1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Maori

MAORI (pronounced “Mowri”; a Polynesian word meaning “native,” “indigenous”; the word occurs in distinction from pakeha, “stranger,” in other parts of Polynesia in the forms Maoi and Maoli), the name of the race inhabiting New Zealand when first visited by Tasman in 1642.

That they were not indigenous, but had displaced an earlier Melanesian or Papuan race, the true aborigines, is certain. The Maoris are Polynesians, and, in common with the majority of their kinsfolk throughout the Pacific, they have traditions which point to Savaii, originally Savaiki, the largest island of the Samoan group, as their cradleland. They say they came to New Zealand from “Hawaiki,” and they appear to distinguish between a large and small, or a nearer and farther, “Hawaiki.” “The seed of our coming is from Hawaiki; the seed of our nourishing, the seed of mankind.” Their great chief, Te Kupe, first landed, they say, on Aotearoa, as they called the north island, and, pleased with his discovery, returned to Hawaiki to tell his fellow-countrymen. Thereafter he returned with seven war canoes, each holding a hundred warriors, priests, stone idols and sacred weapons, as well as native plants and animals. Hawaiki, the name of Te Kupe’s traditional home, is identical with several other Polynesian place-names, e.g. Hawaii, Apai in the Tonga Islands, Evava in the Marquesas, all of which are held to be derived from Savii or Savaiki. Dr Thomson, in his Story of New Zealand, quotes a Maori tradition, published by Sir George Grey, that certain islands, among which it names Rarotonga, Parima and Manono, are islands near Hawaiki. The Rarotongas call themselves Maori, and state that their ancestors came from Hawaiki, and Parima and Manono are the native names of two islands in the Samoan group. The almost identical languages of the Rarotongas and the Maoris strengthen the theory that the two peoples are descended from Polynesians migrating, possibly at widely different dates, from Samoa. The distance from Rarotonga to New Zealand is about 2000 m., and, with the aid of the trade wind, large canoes could traverse the distance within a month. Moreover the fauna and flora of New Zealand in many ways resemble those of Samoa. Thus it would seem certain that the Maoris, starting from “further Hawaiki,” or Samoa, first touched at Rarotonga, “nearer Hawaiki,” whence, after forming a settlement, they journeyed on to New Zealand. Maori tradition is explicit as to the cause of the exodus from Samoa, gives the names of the canoes in which the journey was made and the time of year at which the coast of New Zealand was sighted. On the question of the date a comparison of genealogies of Maori chiefs shows that, up to the beginning of the 20th century, about eighteen generations or probably not much more than five centuries had passed since the first Maori arrivals. There is some evidence that the “tradition of the six canoes” does not represent the first contact of the Polynesian race with New Zealand. If earlier immigrants from Samoa or other eastern Pacific islands arrived they must have become absorbed into the native Papuan population—arguing from the absence of any distinct tradition earlier than that “of the six canoes.” Some have sought to find in the Morioris of Chatham Island the remnants of this Papuan-Polynesian population, expelled by Te Kupe and his followers. The extraordinary ruined fortifications found, and the knowledge of the higher art of war displayed by the Maoris, suggest (what is no doubt the fact) that there was a hard fight for them when they first arrived, but the greatest resistance must have been from the purer Papuan inhabitants, and not from the half-castes who were probably easily overwhelmed. The shell heaps found on the coasts and elsewhere dispose of the theory that New Zealand was uninhabited or practically so six centuries back.

Any description of the Maoris, who in recent years have come more and more under the influence of white civilization, must necessarily refer rather to what they have been than what they are. Physically the Maoris are true Polynesians, tall, well-built, with straight or slightly curved noses, high foreheads and oval faces. Their colour is usually a darker brown than that of their kinsfolk of the eastern Pacific, but light-complexioned Maoris, almost European in features, are met with. Their hair is black and straight or wavy, scarcely ever curly. They have long been celebrated for their tattooing, the designs being most elaborate.

Among the most industrious of Polynesian races, they have always been famed for wood-carving; and in building, weaving and dyeing they had made great advances before the whites arrived. They are also good farmers and bold seamen. In the Maori wars they showed much strategic skill, and their knowledge of fortification was very remarkable. Politically the Maoris have always been democratic. No approach to a monarchy ever existed. Each tribe under its chief was autonomous. Tribal lands were held in common and each man was entitled to a share in the products. They had slaves, but so few as not to alter the social conditions. Every Maori was a soldier, and war was the chief business and joy of his life. Tribal wars were incessant. The weapons were wooden spears, clubs and stone tomahawks. Cannibalism, which earned them in earlier years a terrible name, was generally restricted to the bloodthirsty banquets which always followed a victory. The Maoris ate their enemies’ hearts to gain their courage, but to whatever degree animistic beliefs may have once contributed to their cannibalism, it is certain that long before Captain Cook’s visit religious sanction for the custom had long given place to mere gluttonous enjoyment.

The Maoris had no regular marriage ceremony. Polygamy was universal, and even to-day they are not strictly monogamous. The power of the husband over the wife was absolute, but women took their meals with the men, were allowed a voice in the tribe’s affairs, and sometimes accompanied the men into battle. Some tribes were endogamic, and there matriarchy was the rule, descent being traced through the female line. Ferocious as they were in war, the Maoris are generally hospitable and affectionate in their home-life, and a pleasant characteristic, noticed by Captain Cook, is their respect and care of the old. The Maoris buried their dead, the cemeteries being ornamented with carved posts. Their religion was a nature-worship intimately connected with the veneration of ancestors. There was a belief in the soul, which was supposed to dwell in the left eye. They had no doubt as to a future state, but no definite idea of a supreme being. They had no places of worship, nor, though they had sacred wooden figures, is there any reason to consider that they were idolaters in the strict sense of the word. The custom of taboo was very fully developed. Nowadays they are all nominally Christians. While they had no written language, a considerable oral literature of songs, legends and traditions existed. Their priesthood was a highly trained profession, and they had schools which taught a knowledge of the stars and constellations, for many of which they had names. All Maoris are natural orators and poets, and a chief was expected to add these accomplishments to his prowess as a warrior or his skill as a seaman. The Maoris of to-day are law-abiding, peaceable and indolent. They have been called the Britons of the south, and their courage in defending their country and their intelligence amply justify the compliment. By the New Zealanders they are cordially liked. At the census of 1906 they numbered 47,731, as against 45,470 in 1874; and there were 6516 half-castes. See also Polynesia and Samoa.

Bibliography.—Sir G. Grey, Polynesian Mythology and Maori Legends (Wellington, 1885); A. de Quatrefages, Les Polynésiens et leurs migrations (Paris, 1866); Abraham Fornander, An Account of the Polynesian Race (1877–1885); Henri Mager, Le Monde polynésien (Paris, 1902); Pierre Adolphe Lesson, Les Polynésiens, leur origine, &c. (Paris, 1880–1884); W. Pember Reeves, New Zealand; A. R. Wallace, Australasia (Stanford’s Compendium, 1894); G. W. Rusden, History of New Zealand (1895); Alfred Saunders, History of New Zealand (1896); James Cowan, The Maoris of New Zealand (1909).