For an online edition
(with four maps, but unfortunately without the illustrations), see:
New Zealand Electronic Text CentreTe Rangi Hiroa
Title: Vikings of the Sunrise
Author: (Sir Peter Henry Buck) Te Rangi Hiroa
New Zealand Edition
Publication details: Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, 1964
Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection
This text is the subject of: Victoria University of Wellington Library Catalogue
The Northwest Atolls
Both Manihiki and Rakahanga are small atolls whose islets are set on a coral reef encircling an inner lagoon.
Neither atoll has openings through the reef which will admit canoes.
In order to land and to discharge cargo, the schooner lays off as close to the reef as is safe, and passengers and cargo are transhipped into outrigger canoes.
The old type of canoe has completely disappeared and a modern form is made from imported sawn timber.
Though shaped like a flat-bottomed boat with sharp bow and stern, the outrigger is retained.
The natives paddle in close to the reef and wait patiently until the right wave comes surging along.
They paddle vigorously, the wave lifts the canoe over the outer lip of the reef, and, if deep enough, floats it across the reef into the outer lagoon that stretches between the reef and the shore.
If the wave is too shallow, the canoe grounds on the reef; the crew leap out and hold the canoe to prevent it from being drawn back by the suction of the receding wave.
As the wave subsides, one may gaze fearfully down the vertical outer side of the reef and into the yawning, gurgling chasm below. The newcomer is not reassured by tales of people who have been sucked down into coral caverns from which they never reappeared.
Large timber was
scarce, and before the introduction of sawn timber, the two kinds of trees
suitable for canoes were split into planks so as not to waste any material
by dubbing out trunks as hulls.
The tools, as already mentioned, had to be made from tridacna shells, owing to the lack of basaltic stones.
Clothing had to be made from coconut leaves or plaited pandanus leaves, for the paper mulberry which provided elsewhere the raw material for bark cloth does not grow on atolls.
Even firewood was scarce; coconut shells, dry coconut husks, and the dry sheaths and racemes of coconut flowers were collected for the cooking fires.
Correct is the
explanation, wrong is the lore,
Correct is the lore, wrong is the explanation.
Correct, correct is the lore,
It is wrong, it is wrong - alas!
The Apex of the Triangle
Easter Island has little fertile soil and no forests with large trees to provide adequate raw material for houses and canoes. Consequently the framework of houses was made of slender arched poles, and houses were narrow, low, and long.
In order not to waste valuable inches, the poles were not stuck in the ground but rested in holes carved out of stone blocks.
These pitted curbstones, like the elaborate bird cult, are unique on Easter Island, evolved locally due to lack of timber.
The canoes were poor and flimsy, but ten to twelve feet long and formed of many small bits of wood sewn together.
Even the paddles
were made of two pieces: a short, narrow blade with a separate handle lashed
The two-piece paddle is unique for Polynesia, but again the form of the canoe and paddle was a local adjustment forced upon the people by the lack of material.
Successive European voyagers saw fewer and fewer canoes on Easter Island, not because of degradation in the population, but because of constant decrease in the wood supply.
The people swam out to ships sometimes with a supporting float formed of a conical bundle of bulrushes.
Wood was as precious as gold in Europe or jade in New Zealand.
The minimum quantity was used for necessities, and the surplus constituted wealth in the form of wooden breast ornaments, dance implements, and carved tablets.
in his work on "Peoples and Problems of the Pacific" condemned the arts
and crafts of Easter Island as being the most primitive in Polynesia.
This is manifestly inaccurate and unfair.
Apparently he did not take into consideration the vast importance of environment and its influence on all forms of material culture. The feather headdresses of Easter Island compare favorably with those of the Marquesas and Tahiti and are vastly superior to any similar work in Samoa and Tonga.
The bark cloth is remarkable, for the shortcomings of the original material are overcome by quilting with threads by means of a bone needle.
The carving of wooden ornaments, stone images, and the development of decorative techniques, such as the representation of eyes by means of a shell ring with a black obsidian pupil, are among the most remarkable in all Polynesia.
Brown has condemned the Easter Islanders for not making greater use of bone, turtle shell, and obsidian to inlay their wood carvings, but neither did the other great branches of the Polynesians.
The most unfair criticism is leveled at the implements, which are classed as childish.
The Southern Angle
One must be saturated with the atmosphere of tropical Polynesia to fully appreciate what the first Maori settlers lost and what they gained in their new country.
They lost certain prolific food plants, and somehow the pig and fowl were left behind or died on the voyage.
The dog alone of three Polynesian domesticated animals landed in New Zealand.
The Polynesian name of the fowl, moa, was evidently applied to a large wingless bird which became extinct.
The forests teemed with bird life and new processes were invented for catching, preserving, and storing.
The decoy water trough, the carved snare, the bone-pointed bird spear, and receptacles for preserved pigeons are all local developments not known elsewhere in Polynesia.
The rivers, lakes, sea beaches, rock reefs, and the sea all provided a supply of food that more than made up for the cultivable foods that would not grow in the cold climate.
The greatest wonder
of all must have been the forest trees that grew larger than any others
The canoe builders must have gazed awestruck at the great trunks of the totara and the kauri pine.
I can see them offering up a ...
... ritual formula
to Tane and spanning the tree trunk with admiring arms.
As practical geologists, they must have enjoyed cracking and testing rock until the best basalt indicated where adz quarries should be located.
With larger and heavier adzes, the forest giants were felled and dubbed into canoe hulls.
The dugouts could be made so wide that they floated like boats without need of a side prop, and so the out-rigger attachment was abandoned.
In addition to a rich supply of basaltic stone, New Zealand gave her settlers the gift of jade.
It was found as boulders in the rivers of the west coast of the South Island, and that island consequently received the name of Te Wai-pou-namu (Water-containing-jade).
Jade was used to make ornaments and short war-clubs that became priceless heirlooms, but more wonderful were the chisels and adzes that took an edge almost as keen as steel.
The totara timber was durable but soft, and with good wood and excellent tools, the Maori carvers developed a craft into an art that was unique not only for Polynesia but for the Pacific.
The Base of the Triangle
Turning to traditions,
we find that there are no tale of long sea voyages.
Percy Smith believed that the Polynesians reached Samoa in about 450 A.D.
Whenever it was, the Samoans have been so long in residence that, like the Tahitians, the records of the first ancestors who came by ship have been overlaid by the mass of succeeding events.
The theory of a local origin from worms is a mythical substitution for forgotten human history.
In place of voyages
by canoe, there are myths of long-distance swimming.
An ancestor named Vi swam from the Tokelau group to Tau, a distance of over 300 miles.
I was ...
... shown the
rock that represented his petrified body.
Two women named Taema and Tilafaiga swam back to Samoa from Fiji, where they were supposed to have observed the Fijian custom of tattooing the women but not the men.
Owing to their long immersion in the sea, they landed in Samoa shivering with cold and through chattering teeth they delivered the following inverted message:
When the men grow
up, tattoo them.
When the women grow up, let them bear children.
Vikings of the Sunrise
J.B. Lippincott & Co, Philadelphia, 1938
Frederick A.Stokes Company, New York U.S.A., 1938.