W hat I believe to be genuine and authentic the collected publications of William Colenso



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§ II. Psychological


27. Their intellectual and moral Faculties, as a race, were of a high order; however stunted, warped, or debased they may have been through custom, habit, or their strong and unrestrained animal propensities.

(1.) They often showed acuteness of understanding and of comprehension, with great quickness of apprehension; consequently they were very apt to learn. Their subtlety was great, notwithstanding their openness and want of secrecy; so, also, was their ready power of mimicry, and imitation, and of low wit. Their memory was very good; and their ingenuity ever ready to follow closely any pattern; though certainly barren of originality and invention. They often exhibited great skill in finding out how best to do, or get, anything, (with their very limited means,) as well as ingenuity in performing or obtaining it; this they exemplified in many ways:—as, in making their various axes, weapons, and ornaments of stone; in not only taking, preserving, and curing, fish and birds for food, but in making the highly poisonous vegetable substances, karaka, and tawa kernels subserve the same ends; in procuring fire by friction, and in making it to blaze, and in finding out the best tinder; in making their ingenious snares for hawks, ducks, rats, etc., and their various cleverly made fishhooks,—some artificially baited with mother-of-pearl shell for the kahawai, and others with a chip of tawhai (Fagus) wood for the Barracouta; in making their quartz-pointed wimble, and their “Spanish tourniquet,” and their delicate tattooing instruments. They were passionately fond of music, but it was peculiarly their own: and of poetry, or of its chief ingredients, sentiment, and rhythm, although they had not rhyme. They greatly excelled in order and regularity, which they carried into almost everything they did; as shown in their parallel carving, regular in its wildness, and in tattooing the right and left faces and posteriors, with circles and scrolls almost mathematically exact; in their building and ornamenting of canoes and houses; in the laying out of their plantations, and particularly in the planting of their crops; in their measured paddling to “time and stroke;” and, above all, in their war-dance! hence their practised eye always detected want of regularity in the stroke of the best manned man-o’-war’s boat, as well as in the most precise military drill. They paid great attention to Nature, and profited largely and deservedly by the observance. They calculated their years by moons, and their moons by days, or rather by nights, (as, indeed, they reckoned all their time,) each having a distinct and appropriate name. The names of their moons were particularly appropriate, naturally reminding one of the French nomenclature of the months introduced at the institution of the Empire. They divided the year into two great annual seasons of summer and winter, which they subdivided into four great agricultural times, of preparation, planting, cessation, and harvest. Their year commenced with spring; to which, and to the proper planting season, they were guided by the rising of certain constellations, particularly of Pleiades and of Orion;—by the flowering of certain trees, especially a red-flowered creeper (Metrosideros, sp.,)—by the sprouting of ferns, principally of the Rauaruhe (Pteris esculenta)—by the mating, moulting and change of note of birds; by the singing of insects; and by the arrival of the migratory Pipiwharauroa, or little glossy cuckoo. In planting their precious kumara, they carefully turned its young sprout to the sun; which position they also chose for the entrances of their kumara stores, so as to avoid the cold south. They attended to the appearance of the clouds, and the redness of the heavens at sun-rise and sun-set—to the flight and noise of birds, and of insects—to the opening of flowers—to the apparent nearness of far-off hills—and the distinctness of distant sounds by night, for indications of coming wind and weather. They knew in what weather fish would bite, and what baits to use, and when certain fish were in season, and when crayfish were spawning and in their prime. If at sea, out of sight of land, or in a strange trackless country or forest, they shaped their course by the stars and by the sun. The diurnal ebbing and flowing of the tide they well knew, although they attributed it to the constant inhalation and exhalation of a certain monstrous being living in the sea in deep water, named Te Parata. They noticed the natural affinities of plants, hence the two Solanums (S. aviculare, and S. nigrum,) though widely differing in appearance, were both named Poroporo:—the two large pea-flowered plants, (one a hardwooded tree, the yellow Edwardsia grandiflora, and the other an herbaceous shrub, the red Clianthus puniceus), were respectively called Kowhai, and Kowhai-ngutu-kaakaa (Kowhai, and Parrot’s-bill Kowhai); the black and the red birches (Fagus fusca, and F. Solandri), though greatly unlike in leafing, bark, etc., they appropriately knew as Tawhai-rau-iti, and Tawhai-rau-nui (large-leaved and small-leaved Tawhai); as also with the two species of olive (Olea Cunninghamii, and O. montana); with the two species of Flax (Phormium); and with several others. They not only well knew the difference between their common Fern-trees, giving them proper distinctive names; but another and scarce one, Dicksonia antarctica, they distinguished by the name of Weki-ponga, because it possesses characters in common with two of the commoner ones, severally called by them, Weki and Ponga. It is also evident, from their proper names and descriptive remarks, that, long before Linnæus’ age, they knew something of the sexes of plants; they had noticed, if there was little or no pollen discharged in the summer from the male catkins (amentæ) of the Taxaceous trees, (and which the writer has sometimes seen escape in clouds,) there would be no fruit that year for them, and their favorite pigeons would not be fat. And they were well acquainted with certain curious natural facts—such as the Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus) laying her eggs in the nest of the little Riroriro (Mirotoitoi);—the eel having two holes to its lurking place in the mud—the sea migration of the lamprey—and the various metamorphoses of insects. {Note 17, 18}

(2.) That powerful moral faculty, Conscience, often showed itself strongly; so did its close attendant Shame—“that lurks behind;” although, from custom, the New Zealanders often exhibited much more shame at little failings and mistakes, than at great sins. They had a large share of fidelity and attachment; hence the slaves and lower classes were attached to their masters and lords; and hence, too, they frequently left their homes and tribes to live with and work for strangers, to whom [30] they had become attached; and their women generally made good and faithful wives to the early European settlers and whalers. Their filial attachment, however, was very slight. They were often very patient, and could exercise well, and for a long time, the virtues of endurance, especially if they had any object in view. They sometimes eminently showed their endurance in trying situations, by completely controlling their temper. They possessed a large amount of physical courage, as is abundantly shown in their desperate hand-to-hand encounters, and many hair-breadth adventures; but in moral courage they were very deficient, e.g. their fearing to speak to their superiors on unpleasant or unwelcome matters; their being afraid to go any where in the dark; and their mortal superstitious dread of harmless and pretty lizards.

28. Their Natural Propensities, both good and bad, were strong, and generally freely indulged. Unfortunately, their good ones, though striking, were but few in number, and were consequently often overcome by their more numerous bad ones.

(1.) Of their good ones, hospitality to visitors and travellers must ever stand foremost. The New Zealand host not only willingly shared what he had with his guests, but often freely gave them all, while he, his family, and his people looked on, quite pleased at seeing them eating. As it was with the coming, so it was with the going, guest, he was often loaded with food, etc., so that it was a difficult matter to carry it away,—and a heinous offence to refuse, or to leave it. They were also very open and free in giving, one to another; and things were generally given without the least hesitation or appearance of regret. A constant cheerfulness of disposition and countenance, often amounting to gladsomeness or hilarity, was also very prevalent, more especially among all the younger ones; hence, perhaps, their peculiar habit of surnames—commonly calling any unfortunate sufferer by his infirmity or deformity—as blind, lame, deaf, one-handed, hunchbacked, etc., etc., without giving or taking offence. Their love and attachment to children was very great; and that not merely to their own immediate offspring. They very commonly adopted children; indeed, no man having a large family was ever allowed to bring them all up himself—uncles, aunts, and cousins, claimed and took them, often whether the parents were willing or not. They certainly took every physical care of them; and, as they rarely chastised (for many reasons), of course, petted and spoiled them; sowing the seed of which they invariably reaped the bitter crop of disobedience. The father, or uncle, often carried or nursed his infant on his back for hours at a time, and might often be seen quietly at work with the little one there snugly ensconced. Perhaps in no race has the love of offspring been more fully developed, which by them was also often carried out to excess towards the young of brutes—especially of their dogs, and, afterwards, of cats and pigs introduced. Hence it was by no means an unusual sight to see a woman carrying her child at her back, and a pet dog, or pig, in her bosom. Another praiseworthy feature was, their being ever ready to help, and desirous of assisting to the utmost (whenever the taboo did not hinder them) anyone they could, whether visitor or neighbour, friend or relative; always, however, excepting their enemies. They were certainly not quarrelsome; nor were they thievish among themselves; excepting the slaves, who often stole from each other. [31] {Notes 19, 20}



They would, however, steal freely from strangers; at the same time things left in their charge by strangers were almost invariably safe. They were childishly inquisitive, but this they were with so much artlessness and good grace, and from a real desire for information, that it must be classed among their good qualities. Lastly, their being able to command sleep at any time—by day or by night, in health or in sickness—must not be omitted, for by being able to do so they doubtless escaped much misery, mental and physical.

(2.) Of their bad propensities, the following were among the more prominent:—Revenge, never weakening, never dying; ever assiduously cherished in their tenacious memories; sucked in with their mother’s milk, and brooded over incessantly, with large accruments of interest and compound interest, and handed down as a precious legacy from father to son! Their combativeness, or love of fighting (especially after their fashion), was, no doubt, largely developed; it seems, as if it and its preparations, must have taken up fully half of their time: for once fairly roused, a New Zealander shuts his eyes to consequences. Akin to this was their cruelty and barbarity, and their love of teasing and tormenting—whether the poor and afflicted, the unfortunate recent captive, or the innocent dumb animal. Some of the barbarities sometimes practised by way of revenge on their newly taken prisoners of war, were horrifying, and quite equal those of the North American Indians, or the worse Christian (!) savages of the “Holy Inquisition.” They were also hasty, passionate, and envious, and treacherous, especially to strangers, and in making war. But their constant suspicion of almost all others exceeded everything; no strange canoe could appear in sight, nor travelling party, however small, be descried at a distance, but their worst suspicions were aroused, and immediately and by everyone evil was surmised. So it was of any track, or sign, of anyone unknown having lately travelled that way. Their instability and fickleness were also very great, and likely to occur at any time; often enough at an awkward time. Allied to which was their superserviceableness, or over-officiousness; their incessantly taking on themselves to do something new, or of little use, or not wanted; a trait best known by their own emphatic and peculiarly appropriate term, pokanoa (an undesired, causeless, or worthless, doing, or thing). Their disagreeable ever-asking for some utu—return, payment, recompense, or equivalent—for the least assistance or thing, (quid pro quo) is more a matter of growth during the last twenty-five years, at all events if latent it has wonderfully developed during that period: so, also, has their begging faculty; which, however, was well known to, and encouraged by their first visitors. From their childhood they were incessantly prone to practise all manner of deceit, (maminga, hangareka, hianga) from fun and joke, to imposition and fraud—at which they were great adepts, ever glorying in beguiling and terrifying. To this list must be added their superstition, or, better, perhaps, credulity—ever ready to believe anything strange, new, or wonderful; and their excessive ostentation and desire of being talked of;—which, though bad in the abstract, was, it is reasonably believed, the main cause why several (apparently) good actions were done by them; perhaps not a little of their old industry, and of their hospitality to strangers is rightly to be attributed to this characteristic [32] trait; as well (in some instances at least) of their more recent adopting the Christian religion, building chapels, etc.

29. Their common and biggest Vices, which have gained them such sad notoriety, were the luxuriant unpruned growths or fruits of their natural evil propensities. Their implacability and unmercifulness was but another phase of their never-dying revenge; from these came their cold-blooded murders, and cruel retaliating on the innocent, which was closely followed by cannibalism in all its horrors. Nothing more clearly shows the truth of the old adage, “the best corrupted is the very worst,”—than that a party of New Zealanders should be so carried away by the diabolical frenzy of the moment, as wholly to forget their strongly and highly characteristic natural feelings, and kill, roast and eat little children! In considering, however, their savage cannibalism, two things should never be forgotten—(1.) that they in practising it, broke no known law; and as they did not think it wrong, they never once thought of concealing it: and, (2.) that as they (their tribe) were doing today, they (their tribe) had been done by yesterday, and might be again tomorrow. Neither should it be altogether lost sight of, that commonly a bloody engagement—often the storming of a hill pa, or fort—could only take place when both sides were well nigh doubly desperate with starvation; and that after the fight was over there was really nothing to eat. There can be little doubt, but that at such times large bodies of men were often in a nearly similar situation, as to want of food, to distressed ship-wrecked mariners at sea; with this important addition, of having their worst passions dreadfully excited from the smarting of their own wounds, and the sight of their dead and dying friends and relatives around them. So much may, perhaps, be allowed for their cannibal feasts under such circumstances on the battle field; but those which often took place afterwards—although on a much smaller scale—cannot be so palliated. At the same time it should be remembered, that a race who ever thought so little of human life, as commonly to commit suicide at the death of a husband, or favorite child, could not estimate highly the life of a slave. At home they rarely killed a slave, as they were too valuable, and they wished them to become attached to them, knowing too their dependence upon them; and if they did it was almost sure to be one who was incorrigibly bad, and had been already often warned and sentenced;—who, himself, perhaps, cared little for life; and who, in being killed, would be mercifully, instantly despatched (the greatest mercy the New Zealander ever knew). But their most cruel, murderous and cannibal atrocities were invariably perpetrated on the immediate return of the victors (mostly by water in their war canoes) to their homes. Then, on hearing from the heralds of their loss, the infuriated women who had remained at home,—widows, sisters, and daughters,—would frenziedly fly upon the trembling captives, demand them to be given up to them as utu, (payment, or satisfaction) and cruelly murder them in cold blood! and to add to their horrors, perhaps some of these,—wives or daughters of the vanquished,—might have been taken to wife by some of the victor chiefs during their long return voyage, and who themselves were now utterly unable to save them! Disobedience of children to parents, a common fault of their bringing up, with all its many kindred vices, was also very prominent; this mostly ended in a [33] total filial disregard! It seems strange that children generally, after puberty, should scarcely ever think of their parents who had always been so kind to them, although the parents still continued to show their great solicitude for their children. Lying too, of all kinds, was another highly characteristic vice; common every day, lying was never by them considered to be a sin. But the chiefs were too sadly given to calumniate one another with all kinds of fictions. No one ever believed all that anyone should say. It has often seemed (to the writer) as if a New Zealander could not possibly relate any matter truly. Their most public and solemn promises and asseverations,—even to the making of peace, or a truce, (after imposing and gaining their own terms) could always, without any shame, and without any pretext, be wholly scattered to the winds at pleasure! Their heartless and cold neglect of sick, infirm, and aged parents, relatives and friends, is another sad charge which is too true. Many a poor creature has slowly yet early died through sheer neglect. Fish, and birds, and pork, and fruit, and other good things, have often been in profusion in the village for the whole and hearty, of which the sick and infirm, though desirous, never tasted; and, knowing their own people too well, never once solicited. Sometimes, no doubt, such gross neglect was owing to superstition; and the miseries of the sufferers were perhaps lessened through knowing that such had ever been their custom. Of their common immorality much has been said; and very much has been laid to their charge, far more, it is reasonably believed, than is their just due. At all events the point of view must not be that of high artificial civilization, where everything natural is studiously concealed, and common matters, which may not be openly mentioned, are freely talked of secretly, the more copiously, perhaps, (in accordance with the well-known law of our nature) from the fact of restraint being laid upon them. With the New Zealander all was open and unconcealed from his birth; so that a host of common things of every day occurrence—any one of which to a highly civilized European might be a cause of distress and unpleasantness,—or, to another, of evil thoughts and desires,—was not so to him. Many such sights, sayings, and doings, were to the New Zealander as if they were not; simply from being always used to them. It was just that kind of difference which exists between the aged grave-digger in the old churchyard,—the old professor in the dissecting room,—the phrenological philosopher in his study,—and the highly civilized but uninitiated gentleman. New Zealand men often went naked, without any breach of modesty, or decorum; but a New Zealand woman never did so. Keeping in mind the “well-known law” above alluded to, and remembering that the New Zealander kept no secrets—with him everything was known; there is good reason for believing, that their immorality was really less through the promiscuous dwelling and sleeping together of the sexes (in one house), than if they had been made to dwell and sleep separately. Adult brothers and sisters slept together, (as they had always done from their birth) not only without sin, but without thought of it. Incest (and other high crimes) was scarcely known, even by name; nor was it likely to be, by a race, among whom the marriage of first-cousins has always (and justly) been viewed with great disgust, as “weakening the shoot.” Whatever the New Zealand girl might be before marriage, after [34] marriage she was faithful; and even before marriage, the betrothal, when made, supported by the tapu, in the majority of cases, kept her from going astray. Adultery, on the part of the wives, (generally punished with death) was by no means common among the same sub-tribe or village. In fact, such could not be among the suspicious, revengeful New Zealanders. A chief going anywhere confidingly left his wife, or wives, behind, in his brother’s or relative’s charge; generally speaking, such a thought as their faithlessness during his absence never entered his head. Of course, the writer, in thus giving his firm belief as to the immorality of the New Zealanders, wishes to be understood, as speaking of it as practised by a race among themselves. The grosser and more frequent immoralities, which have been caused by the arrival of the “superior” man among them, is no more to be charged, as a vice, to their account as a race, than is that of their selling an estate for a musket, or a jew’s harp, or a large pig, for a stick of tobacco. There is still one more glaring vice of theirs to be noticed, namely, ingratitude. This, it must be confessed, did everywhere exist, and that to an extent almost unheard of elsewhere. To a New Zealander gratitude was wholly unknown. They have no word for it in their language; no way of expressing such a feeling, which never existed in their breast. To a deeply reflecting mind, this sad fact may appear to be a far worse one than their cannibalism. There can be little doubt but that their total want of this high feeling of the soul, arose from their own peculiar natural condition; particularly from the fact, that no New Zealander ever did any kindness, or gave anything, to another, without mainly having an eye to himself in the transaction; and this was known and reciprocated. Of all their characteristic vices, this of ingratitude appears to be one of the worst. Our immortal bard might well truthfully and feelingly say:—

“Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky;


Thou dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot;
Though thou the waters warp,
The sting is not so sharp
As friends remember’d not.” {Notes 21, 22, 23}

30. From what is gloomy and repulsive in their character, let us now turn to what is pleasing, and what perhaps, by some, has been hastily set down as wanting—their love of Æsthetics—or the beautiful. This, it is believed, will be clearly seen, if we keep hold of the fine clue, and pursue it steadily through all its entanglements and ramifications to the end. They generally sought a clear open site for their villages, so as to command a good view; a fine open prospect from a village being loudly praised by strangers, while a cramped or bad one was denounced. They did all they could to keep their villages both clean and tidy. Each village had its common privy—generally in some secluded spot. Their houses were often neatly kept, all their little articles hung up or stowed away in baskets in their proper places. Their fishing residences, and huts near their cultivations, and forest huts where they sometimes dwelt, (for a chief had generally 5 or 6 residences) were usually beautifully placed and snugly ensconced under shady trees, and by the side of a murmuring brook: they rarely ever wantonly cut [35] down evergreen shrubs or old shady trees growing near them, for the sake of their wood for timber or firing;—choosing rather to fetch the same from a long distance. They liked to hear the birds warbling; and they often planted the red parrot’s-bill acacia (Kowhai-ngutu-kaakaa), and the ornamental variety of striped leaved flax, about their houses, on account of their beauty. They sought largely after the beautiful in their making of clothing mats,—as is seen, in their handsome coloured borders; in their many ornamental strings and tassels of various dyes: in their cutting up their dogskins into narrow strips and then sewing them together, so as to have the greater effect from shade and colour; and in the peculiar bias seams skilfully introduced in their weaving, in order to make the mat fall in graceful folds over the shoulders. Even their back-straps for carrying their common loads, they sometimes plaited of scraped flax fibre dyed of two or three colours. It was the love of the beautiful, also, which led them to seek after and use other fibrous substances only obtained with much more labour,—flax being everywhere so plentiful. Hence, too, their love of neat, pretty, elegant, contrast ornaments; of graceful drooping feathers, as of the White Crane, or bunches of snowy down from the Gannet and Albatross, of the small feathered skins of the Huia, the Tui, and the little glossy Cuckoo; of their female head dresses made of the snowy down-like epidermis from the leaves of the Astelia and Celmisia plants,—the graceful small-leaved Clematis, and the elegant climbing Lycopodium; and, of the white fillets from the Paper-mulberry tree for the dark raven locks of the men. Hence too their scented necklaces of the odorous grass Karetu, of the Roniu flowers, and of the Piripiri moss; enclosed within the neat spotted feathers of the Paradise Duck. Hence their prizing the scented gums of the Tarata, and of the Taramea plants, as perfumes; the latter, an Alpine plant, only collected with much labour and danger. It was owing to their love of the beautiful that they so tastefully decorated their canoes with plumes of feathers, and with elegant long flowing pennants of feathery tufts, which so loudly elicited the praises of Cook and the early navigators. Through this love of the beautiful, they were led to chequer and make regular dark spirals on their yellow reeds for lining their chiefs’ houses, which was done by winding slips of green flax at regular distances around them and passing them through the fire. It was owing to this that they carved so much, and so regularly, even down to their canoe-balers and paddles, and the wooden necks of their large calabashes. Hence, too, in all their good carvings, however quaint, “the true line of beauty, the curve,” is found, which they skillfully managed to produce, without drawn plans, copy, or pair of compasses. {Note 24}

31. The educated New Zealander possessed many Acquirements. In him, sound and practical knowledge of the utile and dulce—the useful and the ornamental—were very often to be found combined. It was not with them as with us,—one man knowing one trade or occupation, and another, another; with them, generally, one clever man knew all things, while every one, at least, knew several useful and practical ones. Invariably, in whatever they sought to learn, they strove to excel, hence they generally succeeded. They uniformly counted very well and without difficulty up to a hundred, and some among them could go further; their term mano, however, now used for a 1000, scarcely definitely [36] meant that number. Besides their common counting by units, they had another mode of counting by pairs, which principally obtained for baskets of sweet potatoes, and fish, and a few other articles. The many and varied acquirements of the different parts and kinds of house building; of making their many different canoes; and of all kinds of wooden and stone implements for use and defence; of cultivating successfully the soil; of making several kinds of very ingenious traps for catching animals; of bird, and rat snaring; and of sea, river, and swamp fishing, in all its various branches;—of carving, tattooing, weaving, spinning, and plaiting; and of making sails and nets of many kinds; of skill in paddling, steering, and navigating a canoe; of swimming, climbing, and parrying spear thrusts; of music, singing, and dancing; of surgery and oratory; of genealogies and relationships; of old feuds, and their causes, and their unsettled scores; of boundaries, and of roads and tracks to distant places; not to mention all the needful acquirements respecting the tapu, traditions, songs, chaunts, exorcisms, and very many customs. In bygone years, the writer has not unfrequently looked with quiet admiration at such an individual, diligently and unassumedly working at his many varied occupations; often when tired at one, dropping it and taking up another; and in doing so he has thought,—what an example such-an-one was of the successful pursuit of knowledge under difficulties: How truly he deserved to be called a “tohunga” (a living cyclopædia, or skilled man)! At such times the exquisite, and not inapplicable, lines of Hurdis, (learnt in childhood) would rush into the mind and may not be wholly out of place here:—

“But most of all it wins my admiration,
To view the structure of this little work.—
————Mark it well, within, without,
No tool had he that wrought, no knife to cut,
No nail to fix, no bodkin to insert,
No glue to join; [his hand alone] was all
And yet how neatly finished:—
——— Fondly then
We boast of excellence, whose noblest skill
Instinctive genius foils.”

32. It is evident they possessed the germs of knowledge of the first principles of Mechanics; but it appeared more like a decaying remnant of ancient wisdom, or a growth nipped in its bud, than a new, or recent development. They seem scarcely ever to have improved the one original idea. The powers of the inclined plane they knew and used in the wedge, and in moving heavy weights up a prepared slope. In using the lever, they well knew the difference between a high or low, near or far-off fulcrum. The wheel and axle, rude as it was, they had in their quartz-pointed drill or wimble. The screw, in the “Spanish tourniquet,” for expressing of oil, etc. And the pulley, in rollers for their canoes, and for hoisting up heavy weights to their high stages for great feasts; which rollers they often smoothed and wetted, or covered with wet seaweed, to make the body to be moved the better to glide.



33. It is said, that the New Zealander’s perception of Colours was defective and weak—because he had proper names for only three colours, and none for blue, green, brown, violet, etc.; this, however, is (in the [37] opinion of the writer) a mistake. Their colours, it is true, were mainly divided into three distinctive classes—ma, pango, and whero, (white, black, and red,—or, light, dark, and reddish)—but they were never at a loss with these three words clearly to express all colours. They used them, much as an English mariner uses the four names of the principal winds and points of the compass, repeated and involved to make 32, only much more expressively; as they also used with them several adjectives, increasing or lessening their meaning; also the words themselves reduplicated as diminutives. Besides which, if a New Zealander wished to convey to another a very exact idea of any colour intended, he would mention that of some natural object which was of the same shade of colour;—for greens, the karaka leaf, or the blue-green of the sea, or the light-green of the young grass or the yellow glancing green of the plumage of the little parroquet;—for blues, the differing blues of the day, and of the night sky, or of the pukepoto mineral, or of the neck of the red-billed swamp bird Pukura, (Porphyrio melanotus) etc., etc.

34. Their courtesy and etiquette deserve notice; particularly from the sad fact of such having become nearly extinct, and that mainly through their intercourse with foreigners! In visiting, the visitors when near the village, sounded their conch shell, or wooden trumpet, (in later times fired a musket) or sent on some one known to the people to inform them of their approach, lest they should be taken unawares—a thing very much disliked by all New Zealanders. If they were loudly invited, they went straight on, without speaking, into the village, unless the company was straggling, when they waited for those behind. If they were not so invited, (through the people of the village being absent in their neighboring cultivations) they quietly waited in a body outside until they were. On entering, they were led to some large house, or spot, strewed with clean mats, or fresh fern, or leafy branches. There they quietly sat until food was prepared and brought them. After having eaten they were welcomed by the chief, or chiefs, in speeches and songs, and individually saluted, when conversation began. No enquiries were ever made as to the purport of their visit, till after they had been refreshed. Great respect was shown to known rank; to such, the best seat in the canoe, and in the house (which was always on the window side), was constantly given. A proper respectful mode of address, was always used to chiefs. Bad, and unexpected startling tidings, were generally couched in other words, or delicately alluded to, in a song or saying of well-known meaning. In conversation, euphonious words and euphonisms were often chosen; and care was taken to make no allusions to past disagreeable matters. They took great heed not wantonly to hurt any one’s feelings; and if any such were attempted, it was immediately repressed. Such a person was spoken of as having had no parents, or, as having been born (laid) by a bird, (a term repeatedly used by the New Zealanders concerning many English “gentlemen,” owing to their rude behaviour!) Things which might remind the visitors of past sorrows and troubles were also carefully put out of sight. The people of the place were mindful not to use any bad or intemperate language towards, or in the hearing of, their visitors. No foolish tricks were offered in jest. They were very careful not to step over, or to hand food over, any of them. If they wished to pass through, or by them, and there was little or no room, they did [38] not shove, but civilly said, “Tukua a hau,”—allow me to pass. They brought their visitors fire, food, and water, always of the best they had; and if they were of high rank, such was in part carried to them by the chiefs of the place; and often, if they had any reserved prized delicacy, they also brought it. Sometimes, when their visitors were very few, and arrived just as the evening meal was cooked, they sent them the best of it—the chief sometimes culling with his own hands. In laying down anything before their visitors, they always retired nimbly, lest they should hear their own praises, or be supposed to be desirous of hearing them. They avoided openly staring, or laughing at the newly-arrived; or making impertinent remarks upon their appearance, manner, clothing, etc., and quickly removed all offensive things dropped near by animals; and carefully covered up all sores, or deformities, of their own. The chief of the village often gave up his own house to his visitors, and sat outside the door in the sun, rain, and wind, conversing with them, until they had repeatedly invited him in. If the party was small, and house accommodation scanty, the chief of the village and his people occupied the inferior side of the house, leaving all the other and best side to the visitors. They were careful not to ask anyone his name, particularly a stranger. They were always exceedingly circumspect not to cause offence by a look, word, or gesture. They rarely enquired after any one’s health by name, and took good care not to enquire specially after any female. They also abstained from finding fault with any of the words or doings of their visitors, even when they might justly have done so. From courtesy alone they generally assented to what was said by a visitor, and always to anything said by a person of rank; at the same time quietly holding to their own opinions. (This trait in their character has been the means of deceiving many Europeans, and not a few of those in high authority.) While their visitors slept by day, they were attentive not to disturb them. If any one happened to be among the party who was an enemy, or had done wrong to any one of the village, and had not yet made reparation, they quietly overlooked it for the sake of the head of the party; at the same time they abstained from giving him individually anything, or welcoming him particularly. They always saluted on meeting in the way, and if the one party was carrying anything edible, they dropped their loads, unlaced their baskets, and freely gave the other a portion; if both were, they gave to each other. They sometimes sat down to receive, and to give messages, and to receive salutations, as a sign of inferiority. On their visitors leaving, they were loaded with food, and freely supplied with all little accommodations of baskets, straps, etc., with many attentions; the chief usually went with them a short distance to point out the way, and sometimes accompanied them to the next village. If he did so, although related to the people of the village, he entered and remained with the visitors, and was treated as one of them. In war, women who were related to both sides, the besiegers and besieged, were allowed to pass and repass continually, and often were the cause of much mischief. Sometimes, when a besieging party knew of their enemies wanting food, or stones, or spears, they sent them a supply, laying them down in heaps near their defences, and then retiring, but such chivalrous (?) conduct was rare. [39]

35. Like some of the nations of the old world, they believed the seat of their Sentiments and Feelings to be in the stomach and bowels (ngakau).



(1.) Many of their Sentiments, respecting plain practical matters of every day life, were eminently sagacious and just; yet here there was a great difference in those concerning things with which they were conversant, and those which were new; also between objective and subjective matters. Again, other of their sentiments, including most of those concerning sickness, death, the cause of common natural phenomena, and of everything pertaining to the tapu, sorcery, and the state hereafter, were excessively puerile. They loudly expressed their approbation and disapprobation; and were often not a little biassed in giving judgment by considerations of relationship and of tribe. Having espoused a cause or party, they generally pertinaciously adhered; and though shown their error, would rarely allow themselves to be in the wrong. They judged of others by their looks, especially by their eyes and cheeks, and by their manner and tone of voice; and if they thought them to be angry, etc., they often very plainly told them of it; or politely asked them if they were not so.

(2.) Their Feelings were very strong, often easily excited, and rarely ever concealed. In showing them the New Zealander was very changeable—now in a towering passion, or bitterly weeping at a single slight word, or a look; anon, quite stoical and not to be stirred. At times their feelings were soon controlled; at others with extreme difficulty suppressed. Consequently, with them it was ever an easy matter “to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep.” Their keen uncontrolled feelings often led them to beat, kick, and strike inanimate objects—sometimes to their own greater hurt; and commonly to gnaw and bite, on extraction, a splinter or thorn which had pierced them, and which was often carefully preserved to be burnt in fire! An object of pity and suffering often excited feelings of disgust. Hate, and desire of revenge, were fearfully exhibited at seeing or hearing anything of their enemies. Superstitious dread was universally shown at going anywhere in the dark, or at approaching where anyone had died, or was buried; and most particularly at all kinds of lizards, living or dead, although harmless—as such ever reminded them of a malignant demon, or Atua. Their sense of loneliness or desertion was often expressed in mournful songs; while that of wounded pride was borne with extreme difficulty. Ridicule, invariably freely given, was most keenly felt; so was shame; while the salutary conviction of having wronged or injured any one, even when done under a mistake, was generally followed with ample restitution. Sometimes their feelings have been so intense at being rebuked before others, though perhaps very slightly (as by a husband, for negligence in cooking, or for want of care towards a child at that one time, or for breaking a calabash, or a pipe, or some other small thing), that they have run away into the woods, or attempted suicide. But it was mainly at the death of the loved one—husband, child, or brother—that the feelings of anguish of the bereaved were utterly uncontrollable, and not seldom ending in self-murder, while others have gone down, pining and lamenting, to the grave. Some fathers cut off their hair close on one side of the head for the death of a child, and never [40] allowed the hair on the other side to be cut or touched; hence it grew very long, and became completely matted together, while over it they would often sigh and weep. A chief often changed his name at the death of a beloved son or daughter, relative or friend; and took for a new name that of something last said, or even eaten by the departed; or something strongly reminding of the sad event. Sometimes, too, tribes and sub-tribes altered their names, generally in order to bear some loss, or insult, in mind. Most New Zealanders would destroy or remove every article which had pertained to, or had been touched by, the departed loved one, sometimes burying them with him: a few, however, would keep some little thing, but always away out of sight, to be now and then produced and wept over. A chief’s greenstone battle-axe, and breast and ear ornaments, though frequently buried with him, were always recovered for future use. Many forsook the place where the loved departed had died; while others left their homes and wandered about unsettled for a long time, seeking to forget their grief. {Note 26}

36. Their mysterious and intricate institution of the Tapu (taboo) with all its many forms, rites, observances, and customs, was, on the whole, beneficial to the New Zealanders. However irregular, capricious, and burdensome it may now appear (to us) to have been, it was certainly the source of order to them; and was of great use to conserve them as a race, and to sharpen their intellectual and moral faculties. Having no written language, it is not at all unlikely but that the observances of the tapu institution were much more simple and charitable at the first; seeing, too, that its observances and modes of working varied in different districts and under oral directions. Very likely the more the tribes, sub-tribes, and “priests” increased, the more varied became the taboo. How greatly would the Mosaic code of laws have been changed or added to, had they not been written! As it was (2000 years ago) the Jews were charged with having “made the word of God of no effect through their traditions;” and how much have some of the early Christian churches departed from what was written, through non-attention to that writing, and that continual inseparable desire of the human breast to be always adding something new! A good sized book might be written about all the numerous requirements of the tapu system. They commenced with the birth of the New Zealander, continued with him throughout life in all its varied scenes, and did not leave him until long after he was in the grave. The tapu regulated, or pretended to regulate, all his movements. It certainly enabled him to accomplish many heavy and useful works, which without it he could not have done. Through it, their large cultivations, their fisheries, their fine villages and hill forts, their fine canoes, their good houses, their large seine nets, their bold carvings, and a hundred other things were accomplished—without possessing either iron or metal! Through it, their fowl, and fish, and forests were preserved. Through it, the crimes of murder, theft, sorcery, and adultery were less common, and when committed sure not to go long unpunished; and through it, fornication and other errors were lessened, and the headstrong passions of the New Zealander were in a great measure controlled. It had great influence over them: the stoutest and fiercest of the New Zealand chiefs bowed like an infant before it, and dared not disobey its behests. In all their changes, they held it to the last, and only [41] relinquished it by slow degrees; [have they done so yet?] Notwithstanding they certainly never liked it. No man, or body of men, has ever yet liked a coercive law, however beneficial. If through it, (or rather, perhaps, owing to its being broken or neglected,) much blood was shed, many lives were also through it saved. Several of its requirements were certainly very peculiar and abnormal, and bear the appearance, at least, of being very cruel;—e. g., at the death of a chief, a taua, or stripping party, came and stripped the family of all eatables and other movables, digging up root crops, and seizing and spearing tame pigs, and devouring and carrying them off; and if by any chance the family were not so stripped; they would be sure deeply to resent the neglect; as much on account of their being lowered (i.e., not taken notice of), as for the violation of the tapu, in failing to carry it out. Again: in case of any infringement of the tapu, or of any error or wrong, real or supposed, the taua would be sure to pay its visit; such taua was not unfrequently a friendly one!—one quickly made up of the nearest relatives and neighbours to the offender; for, as he must be stripped and mulcted, they might as well do it as others, and so keep his goods from wholly going to strangers. If a road was tabooed, and anyone was foolish or hardy enough to go over it, the taua would be sure to inflict a very heavy penalty. On the completion of a large seine net, it was brought on a set day to some beach “to be first wetted,” when not only that beach, but the neigbouring ones, and also the whole sea in front, would be rigidly tabooed; on such an occasion, should any unfortunate canoe, however unwittingly, trespass on the prohibited waters, it, and all its contents, would be immediately confiscáted; and loss of life might very probably take place in the melee. Their strange custom, also, which obtained in the upsetting of friendly canoes, or their drifting on to their shores, has been already mentioned (par. 20, sec. vi.); also, that respecting a chief who had been made captive (par. 19, sec. ii.) Several others, equally unreasonable, might also be adduced. As there was not a family or individual among them who was exempt from the influence and operation of the tapu; and as there was no such thing known as a standing, or selected, party to act as a taua; so, those who suffered through it today, were enabled to retaliate (with true New Zealand zest) upon those who might be sufferers tomorrow; especially if they had been engaged in paying them a visit yesterday. And this, no doubt, always had a tendency both to equalize the inflictions, and temper the operations of the taua.

37. Their credulity was very great, and sometimes accompanied with a large amount of superstitious dread, which cannot well be defined. They believed in the truth of Dreams, of which they had many kinds both good and bad. To dream of a nice house was indicative of great good; of wounds, or of death, or of eating bad food, indicated great evil, perhaps death. All were alike firmly believed to be remembrances of what they had seen in the reinga, or unseen world, (or place of the departed,) whither the spirit (Wairua) was supposed to have been during the sleep of the body. They also put great faith in convulsive startings in sleep, especially of their chiefs—whether such were directed to the right, or to the left—from, or to; a start forward, or outward, was a prognostic of good; in the contrary direction, of evil. Their omens were many; among them were the catching, or tripping, of the toe or [42] foot, on beginning a journey; which would sometimes cause them to return. An ember bouncing from the fire towards anyone; a singing noise, or gaseous flame, issuing from firewood burning; sneezing; various persons, or peculiar things, first met on leaving the house, etc., etc., were all ominous. An aitua, or evil prognostic—casually arising by some chance thing or accident, done by, or to, another, was also believed in. Ghosts, too, were commonly believed, and greatly dreaded; but this haunting spirit, or phantom, (Kehua,) which haunted its former place of residence, when in the body, and also the repositories of the dead, differed widely from the sensible intellectual spirit (Wairua), which had departed to the reinga, and which was not feared. The former were as lemures and larvœ; the latter as manes or spiritus. There were also nocturnal visitations (taepo); voices from the dead; demon spectres speaking in the whistling winds, especially in an old hut; and, above all, the last words (poroaki) of the dying, to which they paid great attention; and when spoken at random, in great weakness, wandering, or delirium, were often productive of much mischief. They had also their Soothsayers and Augurs, who gave predictions of lucky and unlucky days for fighting, voyaging, etc., and which they often ascertained by a kind of sortes, or lot. Many of the “priests” were great physiognomists, and read the features closely, that they might know what such a slave would become; they also believed in something akin to the “evil eye” of the East. Some tribes disliked the owl, and the lonely little swamp bird Maata (Sphenœacus punctatus); and yet they both persecuted and killed them. All lizards were more or less dreaded by every New Zealander: this is a curious feature, and worthy of deep investigation. It was their only living representation for the Atua (or malignant demon), which, according to their belief, was gnawing their vitals in sickness, and especially in consumption; while, however, stout men and warriors would often fly from a lizard, they would also return and kill it. Shooting stars, meteors, and phosphorescent fires in woods and marshes, they considered portentous; but thunder, lightning, severe storms, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes, they laughed at. The nearness of the moon to a star or planet, was also considered very ominous. They had many trivial ceremonies in travelling and voyaging:—as in crossing the culminating peak of a range, or by certain solitary stones (named), or by any famed cliff or cavern, or upon entering on dreary plains, or on crossing a spot termed by them the back-bone of the North Island; at such places they all singly performed a slight simple ceremony in passing; gathering a small branch, they cast it on, or towards, the object, using a few words by way of salutation, or custom, or charm, which words varied in different parts, and by different tribes. So at sea, on being about to pass over a bar, or to enter a narrow tidal passage, or to pass round a cape or headland; there they would halt a moment, and the “priest,” or chief, would mutter a few words of chaunt, or charm, and then proceed. To the writer it has ever been most animating—at such a time, with danger rioting around, to see, the old grey-haired man arise in his puny little vessel, and in a few simple words, command the heavy breakers and the demon-guardian of the pass, to listen to his powerful charms! All such (in his opinion) is a picture of Man struggling for his true position in Nature; as lord and master of her powers and gifts:—although [43] alas! as yet he has them not. The brief ceremony over, the inspired crew paddle away heartily, nothing doubting. Their credulity as to Sorcery and Necromancy, in all their branches, causing sickness and death, was universal and very great. Hence hair, saliva, etc., of chiefs, were carefully buried, lest such should get into the Sorcerer’s hands. The heads of the chiefs were always tabooed (tapu), hence they could not pass, or sit, under food hung up; or carry food as others, on their backs; neither would they eat a meal in a house, nor touch a calabash of water in drinking. No one could touch their head, nor, indeed, commonly speak of it, or allude to it; to do so offensively was one of their heaviest curses, and grossest insults, only to be wiped out with blood. All fruits, vegetables, etc., which grew at a prohibited spot (wahi tapu), were not to be eaten or gathered. A tabooed child was not on any account to be washed; and common cooking fire was not to be used for warming a house, or a company in the open air, nor lighting a pipe; lest the taboo should be broken, and penalties, sickness, and death ensue. {Note 27}

38. Religion—according to both the true and popular meaning of the word—they had none. Whether religion be defined to be,—virtue, as founded upon the reverence of God, and expectation of future rewards and punishments; or any system of divine faith and worship,—they knew nothing of the kind. They had neither doctrine nor dogma; neither cultus, nor system of worship. They knew not of any Being who could properly be called God. They had no idols. They reverenced not the sun, or moon, or glittering heavenly host, or any natural phenomena. Rather, when they chose, they derided them. The three principal beings, or rather personifications,—Tu, Whiro, and Tawhirimatea,—(all alike malignant, and ever hated by the New Zealander, as the sole cause to them, of pain, misery, and death—in war, in peace, and in voyaging,) were certainly never loved, or reverenced, or worshipped. The New Zealander knew better than to worship them. Sometimes in some of their karakia (recitals), the name of one or other of these imaginary beings would be mentioned, but it was done more by way of exorcism—to order him off—to bind him down—or to abuse him. They never once thought of getting any aid or good from them; they rather hoped (through their “priests”) to overcome them, or their malignancy, by the power of their muttered karakia (recitations) acting like charms. Moreover, in their own traditions and legends, they are sometimes represented as being ancestors of, or related to, their own (mythical) progenitors.

With the New Zealanders the observances of the Tapu were in place of religion. Hence it was that the tapu was so rigidly upheld and enforced. Nothing could set it aside, or alleviate it; all were equally obnoxious to it. Hence, too, we may see, why they increased the misery of the miserable, and made the wretched sufferer still more wretched. If a man died at home in peace, it was owing to the anger of the demon Whiro, (and very likely, as stated by the “priests,” in seven cases out of ten, to have been inflicted on account of some infringement of the tapu), consequently the family were to be also pillaged and peeled, to end, if possible, the visitation, by still further.

—— “placating the dread Atargatis.” [44]

If a canoe was upset; such of course, could only be caused by the anger of the watery ruler, the New Zealand Neptune, Tawhirimatea; (perhaps, too, for some secret infringement of the tapu,) when the result must be the same, on the part of those on shore—siding, for the time, with the stern Nemesis. So, in the case of death, or captivity in war, the malignant demon, Tu, who there presided, had definitively sentenced, as seen, (doubtless for some violation of the tapu,) and it only remained for the living—the captive and his relations—to ratify by silently acquiescing. Even their savage cannibalism at such times may owe much of its origin to their belief in this. Again, in the case of the new seine, (par. 36,) which is rigidly tabooed until the first fish taken are tabooed and set free—their legends of Maui and his fishing up the North Island of New Zealand state, that the present broken and abrupt face of the country is entirely owing to the brothers of Maui rushing to cut up the huge fish he had caught without having made the tabooed offerings of the first fish. Consequently, it came to pass, that under the tapu they were secularists, never once thinking or caring about an hereafter. Not that they disbelieved in an after state for man; but (1) that it was not a state to be desired; and (2) that it would follow as a matter of course, not being dependent or contingent on anything done on earth—unless it were, on the one hand, in being a strenuous supporter of the “priests” and of the tapu; and, on the other, of dying a slave. {Notes 28, 29}

39. Death, with the New Zealander, was the passage to the Reinga (hades), the unseen world containing his departed people. No one, however, unless some suicides in a fit of insanity, ever willingly went there. Even the disembodied went on unwillingly, casting lingering longing looks behind. Occasionally (according to the natives) a few of such returned from the very verge to the bodies and the world they had left; such truly recovered from the gates of death! In the Reinga, the departed live without labour and trouble. They feed on kumara (sweet potatoes.) Messages were often given to the dying person to take to deceased relatives there. All funeral wails and chaunts over the recent dead ended with—“Go, go, away to thy people.” It is a curious fact, that by the Fijians, Tahitians, Tongans, and Samoans, as well as by the New Zealanders, the place of departure of the spirits to the unseen world is uniformly fixed at the western extremity of the island. {Note 30}




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