• IJ

93: Maruiwi - Original Inhabitants of Aotearoa?

Most of this lengthy post (well worth reading in it’s entirety) is taken from an article written in 1915 from open information and poses questions and theories that can be debated, depending on what side of the fence you sit in accepting that a previous indigenous people existed here before the Polynesian immigration's. The evidence, not only in the artifacts we have shown to date and the evidence we will present at a later time, show that language and other customs point to an adaptation, not a sudden creative invention, of customs occurred. Adaptation is a modeling of something observed that exists already. Our additional comments are in blue italics.

According to Maori tradition, the first inhabitants of New Zealand were a people of unknown origin, whose racial or tribal name, if any, has not been preserved. The Maori knows them as Maruiwi, which name is said to have been not a tribal one, but merely that of one of their chiefs at the time when the Maori from eastern Polynesia arrived on these shores. The first of these Maori settlers are shown in tradition to have reached New Zealand twenty-eight to thirty generations ago. At that time the Maruiwi folk were occupying many portions of the North Island. They were the descendants of those who had reached these shores in past times, landing on the Taranaki coast. (this accounts for the strange artefacts of the Taranaki region) Their home-land, according to the accounts given by their descendants, was a hot country—a much warmer land than this. They had arrived being caught up in a westerly storm. In appearance these folk are said to have been tall and slim-built, dark-skinned, having big or protuberant bones, flat-faced and flat-nosed, with upturned nostrils. Their eyes were curiously restless, and they had a habit of glancing sideways without turning the head. Their hair in some cases stood upright, in others it was bushy. Physically, it is said that Maruiwi had overhanging or projecting eyebrows, and were thin-shanked: an unpleasant and treacherous folk.

In the 1860’s native prisoners were sent down to Chatham Isles where some of the women who came from Tarawera and Te Whaiti, much resembled Moriori women in physique, and more particularly in their frizzy hair of Fijian appearance.

It is said that the culture plane of these Maruiwi seems to have been lower than that of the Maori of Polynesia, so far as we can gather from tradition.....this is true in our belief, but only in that the 'cultural plane' of those from Raiatea was quite high for a native population due to interaction with surrounding isles. The Maruiwi however, were isolated and little change occurred in the same way as those from North Sentinel Island in the Andaman Group have remained unchanged due to the total lack of human contact.

They are said to have been ignorant of their own lineage, a sure mark of an inferior people in Maori eyes: “They were a listless people, fond of sitting round a fire. They slept anywhere, were practically naked in summer-time and in winter wore rough capes made of the fibrous leaves. They were thoughtless about food supplies, and had basic stick shelters. This is why those we call Maori looked down upon them. The Polynesians took some of the better looking women when they first arrived. Later-comers asked for them; in yet later days they took them, enslaving women and young men. Now, as time rolled on and generations went by, the mixed folk became numerous in the land, the result of the Maori taking Maruiwi wives. Note that facial distinctions between Polynesian and Melanesian are extremely obvious as per the examples below.

Melanesian (or Maruiwi) Maori Polynesian Maori

Then troubles between the two peoples became frequent, Maruiwi stealing from our folk and murdering them. At last it was resolved to exterminate them, and they were attacked in all parts. War raged all over the island—a war of extermination against all of Maruiwi who lived independent of the Maori. Thus were they slain at Te Wairoa, Mohaka, Taupo, Rotorua, Maketu, Tauranga, Tamaki, Hauraki, Hokianga, Mokau, Urenui, and all other places where they lived. Thus originated the famed saying ‘Te Heke o Maruiwi,’ as meaning death.

But those living with the Maori people were spared. Some of the survivors of Maruiwi are said to have fled to forest ranges in the interior. Some fled to Arapaoa from Taranaki and Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Port Nicholson). These were attacked by the party of Tama-ahua that was going south to seek for greenstone. The survivors of Maruiwi fled to Rangitoto (D'Urville Island), where they were again attacked, and many women captured. The last seen of the remnants of these folk was the passing of six canoes through Raukawa (Cook Strait) on the way to Whare-kauri (Chatham Isles). Such is the story of the folk to whom this land belonged, and it is known that all of us are descended from Maruiwi—from those women taken by our Maori ancestors.” Such is the account of Maruiwi, though much abbreviated, preserved by oral tradition.

We here have, if reliable, a description of a people much inferior to the Maori in appearance and general culture. We are also told that the thick projecting lips, the bushy frizzy hair, dark skin, and flat nose often seen among the Maori are derived from Maruiwi.


Of the language of the Maruiwi we know very little. We have some place, tribal, and personal names preserved in tradition which are said to have pertained to the Maruiwi. These names are undoubtedly Maori, or, at least, Polynesian; and if preserved in their correct form, then these Maruiwi must have spoken a tongue closely allied to the Maori dialect of the Polynesian.

It is plainly seen that these names are Maori in form and sound; and if original personal names, then the bearers thereof must have been a Maori-speaking people. Here we have something approaching a paradox, for if the physical appearance and culture of Maruiwi were such as described in tradition it is most improbable that they spoke a purely Polynesian tongue, no Polynesians answering to such a description.

In addition to the names given above we have a few words of the Maruiwi tongue also preserved:—

Maruiwi. Maori. English.

Kohi mai Haere mai Come hither.

Hakana Tangata Person, man.

Mahau Wahine Woman.

These three words are said to have been from the vocabulary of the Mamoe Tribe of aborigines, of the Napier district. The following Maruiwi words have also been preserved:—

Maruiwi. Maori. English.

Waihi Wahine Woman.

Kana Tangata Person.

Punui o kana Tangata nui Big person or important person.

Nakua Tena koe (A salutation).

Kohai rahu ? Ko wai koe? Who are you?

Papau aka Ka pai koe You are agreeable.

Hine a waihi (?) Kotiro or hine Girl.

Pakaraka mai Oma mai Run hither.

We have noted that these so-called Maruiwi words resemble Maori in form and phonology. This seems an important point, until one remembers that any isolated folk of the culture stage of the Maori would, necessarily and inevitably, so treat any foreign word that it would conform to their own usages of sound and pronunciation.

Thus the so-called Maruiwi words that have been preserved may or may not be the original forms used by the aborigines. The evidence of place-names is on the same footing, indeed, there is considerable doubt as to which were original names. It is quite possible that some unusual forms, “Maorized” forms of Maruiwi names.


There is one matter in connection with the Maruiwi aborigines that seems to show that in one direction at least they may have exhibited intelligence of a fairly high order. Tradition states that they constructed hill forts, and mentions those of Okoki, Pohokura, and Urenui, in northern Taranaki, as having been occupied by them. As these places have been occupied by the Maori for centuries, down to the nineteenth century, they may not now present the same features that they did when occupied by Maruiwi: the style of defence may have been altered since that time.

In the North Island are the remains of thousands of old-time fortified places, mostly hill forts, exhibiting an advanced knowledge of the science of fortification on the part of those who formed them. Where or how did they originate? We know that the Maori who settled in New Zealand came from the eastern Pacific area; we know that no such remains of fortified places are found in that area. A few stone-walled refuges exist on the lone isle of Rapa. The Tongan fortified places were based on those of Fiji, but the Polynesian was not a fort-builder. Apparently the only place outside the North Island of New Zealand where hill forts, the defensive works of which were fosses, ramparts, stockades, and fighting-stages, were numerous is the Island of Viti Levu, in the Fiji Group.

Did the local type of forts originate here? If so, was it Maruiwi or Maori who was responsible for them? We know that the Maori was a fighter before he came to these isles; but that he fought in the open in Polynesia, as he always preferred to do here down to our own time.

The first Polynesian that brought a party of settlers to this island was Toi, who lived at the Ka-pu-te-rangi Fort, at Whakatane, according to all traditions. Did the Polynesian become a fort-builder as soon as he stepped ashore here? Did he suddenly evoke the idea of an earthwork fort out of his inner consciousness, or did he adopt a Maruiwi custom?

The above question poses what we have said repeatedly: Why would the Polynesian arrive here and do things he did not previously do for no apparent reason. The reality is that he copied what he saw and then mostly improved upon it.


There is another subject that carries an element of interest. Cannibalism was practised in some isles, yet it was no universal Polynesian custom. In the Society Group, from where the Maori came, it was rare, and it horrified several Tahitians who sailed on Cook's vessels in the Pacific to see it in New Zealand. How is it that our Maori has become such a pronounced cannibal in these islands? No such a condition of general cannibalism—of its becoming such a common practice—is known among Polynesians of the south-eastern area. In order to find the eastern limit of this custom as a common habit we must turn to Fiji, in the Melanesian area. It is fairly clear that the Maori did not bring this shocking custom in any excessive form with him to New Zealand. Did he borrow it from Maruiwi?

It has been said by many in previous websites, and all without proof or basis, that the previous inhabitants were a peaceful people. Maybe they were and maybe they weren't, but there is no accurate proof as to whether they were peaceful or violent. So let us examine the roots of Polynesian thought in regard to cannibalism.

Tradition (that which the Maori spoke of) states that the Maruiwi were of a lower plane of culture than that on which the Maori stood. The Maori immigrants took large numbers of Maruiwi women, first as gifts, afterwards by force: such a wholesale system of intermarriage must have had some effect on the culture and customs of the intruding people. Knowing as we do the effect of such a crossing of peoples, does it not appear probable that some of the Maruiwi customs were followed by the mixed folk that succeeded them? Was cannibalism as a common custom so acquired by the Maori? The horrid Maori custom, or at least the occasional habit (also a Fijian custom) of exhuming and eating of buried human bodies.


We are aware that the practice of human sacrifice was indeed followed in eastern Polynesia, and probably the Maori brought it with him to New Zealand. There is, however, some evidence to show that in former times two singular examples of this custom obtained here that we cannot trace to the former home of the Maori: these were the burial of human beings at the bases of the main forts of the stockade of a pa, or fortified village, and also at the bases of posts supporting a house.

We do know that in Fiji the burial of human beings at the bases of house-posts was a custom of the natives. In regard to the burial of human beings at the bases of stockade-posts, we know of no tradition concerning this custom within Maoridom, and no old natives questioned on the subject know anything about it.

Except at Opotiki. It was occupied by members of the Toi tribes (a mixed Maori-Maruiwi folk) when the last Maori immigrants arrived here from Polynesia some twenty generations—or, say, five hundred years—ago. All signs of stockades have long since disappeared from Tawhiti-nui, leaving only the earthworks. When, some years ago, these earthworks were being levelled in order to facilitate farming operations, the workmen found remains of the butts of the main posts of the old stockade within the ramparts. At the base of each of these post-butts were the remains of a human skeleton.

Were the folk who made such a wholesale sacrifice of human beings Maori or Maruiwi?

If Maori, then presumably he did not bring the custom with him from eastern Polynesia, for he did not employ stockades there. Again, if this custom was universal at one time in New Zealand, it certainly was not practised in late generations, not even in the Opotiki district. Why was it discontinued?

Once again, in Fiji, human sacrifice occurred at the building of a new house where a series of large holes was dug to receive the main posts of the house; and as soon as these were reared a number of wretched men were led to the spot, and one was compelled to descend into each hole, and therein stand upright with his arms clasped round it. The earth was then filled in, and the miserable victims were thus buried alive, deriving what comfort they might from the belief that the task thus assigned to them was one of much honour, as ensuring stability to the chief's house. On the death of a Fijian chief his wives were strangled and buried with him. Something similar obtained among the Maori, though here it seems to have been voluntary on the part of the widows—in fact, suicide. Was this a general Polynesian custom, or was it practised in eastern Polynesia?


Let’s look at the origin of three Maori weapons not employed by him in his former home in eastern Polynesia. It is distinctly stated in Maori tradition that the huata, the hoeroa, and the kurutai were Maruiwi weapons, and that they were adopted by the Maori.

The huata is a very long spear, in some cases 20 ft. in length, pointed at one end and having a knob at the other. It was used principally in defending and attacking fortified places. The hoeroa is the curiously curved weapon made from whale's bone that is said to have been sometimes thrown at an adversary and recovered by means of a cord. It is also known as a paraoa-roa. The kurutai is a short striking-weapon of stone - called an Okewa when in blackstone but the Maori called it Onewa when made in pounamu. These weapons appear to have been found at the Chatham Isles, and some are reported from the South Island.

Maruiwi are also said to have used throwing-spears, a form of fighting-implement but little favoured by the Maori; as also the whiuwhiu (spear), thrown with a whip. This latter weapon was adopted and used by the Maori, but not to a great extent. It was used principally in an attack on and defence of fortified places.

Was the Bow used by Maruiwi?

There are a few fragmentary items preserved in Maori tradition in reference to a weapon employed by the Maruiwi aborigines that are of much interest. One is a statement of a weapon used which bent a piece of the strong and tough wood of the manuka in order to gain a propelling force for an arrow-dart. Another was a kopere, which was projected by means of a wooden implement, the cord being of dog-skin. Is this a description of a bow? The statements ( not included here) were made by two different old men, acknowledged as being well versed in Maori tradition. Both seem to allude to the bow and arrow as having been known to, and employed as weapons by, the Maruiwi of New Zealand. One other item may here be mentioned—namely, the bow now in the Dominion Museum, having been deposited by Mr. Tregear.


Why did the Maori not adopt the bow and arrow as a weapon (if it ever existed here) as they adopted other Maruiwi weapons? Now, the answer to this query illustrates a very singular trait of Polynesian character. The bow has been known to the Polynesian for many centuries, and he has frequently come into contact with bow-using Melanesians, yet he has ever steadfastly refused to adopt it as a weapon. He has used it for killing game and in archery contests, northward to the Hawaiian Group and eastward to Tahiti, but never as a weapon. And that is the reason why he would not adopt it here—that is to say, if he really had the opportunity to do so. When the Maori fought, he loved to feel his weapon bite into the skull of his enemy; he felt the keen joy of the fighting-man as he thrust his slim spear-head through the fish of Tu.

Note that the Melanesians used bows. This bow was here before the Polynesians arrived. Were the Maruiwi Melanesian?

As an illustration of how a people may possess the knowledge of usages among a far-distant race, we may note a remark made by a native of the Marquesas Isles, away off in eastern Polynesia, to Porter, an American voyager of the 1820’s. This was to the effect that far away across the ocean, in a southern land, dwelt a black folk who used the bow and arrow as a weapon.

Stone Implements of Unknown Use and artifacts not traceable to Polynesia.

On the coast of the Bay of Plenty have been found some curious stone implements quite unknown to the present Maori inhabitants of the district. These objects are carefully fashioned flat stone discs. The only known objects in Polynesia which they resemble are certain stone discs formerly used by the natives of the Hawaiian Isles in a game called maika, resembling our game of bowls. These objects have not been found in any other part of New Zealand. Another singular stone instrument of unknown use has been found in the Bay of Plenty district, several specimens being known. In cross-section it is almost diamond-shaped, and each end tapers to a point. This implement seems to be quite unknown to natives, and absolutely nothing is known as to its origin or use. Yet another stone object, of which a number have been found on old village-sites, is what the writer usually refers to as a stone spool. It bears a resemblance to a couple of cotton-reels placed end to end. These implements are about 3 in. in length, and are very carefully fashioned and finished. A hole is bored axially through the middle, as though for the insertion of a cord, and one side is flat. The outstanding rims or ends and intermediate projections are notched on their edges. A fine specimen found by Captain Bollons is of black stone, and has a very fine finish, it has five projections adorned with notches. Another, at Whanga-nui, is of greenstone; another was found at the Chatham Isles. Of this spool type ornament, the Maori can tell us nothing concerning it.

The Chatham Islands are a place that was never supposed to have been inhabited by anyone who migrated from the mainland, and this is taught as fact in many books - yet the Chatham Islanders had the same style artifact! In addition to the above there are other manufactured objects of stone and bone in museums and private collections, the names and uses of which are unknown to the Maori. The Okehu tribrach being one of the most unusual.

Stone Adzes of New Zealand.

In common with all other branches of the Polynesian race, the Maori hafted his timber-working stone tools as adzes, not as axes. In connection with these implements there is a peculiar and unusual element to which attention does not appear to have been drawn. In the northern Pacific area we find at the Hawaiian Isles a well-defined type of stone adze possessing an angular tang, easily recognizable wherever seen. In the eastern Pacific we find at the Society Isles another well-marked type of peculiar form, marked by excessive thickness in comparison with its length. At the Cook Isles also we have a definite form of these tools. In the Fiji Group—Melanesian in name, but with a considerable mixture of Polynesian blood in its eastern area—we find two leading types, one of which is circular in cross-section, a form that found little favour among Polynesians. All of the above forms differ widely from the thin-bladed stone tools of the Solomon Isles and New Guinea.

Turning now to New Zealand with some expectation of finding one or two local types of stone adzes, it is somewhat surprising to find that our collections cannot be reduced to two or even four common types. We find here a considerable number of forms illustrating widely different types (*1). We do not see a common form of cross-section among our specimens,

We find here a considerable number of forms illustrating widely different types. We do not see a common form of cross-section among our specimens, as we do among those of the Cook, Society, Hawaiian, and other groups. In New Zealand we note numbers of implements in which the cross-section is rectangular, triangular, oval, ovoid, or subovoid, &c. We find a long narrow form, some thin, some remarkably thick; a flat, wide, comparatively thin type; a short form, thick and carrying an abrupt blade-angle; a form with angular tang, another carrying a curious shoulder-ridge across the upper end of the back of the blade; as also others. We see specimens with parallel sides, others narrowing from cutting-edge backward to the poll, with many other forms. The one form lacking in adzes is the truly circular cross-section, though it is found in small stone tools of the gouge or chisel type. A curious and persistent form is one that presents an extremely narrow face, a narrow cutting-edge, and wide back, the cross-section being subtriangular, the use of which is by no means clear, and, indeed, most puzzling even to us old timber-workers.

This diversity of form in these stone implements of New Zealand is a subject of some interest, and worthy of study. It seems a pity that no effort has apparently been made to make collections of the stone implements of the various island groups, the possession of which would be of much value in the future, when a close study of such artifacts will assuredly be made. The variety of types among our stone adzes awaits an explanation.

We will do a post of adzes differences at a later time but there is no real priority for it as adze shapes are not really relevant to our search with the sole exception of (*1) above.

Wooden Coffins, or Burial-chests.

The most interesting of late discoveries of Maori antiquities is assuredly that of the finding of a number of old wooden coffins in the North Auckland district. It seems strange that no specimens were found in earlier years, and that so many have come to light lately. Apparently they are confined to the northern part of the island. They were used not for containing the body, as with us, but merely as a receptacle for the bones after exhumation. They have been carefully fashioned out of durable timber, and show highly curious carved figures of archaic design—designs often differing from the Maori forms known to us, but presenting the well-known and far-spread three-fingered or three-clawed hands that have caused so much conjecture. Some of these coffins are large enough to contain the bones of an adult when the cleverly fitted lid at the back is in place; others are so small that the receptacle would contain only very small objects. Possibly the latter were used for the preservation of some particular tapu bone, such as the manu tu (a small bone at base of skull), or the iho (umbilical cord) of a child of high rank. The fact that these coffins were fashioned with stone tools enhances their value to a marked degree. Information as to the age of these coffins is by no means satisfactory, but the character of the carved designs upon them certainly denotes a considerable age. Any statements made by the younger generation of natives as to their being only a few generations old may be disregarded. The durable heart-wood of which they are composed might endure for centuries in a favourable situation, such as a dry cave. Hence it is possible that these coffins were made by some of the old tribes of the northern districts, of whose origin we have no definite knowledge, but who must have carried Maruiwi blood in their veins.

Decorative Art.

In three branches of decorative art we find the Maori utilizing designs that at once strike us as differing widely from those employed in Polynesia. The branches alluded to are the arts of wood-carving, painting, and tattooing. Professor Rivers has drawn attention to the fact that whereas Polynesian art is essentially (but not completely) rectilinear, that of the Maori of New Zealand is curvilinear.

This dictum is borne out by the evidence of carved implements from Polynesia, and illustrations of similar objects to be found in many works. In Melanesia we encounter both of the above forms. A comparison of Maori tattoo-patterns with those of Polynesia, particularly of the Marquesas Group, serves to mark New Zealand forms as emanating from a different source. The writer has seen no series of illustrations of tattoo-patterns of Melanesia. Is there any series of designs in that region in any way resembling Maori forms? The tara whakairo was known in New Zealand and Fiji, but is not reported from Polynesia. In regard to the designs adopted by the Maori in his wood-carving, some of which are intricate and involved, we look in vain to Polynesia for archetypal forms. These designs bear not the impress of modern development; their general aspect is archaic, and often highly conventional. It seems probable that in some cases they are symbolical, but, unfortunately, no attempt was apparently made to gain an insight into this branch of Maori knowledge while the men who possessed such knowledge were living—a remark that may be equally applied to Maori star lore.

One outstanding fact is that the Maori did not attempt to represent his gods in his publicly exposed wood-carvings. Of the great number of carved figures in human form to be seen in the first-class house, not one of such figure represented a god, though heroes and mythical creatures were so shown. The carved figures on the slabs of house-walls represented ancestors. In two cases we can trace designs to Melanesia—those of the scroll and the manaia—while another resembling the puhoro is also to be found there.

Scrolls and spirals occur in New Guinea and it is suspected that most of the Oceanic wood-carving is due to Melanesian influence. We can trace some of the wood-carving patterns of the Maori to Melanesia, but not, so far as the writer is aware, to Polynesia.

In the textile art of the Maori we certainly encounter rectilinear designs, often largely made up of various dispositions of the triangle. Presumably this is owing to the difficulty of forming curved lines in the curious style of plaiting (not true weaving) employed by the natives of New Zealand. Wherever the Maori used chisel or brush he indulged in curved lines. We know the curved lines of Maori patterns of painting, many depicting graceful and pleasing designs of a superior type. We know the curved-line designs in his tattooing and carving. We also know that the Maori came from Polynesia, that he speaks the Polynesian language, and that he retains many Polynesian customs and myths.

Did he, as he stepped ashore here, relinquish his artistic designs, and proceed to evolve others of a totally different type, or did he adopt them from a people already in possession of these isles?

Another interesting object NOT traceable to Polynesia is the heitiki, a highly prized pendant of singular form known to us all, usually fashioned from the intensely hard nephrite, or greenstone, a task demanding a great expenditure of time and labour. The curious form of this grotesque image is not without its meaning, and tradition states that it originated in very far-away times—in fact, in the days of the gods. Was this archaic form evolved here, together with decorative art-designs, weapons, forts, and other things mentioned above?

This paper is intended merely to draw attention to some interesting subjects for inquiry and discussion, most of which have received little attention, and present some curious discrepancies.


These Maruiwi, or Patupaiarehe or Waitaha, or Urukehu or whatever they called themselves (probably something different originally but hinted at within mythology) were real, were here, were ancient, and were different. Were they tall? Are they the ones in our cave?

We will know in time!

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