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best : maori canoe, 1925

Elsdon Best : The Maori Canoe, 1925.

Extract from
Best, Elsdon: The Maori Canoe
A. R. Shearer, Government Printer, Wellington, 1976.
Reprint of 1925 edition.

The definitive work on the Maori canoe, Best's work also covers the canoes of other Pacific islands.

Reprint of 1925 edition.
Best, Elsdon: The Maori Canoe
Bulletin Number VII, 1925
Dominion Museum , Wellington, New Zealand, 1925.

While Best doubts that felled logs of up to 60 feet could be splitt in two with stone age technology (page 117), he appears to accept that the method reported by Wallis in Tahiti (1767) was practised to split shorter lengths (page 118).

He gives a detailed account of the manipulation of Maori canoes in the surf zone, pages 381-382.
Although the term "surfing" is not used in the text, the section on page 381 (below) is listed as "Surf, how canoes are landed through" (page 450).

Special Note : Easter Island (Rapa Nui)
"La Perouse remarked of the natives of Easter Island: 'They swim so well that they will leave the shore to the distance of two leagues in the roughest sea, and by preference, for the sake of pleasure, land on their return at the place where the surf beats the strongest.' "
- pages 204-205

Also note:
Best, Elsdon: Polynesian Voyagers: The Maori as a Deep-sea Navigator, Explorer, and Colonizer
Government Printer, Wellington, New Zealand, 1975.

See: Best, Elsdon: The Maori Canoe, pages

Page 65

Part III
(Pages 65 to 175)

Page 116

Another form of the name of the top-strake is rauoa.
Mr. R. H. Matthews states that "This plank is called oa when free, but rauoa when fastened in position."
The Rev. R. Taylor has pahua as a ...

Page 117

... name for the rauawa, but apparently there is no corroboration of this.

The rauawa is the plank secured to the top of the sides of the dug-out hull in order to increase the height thereof.
The join was a butted one, as in a carvel-built boat, and the plank was procured in as long a length as possible, if more than one piece had to be employed on a side, then the join was made towards the end of the vessel, and not in or near the middle.
The ends were not lapped in any way, but butted together (tutaki poro), and lashed in the usual manner.
The hewing-out of a top-strake of, say, 60 ft. in length and perhaps 15 in. in width was no light task with rude stone implements, for it meant reducing the whole tree-trunk to the thickness of a plank.
Two or more trees would have to be felled in order to provide top-strakes for our canoe.
Tuta Nihoniho stated that in some cases a log was split through the middle, so that two top-strakes were obtained from one log. This may have been done in late times by using blasting-powder, but after half a century's experience in timber-working the writer is not prepared to believe that the Maori, with rude implements consisting of wooden wedges and a wooden beetle, could split large and long logs of kauri, tatara, or rimu.
The splitting of a white tawa (Beischmiedia tawa) in order to manufacture bird-spear shafts he may easily have accomplished.
As an old timber-worker the writer has long been puzzled as to how the Maori succeeded in splitting logs with wooden wedges or, rather, to be precise, how he managed to enter the points of his wooden wedges, for that would be a difficult part of the process.

Page 118

The following note, taken from the account of the sojourn of Captain Wallis at Tahiti in 1767, explains an ingenious method of entering such wedges that was probably known to and employed by the Maori of New Zealand:
"The tree is first felled with a kind of hatchet or adze, made of a hard greenish stone, fitted very completely into a handle; it is then cut into such lengths as are required for the plank, one end of which is heated until it begins to crack, and then with wedges of hardwood they split it down: some of these planks are 2 ft. broad, and from 15 ft. to 20 ft. long."
The small entering-wedges (pipi) would be inserted in such cracks.

Page 176

Part IV
(Pages 176 to 225)

Page 195

Rafts and Floats
Basic rafts and reed boats, pages 195 to 205.

Page 202

The above writer (Polack, an early trader at the Bay of Islands) also refers to the small type of float used by one person, and illustrated in Taylor's Te Ika a Maui: "In the absence of canoes, a quantity of dried bulrushes are fastened together, on "which the native is enabled to cross a stream by sitting astride and paddling with his hands .. They are extremely buoyant, and resist saturation for a long period." (See fig: 100.)

Page 204

Swimming-powers of the Polynesians.- This is not the place to describe the astonishing powers of the Polynesian as a swimmer, but his being so much at home in the water has ever been to him one of his most useful accomplishments - as, for instance, in the case of capsized or swamped canoes.
La Perouse remarked of the natives of Easter Island: "They swim so well that they will leave the shore to the distance of two leagues in the roughest sea, and by ...

Page 205

...  preference, for the sake of pleasure, land on their return at the place where the surf beats the strongest."

Page 226

Part V
(Pages 226 to 281)

Page 227

The long steering-paddles are often described as hoe whakahaere (controlling-paddles).
The kai-whakatere, or steersman, sits in a small seat at the base of the taurapa, or stern-piece of the canoe.
When a canoe is being paddled one steersman is sufficient, but in the old days of sailing it sometimes needed two and even three steer-oars in a big canoe.
When necessary a steersman would call upon another, or two others, to assist him.
These two would be stationed on the first thwart, just ahead of the stern-seat, one at either side of the canoe, or one at the bow and one at the stern.
Paddlers sat on the thwarts of big canoes, but in small ones squatted or knelt upon the flooring thereof, on which some fern would be placed.

When heavy waves are encountered by a canoe the vessel must not be so steered as to face them directly, at right angles, or she will dive headlong into the wave and be swamped; hence the bow is in such cases kept a little off, with the result that the canoe rides over the wave.
But great care must be exercised in this operation, for if her head is brought round too far (ka faro) she broaches to, and disaster follows.
At such times the steersman has to be extremely attentive and quick in order to enable the canoe to kayo nga pu tai, as a native puts it - to ward off or avoid the seas - all of which is done by means of a dexterous turn of the paddle.
Should an adept at the bow note that the bow is swerving off in a dangerous manner, ...

Page 228

... he at once plunges his paddle deep down and uses it as a steering-paddle to swing the canoe back on to its course.
To do this he holds the paddle obliquely, which causes the bow to swerve round.
The steersman at the stern does the same, but on the other side of the canoe.
With one steersman at the stern and one at the bow a big canoe was managed in a remarkable manner.

Page 282

Part VI
(Pages 282 to 384)

Page 381


When, in encountering a head sea, it was desirable to mount the waves at a slight angle instead of at right angles, the same form might be used, or that of "Kia tapae te ihu o te waka."
In time of danger an expert at the bow would, by means of arm gestures, show paddlers their course of action.
The amotawa, or sea experts, who directed operations at sea in rough weather, were adepts at canoe navigation and handling. Their duties were very different from those of the leader and fugleman (hautu, kai hautu, and tapatapa) who controlled paddlers in uneventful coastal trips.
In rough weather at sea two such adepts were sometimes employed, one attending to the bow and dangers ahead, the other to the stern of the vessel and any danger threatening from that quarter.

One of the duties of a directing expert was to warn the crew of approaching conditions, that they might prepare for the proper action.
Thus, when he cried "He wharau te ngaru," or "He whare te ngaru," it was known that a curling wave with overhanging crest, a "comber," was advancing on the vessel, and that action must be taken to prevent it breaking on board.
The call of "He huka te ngaru" meant a broken form of wave, a less dangerous form to encounter.
The ngaru tapuku, or rounded billow, was not dreaded.
If running on the course of the vessel, an endeavour was made to balance the canoe upon it, whereupon the smooth swell would carry it swiftly forward on its way.
This was the method adopted in landing on a surf-beaten coast when the dreaded tai maranga, or heavy sea, was abroad.
At such a time, when the canoe reached the summit of the swell, her bow projecting somewhat, there came the command "Kia aronui te hoe," and at once every paddle was held with blade vertical in the water, handle hard gripped against the gunwale.
This action holds a canoe on the swell-crest.
The order "Korewa te hoe" caused all paddles to be firmly held with the blades flat in the water; it was heard in various contingencies, as, when a canoe was slipping back off a swell-crest, the change in position of the paddles would cause her to forge ahead.
"Whakaara te hoe" is a command to the two men manipulating the long hoe whakaara at the bow to act in a similar manner. "Taupuru te hoe" called upon the steersmen at the stern to act likewise.
"Kumea te hoe" was a call for strenuous ...

Page 382

exertion on the part of the paddlers.
"Tiaia Ie hoe" was a cry of welcome to weary paddlers, as it means "Go easy."
It meant that no danger threatened- that the steersmen had merely to hold the vessel to her course while the paddlers plied an easy stroke.

Page 424


Kopapa .. .. .. 1. Small canoe of tiwai class. 2. surfboard.

Best, Elsdon: The Maori Canoe
A. R. Shearer, Government Printer, Wellington, 1976.
Reprint of 1925 edition.

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Geoff Cater (2010-2013) : Elsdon Best : The Maori Canoe, 1925.