Polynesian Resource Center

Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Polynesian Art and Culture

A Ramble Ashore by Augustus Earle 1827

Polynesian Resource Center
Village of Parkuni, River Hokianga.

A scene at Pakanae, on the southern shore of the Hokianga Harbour, in a Maori kainga, looking out into the harbour with a ship (the Governor Macquarie) and a Maori canoe in the stream. Earle and his friend, Mr Shand, are shown offering ribbons to two young women who are cooking a fish, spiked on a stick, over a fire. The group is watched by a squatting man wrapped in a flax cloak. A storehouse on legs and a low thatched shelter, and food stored in bags tied to tall sticks complete the scene.

On November 3rd we visited Pakanae, a village lying round the base of a large conical hill, about three hundred feet high, with a fortification on the top, which gives it its name, pa signifying in their language a fortified place. Behind it lies a swamp, which is covered at high water, and which adds greatly to its security; for the unsettled and war-like spirit of the natives renders it absolutely necessary that they always should have a place of strength near at hand to retreat to, as they never know how suddenly their enemies may make an attack upon them. To the right of this swamp is a beautiful valley, in a very high state of cultivation. At the time I stood viewing it from the summit of the hill, I was charmed with the scene of industry and bustle it presented, all the inhabitants of the village having gone forth to plant their potatoes, kumaras, and Indian corn. In the rear, and forming a fine, bold background, is an immense chain of high and rugged hills, covered to their summits with thick forests, and forming, as it were, a natural barrier and protection to this smiling and fruitful valley, while from their wooded sides issue innumerable small streams of clear water, which, meeting at the base, form beautiful rivulets, and after meandering through the valley, and serving all the purposes of irrigation, they empty themselves into the Hokianga river.

Standing on the spot from which I have described the above prospect, I felt fully convinced of the frugality and industry of these savages. The regularity of their plantations, and the order with which they carry on their various works, differ greatly from most of their brethren in the South Seas, as here the chiefs and their families set the example of labour; and when that is the case, none can refuse to toil. Round the village of Pakanae, at one glance is to be seen above 200 acres of cultivated land, and that not slightly turned up, but well worked and cleared; and when the badness of their tools is considered, together with their limited knowledge of agriculture, their persevering industry I look upon as truly astonishing.

The New Zealanders have established here a wise custom, which prevents a great deal of waste and confusion, and generally preserves to the planter a good crop, in return for the trouble of sowing; namely, as soon as the ground is finished, and the seed sown, it is tabooed, that, is rendered sacred, by men appointed for that service, and it is death to trample over or disturb any part of this consecrated ground. The wisdom and utility of this regulation must be obvious to every one. But, however useful this taboo system is to the natives, it is a great inconvenience to a stranger who is rambling over the country, for if he does not use the greatest caution, and procure a guide, he may get himself into a serious dilemma before his rambles be over, which had nearly been the case with our party this day. We were ascending a hill, for the purpose of inspecting a New Zealand fortification on the summit, when a little boy joined our party, either out of curiosity, or in hopes of getting a fish-hook from us—a thing the natives are continually asking for; but as we had a man with us who spoke the language fluently, we did not much regard the boy's guidance, though to us it speedily became of great importance. We were taking a short cut, to make a quick ascent to the top of the hill, when the little fellow uttered a cry of horror. Our interpreter asked him what he meant, when he pointed his finger forward, and told him to look, for the ground was tabooed. We did as he desired us, but beheld nothing particular, till he showed us, in one of the trees, among the branches, a large bunch of something, but we could not make out what it was. This, he told us, was the body of a chief, then undergoing the process of decomposition, previous to interment, which process is witnessed by men appointed for that purpose, who alone are permitted to approach the spot. The ground all round is tabooed, so that, had it not been for the interference of our young guide, we should certainly have been placed in a most distressing situation; and it is a question if our ignorance of their customs would have been considered a sufficient excuse for our offence.

The top of this hill was level and square, and was capable of containing several hundred warriors. It was cut into slopes all round, and fortified by stockades in every direction, which rendered it impregnable. The natives assured me its strength had been often tried. The famous warrior Hongi had attacked it several times, but had always been defeated with great loss. After inspecting this fortification, which excited our admiration, we proceeded through the village at the bottom of the hill. Nearly the whole of the inhabitants were out working in the fields. We entered several of their habitations, and found all their property exposed and unguarded. Even their muskets and powder, which they prize above everything, were open to our inspection, so little idea of robbery have they amongst themselves. But as there are many hogs and dogs roaming at large through their villages, they are very careful to fence their dwellings round with wicker work, to preserve them from the depredations of these animals; and as the houses are extremely low, they have very much the appearance of bird cages or rabbit hutches. Their storehouses are generally placed upon poles, a few feet from the ground, and tabooed or consecrated. Great taste and ingenuity are displayed in carving and ornamenting these depositories. I made drawings from several of them, which were entirely covered with carving; and some good attempts at groups of figures, as large as life, plainly showed the dawning of the art of sculpture amongst them. Many of the attempts of the New Zealanders in that art are quite as good, if not better, than various specimens I have seen of the first efforts of the early Egyptians.

Polynesian Resource Center
Maori Free Standing Figure showing Beautiful Adzework

Painting and sculpture are both arts greatly admired by these rude people. Every house of consequence is ornamented and embellished, and their canoes have the most minute and elaborate workmanship bestowed upon them.

Their food is always eaten out of little baskets, rudely woven of green flax; and as they generally leave some for their next meal, they hang these baskets on sticks or props, till they are ready to eat again. Thus a village presents a very singular appearance, as it is stuck full of sticks, with various kinds of baskets hanging from them. This plan, however, is the most rational that could be adopted, as none of their eatables can be left on the ground, or they would become the prey of the hogs and dogs.

In the course of our long ramble we noticed many pretty little huts, some having neat gardens all round them, planted with fruits and corn. One house which we saw was built by a chief who had made several voyages to Port Jackson, and it was really a very comfortable dwelling. It had a high door, which we could enter without stooping, and in a separate room was constructed a bed, after the pattern of one on ship-board. He had likewise a large sea-chest in his house, the key of which (highly polished) was hung round his neck as an ornament. In the course of our walk we came to a spot on which a group of old people were sitting sunning themselves, and they immediately all rose to welcome us. I remarked one amongst them who seemed, from his silvery locks and feeble limbs, to be very old. I asked him, among other questions, whether he remembered Captain Cook. He said he did not, but well recollected Captain Furneaux, and was one of the party which cut off and massacred his boat's crew; and from other information which I received I believe his assertion to have been correct.


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