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The New Zealand Journal, Saturday, May 02 (1840)



Polack's Manners and Customs of the New Zealanders. (Second Notice.)
In our last we made some extracts from Mr. Polack's account of the manners and customs of the New Zealanders. We now return to the work, commencing with the Appendix, as giving some interesting particulars illustrative of our articles on the resources and trade of the islands.

Fruits of New Zealand.

Our third article on the commercial prospects of New Zealand was devoted to the vine, the olive, the mulberry, and the orange, and the following extract well illustrates what we have there set down:
"The soil and variety in climate of New Zealand is especially adapted for the healthy perfection of fruits now indigenous to Great Britain. To the northward of the river Thames and Kaipara, grapes have been cultivated for some years past, and in our garden at Parramatta, a sketch of which precedes the title-page of this volume, olives, pomegranates, nectarine-plants, brought from the botanical garden in Sydney by the late Mr. Cunningham, and presented to us, grow to great advantage. Figs and peaches, both of large size, are common to the latitudes north of the Bay of Plenty, and apples, quinces, pears, gooseberries, currants, cape gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, mulberries, &c., thrive well, and return an abundance. At Parramatta we have two peach trees that were planted several years since, that annually give an immense quantity of fruit, almost unequalled in size and flavour. This is stated simply to show the progression to perfection of fruit in the northern parts of the country, when the said trees, for a series of years, had been left in all the wildness of nature, with no pruning hand to attend to their growth.
"Peach-trees are found among the native villages, especially up the rivers Kawakawa, Waikéré, and Waitange settlement, growing spontaneously from seeds that had been carelessly thrown to the right and left of a road, without having been planted or subsequently cultured.
"A variety of exotics will flourish to the north of the river Thames, that will not flower in Van Diemen's Land; the fruits of South Africa, a portion of those indigenous to central South America, Chinese, and Cape-bulbs, including fencing-roots, such as the prickly Cactus Indicus, in its strange varieties, will also bear the climate of the north; and, to be brief, the horticulturist, market-gardener, and practical farmer, are alone required to assist the valuable capabilities united of the climate and soil of New Zealand.
"To the experimental colonist, the myrtiform leaved Kaikatoa will enable him to assert its properties with the newly-introduced tea of Assam, while indigo, the hop-plant, mimosa barks, and other vegetable articles for dyes will pay well for their careful culture,"-Vol.2, p. 279.

New Zealand Flax or Hemp.

In our first number we inserted an interesting article from the pen of a friend, on what is commonly called New Zealand Flax—the following extract fully bears out his views:—
"That our account of the indigenous productions of the country may not be incomplete, we append that of the celebrated flax, or korari plant, many tons of which we have purchased front the native manufacturers.
"It is singular that among the many inventions for the cleaning of flax, made by European machinists, none has been found to answer the purpose equal to the slow method of scraping it by muscle-shells, as used by the natives.
"The future inventor of mechanism that will only equal the latter primitive mode, tending to save manual labour and time, deserves a free patent as a reward for the national importance of his discovery.
New Zealand flax, or Phormium Tenax, in allusion to the leaves of this plant, being converted, among other uses, into baskets, flourishes in great abundance throughout the country, of which it is indigenous. It is found most plenteously in the vicinity of swamps, which abound throughout the interior, and does not perish by the salt-water tide washing its roots.
"There are a variety of the species, principally caused by climate and soil; some flax-plants to the northward scarcely attaining the height of six feet; others, we have observed to the southward, attained the height of sixteen feet. Portions of flax are to be seen adjoining almost every village; it is of incalculable service to the natives. In its natural state it is called korari or korali; when scraped or dressed, the common or inferior is called mooka: the superior sort, hunga, hunga, the latter term is but rarely made use of. The natives make all their valuable apparel of the leaves of this plant; they also manufacture their fishing-lines and every kind of cordage, and by splitting the leaves into strips, the fishing-nets and sieves are made, simply by tying these strips together; some of the latter are of an enormous size.
"Sir Joseph Banks was the first discoverer of this staple, and says:—'A plant, which, with such advantages, might be applied to so many useful and important purposes, would certainly be a great acquisition to England, where it would probably thrive with very little trouble, as it seems to be hardy, and to affect no particular soil, being found equally on hill and valley, in the driest mould and the deepest bogs.'
"It has been growing in France for the last forty years, and has with-stood the severity of a Parisian winter, and in the south of France, ass might be expected, it has flourished with great success. In the west also, near to Cherbourg, it has perfectly succeeded, and yielded ripe fruit. It readily increases by dividing the roots.
M. Fanjas de Fond prepared the fibre in the following manner:—He dissolved three pounds of soap in a sufficient quantity of water, together with twenty-five pounds of the split leaves of the flax, tied up in bundles. All were then boiled, during the space of five hours, until the leaves were deprived of the tenacious gluten at the lateral end of the leaf, but which is not removed by the ordinary process employed in the preparation of hemps; after which they were carefully washed in running water.
Flax plants have flourished in various gardens throughout England, and at Inverness in Scotland, without any shelter against the inclemency of a northern winter. The south of Ireland would be peculiarly adapted for this plant. The phormium tenax is now an inhabitant of various parts of the Continent, It is also indigenous to Norfolk Island, where it is seen along the cliffs, within the influence of the salt water spray, rising from the heavy surfs which beat against the rocky coast of that beautiful garden of the Pacific, It is also a native of the Chatham Islands, and is of similar service to the people of that valuable little group.
"From the experiments of M. Labillardiere, the strength of the fibre of this plant is compared with that of Agave Americana, flax, hemp, and silk, is as follows:—
The fibre of the agave breaks under a weight of 7
Flax 11 1/2
Phormium 23 7-11
Silk 24
"Thus, it appears of all vegetable fibres the phormium is the strongest. It possesses this advantage over the hemp and flax, that it is of a brilliant whiteness, which gives it a satiny appearance, so that the clothes made of it do not need to be bleached by a tedious process, or through those other means by which flax is injured. Flax is prepared in New Zealand by the females and slaves. The separating of the silky fibre from the flag-like leaf is thus performed:—The apex is held between the toes; a transverse section is then made through the succulent matter at that end with a common muscle-shell, which is inserted between that substance, and the fibre, which readily effects its separation, by drawing
the shell through the whole of the leaf. It has been attempted in Sydney to withdraw the filaments from the leaves by maceration; but the large proportion of succulent matter rendered it impossible to effects the separation by decomposition in water, without materially injuring the strength of the fibre.
"Leaves of this plant are generally scraped as early as cut, as the thick germ is enclosed at the lower part of the leaf, rising from either side in a pyramidal form, and adheres strongly when drying. The late celebrated botanist, Peter Cunningham, Esq., observes—'Simple as appears this mode of separating the flax from the leaf by the shell in the hands of those savages, still the European has not succeeded in his endeavours to prepare the fibre for himself, either by that or any other means that have been tried; nor has any instrument or piece of machinery yet been invented to enable him to strip off and prepare this valuable filament for the English market. The Port Jackson traders must still be dependent on the native women and their shells for the Cargoes they obtain.'
"The flax thus obtained by the merchants of Sydney undergoes no hackling, cleaning, or other preparation, previously to its being shipped for the English market; but is merely made into bales, by being put into a press and screwed down. It is subsequently manufactured into every species of cordage, excepting cables, and its superiority of strength to the hemp of the Baltic has been attested both by experiments made at Sydney, and in the King's yard at Deptford.
"The phormium has been in use for many years past, made up into tacks, sheets, braces, stays, &c., and its superiority in bearing a great strain over hemp has been well-attested. It is very elastic and strong.
"Mr. Cunningham made a professional trip with Captain P.P. King, in an exploring expedition on the coast of New Holland, in the Colonial cutter, Mermaid. He says-'We bent a new main sheet at Port Jackson, which in a cutter is a rope on which there is ever much stress, and after nine months, returned from the north-west coast, and the rope was still good and serviceable, whereas, of Baltic hemp, a main sheet, by friction and strain, would have been so worn at the close of our surveys on that coast, that it would have become indispensable to bend another to carry us back from that shore to Port Jackson, the voyage being seven or eight weeks.'
"Some attempts have been made to fabricate cloth of the phormium; but it has hitherto failed in every instance. Equally unfavourable have been the results on boiling the phormium with potash; the substance becomes too much reduced in strengh, so as scarce to bear even wearing. The strength of the phormium, doubtless, is mainly assisted by the gum which bathes every fibre.
"The root of the phormium is fleshy, a tuberiform rootstock, creeping beneath the surface of the soil, sending up many tufts of luxuriantly growing leaves, from four to twelve feet long, and from two to three inches in diameter. They are (to describe them botanically) distichous, vertical, coriaceous, and deep green, finely striated, ensiform, the margin and nerve somewhat orange red; at the base, the inner edge has a deep furrow, which sheathes the leaf immediately within it; and upon various parts of the surface a gummy substance Makes off in white spots; from the centre of these tufts arises a scape, often eighteen feet in height, bearing several branches, containing a number of beautiful crimson flowers, which contain a saccharine juice much esteemed by the natives. It is a handsome and vigorous plant.
"According to the statistical returns of New South Wales for 1828, the flax of the country, to the extent of sixty tons, was exported from Sydney to England, valued at £2,600; in 1830, eight hundred and fortyone tons were exported; and in 1831, one thousand and sixty-two tons. Since which period it has decreased every year.
"Its superiority over the Baltic hemp is established among rope-manufacturers, and there is only required the invention of machinery, obviating the present most expensive mode of its manufacture, to obtain for it a remunerating price and universal demand.
"The flax-houses are covered with rushes and wire-grass to prevent the intrusion of rain or damp, as the flax turns black when saturated. At present it takes tar very indifferently, that substance coming off on the hand when the ropes are hauled over; this is a palpable defect in running rigging; but experience may produce a method to obviate it."

Embalming The Dead.

"The New Zealanders have a method of embalming their dead, that is a custom not peculiar to themselves, though the manner they perform it may be. The head and the body are eviscerated, and cooked in an oven, after the native method of preparing for preservation the head of an enemy, after which the body is well stuffed with flax scraped carefully. These native mummies have answered the purposes of the embalmers for many years, but the custom is only practised to the south of the East Cape, where the original manners of the people have been less tinged, if not wholly unaltered, by the connexions formed with European."—Vol. 1. p. 123.

Steps in Civilisation.

Since we commenced this journal we have often had occasion to mention the facility with which the New Zealanders imitate the arts of a civilised state of society; of this there is ample evidence spread through Mr. Polack's volumes. They also learn to set a value on the productions of Europe, and even of their own time they have ceased to be lavish. These are steps towards civilisation of the most unequivocal character. "The opinions of the New Zealander," says Mr. Polack—
"Are highly favourable to European pursuits, whether connected with commerce or agriculture, and give preference to the merchandise of their visitors; their own crude manufactures have dwindled into comparative insignificance and contempt. The articles that now meet with a.ready sale among them are very numerous, including hardware, cutlery, clothes of every description, calico, linens, woollen goods, haberdashery, hosiery, glass, earthenware; tea, spirits, sugars, and the everlasting narcotic, tobacco.
"Within a very few years, time was not accounted by a native as of any importance; but the impetus already given to his attention and labour by Europeans becoming resident in the country, has greatly changed his former apathy. The most pleasurable devotion of time is no longer the dance of love or war, but barter, for which the natives will now sacrifice any amusement that in times past engrossed all his leisure. This new passion with the New Zealandersnay be regarded as the primary cause of his progression from incivilisation to a new moral state of existence. A circulating medium is understood, but its operations have been in use solely in those places where the Europeans abound in the greatest number; and the knowledge of our coinage is confined to the few who possess superior mental tact to their dull neighbours. The Spanish dollar is the favourite coin, as in all barbarous countries, where the distinction of coinage is known; but we have often been requested to give change out of one farthing British, and some pounds of tobacco to boot, by a simple native, whose credulity had been imposed upon, and when the real value has been made apparent, the coin has been turned to account by a hole being bored through it, and then appended to the ear of its owner, as an ornament (wakakai). But among those persons who are aware of the value of the precious metals, a spirit of amassing has crept in that has wholly overpowered the cravings that formerly animated them, for the serviceable blanket, the destructive fowling-piece and powder, &c."—Vol. 1., p. 182. * * * * *
"Anecdotes indicative of the native predilection in favour of iron might be adduced almost innumerable; the recipients voluntarily entering into a slavery, pro. tem. to work off the debt occasioned by their purchasing such articles; and we were informed by one man, that he had actually offered his head (which was elaborately tatooed) to a European vender, celebrated as, a purchaser of such commodities, if allowed, for the use of a large axe for a year, that he had taken a great fancy to." Vol. 1. p. 195.

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