In Search of the Paths of the Shining Cuckoo

2011 Jeff Lynch

This is meant to be a tale of the Maori peoples, goblins, cuckoos and of sidereal navigation about the time of the Magna Carta or the battles of Crecy and Poitiers. And of the long islands somewhat like an Eden with the name of New Zealand.

Stories of Able Tasman and James Cook ring in my ears today and we understand that they are the very first ever Pakhehas known to have come to this land of the Maori peoples. Tasman was the first white man by over one hundred years. Later on they turn out to be the rather pink and white skinned humans who are described at the time by a Maori eyewitness, as goblins. This witness is a Maori man. He was a boy at the time when Cook’s men came ashore and frightened the locals so much.

We even know his name. And it was this boy that called these visitors to his shores goblins. And what of the first Maori peoples then. I mean those superb seafarers who made the very .first landfalls on the main islands. Just how did those clever Polynesian sailors manage sail the Pacific Ocean in their large open canoes for many hundreds or even thousands of miles. Was a migratory bird called the Shining Bronze Cuckoo in part responsible for the Maori to arrive safely at New Zealand in their canoes? And what would these navigators have thought of New Zealand after the first landfalls? For as strange as it may seem to us, the first visitors to New Zealand certainly discovered that these two long islands were completely uninhabited.
You will need to keep in mind that I do not mean to really prove anything in this essay. I have actually researched and written this piece mainly for my own information and amusement. There is very little original research here in this essay either, but I do hope that what I say may interest you. However, you should bear in mind that I have little to prove and I do not even have a rough barrow to wheel out. Basically, this essay looks at two sets of humans who arrive at New Zealand.

In order of the essay, we briefly look at the Europeans who arrived approximately 500 years after the Maori had first arrived in New Zealand. The Europeans did not stay in the country for very long. Tasman’s party was there first in the middle of the 17th century. The second visit was by the intrepid James Cook. The visit by Cook at Whitianga occurred 127 years after the first one by Tasman. Then we try to turn back the clock some five hundred years to examine the Polynesian groups who later called themselves Maori and who did stay at New Zealand. I have accepted the carbon dated findings which tend to prove that the Maori peoples were the first humans there and that they probably arrived between the early 12th and the late 13th centuries. Others may disagree with that of course for their own reasons.

And I do intend to comment in some detail, on the ways that the first Pakehas managed to upset and even murder Maori warriors in both of the visits. Lastly, I have found it  interesting to match what James Michener wrote in the 1950s in his famous novel ‘Hawaii’ with some of the current ideas about Polynesian sea going voyages at the time that New Zealand was first settled.

These sea voyagers arrived in their large double hulled canoes five centuries before any white men. Just how did they get to this far and lonely South Land? Where might they have come from? Where on earth do we think that they were going? And I’m talking about the peoples who were the first permanently based humans in a rough kind of Eden that came to be called New Zealand. I won’t be able to answer all of the above questions satisfactorily but at least we look at some possibilities.
Murderer’s Bay

It is my wish to stand on the shores of the sea in the north of the Bay of Islands area. I will be at a place that was called by the Dutch navigators, Murderer’s Bay. I will first of all look at the Europeans who named that place. The bay was given that name by one Abel Jaznoon Tasman. Abel Tasman had been sent to these southern climes by the master controllers of the Dutch East Company and he himself was Dutch. His main target was to discover the great southern continent whose North West shores had already been mapped by various sailors some of whom were also Dutch. This great southern continent was of course, the island continent that we call Australia. Having sailed a shade too far to the  south, Tasman missed the mainland altogether and only found the land which he named Van Diemen’s Land. 

Able Tasman named Van Diemen’s Land after Batavia’s current governor. In New Zealand there is much the same speculation as there is of Australia, about possible early visits by Spanish and Dutch explorers. It might be that they may have touched on either of the two main islands some 100 years before Tasman did. After all, Tasman is of course only the first European known to have landed on New Zealand’s shores. It is possible that others may have got there before him and left no record of it. There is no sign of anything like a ‘Mahogany Ship’ or any similar ship in New Zealand. However, there are maps which are not fully counted for, or appraised properly. Some people already believe a map which was probably drawn in 1747, might be an accurate representation of a small part of the New Zealand coastline. We are not certain who drew this map at all.

Tasman then sailed his two ships south west into the Pacific to finally arrive at the island that the Maori knew as Te Kala-a-a-Maaui. Tasman called this land Staten Island. He arrived in New Zealand in the summer of 1642-1643. We now know this as the North Island of New Zealand. His two ships his flagship the Heemskerk and also his armed escort the Zeehaen, arrived at the bay which I want to visit. The Maori called this bay Taitapu, and there was to be an almost instant bloody and fatal confrontation between the Dutch sailors and the local inhabitants here.

The two ships that were seen off Perpendicular Point in the Bay of Islands were as already named, the Heemskerk and an armed transport named the Zeehaen. Tasman was accompanied by 110 sailors and soldiers and he was out of the port of Batavia or what we now call the island of Java in Indonesia. These days we believe that it was the sub continent of Australia that he had been searching for. But the very first day that the Dutchmen appeared off the New Zealand shores there was dire strife and tragedy. There was an encounter with Maori people which suddenly turned to totally tragic proportions when Tasman’s outfit could not interpret the sounds of the Maori horns blowing loud and clear across what he later called Murderer’s Bay. The horns were perhaps blown by the locals as a challenge to the Europeans to come out and fight. The ships sailed near the sickle shape of Farewell Spit and anchored there.

The Maori knew this bay by yet another name. They called it Taitapu Bay. It is thought likely  that the Maori issued a challenge to Tasman’s ships on Taitapu Bay by blowing blasts on their wooden trumpets and they followed this up by bringing out some of their war canoes to see off these ‘floating islands’ off from their homeland shores.

The Dutch seamen and soldiers seemed to read the signals from the Maori trumpets quite wrongly now. They promptly lowered a cockboat from the Zeehaen. And they rowed the cockboat towards the approaching Maori canoes. This was simply and truly a disastrous move on their part. Without any further warning one of the local war canoes rammed the European cockboat. This was a short and a most brutal contest. In a brief but deadly mle that followed, three of the Zeehaen men were killed. One of the bodies of the unfortunate sailors was seen to be picked up out of the sea and carried shoreward’s by the able canoeists. He was perhaps already being made a God by the Maori warriors as they carried him ashore.

Historians wonder now whether or not this poor individual was the first consumer product from overseas in Maori New Zealand. The survivors withdrew back to the ships and after a short conference, the two Dutch ships hauled up their anchors and sheeted the sails home to begin sailing from this deadly bay. As the two ships were sailing further away from the hostile seas, shots in the form of some kind of cannonade or small cannon were fired from at least one of the Dutch ships at the following craft.

Eyewitnesses say that the shots fired resulted in the death of one of the Maori warriors in a pursuing canoe. The man that was struck and killed was seen to be standing up in the prow of a following warship canoe. He was holding aloft some kind of a flag or an unknown emblem. Apparently witnesses claimed it was a white flag. Some historians think that this may be reckoned to be the very first food import to be brought into New Zealand, if we exclude those plant stuffs brought to those shores by the Maori themselves. In short there may be a case that a ritual cannibal trophy session held at some later date.

For there is more than a chance, that the unfortunate sailor or soldier whose body was carried ashore in murder’s Bay may have been devoured by the Maori warriors. They might have done this as the first part of a triumphal ritual. It may well have signified their swift victory in the short and sharp sea battle on their own territory.  Could it have been that the Maori had decided to have a parley then? I mean, if the emblem or flag that was showing in the war canoe was really white? But perhaps the sighting of a white flag was conjectural at best.

Tasman was not afraid to name the place Murderer’s Bay in the light of his fallen men. And it was surely not a very pretty start to European- Maori relations. Of course it is well worth remembering that we only have the European accounts of this sudden and savage encounter to go by. The British in their wisdom later changed the name of this bay. It was changed from Murderer’s Bay to Golden Bay without a great deal of sensibility towards the unfortunate Dutch soldiers or sailors who perished there under Tasman’s leadership. But it’s a sweeter name for colonizing folks to use is it not?

Yes it is so; these people were Goblins

An even more startling account occurred some 136 years later on, at the landing of the notable Captain James Cook late of Whitby and his men on Maori occupied shores. It should be pointed out, that Cook in his three voyages and four visits to the country, spent some 328 days on or sailing just off the shores of New Zealand. So he had a history of quite extensive contact with Maori peoples. He had the opportunity to assess their culture manners and way of life during this time. He was surely attempting to be very careful with them too. His orders expressly said that was exactly what he should do. His orders told him most specifically to attempt to get on as well as he could with the native groups he came across. And despite some awful misunderstandings, not to mention actual straight out killings, Cook was quite humanely concerned to get on with the Maori. He liked order and learning far too much to wish for either planned or random violence with the Maori. He was a fine negotiator too, but things will fall apart at times when cultures clash. And clash they did.

This time we have what is said to be the eye witness account of one of the Maori people. He was but a very frightened small boy when Cook came ashore on that day. The account was by one Horeta Te Taniwha, who describes some of the events and his feelings in the November of the year 1769. Horeta was to record this much later on as a grown man. The good ship the collier named ‘The Endeavour’ had just sailed into Whitianga Harbour and it was to remain there for some 12 days.  

Before we look at a part of this very young Maori boy’s words, it has been made clear to me, that where we read the word ‘goblin’ in the text, the Maori word used is ‘tupua’.  Tupua has been translated here as ‘goblins’. Ms Anne Salmond says that the word ‘tupua’ 
refers to ‘visible beings or objects of supernatural origin, regarded with a mixture of terror and awe’. It is then, a very hard word to translate literally. But goblin is certainly a highly expressive term to me. And certainly it does give one the sense of shock, awe and wonder at the feelings of those beings who saw human like figures emerge from the ‘floating islands’ to tread their home shores for the very first time.

Whitianga Bay was to be named Mercury Bay by Captain Cook for the observations of the planet that he hoped to make there. He was charged by his superiors at the Admiralty to take astronomical readings in several venues and at sundry times during the voyage. It was not his first landfall of the North Island though. Joseph Bank was using Cook’s own cabin having made the Captain a monetary offer that he could not refuse. Joseph Banks was a very rich man and a man of some influence at that. Mr Banks was also a very large fellow and possibly needed to have the extra room to lay out his specimens. Banks was also very fond of a dog that he had with him on the cruise and it is said that the favoured dog was normally given the privilege of sleeping on the big bed in Bank’s great cabin. Banks was a high born British aristocrat and Cook was a lowly born son of a Yorkshire commoner. It is interesting to observe that the two men seemed to get on very well together under the most difficult circumstances.

At sea a small boy named Nicholas Young was up the mast keeping watch for land on the 6th of October 1869. As it happened, young Nick was the first of the crew on the Endeavour to cry ‘Land Ho’ or something like that in this case. And it is recorded that he was later rewarded with a full gallon of rum for his triumphal prize. He shared the rum out that night as was the custom in those days. The headland that young Nicholas Young spotted was named the Nick Head by our Captain James Cook. This was done in honour of the young fellow with the sharp eyes up aloft in the mast shrouds that day. The headland still bears that name to this day. From Gisbourne’s minute books kept aboard the Endeavour, we have this account of this very first British landfall. It was a momentous occurrence for all concerned and it causes one to pause to think on matters yet to happen in the history of the Maori peoples and the British settlers who would share this land most uneasily with them later. 

‘At half past one, a small boy was at the mast head called out land. I was luckly [sic] upon deck and well I was entertained, within a few minutes of the cry circulated and up came all the hands, this land could not be seen even from the tops yet few were there , who did not plainly from the deck till it appeared that it had looked at least 5 points wrong.’

At a later time when they finally did come to step ashore on New Zealand shores, the events of Tasman’s days were practically repeated and violence was rife here as it was 127 years ago. Several Maori were killed in various actions and nervousness was seen on both sides of this racial and societal divide. The Maori kept on showing what we might call ‘ritual challenges’. And this was interpreted by Cook and his men as acts of direct aggression instead of the bluff or show that it was meant to be. These misinterpretations by the whites, kept on losing Maori warriors lives.

Strangely enough, we know the name of the poor Maori man that Cook’s men shot dead at Tururanganui or Poverty Bay. For James Cook had so renamed the bay. This man was killed after Cook’s men took fright at one of these ritual displays of aggression we have already mentioned before. It seems that the white men had distinct trouble discerning actual threats from mere acts or displays of ‘possible aggression’. And rightly or wrongly the Europeans took no chances. The dead man was called Te Maro. And we even have a description of the man’s corpse to hand.  Monkhouse described this dead Maori man thus...
‘He was a short, but very stout bodied man- measured about 5ft 3inches.  And upon his right cheek and nose, were spirals of tattaou or punctuation of the skin- he had three arched tattaous over his left eye drawn from the root of his nose towards the temple; each arch about four lines broad- the interval between each line about a line broad...his hair, coarse and black, was tied upon the crown of his head- his teeth were even and small but not white- his features were large but well proportional- his nose well formed- ears bored- his beard short. He had on him a dress of singular manufacture...’

Certainly this is a very fine and careful description. We have a feeling too that it is a most accurate one too. We can also feel that it is almost similar perhaps to one of Bank’s descriptions of some specimen of botanical interest to either him or his assistant Daniel Solander. We remind ourselves that it is a dead human that is being described here. He was murdered because Cook’s men were so just so precipitate in many of their actions. And they were dead scared of these warrior peoples themselves. At no time during this period, going by the Europeans own accounts, were the invading or should we merely say the intruding white men made to feel really threatened. But still they reacted.

They shot and killed some other warriors too. And in fact, Cook’s Second Lieutenant Gore quite shockingly and directly shot and killed a man at point blank range at Whitianga. This happened aboard the ship. Apparently a Maori warrior had suddenly grabbed at the officer’s clothing as he passed by. And one would have to say that Gore’s action of shooting the man dead on the spot was most precipitate to say the least. Strange to say, it is recorded that the Maori themselves seemed to think that the dead man had acted most foolishly and perhaps deserved his fate.

It’s possibly a hard moral lesson for a hard land full of hard warriors I guess. In fact, the locals did not at all seem very much upset by this particularly shocking shooting incident. Manners sometimes maketh the man after all, and not the clothes I suppose as it has been said. Banks and the rest of his gang sat down to a fine roast meal that night. But in truth it must be said, that Cook’s men were somewhat sickened by the bloodshed as they moved on again.

And this was not just a one way thing in the global scheme of things either. In1773, ten crew members of the Adventure, which was the ship accompanying Cook’s ship Resolution were killed. Not only were they killed at Grass Cove on Arapawa Island in Queen Charlotte Sound, but they were eaten afterwards. Cook returned here later, but he was in no mood for vengeful actions. Apparently he believed that the dead men had acted foolishly and somewhat provocatively as well. In fact, it was a little similar to the Lieutenant Gore shooting case, where the Maori had deemed that their own man had likely been responsible for his own death. Misunderstandings were prevalent on both sides and it is probably only by good luck and goodwill on both sides that it turned out no worse than it did.

When Cook’s party landed at Whitianga Bay, the year was 1769 and the date of the visit was from the 3rd to the 15th of November. They found that this area was very rich in forest, birds and animal life and particularly in shell fish and fish in general. Altogether then it was a most lush and bounteous area to see in this general coastal district. You could certainly say that it was an area well worth protection by warrior peoples. The Maori who lived at this spot were known as the Ngaati Hei, and one of their numbers a young boy, remembered these times well.

And so we come to the details of what a young Maori boy saw as Cook’s men came ashore. As a mature man, Horeta Te Tawiwha stated in writing what he saw and felt, when recalling the meeting as a young boy and this is what he had to say. ...‘We lived at Whitianga and a vessel came there, and when our old men saw the ship they said it was an atua, (he means a god) and the people aboard were tupua, strange beings or ‘goblins’ ... The old people said, ‘Yes, it is so: these people are goblins’

And Horeta Te Tawiwha continues what he had witnessed all those long years ago...

‘When these goblins came ashore we (the children and the women) took notice of them, but we ran away from them into the forest, and the warriors stayed in the presence of those goblins; but the goblins stayed some time, and did not do any evil to our braves, we came back one by one, and gazed at them, and we stoked their garments with our hands, and we were pleased  with the whiteness of their skins and the blue of the eyes of some of them.’

Here it should be pointed out that this boy Horeta went aboard the Endeavour only a couple of days later after the first British landing. So he had been much emboldened after his extreme state of fear that he had so graphically described a little earlier. His ‘taming’ might then seem symbolic for what is to happen through much of the years to follow. And so we can slowly but most surely witness ‘the ethos of expansion’ that was occurring in the Southern Pacific. Both Australia and New Zealand are to be put under pressure to yield to European needs and greed for the centuries to come. It will be less than one hundred year (in the year1860 in fact) until gold is discovered in Otago. Here almost literally, the rush was be on to grab land at all costs. Things will change so rapidly then my friend and war, famine and chaos will mostly be the bloody name of these days.

Ready to follow the Shining Cuckoo

Now I would like to examine at least superficially matters of why and how Polynesians migrated away from their homelands to other lands. There were perhaps two strands operating here on the islanders. The one was physical and the other social or learned factors in day to day life of the Polynesian societies. Two physical factors to consider are the sea levels and the El Nino weather factor. In the case of the levels of the Pacific Sea we are told that some 10,000 years ago the ice cap started to melt. It is beginning to melt today as I write his in the year 2007- 2008 but possibly for different reasons. That meant that slowly but inexorably the level of the Pacific Sea rose. Of course it was the same with all of the oceans of the earth. So after a long period of melt down at about say 6,000 years ago the sea was a few metres higher than the current level.

Then the level of the sea began to fall once again. Research on the Pacific archipelagos show that after another period of time more islands would have been slowly revealed. Ipso facto there were more land masses to be found by any wider reaching sea navigators. The more islands that these sea voyagers managed to discover in theory at least, the easier the navigation might be. You can island hop as you go and the fact that there is more land makes you feel all the safer along the way. One can only imagine that if the journey feels safer, then perhaps the bolder you just might be tempted to become as you sail. Therefore you continue to plough on further through the seas.

Secondly, there is the case of the El Nino effect.  Over the past 5,000 years the El Nino weather pattern seems to have become more dominant. This system occurs when the waters of the Eastern Pacific warm up and cause the previously prevalent South Eastern Trade Winds to become weaker than before. Some observers consider that the new El Nino patterns would have made conditions better for longer sea voyages to the east. Sea going voyages from Central and Eastern Islands, such as the Cook Islands and the Society Islands towards the New Zealand coast, would still difficult, but less hazardous than before.

Against this line of thinking are the critics who constantly claim that the design of the traditional sail patterns on the doubled hulled canoes do not allow for any type of sailing other than downwind sailing. That is to say, that close tacking into the wind is not easily possible. But some of the early white sailors saw things differently and they describe varied sailing tactics, including tacking into the wind under certain circumstances. As some recreations of a few long sea voyages were made in quite recent times by several groups, it became more and more clear just how reliable and sophisticated the Polynesian systems of navigation were overall. The body of navigational knowledge that these ocean going seafarers built up was truly most impressive indeed.

There is also the case of the Polynesians observing the migratory patterns of two common Pacific birds. These are cuckoos; the long tailed cuckoo, and the shining cuckoo. The Shining Bronze Cuckoo (Cuculus lucidus) was first named by a white man in 1788. These cuckoos breed in New Zealand and then migrate in a northerly and easterly direction to such places as New Guinea, the Solomons, New Hebrides, Loyalty Islands, Banks and Santa Cruz Islands and more. They are also found in parts of Australia. Both these birds have migrating patterns from a northerly or a north easterly direction (from New Zealand that is) to the south and then back in the opposite direction again later in the year. These birds were easily observable to many Polynesian groups.

The islanders could easily have reasoned that logically the birds flew to another land and then returned to their islands. They may have measured the time that they were absent and extrapolated something from that knowledge. They were then a shining example to the islanders. Something to consider following perhaps. This regular as a cuckoo clock migrating pattern was possibly a natural example that may have helped to fire their already sea hungry imaginations for what lay beyond the near seas. It must be admitted that man will venture on an imaginative yearning for far off lands. Most certainly, the Polynesians were imaginative and this cannot be dismissed as a reason for their migrations.

Anybody who wishes to rationally discuss the early meetings of Maori and European types should consult two books by the one writer. Her name is Anne Salmond. Firstly there is her superlative and prize winning book called ‘Two Worlds’. It is sub titled ‘first meetings between Maori and Europeans 1642-1772.This book won no less than three New Zealand book awards and is likely to remain a classic in the field for a very long time. Secondly, Anne has written another book, ‘The History of The Cannibal Dog’. Ms Salmond is a truly inspired writer. A genuine teller of tales who combines the power of imagination with facts presented in many styles and media. Anne makes powerful use of maps, and photographic forms. The second book by her is a fine history of Captain James Cook’s explorations in the South and South Central Pacific.  

What I wonder were some of the psychological factors which faced the early Maori in settling their new lands? For starters, the Maori did not have a word for ‘human’ at all. That is to say, because they never knew any other beings or ‘outsiders,’ they had no need to define themselves as different to other beings. There were then only the Maori, and no other sentient beings that they could conceive of. To think about outsiders was for them simply a no brainer. They existed, and that was it full stop. The Maori had then literally no others to compare themselves with. And I believe that this is a very difficult concept for us to get our heads around too. It was a bit like the old Indian chief in the film ‘Little Big Man’ played so well by Dustin Hoffman. In the film, the chief keeps referring to his own Indian nation as ‘humans.’

Though they were Polynesians and they had traveled from other Polynesian Islands, in the end they had perhaps forgotten their ‘real ancestors’ whom they had left behind them on the home islands. This is in spite of all the wonderful legends and canoe stories that exist. Perhaps it was not until the Maori of New Zealand went to settle on the Chatham Islands that at least some of them found a reason for feeling superior to another group of beings.

In fact, the Maori busied themselves and enslaved the native population in those islands. It should be understood that New Zealand was one of the last places on earth to be populated. The Polynesians who came to these two main islands found only the birds of the air the mammals and beasts of the earth and the fishes in the seas. And they had to start their ‘civilization’ all over again from scratch to sustain themselves and the future generations. Try to imagine that particular challenge then if you can?

The plant stocks that they had brought with them posed some problems for their survival as well. For most of their root plants were far more suitable to the lower degree regions of the tropics than their new home in the mostly cool and temperate zone islands of New Zealand. They waited for successful crops to come from seeds and roots which they had brought from their ‘home islands’.  During these foundation times, it is logical to assume that hunting and fishing must have been their staple means of survival. In many places, shell fish was plentiful. Following experimental plantings and the necessary farming, a sustainable cropping system must have finally appeared. And I guess at last they could relax so to speak.

And so I go in my imagination to track the paths of the Shining Cuckoo in the Moreland library in Dawson Street Brunswick housed in the old concert room cum ballroom of the Brunswick Town Hall. I was very lucky at the library. And oddly enough, the woman at the research and help desk just happened to be a Kiwi. After a small search, the librarian turned up a fine road map of New Zealand which contained a detailed section of the Bay of islands area.

It was simple to spot Ranganu Bay on the map with it’s three points, Stanley Point, Farmer Point and lastly Perpendicular Point. This point bears the Maori name of Rua Koura and it was off here, that the Dutchman Abel Jaznoon Tasman first attempted to come ashore in New Zealand with those disastrous results. This place deserves to be a prominent spot in the annals of Maori history, for it was here as far as we know that Maori and Europeans first came to battle.  Ranganauru Harbor is not so far from here and from Houkora Heads. There is a mighty sweep of beach to the south called East Beach. This takes us down to the swamplands of Moutangi Swamp and Wahuahua Swamp.

A Land called Nowhere at the time of the Magna Carta

Just when might have these first landings have been made then? It’s surely a tempting question to ask you tell me. It might well have been sometime about one generation after King John signed a telling document on a small island at a place called Runymede in central England. Many historians and paleontologists have come to think along these lines now. The arrivals were of the time of the signing of the Magna Carta in England I mean. And in European terms some of the original landing or landings probably occurred just after the battles that we call the battle of Crecy and also the battle of Poiters in France. Now the Magna Carta was first signed by King John in the year 1215. The battle of Poitiers in France was fought over a hundred years later in 1356. So we have a kind of ballpark figure here for the early Maori settlements.

There are complicated reasons for the experts to consider in the landfall dating questions. There are quite sophisticated evidences on this matter now too. I mean the dating from which canoes full of the Polynesians who were to call themselves Maori arrived at New Zealand. Some evidences are from what we now call simple carbon dating. This was done on some artifacts discovered ‘in situ’ They are objects which were themselves somehow trapped in geological formations that proved that they were on one of the islands at the very time of the dating. That is to say they were dated but also found not to be moved by man and therefore a reliable date might be provided for them and by extrapolation, provide a date for people who had brought them to New Zealand.

The big canoes landed as it were, for the Polynesian islanders to start a completely fresh start in life on this earth. They came to the Southern land which was unoccupied. There were no other humans upon the face of this ‘new found place on earth’.  Which of the two large New Zealand islands did they land on then? Well most think that it would be the North Island. There is at least some evidence for this but I don’t know whether this was so or not. But there were birds and animals here already. They were very large birds and they were flightless, and they were given the name moa. Historians often refer to these early colonist days as ‘the moa economy’ and I reckon along with some other observers, that the kiwi word moa might rather cryptically stands for meat on arrival. The Moa provided ample meat for the settlers then. There was another huge bird there as well.

This was a flightless goose which managed to glean the weird name of the Adzehead. The founding people also found the largest eagle that has ever been known in the world. It was the eagle which later on became known as Haast’s Eagle, after the German born British explorer born in the year 1824. Sir John Francis Julius von Haast was born in Germany. He researched the extinct moa in New Zealand. Haast’s Bluff in the Northern Territory of Australia is named after this distinguished geologist cum explorer. This geological feature lies some couple of hundred kilometers from Alice Springs. The great crater which bears Haast’s name was caused by a great meteorite slamming into the earth with more than the power of many hydrogen bombs. Haast died in the year 1887.

All of these wonderful creatures from the ‘southern paradise’ of New Zealand are now extinct, and they now only survive in some of the wonderful stories and myths that are told by the Maori people themselves. Unlike Australia, there were not a lot of native animals here. Of course there were many birds and beasts of the sea. These included pelicans, fur seals, sea elephants, penguins, and many other sweet and ugly sea creatures besides. But of course all of these birds and beasts in this paradise existed quite happily before the era of the musket, rifle or the shotgun. Not to reign for ever more however we note.

These first islanders came to New Zealand to find a veritable ‘paradise’ with no Adam and Eve as spiritual or moral baggage to go with it. It was very strange world and I will say more about it later.  Just try to imagine arriving for the first time at a foreign land without any man or woman living on the face of the earth. You have arrived and what would you think or do afterwards? And just where had these cunning sailor-colonists come from then? And just what else was going on in the world when they first got there eh? That is a lot of unknowns to consider.

Erehwon, is of course Nowhere spelt backwards. It is also a book written by the famous novelist Samuel Butler. Mr Butler’s greatest and well worth the read book was ‘The Way of all Flesh.’ It ranks very highly in my own personal lexicon of fine works of English literature. As a young man, Butler settled in New Zealand for a time. He was almost penniless and attempted to farm the land and was perhaps content merely to survive at the time. No doubt he would have liked to make a lot of money, but mainly he sat down and wrote this book called Erehwon. Not many people read this book at the time.

Not many people read Butler’s book today either. While he was living there, the rather pristine and Eden like landscape inspired the talented writer to write a book which was based on a utopian notion or two. He was following in the footsteps of such people as the Renaissance scholar Erasmus and perhaps also the pungent Eighteenth Century Ulster writer Jonathan Swift. It should be noted that Samuel soon gave up his notion of survival in the antipodes. He returned to Great Britain. He remained a serious churchman, a fine scholar like his Dad and a good writer.

And of course he wrote his masterpiece ‘The Way of all Flesh.’ But it was quite plain to most folks of all skin colours and creeds, that these long islands were a place to inspire many human beings. It was quite untouched in many ways and it was likely to supply man with his basic needs. The Maori peoples thought so too, and so they propped there for good or evil. Was Eden then discovered here under the Southern Cross? On arrival, the new settlers found that no other humans were permanently settled there and this bare fact would concentrate the mind wonderfully.

It was a land of wide and varied profundity. And it seems logical to guess that expert navigators might not have fully appreciated that the two long islands stretched for some 1600 kms. Surely they would have intuited that this land was larger than those that all of those that they had known before.  And also there were the native resources to be discovered in this place, for it was a more temperate land than their ‘homeland’ tropical islands. But would their crops from their homelands take on, or would they die. And what might that mean for the settlers?  For the seeds and roots came from far more tropical regions than New Zealand and this might have proved crucial.

James Michener’s Inspired Visions

The famous and most prodigious American writer James Michener almost got the basis of his story completely wrong in his giant of a novel called ‘Hawaii’. But he may have also got a huge amount of it almost perfectly right too. The first third of this book, tells the riveting tale of how the first Maori folks sailed away from the islands of Tahiti in their double hulled canoes to get to the shores of Hawaii after some harrowing and moving adventures.

It is a well told tale for sure, and a most interesting one too. They were deliberate colonists in Michener’s quite riveting but fairly fictitious tale of the early pacific seafarers. They intended to colonize another land but they were quite unsure of their ultimate destination on the first voyage. He simply got some of the facts wrong about Polynesian origins. It wasn’t at all his fault, for even the finest of scholars were quite confused about this difficult subject of Polynesian origins when he wrote his book ‘Hawaii’ in the 1950’s. Most modern scholars now largely agree on the point that the travelers were intentionally bound for new lands of some sort or another as Michener had suggested. His islanders got to Hawaai after tortuous travels from Bora Bora and other islands. They had traveled vast distances to do so and he shows them to be fine if very superstitious navigators.

The islanders are depicted by Michener as skilled navigators using what we now know as sidereal navigation. It is simply steering by the stars, in other words. Basically it is the same method that modern jetliner navigators will commonly use in computers if they are planning to take off at say Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport to fly to Heathrow airport in London. The Polynesian sailors certainly understood the principles of the division of a year into 365 and something over days. In Michener’s tale, there is a particularly touching scene when our heroes realize that they are in danger of altogether ‘losing’ the well known constellation that we know as The Southern Cross.

Of course in some cases, they were sailing too far to the north to keep in touch with the Cross. The Polynesians used the familiar constellations to fix their course as they traveled. And they are also shown as being very aware that new star patterns will inevitably appear as they go further north or south. ‘Whole constellations slid into the sea, never to be seen again.’ They had also developed a calendar of moon months of twenty nine days, which Michener tells us is the easy way to build a calendar. Their year was constructed around the sun and consisted of twelve months which this time Michener says is the right way to do it. In the case of the moon the most experienced Polynesian navigators with only a slight glimpse of the moon, could tell exactly what phase it in. And by counting six months these better navigators could also tell which constellation the sun stood in. This was a very handy piece of knowledge for setting and steering a course for long voyages at sea.

However according to James Michener, they were ignorant of what a planet was. Unlike the Ancient Greeks, they had not yet nominated the wanderers as a recognizable, and an common and everyday phenomena to be reckoned with. I mean those wobbling and seemingly roaming stars that do not seem to obey the same laws as all of the others. The Greeks gave them the name planets of course. Michener has his Polynesian adventurers as kind of star struck when they realize that they have seen a star that is not ‘fixed’. They cannot tell what this might be at all. They ponder over it’s meaning for ages, but they cannot work it out at all. They neither know if it might be a good or a bad omen for them. And it is great worry for all the souls on the canoes at sea.

The Polynesians depicted in Michener’s ‘Hawaii’ also had other subtle methods. They studied driftwood and debris in the ocean to tell how near land they might be. They are also very, very superstitious, to the point of considering human sacrifice for the benefit of the greater number. They would likewise have examined cloud formations on the horizon to look for reflected colour of land in the underside of the clouds. If there was a tinge of green on the cloud, it might mean that it was over a landmass or island present. All of the above navigational techniques might well be said to have a relevance to the Maori who traveled westward into the Pacific and much later to New Zealand.

So as far as I can tell, James Michener’s novelistic vision was a pretty good one. He has politically and socially unsettled people traveling on extremely long voyages to resettle on other lands. They do not know what their destination is but they do mean deliberately to migrate to another place. But he takes us even further too. When the settlers are finally set up on Hawaii some of the palace people (they were part of a ruling palace clique in Michener’s tale) opt to try to return to their old island of Bora Bora near Tahiti. And return they do. It is only now that many experts believe that some ‘toing and froing’ from islands and the larger New Zealand landfall could well have been made.

Waiting For the West Wind (Origins, Destinations and the canoes)

Most modern researchers now inform us that the first colonists of  New Zealand were most likely to have come from either the Cook Islands or the Taumotu or ‘Society Islands’ or thereabouts. Both these groups of smallish islands lie some distance south of the Marquesas Islands. So they came from the South East Central fringes of the Pacific and not the North Eastern areas which lie quite a way above the equator. And why yes, they were in fact both deliberate colonists and they came in successive waves of migrating peoples. So after many different theories of just how and of course why these intrepid Polynesian sailors came to the fabled ‘land of the long white cloud’, we are now encouraged to think that the migrations were both deliberate and sequential in their nature.

If we go back much, much further in time, it seems that the origins of the Polynesians are from the quite large island of Taiwan. Yes and this information surprised me a lot too. It never struck me that quite a large island off the Chinese mainland would contain the source stock of the Polynesian peoples of the Pacific. If the story has now been told correctly at long last, the original migrating men and women were moving in a South Westerly direction into the Pacific Ocean. They were then waiting for the West Wind to come along to assist them. The very earliest Pacific colonists would likely have avoided the western most coastal areas of Indonesia and New Guinea to finally arrive in islands such as Fiji and Tonga. Time sort of stood still for centuries then, as they settled in these areas before more migrations took place.

When these further migrations occurred, they went westward towards such places such as Pitcairn Island and also towards the northwest towards Hawaii. The peoples who came to New Zealand were among the latest comers to settle on any of the land masses in the Pacific. Possibly they were the very latest. In fact the emigration to New Zealand by the Maori peoples saw the very last settlement of any of the major land masses anywhere in the world. In the Pacific area, only the subsequent migrations to the tiny group of the Chatham Islands, was to follow New Zealand’s settlement. 

Waiting for the West Wind is what we might call a short study the subject of long term sea navigation by ancient Polynesians. We find much of the received knowledge is often conjecture, guesswork or reconstruction from myth or the tales such the canoe stories of the Maori. But other information can be gleaned from experimental navigations done in modern times. Now I haven’t studied any of the many Maori canoe stories (I mean here, the mythic tales of sea voyages) at all in detail, but I am almost certain that like most ancient mythic stories they will contain many home truths. But they do tend to confuse one with repetition and long and almost meaningless lists.

However, we do know quite a little more of the design and styles of their sea going canoes. From this information we can extrapolate quite a lot of likely events. Firstly, there were two basic types of Polynesian canoes. The first type we could call an outrigger canoe. It has one larger hull with a smaller balancing one as well. The second type is similar to the one that was drawn by Sydney Parkinson when he was with the Endeavour in the Society Islands in the year of 1769. This type is what we might call a true double hulled canoe.

According to many contemporary historians, one of the prime targets for our early Maori settlers was the Society Islands where double hulled canoes were most prevalent. Many canoes that were used for long sea going voyages were of this type. The twin hulls were all practically the same in all respects. Typically too, there might be a kind of a shelter built towards the forward part of the canoe. This was usually made out of some light material, such as grass or leaves of larger tropical plants and timber. It’s worth mentioning that Michener’s canoes have such a feature too.

The lengths and hull design of these ‘waka’ varied considerably for usage and over the spread of the whole Pacific. James Cook called them the pahi and the tipaituola. One craft was normally used for daily use and perhaps for the closer distance island hopping. These onshore craft were far more the lighter ones and were adapted for speed.  They had a ‘v’ shape type of hull, which was definitely the faster canoe design. If the Polynesian peoples wanted a ‘lazier’ and steadier craft they used a ‘u’ shape type of hull which was both more stable and far more maneuverable than the speedier ‘v’ shape hulls. We could guess that additions such as the shelters as described by Parkinson and as described above, might have been added at a later date as well.

Nearly all of the ‘longer haul waka’ were of the ‘u’ shape type and they rolled more easily with the Pacific rollers and swells and were therefore far more stable. They would likely have some form of the huts or shelters as described by Sydney Parkinson. The Polynesians commonly used the ‘second hull’ of the ‘waka’ for storage of foods and goods. On the long emigration voyages such as the ones from the Society Islands or the islands near to them, the travelers would often have brought seeding plants and other vegetables which they would sow upon their arrival.

The steering paddles or sweeps of the ‘waka’ were often extremely long. These were indeed used as sweeps much in the style of our own Aussie lifesavers in their lifeboats as they plough inshore over the boiling waves of the surf, as they go cresting into the beaches. Sails were rigged mainly for downwind sailing and this has led to many historians concluding that some of the long sea voyages were simply a matter of following the prevailing winds in the Pacific.

But there are fundamental problems with this observation too. Cook’s men and other early European observers seem to have seen canoes which could both tack and sail close into the wind. Sydney Parkinson’s skilful drawings from the year 1769 show both single and double masted canoes. Both of these varieties however are the double hulled type of canoe. That is to say that many historians and other ‘experts’, believe that the Maori might have made perhaps quite a few return trips to their starting points as is the case in Michener’s fictional account. Certainly they reckon that the Chatham Islands lying to the south east of the South Island was settled by the Maori not so long after their New Zealand landfall. This idea once used to be reversed by many historians and speculators. The Chatham Islands were once considered a likely ‘starting off’ place for the Maori, but this proved to be erroneous.

For now we reckon that Maori warriors invaded the Chatham Islands. There happened to be a slightly less advanced peoples living on the Chatham Islands. They were called the Moriori peoples, and the Maori invaders conquered them swiftly and made slaves of most the entire nation. Possibly some of these Moriori slaves would have eventually found their way back to New Zealand too. And the presence of these Moriori peoples on the mainland may have given rise to the legend of another race of humans who had been there before the Maori.

A final word on Landfalls

One of the biggest posers presented to us about Maori landfalls is quite basic. Where might have the first landfalls have been made? Canoe myth stories aside, we have very little to go on here indeed. The historian Michael King worries about matters such as ‘the lack of concrete archeological evidences of the landfalls. And this criticism is leveled at so called landfall sites which are most naturally on river mouths or beside sand dunes and upon beaches and the like. And it ain’t rocket science here is it? These are sites which move all of the time. Every day of every year I mean. We are talking of time which has passed since the battle of Crecy here. Time goes by so slowly and time can do so much. All of these sites are subject to the natural forces of erosion over time by storms, winds and tides. And naturally enough, the forces of man’s own works too.

Now in south western Victoria, Australia, it had been noted by folks in coastal areas where some early foundered may ships lie that the ships hidden for so many years could surface again. Some believe still, that winds, tides or man, will uncover what may be a lost Portuguese ship on these southern shores. The ‘Mahogany Ship’ of fable or fact might emerge from slowly moving tidal dunes in Victoria’s Western District. Could large and very ancient doubled hulled canoes suffer a similar fate I wonder? A good question maybe too. The hungry tide of man’s progress has also destroyed much primary evidence of most of the early Maori settlements and is another reason to confuse the issue of first Maori landfalls. For these days jetties and flash yacht clubs stand where canoes once landed. In places boat harbours have been built there too. Then some of these were destroyed and then built over again on some of the recorded sites. Seawalls and safe waters stand where once perhaps dicey first landfalls might have been made. But for all that, we should perhaps not entirely discount the tribal canoe legends that are still told to us.

Four tribal groups, the Tatinui, Hourouta, Nuketere and the Mataatua all make the similar claim that first landfalls were made in the Eastern Bay of the Bay of Plenty. I would have thought that this was a fairly strong prima facie case, which just needs some further proofs in support. King also states, that some groups go even further, to name Whangapararoa as the actual landing spot.

In Australia, where it is often supposed that Asian groups may have crossed over from the Asian mainland via the Indonesian chain of islands to colonize the great south continent do not ask where the landings may have occurred. The canoe stories in New Zealand seem to have whipped up expectations for answers as to exactly where first landfalls may have been, Does it matter at all that much?

And I the end I suppose we have to ask ourselves once more if it does really matter all that much?  Is Plymouth Rock in the exact spot of the Pilgrim Father’s landing eh? I do not know for sure if it is or not. Are there substantial debates about this in America? Did anyone move that rock at some time? And my guess would be that you don’t know whether or not the rock is the exact spot of their landing either. But I reckon that it does not advance us a great deal if we happen to know either way. Unless that is, we are hanging a very particular point on the rock’s exact location. I can’t see it as being of massive importance in any case. What do you think then?

Jeff Lynch     
Four books dominated my studies in the writing of this essay. They are Anne Salmonds two fine books.  ’The Trial of the Cannibal Dog’ or Captain Cook in the South Seas.   Penguin, in paperback...2004 edition. And also Anne  Salmond’s beautifully illustrated book, ‘Two Worlds. This in a hardback copy in a larger format.’ The third is Martin King’s excellent ‘The Penguin History of New copy in paperback 2003 edition. Lastly James Michener’s classic novel ‘Hawaii’ (from the 1950s), particularly the first of the three internal ‘books’ gave me superb food for thought. I recall that ‘Hawaii’ was made into a popular film as well. I do freely acknowledge that these books have formed a great deal of my sources of information on these matters. And so, a huge vote of thanks to these three authors and also thanks to The Moreland Library, Victoria Street Brunswick Branch. The Encylopaedia Britannica served me well for some facts and place name 


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