Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa Go to Te Ao Hou homepage
No. 20 (November 1957)
– 54 –

BOOKS

A NEW ZEALAND CLASSIC

Polynesian Mythology by Sir George Grey: Edited by W. W. Bird, illustrated by Russell Clark; Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd.; 17/6.

The old leatherbound Grey concealed a number of virtues from a popular audience, but Whitcombe's have groomed this edition for its debut from the glass-case to the bedside table.

Russell Clark's dust-jacket makes a lively beginning, the spacious layout heightens the sense of quality; merely to look at this book is a pleasure.

Grey's classical style, with its sinewy periods, is in the best tradition of Maori oratory. Not only is it suited to the subject, but also to the modern reader. Grey has no need now to apologize for “occasional simplicities and infelicities of expression”.

Except for the standardising of Grey's Maori spelling and the improvement in order of chapters, the late Mr W. W. Bird's editing is skilfully unobtrusive.

I quibble with Grey's prefix and his title, “Poly nesian Mythology”. Although he states “that probably to no other person but myself would many of their (the Maoris) ancient chants and traditions have been imparted by their priests,” it was an ex-road works foreman, Elsdon Best, who pene trated beyond the familiar myths of Grey's volum to the esoteric concept of the abstract begin nings of the earth, from darkness and negatior through stages of will and desire, into substanct

Buck mildly ridicules the school of Te Matore hanga, on whom Best relied, for its inconsistencies and transcriptions from the Christian concept of creation, but he does not question the concept of lo the father, Io the fatherless, who could have n atua or image, and who had no place in the common genealogy of gods down to men, puts the Rangi and Papa creation-myth beside Adam an his ribbone…a delightful story, but little else.

Yet with all due disrespect for one's elders, do not for one moment suggest that Grey's “Pol; nesian Mythology” is merely a collection of delightful stories…it is more than that, a work of scholarship, a shaft deep into the workings of Maori belief and history. Buck, even Best, fo lowed this shaft and drew much from it. Grey account of the dissensions in Hawaiki and the coming of the “fleet” should be read beside Buck version in “The Coming of the Maori”.

– 55 –

The acid test of Grey's scholarship and veracity is that he chose to publish the first edition in Maori at a time when the oral tradition was still strong enough to give the instant lie to any error in substance or in style.

“Polynesian Mythology” has every right to sit alongside any de-luxe edition of Greek myth and legend. In this country, it has prior right.

GREEDY CRITIC

The New Zealand Journal 1842 1844 of John B. Williams of Salem, Massachusetts.…Edited with an Account of his life by Robert W. Kenney. Peabody Museum of Salem and Brown University Press 1956.

This is a short account of New Zealand by John Brown Williams, a New England merchant, who was United States consul for New Zealand for some years, residing from 1842 to 1844 in the Bay of Islands. A brief life of Williams is also included.

The book is a disappointing one. The ‘Journal’ reproduces without acknowledgment, substantial portions of Gilbert Mair's ‘Pilot’. The latter work, written in 1839 by the original Gilbert Mair, consists of brief notes on the harbours of the northern portion of the North Island, and other information useful to navigators. It is reproduced in full as appendix B to “The Mair Family” by J. C. Anderson and G. C. Petersen (A. W. and A. H. Reed, 1956). These extracts are interspersed with rather incoherent remarks on the character, customs and manners of the Maoris and of the Europeans resident in the Country, and on the scenery, climate, geology and vegetation of New Zealand. Williams has an extraordinary capacity for moral indignation…except perhaps in relation to commercial transactions in which he himself might be engaged.

There is little new material in the work which is of any value to the historian except, possibly, further confirmation of the rough and ready morals of the early European population in the far north.

E.W.W.

The book is beautifully produced and has some fine plates.

TUWHARETOA STORY

A history of the Tuwharetoa tribe written by Mr John te Herekiekie Grace will appear shortly with the publishing house of A. H. & A. W. Reed. This history will provide a similar background to the history of this tribe as is already available for Tainui and Takitimu. It also includes some valuable new documentation on the early history of the King movement.