kermadecs. The adze is badly chipped on the cutting edge, and is of the Rarotongan type. The presence of such artifacts on Sunday Island conclusively proves that, like other uninhabited islands of the Pacific, it was used as a calling place by Polynesian navigators. Reference to Map 2 leaves little doubt that Sunday Island is the Rangitahua of Aotea tradition.

(c.) THE KARAKA TREE.—Another tradition states that it was Turi who brought the karaka (Corynocarpus laevigata) to New Zealand. The historians of other canoes admit this. The startling thing is that though the karaka does not grow in the Society or Cook Groups, it is found on Sunday Island or Rangitahua. We have seen that the “Aotea” called at Sunday Island whilst the fleet did not. This confirmation of tradition from the geographical distribution of plants is exceedingly important. We must remember that the tradition was handed down orally by generations of Maori, whilst botanical confirmation by European scientists comes over five centuries after the event. There is thus every probability that Turi not only called at Sunday Island but that he brought with him the berries of the karaka which were planted in New Zealand. It is significant also that the karaka does not appear to be a member of the inland forest; when it is found inland, as at Lake Taupo, it is usually found with second-growth timber, so that it grows in what was evidently once a clearing, indicating Maori occupation. As a rule it is found round the coast-line in the vicinity of old Maori forts and villages.

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The traditional association of Turi with the karaka also raises the question of the sailing-date of the “Aotea.” The “Aotea” did not accompany the fleet which landed at Whangaparaoa. Neither is its landing associated in tradition with the flowering of the pohutukawa. If Turi brought the karaka berries from Sunday Island, his attention must have been especially attracted to them. The attraction must have been the ripe berries, the outer part of which could be eaten. The inner kernel part of the berry which lies beneath the tree after the ripe fruits have fallen, could hardly attract attention, for though it subsequently formed an important food supply in New Zealand, it had to be cooked and soaked in water to rid it of the poisonous principle contained in the uncooked kernel. There being no such berries in the islands from whence they came, the above method of treatment must have been developed later in New Zealand. We repeat then that the berries of the karaka must have been ripe when Turi and his men landed on Sunday Island. The date at which the karaka is ripe on Sunday Island should give us the period of the year at which “Aotea” made her voyage. Mr. W. R. B. Oliver 7 who studied the vegetation of the Kermadec Islands, states that the Corynocarpus laevigata flowers in September, and the berries are over in March. The berries are thus ripe in February and March, and this shows that the “Aotea” made her voyage a couple of months later than the usual period when the fair winds prevailed. Instead of being well on her way in the early half of December, she beached on Sunday Island in February or even in March.

The above cross-bearing from the ripening of the karaka throws other light on incidents mentioned in the canoe tradition. We have seen that rough weather was encountered and necessitated repairs to the canoe. There is the significant incident of the argument at sea between Potoru of “Te Ririno” canoe and Turi as to the correct course. One held that the course should be toward the setting sun whilst the other maintained that it should be toward the rising sun. The sailing directions handed down from Kupe were that the bow of the canoe should be held a little to the right of the setting sun. According to Percy - 199 Smith, the sun sets in a direction south-west by west when viewed from Rarotonga in the month of November. This he showed was the right direction from Rarotonga to New Zealand. But some traditions give the sailing directions as a little to the left of the setting sun. It seems probable that, influenced by the later season, both “Aotea” and “Te Ririno” were carried more to the west than usual. Most likely the argument which arose was to whether they should keep on going to the right of the setting sun or keep more to the left of it. However, the two canoes parted company. The descendants of “Aotea,” to justify their ancestor, say that Potoru was lost, and associate his fate with the punishment meted out to obstinacy. Other traditions say that Potoru landed on the Boulder Bank near Nelson. Thus the argument could only have concerned a few points of difference, and not the cardinal points of east and west.

The accompanying map 2 shows the direct route followed by the fleet and the more westerly one followed by “Aotea.” It should again be noted that the canoes which arrived in December had no argument about the course, called at no island, and lay no claims to having brought the karaka. It is only the “Aotea,” that called at Rangitahua, that lays claim to the introduction of that plant.

Ere leaving the subject of the karaka, there are strong reasons against Turi being responsible for all the plants in New Zealand. The karaka was found growing in the Chatham Islands when the Maori tribes went over from New Zealand in the early half of the 19th century. Therefore, if introduced into those islands by man, it must have been by the Moriori precursors of the Maori. But according to Moriori tradition supported by their genealogical tables, they left New Zealand for the Chathams well before the arrival of Turi from Sunday Island. Hence the karaka was in New Zealand before the arrival of Turi. On the other hand, if the plant was indigenous to the Kermadecs and the Chathams, it seems hardly likely that nature would have skipped over the intervening land mass of New Zealand. Either way, Turi is robbed of the sole credit of introducing the plant.

ARAWA TRADITION.—The “Arawa” canoe tradition gives the cause of their migration as being due to the quarrel between their ancestors and the great high chief

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MAP 2.
Showing the direct route of the fleet and the more westerly one of “Aotea.”
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Uenuku. This was due to Tama-te-kapua and his brother appropriating fruit from a tree that sheltered the house of Uenuku. In tradition as popularly told, the fruit tree was referred to as te poporo whakamarumaru o Uenuku, the sheltering poporo of Uenuku. The poporo in New Zealand is the Solanum nigrum and Solanum aviculare. The yellow berries are eaten by children, but were never important enough to be considered a food-supply. When used as the cause of the migration of a people, the story becomes childish.

Mr. James Cowan 8 was the first to draw attention to the lament of the Arawa chieftainess, Hinewai, who, in her lament for Te Ariki, sings as follows:—

“Rakau tapu o Hawaiki o tera taha o Tawhitinui,
Ko te kuru whakamarumaru o te whare o Uenuku.”
“Sacred tree of Hawaiki, from the further side of Tawhitinui,
It is the sheltering kuru of the House of Uenuku.”

Here in a classical lament reference is made to an ancient historical event that was fraught with disaster. The original archaic word is retained and we find the word kuru instead of poporo. There is no fruit-bearing tree in New Zealand known as the kuru. We have to go back to Hawaiki where the tree of strife originally grew. There we find that kuru is the Polynesian name for the bread fruit (Artocarpus incisa). The bread fruit is one of the most important foods of Polynesia. With an increasing population, the supply of food must be correspondingly increased. The time arrives when the two will no longer balance. Fighting inevitably follows and the position rights itself through a section of the community being driven out or leaving voluntarily to prevent forcible eviction. When we consider that it was Uenuku who also quarrelled with Turi over the smallness of the food-offering sent him, we cannot help thinking that the above conditions had come to pass in Hawaiki. When the partial localization of the tradition is corrected by restoring the bread fruit in the place of the substituted poporo, our tradition is saved from childishness and restored to its rightful place of being a historical record of the highest value.

Another detail is explained. Of all ancestral figures carved in the picture-galleries of tribal meeting-houses, that - 202 of Tama-te-kapua can easily be recognized by reason of his being depicted as standing on stilts. The famous fruit foraging expedition was conducted on stilts. In New Zealand, the poporo is merely a shrub and the use of stilts has usually been regarded as a strategic move to prevent footprints being detected. But the restoration of the bread fruit tree into the tradition shows that the stilts served a double purpose, in securing fruit that would otherwise have been out of reach, as well as leaving no footprints.

CULTIVABLE FOOD PLANTS.—Tradition states that the cultivable food-plants were brought in the canoes of the Hawaiki migration of 22 generations ago. Thus Toi who came from Tahiti in 1150 on a search expedition took the name of Toi Kairakau, Toi the Wood-eater, because he had to rely for vegetable food on the rhizome of the fern, Pteris esculenta, and the pith and berries of indigenous plants. Many traditions contain references to the lack of the kumara (Ipomoea batatas) during the period before the coming of the fleet. Thus the Arai-te-uru canoe is said to have sailed from the South Island to get the kumara from the homeland. Te Aratawhao is also said to have sailed from the Bay of Plenty. In connection with the latter, there is a curious incident. Two men are said to have landed in the Bay of Plenty and to have been conducted to Toi's village. On having the local food placed before them, they produced some kao or preserved kumara, and having mashed it with water in a wooden vessel, presented it to their hosts. Toi is said to have been ignorant of the kumara, and his desire for the plant led to the fitting up of Te Aratawhao. The curious thing is that if Toi did not really know the kumara, then it must have been introduced into the Tahiti area after his departure. On the other hand, it seems more likely that the story has been localized on to Toi and his name used instead of that of one of his descendants who through being born in New Zealand did not know the kumara. However, these conflicting factors are worth remembering in case other data concerning the advent of the kumara into Polynesia come to light.

With the coming of the fleet, we get definite information as regards the bringing of the kumara. The “Arawa” as a punishment got into a whirlpool. Some of her cargo was thrown overboard, but Whakaotirangi saved some of the seed tubers in the corner of a basket. Hence the Arawa - 203 saying as applied to the kumara, “Te rokiroki a Whakaotirangi,” “the tied-up corner of the basket of Whakaotirangi.” Similarly, Rongorongo, the wife of Turi of “ Aotea,” is said to have some seed tubers in a double belt round her waist to protect them from the salt water and the cold. Hence the honorific name of the kumara in the Taranaki district is “te tatua o Rongorongo,” “the belt of Rongorongo.” The taro (Colocasia antiquorum) was also brought. When Cook and Banks landed in New Zealand, they found these food-plants being cultivated. Botanists have recognized that they are not indigenous to New Zealand, and hence tradition is again supported by the science of botany. The yam, the gourd, and the paper-mulberry were also introduced according to tradition, and are, by science, proved to have been so.

CONCLUSION.—A sufficient number of traditions have been fixed by cross-bearings to prove that those that have been carefully handed down through the Schools of Learning were based on fact. Before we condemn tradition as a whole from the inaccuracies of the few, we must be sure that the latter have come down from an authoritative source through a reputable medium. There are historians and—historians.

Allowance must be made for methods of speech and forms of expression. We must be careful of the overlying strata of popular exaggeration and modern interpretation that have been superimposed on the original narrative. From a purely scientific point of view, tradition is of the greatest value in ethnological research the Polynesian race.

1   E. Best, 1924, “Maori Religion and Mythology,” Dominion Museum Bulletin, No. 10, pp. 26, 27.
2   E. Best, 1923, “The Maori School of Learning,” Dominion Museum Monograph, No. 6.
3   The word tapu, generally speaking, may be said to mean “prohibited,” but it is by no means advisable to employ that definition in all cases. It is certainly applicable in the case mentioned at p. 224 of this volume, where contact with human blood rendered flour tapu or prohibited. A betrothed girl was spoken of as being tapu, but “prohibited” is not in this case a happy rendering of the term; it is but a partial explanation. Women were tapu during childbirth, etc., and here we must render tapu as “unclean.” It has been said that tapu does not mean “sacred,” but in some cases such as the above it must certainly be so rendered
4   E. Best, 1922, “Maori Myth and Religion,” Dominion Museum Monograph, No. 1, p. 15.
5   S. Percy Smith, 1915, “The Lore of the Whare-Wananga.” Memoirs of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 4, Part 2, p. 215.
6   E. Best, 1923, “Polynesian Navigators,” Dominion Museum Monograph, No. 5, p. 34.
7   W. R. B. Oliver, 1909,“Vegetation of the Kermadec Islands,” Trans. New Zealand Institute, vol. 42, p. 168.
8   James Cowan, 1910, The Maoris of New Zealand, Wellington, N.Z., p. 90.