Discussion on pre-Maori inhabitants of New Zealand – including Patu-paiarehe, Turehu and Pakepakeha…


Maori oral traditions clearly state that, upon arrival in New Zealand, Maori found that there was a large, well-established population already living in the country. The inhabitants were described as having skin complexion that was white to light-ruddy, with eye colours from blue to green to darker tints. Their hair colours ranged from white and dull-golden, with red being predominant in the general population. There were also shades of brown through to black and braided samples of this multi-coloured hair (taken from the Waitakere rock shelters) used to be on display at Auckland War Memorial Museum.

In physical stature most groups were about the same height as Maori, but there was one widely dispersed group described as being considerably smaller (white pygmies) with fine, childlike features, white-golden hair and large watery blue-green eyes. Around Port Waikato and distributed up the West Coast beyond the Hokianga Harbour to Mitimiti was yet another group who were very tall, achieving an average adult height of around 7-feet. Since early colonial times the skeletal remains of these people have been continuously observed as trussed, sitting position burials in coastal sand dunes or laid-out horizontally in caves.

Maori used umbrella terms like Patu-paiarehe, Turehu and Pakepakeha as names for these earlier inhabitants, but each Maori tribe developed their own regional names, such as Ngati Kura, Ngati Korakorako and Ngati Turehu for the Patu-paiarehe tribes in the Rotorua lakes district of the central North Island. The last, intact surviving tribe was the Ngati Hotu who lived in Hawkes Bay district and later around Lake Taupo, until their defeat in the Battle of the Five Forts.
The Maori term, Pakeha, later used to describe white colonial Europeans, was derived from the ancient name Pakepakeha used to describe the former white population. Pocket groups of these first inhabitants survived into the 20th century and are well-remembered by old-timers as the red headed, freckle-faced Maoris or waka blonds

New Zealanders will immediately recognise the stylised facial features shown on this belt buckle from Sutton Hoo in England as very similar to what’s seen in Maori carving. A Scandinavian burial ship was also excavated on the same English site. On the above artefact a “high hat” is depicted above the “Tiki-type” face. The high hat or extended forehead representations of the “Tiki” figurines is very prevalent in Oceania or Egypt, but somewhat less common in New Zealand.

Maori oral traditions tell us that the Patu-paiarehe or Turehu people taught Maori many arts and crafts. These included fishnet making, weaving, haka (dance), the tattooing arts (moko), stick games, string puzzle games, putorino flute playing, carving, etc. At a later, hostile era the Maori warriors attacked these people, then enslaved and cannibalised them into virtual extinction. During this unfortunate period many Patu-paiarehe fled to the inhospitable and rugged high country for survival and later became known as “The Children of the Mist”. Around the Auckland Isthmus they subsisted in the Coromandel, Hunua and Waitakere high country forests. They hid in massive cave systems around Port Waikato and lived for many generations on Pirongia Mountain. In the northern regions they lived in the vast Waipoua Forest, the Waima Range or the rugged country around Pangaru and the Maungataniwha Range. Further South they were in the Urewera Ranges, at Mount Ngongataha in the central volcanic zone or, later, to the southwest of Lake Taupo in the vast rugged badlands around Atene above the Wanganui River. In the South Island they were living in the hills around Lyttelton Harbour, Akaroa and the Takitimu range as well as in hill country between the Arahura River and Lake Brunner, etc.

Entire villages, totems, canoes, greenstone treasures, musical instruments, ornately carved feather boxes and all possessions of the earlier people fell into the hands of the Maori conquerors as the spoils or prizes of war (muru-plunder). Patu-paiarehe arts, crafts, or all treasures not hidden in swamps or buried for later retrieval, thereafter, became the objects associated with Maori culture and symbolism. However, the true pedigree of these ancient cultural or religious expressions extend back to the countries from whence the distant ancestors of the Patu-paiarehe came.

It appears obvious that some ancient groups came to New Zealand directly from early-epoch Continental Europe, evidenced by the kinds of astronomical and domestic use stone structures found on the New Zealand landscape (including many beehive house hovel dome villages, now reduced to stone heaps). Others came more directly from former European homelands at the eastern base of the Mediterranean, passing through Central and South America and Easter Island en-route and bringing a lot of flora with them from that region. Because ancient Europeans shared much of the same heritage, expressed through common measurement standards, religious beliefs, cultural idiosyncrasies, writing, incising, motifs and symbolism, language, plinn rhythms, dance, musical instruments, astronomical/ navigational sciences, etc., many cultural items tend to blend and blur into one related expression over several continents.

The strong cultural-religious beliefs, which led to the creation of carved greenstone Hei-Tiki ornaments or pendants of Maori culture and, more generally, worn by women, are traceable to Europe and the Mediterranean, with their, pantheon of shared gods. Recognisable forms of the Hei-Tiki are also found in Peru, Mexico, Palestine, and Southern Egypt. The New Zealand Hei-Tiki pendant and the squat wooden or stone totems showing the same design attributes, are a local version of Bes, the Southern Egyptian god of pregnant women mothers, children and the home. When ancient Caucasoid tribes abandoned Egypt and its satellite counties to the encroaching desert and migrated into the verdant territories of Europe or elsewhere, they took their religious and cultural concepts with them. Bes and his slightly variable counterparts in many lands was a much loved, hairy and ugly, little bowlegged protector-entertainer god, found in statuettes or murals scattered from Egypt to New Zealand…Bes/ Pan/ Puck/ Tiki/ Rongo.

He was Puca in Old English, Puki in Old Norse, Puke in Swedish, Puge in Danish, Puks in Low German, Pukis in Latvian and Lithuanian. The pre-Christian Greeks represented him as a pipe playing, fun loving, mischievous little dwarf-sator god, associated with fertility. Whether Pan of Greece or Puck of Britain (also known as Robin Goodfellow), he retained many attributes of the dwarf god Bes from Egypt. In Egypt he protected mothers and children from snakes, scorpions and lions and was often depicted as holding a snake in his left hand and a short sword cleaver in his raised right hand. Some European portrayals of Puck show the snake in the left hand. Much later the Roman Christians denounced the all-too-popular little Greek sator-shepherd god and represented him as the devil (Satan), thus destroying the adoration and high esteem formerly vested in him by the common people.




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