Under the Southern Cross
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The natural conclusion as to the cause of these remarkable phenomena would seem to be that the waters of the lakes, rivers, and springs descend by various channels to the fiery regions below, and are returned by the force of the steam thus created, bringing up with them the d?bris which is deposited about the surface. Of the hundreds of these boiling springs only a score or so have been analyzed; no two, however, exhibit the same properties. The various chemical combinations seem to be without limit, and bathing in them is considered to be a specific for some skin-diseases as well as for rheumatic affections. There can be no doubt but that all the virtues possessed by similar springs in Europe or America are equally combined in these of New Zealand, and the list of remarkable cures which they have accomplished is annually increasing.
White faces are here the exception; dusky, bronzed ones, the rule. This is the real home of the natives, and for ages has formed the chief settlement of the Arawa tribe. Nothing could possibly be more grotesque than to see groups of the native women – from the wrinkled old grandams to the girls of a dozen years – bathing at all hours in the warm, steaming pools without any apparent thought of undue exposure. It is their daily, almost hourly resort. As a rule, a blanket forms their only covering; and if they are cold, day or night, they at once resort to the hot springs for warmth. Their chief occupations are literally bathing, and smoking tobacco, – the women using the pipe even more freely than the men. Of regular occupation they have none. A few potatoes are planted and allowed to grow without cultivation, and these with pork form their chief food. Some small lake fish are added to their diet occasionally; but this amounts to very little, as a lake so under volcanic influences, so impregnated by sulphur springs and super-heated waters, as is Rotorua, is not a favorable place for fish breeding.
The revels incident upon a funeral are often kept up for a week or more. To conduct the ceremonies with due ?clat for the death of the late chief of whom mention has been made, much extra food was necessary to entertain the visiting representatives of other tribes, men and women, who had come to Ohinemutu. We chanced to witness the preparing of a portion of the feast on the second day after our arrival. A native seized a large pig by the hind leg, in the midst of the animals feeding about among the fern-roots, and pulled him backwards toward the lake. The animal took matters very coolly, much to our surprise, and made no noise about it. Maori and pig thus backed into the water until the man was waist-deep, when he suddenly seized the other hind leg of the animal and threw him upon his back, at the same time putting his foot upon him, thus holding the pig under water for the space of a couple of minutes, until life in the animal became extinct. With the aid of one or two companions, the native then proceeded to chop the pig into small pieces with an axe and a hatchet.A large camp-kettle stood hard by, in which some herbs and a few potatoes with spring water had been placed. Into this kettle the crude, unwashed portions of the carcass were thrust until it was full to its brim, and then a sheet-iron cover was pressed on the top and held down by a couple of large stones. A small fire of chips built upon the hot stones on which the kettle stood in the open air, soon set the pot to boiling, and in half an hour's time the mess was quite sufficiently cooked for Maori taste. It was then devoured eagerly by the hungry mourners who sat round the pot without any attempt at ceremony, and, so far as we could discover, without the use of knives or plates; hands and fingers seemed to be all-sufficient. The natives sometimes partake of bread, when they can get it; but potatoes constitute their chief diet. The little cooking in which they indulge is usually performed by the boiling springs, in which they suspend their potatoes in small wicker nets; and for baking purposes they use the red-hot stones that are to be found in plenty in this vicinity. These broad flat stones are the identical ones on which the natives in the past used to roast their prisoners of war before eating them. It is impossible to bear one's hand on them for an instant; the wonder is that stones subjected to such constant heat do not become calcined and break in pieces.
There are no means for building fires inside the native cabins, which have little or no furniture; in place of using chairs, the natives squat upon their hams, like nearly all savage races, and most of the Eastern tribes. Their beds are composed of dried fern-leaves, sometimes raised a few inches above the level of the earth floor; but quite as often nothing but the fern-leaves intervene between the body and the ground. The wharry, or cabin, is always the same, and contains but one apartment, with a low doorway and an overhanging thatch of dried ti-tree interwoven with long grasses. There is no matting or flooring of any sort upon the ground within the cabin. Ohinemutu is built over a region so heated by internal fires that the earth is dry and warm, – too warm we thought. There is one compensation, however, for the risk of thus building one's home over burning sulphurous regions, – no insects or vermin can exist in these ground-floor huts, which the uncleanly habits of their occupants would otherwise tend to make swarm with such parasites. In these cabins there is sometimes seen a rude attempt at ornamentation in carving, but the images are grotesque, and to us were quite unmeaning, – consisting generally of hideous heads with blood-red lolling tongues and dwarf-shaped bodies. The natives have very little idea of decoration, except tattooing and the wearing of a few personal ornaments.
There is a green stone – nephrite – native to New Zealand, which is prized by the women for personal wear, and which admits of a high degree of polish. This stone in various shapes is worn as ear-rings, amulets tied about the neck, or made into beads; it is sometimes worn bracelet-fashion about the wrists or ankles. There is another and less common ornament worn by the Maori women; namely, a small pink or white feather thrust through the cartilage of the nose, the ends hanging down on either side, shading the upper lip like a moustache. This recalled the brass and silver rings worn through nose and lips, as seen in South Africa and the Straits Settlements. The young women of the tribes that are brought most in contact with the whites are giving up the tattooing process upon their faces; but those of middle age, or older, are defaced by blue lines about the lower lip and the chin. The pride of the women is to wear a short skirt of some high-colored material, and to wrap themselves in a blanket of the "loudest" pattern, – flaming red or yellow being preferred. The men affect more the dress of Europeans.
The Maoris differ in many essential particulars from most savage races with whom we have chanced to meet. Unlike the American Indian, the Maori is neither treacherous nor deceitful. He does not, like our American savage, foster a spirit of secret revenge, but when his enmity is aroused it is openly displayed and exercised, man-fashion. This has been a tribal trait with the Maoris for centuries. Before declaring war the Maori always gives his enemy fair notice. But for ages he has been accustomed to go to war upon imaginary grievances; or, to put it more clearly, his great object was to make prisoners, and when made, to cook and eat them.
The early Maoris, even so late as sixty years ago, looked upon war – what we should call civil war; that is, fighting one tribe with another – as being the only legitimate object of life. No two tribes, however nearly allied, were proof against an ever present liability to fall out with each other and engage in internecine strife. An authentic anecdote was told to us illustrative of this propensity to fight where no principle whatever was involved. A certain chief of a tribe living near Rotorua received a message from a neighboring chief which he construed into an insult; and he indignantly declared that the sender would not have ventured upon such a message had he not known and counted upon the superiority of the weapons of war which he possessed, which, it seemed, embraced a number of European fire-arms. When this imputation of unfairness and cowardice came to the ears of the first chief, he divided all his weapons into two lots, and sent for his rival to come and choose between them. This done, of course there was no further excuse for not fighting. The tribes fought a long and bloody battle, followed on both sides by a great feasting upon each other's prisoners! Here was united, most indisputably, a spirit of chivalry with that of ferocity. In these days, however, the Maoris have settled down to a life of quiet, and could hardly be more peacefully inclined; they are now as lazy and listless as the Arabs.
It is surprising how well these Maoris got along without civilization. It is fully as surprising to see how they wilt and fade away with it. Whether the white man has been upon the whole of any advantage to them is certainly an open question. They originally possessed a language composed of a copious vocabulary, and also a complete social system that answered their purpose. Their houses, rude as they were, kept out the heat of the summer sun and retained the necessary warmth in winter, – and this in a degree quite superior to European houses. Their food-supply, eked out by cannibalism, was ample though not varied, while their natural condition involved few necessities. Their wars promoted a condition of robustness as well as a spirit of enterprise and activity. But with civilization came rum, tobacco, and laziness. Far be it from us to argue in favor of the savage life above that of the civilized; but to judge these savage races correctly or fairly, we must look at them from their own standpoint, not from ours.
The funeral wailings of the natives during the day were not sufficient to fill the measure of uncanny noise; so at night – those wonderfully bright moonlight nights! – the dogs seemed to feel it incumbent upon them to take up the refrain, and they howled frightfully by the hour together. The Maori dog is quite different from any other specimen of the canine race; he is a mongrel of decidedly conglomerate character, – the most remarkable fact about these creatures being that no two of them are at all alike, or seemingly of the same breed. Why the Maoris keep these dogs we cannot conceive; they certainly have no food to spare for them, and the poor creatures look nearly starved with their thin bodies and protruding ribs. At Ohinemutu every cabin had at least one dog, and frequently three or four of these animals were seen lying before the entrance. They rushed out and barked fiercely at the passing stranger, but there the hostile demonstration ended. Dogs are not more numerous, in proportion to the population, in Cairo or Constantinople, nor more neglected, than here. We suggested to one of the half-castes that it would be possible to utilize these animals for food, but he shook his head knowingly and said, "No, no; him got no meat on him bones." Their pigs run wild, and feed themselves on fern-roots and sweet weeds; but their dogs, not being herbivorous, fare hardly for food.
Unable to sleep on account of these canine disturbers of the night, we rose long before daylight on the third day of our visit to Ohinemutu, and awaking a couple of natives, took a row-boat over to the island of Mokoia, which is situated about four miles from the mainland, toward the centre of Lake Rotorua. This island is itself a sleeping volcano, lying now placidly enough upon the bosom of the waters, but originally thrown up from the bottom of the lake in some past century. Though the natives evidently thought us crazy to abandon a comfortable bed at such an hour, we only gave them the necessary direction and sat down quietly in the stern of the boat. It was just sunrise as a landing was effected on the island, when a sight was enjoyed which had not been anticipated. As the monarch of day showed his face above the volcanic hills, the effect was superb. Mokoia is a well-wooded island, and on the side farthest from Ohinemutu there is some level fertile land occupied by natives; indeed, there is here quite a Maori village. It was once a favorite missionary station, but as such was long ago abandoned. It is a sort of second edition of the villages lying about the Lake House on the mainland. When the missionaries were here they planted fruit-trees, which are still thriving and annually productive of pears, apples, peaches, and the like. One of the boatmen spoke English after the Maori fashion, and wanted to relate the love-story of the island, the Hinemoa legend; but we knew it already. We did listen, however, to the story of the blood-thirsty chief Hongi, who came hither when Mokoia was the stronghold of a prosperous tribe, and putting them to the sword, killed one half and more in a terrible hand-to-hand fight; after which he and his followers feasted on their bodies for weeks. We got back to the Lake House by mid-day.
The faulty and incomplete traditions of the natives concerning the last eruption previous to that of about a twelvemonth ago which occurred in the Hot Lake District, are entirely unsatisfactory; but the late terrible one which destroyed the beautiful pink and white terraces at Tarawera by one sudden throe of Nature, and by which nearly two thousand square miles of territory were sensibly affected, we know all about. The destructive demonstration lasted only six hours, but during that time the amount of lava, volcanic bombs, stones, and fiery substances thrown out by the burning mountain is beyond calculation. This volcanic outburst seemed to us just what might be expected at Ohinemutu at any moment. What signifies it that matters have remained in their present condition for perhaps a thousand years? The liability to an outburst is none the less on that account. Such is the history of all eruptions: centuries elapse of comparative quiet and seeming immunity from serious danger, – and then comes a great and awful explosion! Confined steam, boiling water, and burning sulphur must somewhere and somehow find vent at the surface. The seething and subdued roaring which never ceases are a constant warning to this effect. And yet here both Europeans and natives live on, and give the possible contingency never a thought.
Within pistol-shot of where these notes were originally made, there was before our eyes a half sunken point jutting out into Lake Rotorua which has "gradually subsided" – ominous words – so that but a small portion remains in view. In former times a pah, or fort, stood upon this point, the fate of which is briefly told. One stormy night a hoarse rumbling noise was heard, of more than usual significance, followed by a shrill sound of hissing steam. The trembling earth opened on the border of the lake, and the pah with all its people sank instantly into the raging fires below. No native can be induced to put foot upon what is left of this peninsula at the present day. The place is tapu. The visitor explores it alone, while his guide remains at a wholesome distance. Plenty of boiling springs, sulphurous vapor-holes, and seething mud-pools were found distributed over the place where the Maori pah and its people were engulfed.
Although by the late eruption, so far as is known, only one hundred and six persons – natives and Europeans – were destroyed, it included a whole Maori village which was instantly blotted out of existence, as was the pah on the peninsula jutting into the lake. The particulars of the late awful visitation, unequalled in the history of New Zealand, were sad and harrowing to listen to. There were instances where persons, still alive, were dug from the ashes and d?bris miles away from the crater, after being either buried, or partially so, for one and two days, though none of them survived more than a few hours after exhumation. We were told of an aged Maori whose cabin was miles distant from the burning mountain, who was exhumed after twenty-four hours' burial. He was over one hundred years of age, and survived three days after being recovered.
As to those far-famed and beautiful natural curiosities the Terraces, so completely is the configuration of the country changed for many miles in all directions, that it is quite impossible to discover their former site. An area covering nearly thirty square miles is now but one sad picture of desolation, strewn with ashes and lava, to look upon which was both depressing and awe-inspiring. One bowlder was pointed out to us which must weigh at least a hundred tons, that was thrown a quarter of a mile from the mouth of the crater.
The country over which the boiling springs and geysers occur is about a hundred and twenty miles long by seventeen or twenty wide, their activity varying somewhat at different localities. The fiery region extends beneath the sea after reaching the coast at the Bay of Plenty, being doubtless connected with several remote islands of the Pacific Ocean, – the immediate vicinity of Ohinemutu being apparently the centre of thermal development. It is only necessary in many places to make a hole a few feet deep by thrusting one's walking-stick into the ground, to bring forth a vigorous demonstration of the hissing steam. On first rising from sleep in the morning and looking out upon the remarkable scene, the low-lying dense clouds of vapor all about the hamlet give one the idea that the activity of the underground forces is greater in the night than during the day; but this is probably not the case. Except occasionally, when owing to some great unknown disturbing cause an unusual explosion takes place, the result varies but little at the surface from one year's end to another.
Is idleness infectious? One dallies with time in the midst of these strange phenomena, wandering among the native huts and their lazy, bronzed inhabitants, studying their gypsy life in all its phases. Everything is not quite agreeable, but all is quaint, novel, and interesting. We were shown some of the native carving which was executed a hundred years ago, mostly in the form of war-clubs and idols. There were images representing strange human beings of both sexes; but they were always grotesque, and often disgusting. There was not even an approach to excellence or a spirit of art observable in any of them. A certain consistency is discovered in the manners and customs of this people who live so nearly after the style and laws which governed their ancestors, and which have been carefully preserved for hundreds of years. Superstition is born in a Maori. He is a professed Christian, – that is, in most cases, – and accepts the Bible; but he is apt to give it his own interpretation: yet for that matter how many white religionists there are who do the same! These children of Nature follow their ancestral traditions modified by Christian influences. The original religion of the natives, if we can give it that name, consisted in a dim belief of a future state, quite undefined even in their own minds. It was largely a sort of ancestor worship, according to the missionaries, with a vague idea of some Being higher and better than anything human or finite. The sorcery which was universally practised among them filled up a certain measure of religious conviction and observance; nor is this by any means disused among them to-day. Many of the tribes can read and write, and educational facilities are freely offered to the rising generation by the English Government.
Whakarewarewa – we can write but not pronounce the name – forms another active volcano point, and is situated about four miles from the Lake House. For three days, whenever the eyes wandered in that direction, we had seen the hamlet, which occupies a side-hill, steaming away vigorously, and sometimes got a glimpse of the boiling water spouted high in air. The road thither lies over a perfectly level way in the midst of a plain which was doubtless overflowed by the lake in former times, and which is still so much under water as to be nearly navigable for a small boat. Here we found another tribe of Maoris surrounded by geysers, boiling pits, hot, spluttering, and unwholesome-looking mud-pools, with steam-holes innumerable. What a region of perpetual ferment it is! How busy must be the fiery agencies constantly operating in Nature's subterranean laboratory! Soon after entering the hamlet we passed a clear, blue boiling-pool of great depth, which is improved by the whole community for cooking purposes. In the sides of this out-of-doors stone and earthen cavity indentures had been made, where iron pots and wicker screens could be placed for boiling vegetables and other food.
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