Sindbad met a moa, met a moa on a mountain…

In recent days I have been doing a lot of work on nineteenth-century New Zealand. You will guess that this was my job, not my research, and the germ of it is the fact that the Museum where I work holds one of the 23 New Zealand Crosses that were ever awarded, and several bits of the recipient’s family have been in touch with us about it and supplied material that is going to be part of an online exhibition about it that yours truly is building. So far so simple. What is not simple, however, is summarising nineteenth-century New Zealand history. It has become clear that there is not just one official line but several to take note of, and for each an unofficial line wandering somewhere between critique and conspiracy theory. Currently, for example, the New Zealand government’s official stance about the past eviction of the Maori from their lands is conciliatory, but of course it was not ever thus, and there are people in the islands who feel that the granting of public land in compensation, not usually directly relevant land, is wrong, either because it diminishes public resources for all in favour of some and is therefore only another kind of expropriation, or because it is not the land in question, which is of course now hallowed by a fair few generations of settler occupation as well as the few centuries of Maori occupation before that. People’s livelihoods depend on the interpretation of the past, so it’s a very politically dangerous and morally questionable field in which to be trying to find out what really happened.1

Now this makes the archæology of any settlement or occupation prior to the Maori arrival, usually dated to 950X1150, problematic. Many people would say that it’s problematic because there isn’t any, but of course there are those on the Internet who argue otherwise, and indeed who argue that evidence of such settlement has been suppressed, by a pro-Maori conciliatory government terrified by the Maori majority in the New Zealand Armed Forces in extreme cases. And then there are those who may just be having a laugh. I found plenty of the latter in my websearching for images, and one of these theories is actually period-wise more or less on topic for here, which is a bit alarming. The guy behind this site has collected a bunch of ‘radical’ theories as well as giving European and Maori versions of the islands’ history. Well, one can put as many wild theories on the Internet as one likes but occasionally someone who knows the period turns up and then, I think, it’s that person’s duty to at least look around quickly and then put something up on the Internet himself, saying what he thinks. And when I say ‘he’ I mean me. So I will.

Reconstruction of a moa being attacked by a Haasts Eagle, New Zealand Museum, Te Papa Tongawera, from Wikimedia Commons

Reconstruction of a moa being attacked by a Haast's Eagle, New Zealand Museum, Te Papa Tongawera, from Wikimedia Commons

The short version of this theory goes like this. Please note that these are not my own beliefs but my summary of others’s assertions; we’ll get to my input in a minute. The Geography of al-Idrisi reports a voyage in the time of Caliph Harun al-Rashid of Baghdad that found a new mountainous land south-east of what is now New Guinea. This can only have been New Zealand. Furthermore, a rock carving at Mount Tauhara appears to show an Arab dhow. Also, the Seven Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor, well known from the Arabian Nights story cycle and also set in the time of Harun al-Rashid, feature a land and fauna that could easily be identified with locations in New Zealand and its erstwhile giant birds, like the Moa (Sindbad reports a Seemoah), hunted to death by the settlers, or the New Zealand Giant Eagle, apparently hunted out earlier by the Maori. Furthermore, an artefact known as the Korotangi, a sculpture of a bird carved from green serpentine that only occurs in China or Indonesia, must have come along a trade route from Jakarta which was then an Arab-held trading port. So there.

My on-the-spot reaction to this was pretty good, actually. The Sindbad stuff is pretty stretched, but we know from recent finds that actually there was Arab-type shipping in the general China Sea area from only slightly later than that period, at least from before al-Idrisi was writing, and so it doesn’t seem to me a priori impossible that Muslim sailors in that part of the world knew of New Zealand, though that’s a long way from saying they settled there even by accident. At which rate, well, it could feature in stories, however distorted, and get wrapped into the Sindbad cycle, though I know almost nothing about that I freely admit. So I thought it was worth checking a bit.

The alleged Crying Dove, or Korotangi, sculpture

The alleged Crying Dove, or Korotangi, sculpture

And oh dear. Let’s start at the end, with the Korotangi. The site I started with is startling in being the only place on the web I can locate with an image of this sculpture, and yes, it’s not very like the Maori stuff I agree. If that’s it. Any kind of publication of this find seems to be lacking.2 One website claims that the object is now in the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, and I’m not saying it’s not but I can’t find it in their online catalogue. (Obviously suppressed!!1!) So we seem to have only hearsay about this thing’s discovery and even if that were accurate it’s not clear to me that it proves anything about Arab connections rather than Indonesian ones. So though it’s a beautiful thing, I’m going to dismiss it.

Alleged carving of Arab dhow on Mt Tauhara, Taupo, New Zealand

Alleged carving of Arab dhow on Mt Tauhara, Taupo, New Zealand

Nextly the ship carvings, as I don’t see any way of evaluating the Sindbad stuff that isn’t completely subjective or based on the other evidence (though we can at least refute the Seemoah, which is a Persian word, `Simurgh’, and doesn’t have to relate to anything outside Arabia). These carvings have also not been published. Various websites, all of which except this one hold that they are Phoenician (an origin which our writer maintains for some of them), say that one Perry Fletcher discovered them, but his standing doesn’t seem to be professional and he has not published it. He is however cited as a contributor to a government report on early land use in the area of the finds, and that completely fails to mention anything pre-Maori. Out of their remit? Out of their comfort zone? or actually not Perry’s idea at all? Who knows? However, some NZ sceptics have been to look for these carvings and not found them discernible without very selective highlighting, or at least so they say. And, something that they allege that is beyond question, there is no good way to date these carvings whatever they depict. So that too looks like evidence bent to fit a theory rather than anything that suggests an inherent answer, and I’m going to dismiss this too.

So that basically leaves the texts. Well, al-Idrisi is well enough known, though it seems that there were problems getting hold of a text in New Zealand when this story started. Our source website here says:

Augustus Hamilton, Director of the Museum of NZ in the early 1900’s had written an article on the “Early Mention of New Zealand in a Geographical Treatise of the 12th Century” (Journal of the Ploynesian Society [sic], 1886, Vol 4), and the 12th century document was Al-Idrisi’s. Translated into French in 1840 by Monsieur Jaubert, and published as “Recueil des Voyages” by the Geographical Society of France.

The passage at top is from Volume 6, where Al-Idrisi described an exploration by Arab explorers around 790 AD of the Southern Ocean, and their discovery of a large, mountainous land-mass. South-east of New Guinea is nothing but ocean – and New Zealand.

A bit of work located the Hamilton article, whose more cautious title is actually “Notes on a supposed early Mention of New Zealand in a Geographical Treatise of the 12th Century” and is actually in Journal of the Polynesian Society Vol. 4 (Auckland 1895), at p. 206: it’s only a note, and it goes:

In the account of the Proceedings of the Otago Institute, at a meeting held March 16, 1870, (Trans. N. Z. Institute, vol. iii, part i, Proceedings, p. 65), it appears that the Vice-President, Mr A. Eccles, read a paper “On the Discovery of New Zealand.” He suggested that New Zealand had been visited before Tasman’s time, giving the following as his grounds for so doing:–”The editor of the English Mechanic, (December 3rd, 1869, p. 279), states, in answer to a correspondent, ‘Urban,’ that various Arabic geographical works of the 13th and 14th centuries, many of which, having been translated, as ‘El Ideesee,’ by M. Jaubert, are to be found in the fine libraries of Vienna and Paris, as well as in the various Asiatic Ethnological Societies, both English and foreign, describe New Zealand as a large and very mountainous country in the farthest Southern Ocean, beyond and far south-east of both Ray (Borneo) and Bartalie (New Guinea), and as being uninhabited by man, and containing nothing but gigantic birds known as the ‘Seêmoah.'” Mr Eccles then gave the names of several foreign publications in which passages of the works are to be found translated. I have several times tried to get to the source of the information given above, but have always been unsuccessful. Within the last three months I wrote to the Librarian of the great library at Paris, enclosing the paragraph and asking for his assistance, but have as not yet heard from him. I have, however, just discovered the key to it, and by the insertion of this note in the Polynesian Journal I trust that we may soon have the passage supposed to apply to New Zealand published. The paragraph, after the words “13th and 14th centuries,” should read, “many of which have been translated, as those of El Edrisi by M. Jaubert, and are,” &c. El Edrisi is a well-known geographer of the 12th century, and his writings have been translated by M. Jaubert into French in 1840, as vols. 5 and 6 of the Recueil des Voyages issued by the Société de Géographic [sic] of France. It seems that in 1861 a number of oriental scholars arranged to undertake a new translation, each taking a separate division. According to the last edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Central and Eastern Asia (which I suppose would be the section in which we are interested) was allotted to Defrémery. One portion appeared in 1866, but I cannot ascertain if any other part has since been issued. Perhaps some foreign members of the Polynesian Society may be in a position to forward a translation of that part of the work which is supposed to apply to New Zealand, and also that part in particular anent the “Seêmoah.” Possibly this may be our friend the “Simurgh” again—the “Roc” of the Arabian story-tellers. From the account given in the Encyclopedia, the general map of El Edrisi’s work is published by Dr. Vincent in his Periplus of the Erythræan Sea. This is probably inaccessible in the colonies, but a sketch of the Australasian area would be of interest to us. The Bodleian contains a MS. of the work dated about 1500, which would give probably what is required. The University of Jena has a MS. with a Latin translation by Velochius, not published. Although further research may possibly prove that there is nothing in the work relating to New Zealand, the investigation will be the means of settling a matter which has been an open question for a quarter of a century.—A. Hamilton.

Mr Hamilton, I have not answered your request. Nor, as far as I can tell, has anyone else, but, I have at least gone back to Jaubert’s translation. The fact that our source website names Vol. 6 bothers me slightly, in as much as the full citation is Amédée Jaubert (transl.), La Géographie d’Edrisi. Traduit de l’arabe en français d’après deux manuscrits de la Bibliothèque du roi et accompagnée de notes, Recueil de voyages et de mémoires publié par la Société de géographie, Paris, 5-6 (Paris 1836-40), but the China Seas are in the first volume, the relevant parts being part IX & X of the 1st Climate. Now. I may have missed it. I did spend a short while looking, but it might be out of logical sequence: al-Idrisi detailed each climate west to east, though, so it’s fairly easy to be sure. He covers India, what is now Burma, Malaya, Sumatra and Java (the last three more or less under those names) and a myriad of smaller islands, but that seems to be it. I can’t find the text that our website quotes, anything that could be the source of the passage known to Hamilton, or anything about Seemoahs anywhere in there. I don’t think it is there, unless Jaubert dropped it from the translation; but our source seems to believe that it’s in Jaubert. Well, if he wants to provide a cite I’ll look again, but till then, damn, there is nothing in this at all except hearsay and guesswork!

The overview map from the Bodleian MS of al-Idrisi's Geography, from Wikimedia Commons (much larger version linked beneath)

The overview map from the Bodleian MS of al-Idrisi's Geography, from Wikimedia Commons (much larger version linked beneath)

Well, not quite nothing. Al-Idrisi didn’t just write about the world’s geography, he also tried to draw it. The geography itself contains a stylish world map which makes him seem quite confused about what he drew as the top left, since his projection had the south at the top, but he produced a much larger version of his worldview for King Roger II of Sicily in 1154, called the Tabula Rogeriana, which is also on Wikimedia Commons in a scholarly glossed version but which you’d far better consult in an online version of that gloss at the Library of Congress, which is zoomable and navigable and lots of other good stuff. And if you look at the top left on that, you get this:

And if you zoom in on that interesting pair of islands just to the left and above the grid intersection, you find that they share a name, uākuāk:

and that, to me, starts to look relevant. This appearance rapidly dissipates, however, when you realise that he is naming the islands by their supposed kings and that the same king rules not just those but the extensive and urbanised southern continent which seems to want to be Antarctica.3

I’m not quite prepared to dismiss this yet, though this would make the next island along, Sabarma, I don’t know, Tasmania? and the huge long Kamar Australia, whereas he says its people are white (he was very interested in skin colour and what the women wear, uncovered female hair gets him all of a twitter). So the quote still doesn’t fit al-Idrisi’s actual texts, neither, apparently, does his own map, and I’m not sure how much more reliable his knowledge of this area was than the Sindbad stories. Without him, too, Sindbad is really the only evidence for early Arab knowledge of New Zealand. And when your only evidence is in the Arabian Nights, it may be time to rethink your position…

1. If you want an actual academic in the field talking about these issues, you could do worse than consult Jane Lydon, “Pacific Encounters, or Beyond the Islands of History” in Martin Hall & Stephen W. Silliman (edd.), Historical Archaeology, Blackwell Guides to Global Archaeology 9 (Oxford 2006), pp. 293-312 at pp. 297-298, which I read by complete coincidence.

2. It’s not quite true to say it’s unpublished, as it seems to get a mention in a pamphlet by one Matthew Eru Wepa called Great Mysteries of the Mäori World (Rotorua 2004) which I haven’t seen, but as that’s self-published I’m not sure whether it really counts; I doubt it went through review…

3. The glosses on the map are Roman transliterations of al-Idrisi’s Arabic and come from Konrad Miller, Weltkarte des Idrisi vom Jahr 1154 n. Ch., Charta Rogeriana (Stuttgart 1928), which is still, it seems, fairly current about his understanding, at least this far off the Eurocentric area…


57 responses to “Sindbad met a moa, met a moa on a mountain…

  1. Reading the Maps is a Kiwi blog I read that has provided me with a lot of worthwhile reading on New Zealand, along with its history and interpretations of that history. It’s written by a guy who just completed his doctoral thesis on EP Thompson (I mention that since I can’t describe him as a PhD candidate anymore and I’m not sure what he’s up to).

    He’s dedicated a fair number of posts to the various bits of conspiracy and “alternative” theories that have sprung up about New Zealand’s past, though he mainly confronts the Gavin Menzies “New Zealand was discovered by the Chinese” and some utterly wackjob one about Celts settling New Zealand before the Maori. As he puts it: “I became aware of the variety and relative popularity of alternative theories of Kiwi prehistory while working on an Information Desk in the Maori-Pacific section of Auckland museum.” He’s put up a bunch of links to his posts related to the topic in one section here. Definitely amusing reading, and probably worthwhile too.

  2. What a tantalising story. I’d heard those wacky theories about the Chinese and the Celts (and another one involving Vikings, of course), but this is the first I’ve heard about the possible Arab connection. Although I live in NZ, I’ve always avoided getting too involved in studying NZ history, for all those fraught political reasons that you allude to. Good luck with the exhibition.

  3. Gosh! I felt like I was reading Dan Brown.

  4. matthew eru wepa

    bro I didn’t ask you to to comment on my book nor did i ask you for your opinion.If you are trying to make yourself into a credible critic where somebody might give you credibility and pay you as a critic it might pay to read my “pamphlet” but then i’m not looking for your approval either

    • I’m not looking to be paid as a critic, Mr Wepa, in my world people don’t get paid for reviews. However, you’re quite right that I should have looked at the pamphlet. You put the word in snigger quotes, but everything I can find gives it a page count of 22… ‘Pamphlet’ doesn’t seem unfair to me for that, I have a longer publication I only call a booklet. No offence was intended, anyway. I foolishly assumed that because it was self-published there wouldn’t be any copies in the UK but it turns out that the British Library has one so I shall have a look when I can get my card there renewed. I’ve got quite interested in the history of early colonial New Zealand, it’s a fascinating case where the people being colonised have retained enough of a voice to give their side of the story from the beginning, as opposed to cases like the Zulu in South Africa where their access to the ruling power’s media only really came after some generations in subjection.

  5. matthew eru wepa

    The Korotangi bird is in is owned by Tainui.It is on page 12 and 13 in my “pamplet” YOU KNOW THE ONE YOU HAVEN’T READ.
    It is a photograph of the original Korotangi bird.A duplicate of Korotangi was on public display in 1983 at the old Wellington museum prior to the existence of Te Papa.But then I don’t want to give too much information away eh your far too clever for that eh!

    • You’ve taken an offence I didn’t mean to give! I’m sorry if what I wrote came over as dismissive, I was trying to address a question not review your work. In fact I’d be very pleased if you could ‘give away’ some more information about the history of the Korotangi bird. One thing that my fairly fruitless websearching did make clear is that you are almost unique in having written anything about the object in English (though I guess that it is better written up in Maori?). I had gathered that the Tainui people claimed the bird but wasn’t sure whether the state had managed to grab it from them or not. What I was unable to find out, though, was what we know about the bird’s history: how long it has been known, where it was found and when. If you could shed any extra light on that, that would be marvellous. I will edit here if getting a look at your work makes things any clearer, meanwhile.

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  7. Jonathan
    Are you still looking into the story of the korotangi and the arab voyagers.
    If so, I would like to talk more.
    I am Richard Wallace at

    • I’m afraid I was never more than dabbling here, and I haven’t yet made time to read Mr Wepa’s contribution either, although I do still plan to the next time I’m in the British Library. I try to keep an eye on the archæology of Arab trade in Oceania however, and if anything more along those lines turns up I’ll be sure to post that here.

      • Well, I did today manage to consult Mr Wepa’s book, and I am now rather clearer about what the Korotangi as symbol means at least as he reports it, but he has nothing to say about the particular sculpture of it that was at issue in this post, so that gets me no further and I have no intention of checking any deeper at this time; I don’t have the language or the starting expertise. It is interesting that he positions the actual name Korotangi as one coming from the people before Tainui, but since the book is self-published (and he gallantly admits others may not have the same versions of the stories in his foreword) I have no way of telling how widespread that understanding is, and the actual age and provenance of this object remains as obscure as ever. Oh well!

        • richard wallace

          I read Mr Wepa’s book a while ago and remember it as very useful for developing insight into how the indigenous people, the tangata whenua regard this sculpture. I am trying to make a book that tries to give equal weight to the two sides of the approach. The Western, godless, external approach as typified by your, ‘has nothing to say about the particular sculpture’, (Whakaete would say ‘physical’) and ‘the actual age and provenance of this object’.
          I think Mr Wepa might say you miss the point; by examining the outside you ignore the inside. the spiritual, which is his and his people’s focus.
          To him and the tangata whenua, Korotangi the sculpted bird is a taonga, a sacred treasure.and one that links them to their canoe, their waka, the Tainui which brought their ancestors here from the Homeland.
          I think Mr Wepa, Mr Whakaete, the Tainui, find questions regarding Korotangi’s origins and maker impertinent on two levels. Firstly this is not an ordinary object: it is taonga. It has mana, as in renown, prestige, dignity and commands respect. And it is tapu, it has a quality, a power, a connection with the past,and the ancestors of the past, that must be respected to avoid conflict between the world of the dead and the vulnerable world of the living.
          And secondly, I dont think they know. They know they didnt make it, and they dont know who did. How it came into their ancestors hands and to board the Tainui canoe is a mystery. Such things lie at the very edge of their memory and beyond, into the Homeland.
          But we,as western rationists and aesthetes are more interested in the odd beauty of the thing, the mystery of its manufacture, what culture gave rise to this hand.and far back does it go. The physical, the outside.

  8. hey Jon was Sindbad a real person or is he just a figment of your imagination like the Arabs being here before Tangata Whenua I think you better get your head checked, if you don’t know the whakapapa of our race and our connection to Te Kore,Te Po, Te Ao Marama, Na Atua and all living things in this universe, I suggest you change the topics of your review and find out who really discovered America you’ll find on the history channel and proven fact that it was the Polynesians the best sailors in the world at that just by using the stars and another thing our tupuna didnt hunt the moa to extinction or the hokio (the bigest eagle in the world) volcanic ash did, because the moa is not depicted in any of the Pakati Haehae (Patterns) of our Toi Whakairo (carvings) you cant change history, by the looks it money is mentioned that is your values, our values is that we see the world from the inside out like a fetus in the womb, that’s why our race stands unite.

    • Wow. Well, the only claim you attack here that I actually made was that the Haast’s Eagle was hunted to death by the Maori, and if you know of some evidence to the contrary I’ll happily correct that since I was already in doubt. However, if you read the post again you may see that I don’t think the `Arabs’ discovered New Zealand, in fact I bring all the evidence for that claim under consideration and find it insufficient. Also, I don’t mention money, so I don’t know why you bring that up or say that I do. I’m not trying to challenge anything about the Maori’s origins, status, rights or pride. I don’t honestly see why you think that I am. But then if you cite the History Channel as evidence against someone using twelfth-century manuscripts, it may be that we can’t really understand each other’s terms.

      • I should perhaps apologise for using the English terms in the post and the replies, rather than the Maori ones, but I was fairly sure I wouldn’t use them correctly, so I thought it better to be English and respectful than mangle a language I don’t know.

  9. And by the way I was born and breed in Nukuhau Taupo and Ive been up tauhara heaps of times never seen no arab drawings up their the only thing that significant to our people up there is Ngatoroirangi’s tuahu famous tohunga and navigator of the Te Arawa Waka he was a real person unlike sinbad the sailor my tamariki said he’s on the cartoon channel, What a Joke and the only moa sindbad saw was the parrot on that cartoon program, your a funny man alright Jon, lol, you might want to change your profession to a stand up comedian, hahahahahalmfao your a very funny man Jon.

    • As above, I don’t say there is an Arab drawing on Mt Tauhara, I say that it is alleged; I also don’t say that Sindbad the Sailor really existed. So I think you may be laughing alone, because what you’re laughing at is not in what I wrote. I’m glad you’re having fun though.

  10. dont worry john, im a true blue kiwi and its typical for the moari to pick a argument because it is an excuse to hide their own ignorance about history and actual facts, or an alternative race having claim on the land they are slowly stealing back from what should be a kiwi culture, not just a moari nation.
    I suggest you reaserch the kaimanawa wall, and a site in waihoroa, northland which was studied then the maori placed an embargo on the information so the findings could not be released until 2063??? Why?
    later it was challenged and some of the findings were released but not the carbon dating details??

    • Well, there is some room to criticise me for sure as I still haven’t actually read Mr Wepa’s little book, though I may find time over the holidays. I don’t imagine I’m ever going to be looking into this subject more seriously—it’s a very long way off my regular field of expertise—but anyone who does may find your pointers useful. I’m definitely not trying to provide ammunition for anyone’s arguments, though, `Kiwi’ or Maori; I’m really in no position to contribute.

  11. Local@NZ – didn’t the pakeha come from penal colony’s and dropped off on nga whenua o toku mama a papatuanuku by captain crook way after our Ancestors had settled this whenua (land) 800 yrs or more before the arrival of the white man. So come on whos stealing whos land and where does it say in the history books that nga Tupuna (our Ancestors) said that they owned the land no where, they were kaitiaki (Guardians) o nga whenua and passed down through te whakapapa o nga tangata o papatuanuku.

    You pakeha don’t understand the values that we have for every living thing in this universe visible and invisible that is nga kawa (lore) o nga Tupuna a solid foundation laid down by our Ancestors to uphold and to abide by that is the mana (strength) o nga tangata (our People).

    Papatuanuku (mother earth) is a life force not a resource and a kiwi is not true blue – false, there are 5 different species of kiwi, Brown Kiwi, Spotted Kiwi, great Spotted, Rowi, Tokoeka. I’m not a kiwi, I am Tangata Whenua (People of the Land) me Kaitiaki o toku Mama a Papatuanuku (mother earth) we are the only race on this earth that has a Whakapapa (Genealogy) to nga Atua (our Gods) and to the beginning of time we have Purakau (stories) that have been passed down from generation to generation, what scientist of today have just found out about your negative and positive side in to how the universe was created is depicted in our stories that have been with our race for hundreds of years.

    There are many theories by historians from around the world saying that nga Tupuna (our Ancestors) migrated from china, south America and so on around 800AD or even earlier but there is no proven fact for all we know we traveled out not in or maybe we the lost civilization from the Mayan empire who knows no one only our ancestors would of and the word maori – means uncilvilised people a name captain crook brought with him from the Islands and for the embargo its called a Rahui or Tapu to protect the mana of our Ancestors and to stop people like you Local@NZ claiming to something that you have no right too.

    • richard wallace

      I wonder if recent commenters would have a view on the origin of Korotangi. It is now in the guardianship of Tainui who beleve it came on the ancestral canoe bur where did it come from before that ? Or is that lost in the mists of time ?

      • Not be-leave that te korotangi o Tainui was brought here by nga Tupuna o Tainui they know they brought on te wakanui o Tainui physically and spiritually thats a gift that our Ancestors had, have fun trying to prove it wrong otherwise shut up hahaha f..ken fools.

        • richard wallace

          Sorry to use your site, Johnathan, but I am interested by what Whakaeke says. I might believe nga Tainui know nga Tupuna brought te Korotangi to Aotearoa but where did nga Tupana obtain the Korotangi ? They did not make it. Does it have divine origin ? Is it an atua ? Did it come with them from the east ? My email, Whakaete, is pondlifeuk

    • There are other fora for this discussion, please. The original post was about the alleged evidence for pre-Maori settlement in New Zealand, and not the current politics. I realise that the politics is based in history but the history I was talking about here, if it were real, would be too old to be relevant. Nothing I’ve discussed here has the potential to remove the ground for anyone’s claim to land in New Zealand. If we continue to have argument about the current claims to the islands I’ll reluctantly close the post to comments, something I’ve never had to do here before. Please don’t make it your home country who achieve that unique distinction!

  12. I see that it has been a while since anyone has commented here but I felt like adding a little info for any interested. I believe (my source is Ross Wisemans book Pre-tasman Explorers) that the ‘korotangi’ is of indonesian origin and dates to around 790 ad. Perhaps its original owners gifted it to the Maori in their homeland of Hawaiki, or perhaps it was lost in New Zealand by a group of people who passed through Indonesia on their way.

    Maori tradition talks of inhabitants they found in the land called Patupaiarehe, with the sub-tribes of Ngati Kura, Ngati Korakorako and Ngati Turehu. These people are said to have fair skin, and in some stories they are the descendants of Maui, who fished up/discovered the islands. They are spoken of as atua whenua, and believed to be of the land. They are attributed for giving the Maori net making, the calabash or taha (Waitaha) and the moko. It is interesting to note that nowhere in the Pacific homelands did people live in Pas, or have the moko. It would seem these traits were learned from the original inhabitants.

    Also a little note to Whakaeke, saying the Tainui own the korotangi is misleading. They claimed it after it was discovered.

    • Wiseman’s book is not available in Oxford, but I can get at it in London or Cambridge so the next time I’m in either library I’ll look it up and see what basis he gives for the date. (I assume that the origin location is coming from the stone, which as discussed in the post is found in Indonesia but not New Zealand.) Before I’ve done that I don’t want to comment further, but thankyou for the lead.

      I’m afraid, by the way, that I thought it better to remove your other comment, as though I can understand why you felt provoked to it I couldn’t see any reply it might cause in return being something I wanted on the blog…

    • richard wallace

      James, the current position of Korotangi is with the Tainui people of the Waikato, to whom it was gifted by the Crown as part ofthe Land Settlement deal of 1996.

  13. Matthew Eru Wepa

    Interesting watching the unfolding responses to your subject matter.I wrote my book based on my experience in the tourist industry and secondly as a maori reasonably versed in my own history.We all have our copies of Darwins “Origin of Species” I have learnt one fact.A monkey is still a monkey.All the theories on earth can’t change that.So it is with my attiude to Maori knowledge of our own history compared to Colonial theory.
    You haven’t read my booklet otherwise you would have seen the answers relevent to your blog.
    Maori origins are in ancient Taiwan not in South America or out of nowhere as colonial commentries have suggested.DNA tests prove this.Therefore all theory is wrong .There is nothing left to debate .In my book Great Mysteries I am not interested in the origins of Korotangi but that the tribe Tainui have possession of the bird.In terms of originTaiwan is a good start.What is interesting is that Tainui references to korotangi exist in ancient recitations before the finding of the bird in raglan in 1880.
    Maori are not like other ethnic races in terms of subjugation.The reason is cultural.Simply not enough space in this blog for details.Matt Wepa

    • Mr Wepa, I did read your book and described my reactions above when I did so. I probably didn’t understand it fully but I learnt a lot about how our terms differ in this argument and spent some time admiring your carving. You give more detail here than I remember from the book, though, since I don’t recall any mention of Raglan before. I don’t want to give further offence by speaking badly here: I had and have no interest in proving anyone wrong except those who say there is evidence of any worthwhile kind that tenth-century Arabs discovered and left remains in New Zealand. Korotangi matters to me only in so much as people have involved it in that argument, and it only has a part to play in that argument because of the material of the carving. I will, therefore, try and find Wiseman’s book mentioned above and see why he thought the bird could be dated pre-790 CE. If the bird were brought by Tainui to New Zealand, of course it could very easily be far older than the settlement and still have been on that canoe. Only very strong evidence from its find in 1880 (thankyou for the date) that it had been there since before Tainui’s arrival could change that, but it seems most unlikely to me that such a judgement can really be made, even in Western archæogical terms. The only beliefs I want to trouble here are those in the truth of bad archæology.

      • The extra details you gave there have allowed me to locate this piece, Mark Eaton, “Riddle of Korotangi: stone bird venerated by the Maoris” in Te Karere no. 42 (Auckland 1947), pp. 22-25, with a picture, which make it clear at least that the find was not an archæological one, though even here different stories are reported. In that case, there would be nothing archæological against the Tainui tradition, in as much as that includes the bird’s previous loss, and certainly nothing of any kind to say that it was not Maori who brought the carving to New Zealand. I don’t see that it can provide any proof for the Arab settler theory, and that was the only interest I had in it, except that as it’s a rather beautiful thing, I’m glad to have had a reason to find pictures of it and learn some of its curious story.

  14. Matthew Eru Wepa

    To answer your”between Raglan and Kawhia” pg 12 ‘Great Mysteries” and on pg 12 under the heading THE MYSTERY paragraph no..2.Did some other culture bring the carving here in later times…?. and 3.Did the Tainui secure this bird from a different culture in ancient times….?What I didn’t write was It was found by a young boy named “Whitfield or Whitehead depending on Tainui linguistic enunciation.It was found buried on reclaimed swampland entwined in manuka tree roots. It was hidden there by (Tohunga) Tainui keepers of treasure (Taonga)This occurred on several occasions during inter tribal warfare.The.Tainui keepers of Knowledge (Tangatamohio) will tell you in their geneology when it was lost in ancient times.
    There is no such settlement period dated 900ad. That story was invented by an English Anthrapologist Percy Smith. So the 790ad reference to the Korotangi is applicable in your guestimation as to the manufacture of the bird based on Eatons work re; previous blog..Not as a guideline around the presumed Maori settlement of NZ (Aotearoa) Finally it was good that you found the Korotangi in my book.But I found your slating of my book disappointing just because it was self published. Always remember I did not seek your approval.Having studied Piaget Freud Spock and Darwin I concluded wether rightly or wrongly it was to be expected but then I may I may be wrong.

    • Mr Wepa, you shame me quite justifiably, I should have gone back to my notes before leaving the last comment but one. My memory is not what it should be, and you did indeed mention Raglan, I apologise. As to the issue about self-publication, the reason that that concerned me was that whereas academic publication has to go through peer review, meaning that someone else who is thought to be qualified by a third party has to be satisfied that what is written is accurate, with self-publication no such process is necessary. This doesn’t, of course, mean that such work is necessarily of low quality, but merely that the distant reader such as myself has no way to tell whether people knowledgeable on its subject would agree with its author. When I wrote that comment, of course I had not seen the book and did not guess that it would not be as, er, wild or ‘colonial’ as all the other writing I had found on such subjects up to that point. I should, of course, have given you the benefit of the doubt. I continue to benefit from your efforts in attempting to explain these ideas and stories that must be very close to your heart to those who don’t know your culture.

      • Richard Wallace

        Matt, are you suggesting that you think it possible, the Korotangi stone was mined in Sulawesi, carved in Java, or Formosa Island, or near there, was used as a divinatory canoe prow or Proa Prow, talisman/guide of the empty and unknown sea, lashed, not pinned,( the hole in the base is added much later), lashed to an outrigger canoe in the Marshall or Caroline Islands and then traveled with those intrepid voyagers across the Pacific, west to east, maybe even back and forth at times, guided also by the stars, the tides, the birds and of course, one of those rare and extraordinary star navigation charts that we know from the few extant examples.
        (see Lot 38 in the Bonhams sale of Feb 10th, San Francisco, ‘ Art of the South seas.
        All this will be disclosed by an exhibition in the Glass Cube Gallery, The Proa Project, on the Wellington waterfront, opening April 13th, 2013. The Gallery will display a 15ft Marshall Islands outrigger Canoe, one of the very few Navigation Charts, in wood, fibre and shell, a very rare Scrimshaw from the Marshall Islands also.
        The month-long show will aim to entertain and stimulate, and illustrate and explicate the core concepts of the Great Pacific Exploration.
        On a plinth, poised next to the forward projection of the bow, approximately where it would have been lashed, peers the bulging, all-seeing eyes ofthe Korotangi.
        In the show I will be trying to demonstrate that your Theory, Matt, of the movement from the Chinese Mainland, to Formosa Island, and then out into the vast Pacific, could, and quite possibly does, trace also the path of Korotangi, from its making, possibly in China, or Java, or Formosa to the Tainui of Rarotonga and lastly down to Aotearoa, lashed to the Prow, or concealed under cloth, of the great out-rigger, the Tainui WAka.
        Such a strange tale.

  15. Matthew Eru Wepa

    A Strange tale indeed that is why it is in my book Great Mysteries of the Maori World.The Korotangi is carved serpentine if that is of any use to you in establishing the origins of Korotangi and perhaps of interest to Jonathon as well.I have caressed the original Korotangi.That opportunity given with loving permission of my Maori Queen TeAtaarangikahu along with knowledge and genealogy of Korotangi from the various sources available to myself at the generosity of my Queen.Your description of the Marshall island Waka suggests to me that like the British colonials you have determined the intellect of our Maori sailors.The fact that the old time Ancestors sailed the Pacific would put the Thor Heyerdahls of this world in their rightful place. Guessers .I dont want to waste anymore energy in debate with you Richard but thank anyway.

  16. Matthew Eru Wepa

    My apologies Richard the settlement of the pacific was not the issue with the Jonathon Jarrett blog.If you are interested Te Arawa of Rotorua have the history of Patupaiarehe in their historical recollections of their past.They are thought to have Chinese origins.The English in their inability to explain
    the existence of another race of people in Aotearoa New Zealand in the 14th century invented the story.of fairy people around Te Arawa recollections of stories of Patupaiarehe. Also Gavin Menzies book 1492 is a good read although it has.been unfairly treated by reviews I’ve seen.The Mauku river figurine is another subject worthy of study.However the issue of the blog ie Te Korotangi .It exists in Tainui genealogy pre 1880 in fact long before the 1800s it is this fact the leaves me in no doubt that the Korotangi was bought here in ancient times by one of several Tainui ocean canoe.I hope that I have helped you in some way.

    • Richard Wallace

      Please Mathew, the Apologies are all mine : for my tardiness, my clumsiness and the countless other errors and mistakes I made along the way.
      Have you helped ?
      I rather imagine you were helping all along.
      Thank You, and thank you, Everyone.

  17. I’ve been interested in this kind of stuff for ages. I actually interviewed Ross Wiseman on the subject of anomalous New Zealand archaeology and I have Matthew Eru Wepa’s pamphlet sitting on the desk beside me. I had an article published in Fate Magazine on the subject a few years ago – ‘Enigmas From Down Under’. It’s all very interesting stuff. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio …

    • Sadly not available online, but thankyou for the advertisment…

      • Not really an advertisment, just making the point that there are people out there discussing this very subject …

        • Oh absolutely! The comments thread of this four-year-old post is itself testimony to that.

          • Well, then, maybe we shouldn’t be commenting on your silly little blog then, and give it the full attention it deserves.

            • Believe me, I’ve often thought of closing the comments on this thread, it’s one of the very few I have where I’ve had to delete abuse of other commentators. Some thorough and scholarly work on this theme would of course be very welcome, but it seems to me firstly that it would have to lead substantially from settlement and burial archaeology, as the textual evidence is non-existent and the inscriptional evidence is impossible to interpret except highly subjectively, and may very likely be completely irrelevant. Secondly, any study of this will immediately run into the very different modes of thought of European-style critical archaeology and of those to whom the subject is of personal relevance. At the moment, as this post and the subsequent comments testify all too well, even what little scholarship there is by secular-critical standards is only a step away from hearsay, reports from anonymous correspondents, bad information on unseen publications and unpublished opinions attributed to archaeologists who have remained silent on such matters in print; and yet for many this is already a step too close towards attacks on Maori traditions which have very immediate, secular, legal and social implications as well as their inherent validity to their holders. But if the question were to be approached any better, I don’t see how it could be without locating and scientifically dating early settlements, and so the first step would be to locate some places to dig and then work out how permission to do so might be got. I don’t see much hope for progress merely by rehashing the various reports of traditions. If you think I’m too cynical, though, or indeed silly, I’d be interested to hear how you think the question could be advanced.

              • Of course, I should make clear straight away that when I say all that I haven’t yet read Ross Wiseman’s book, so for all I know such work is already under way. If anyone is likely to be able to summarise Wiseman’s findings before I finally make time to have a look myself, that would be a welcome contribution to the thread.

  18. But, but, but… the Trojans got there first, of course. Whom failing, the Carthaginians. Stands to reason.

  19. Pingback: Towards a Global Middle Ages I: going global in the first place | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  20. Indeed the answers would lie in more active archaeology in New Zealand. I don’t know how much of this is occurring these days, but it seems like, maybe not that much. In any case, each of us should be interested in advancing our knowledge and exploring and learning. As much from the past as from within.

  21. Pingback: Musing on connectivity and world systems apropos of T’ang China | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  22. What about the supposed tall ones skeletons. If they are found what does that mean?

    • Well, that requires an answer from a law court, really, not an amateur from outside the field. (For those like me reading from outside, this webpage is helpful in explaining why this could be important or why people might think so.) But it is worth thinking about what this would mean. If, if as the author of that webpage asserts, there is pre-Maori archæological evidence from New Zealand and it could be made available for study, if it were then possible to extract DNA from that in a way that proved (what I don’t think is possible) or at least made very likely (more possible but still difficult) that the bodies among that evidence were of European descent, what would this mean? It would not, for one thing, change an iota the position of the Maori in the islands when the nineteenth-century colonists arrived; the Maori would still be the residents whom that administration drove out. None of the grievances redressed in the Te Roroa Claims Settlement would be touched by such a revelation at all. It’s also not as if any Westerner or settler would be able somehow to claim descent from such people and therefore some ancestral right to be redressed in the same way by the Maori. If there had been such populations, they obviously wouldn’t have had descendants outside the islands. So I think my conclusion is: it would add an interesting new dimension to the history of the islands, and upset or delight a good number of people, but it wouldn’t change the most recent two hundred years of history that got New Zealand to where it now is.

  23. Or the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel?

    It does seem much simpler to assume that the first humans to reach NZ were Polynesian explorers, to be followed later by Polynesian colonists sometime in the 13th century or so. If evidence of anyone earlier turns up, so be it. Bad-tempered speculation seems quite unnecessary though no doubt enormous fun. For some.

    • Richard M Wallace

      I like your tone, dearieme. As opposed to ‘I don’t like your tone, sonny.’

  24. Great post, thanks! I do think these islands that got you excited are New Zealand. The text claimed certainly doesn’t seem to be in the French translation (which in 2017 we seem to have easier access to as it has been added to The Internet Archive very recently).

    However, I did find plenty of other very New Zealand and very Maori observations in the text. See here..

    • That is interesting, thankyou! I still struggle with al-Idrisi somehow reflecting New Zealand sort-of-accurately but apparently having no clear grip on Australia’s shape and layout; one would want to do the same kind of spotting exercise with that island and see if he seems to know anything plausible about what should, really, have been a much more accessible coast to Indonesian traders, even if one with little potential…

      The other thing that bothers me a bit about your collection of matches is that they include Maori signifiers. It’s interesting that the parallels can be drawn but if you are right about what they are then al-Idrisi is reporting a Maori occupation a very long time before anything else we know about the Polynesian diasporas, to say nothing of the Maoris’ own sense of history, would place them there. Or, I suppose, you’re implicitly arguing for native local customs to which subsequent incoming settlers acculturated… Is that where you’re heading with this?

      • I’ll head there if it’s needed to save the theory. ;)

        Yet 1154AD is quite close enough to the 1250AD figure guessed at currently to agree with oral tradition and dating evidence so there’s really no need is there?

        As for Australia, perhaps it is staring at us as the large continent along the bottom some thought Antarctica? If so, there may be trading stations on it. Or, Australia is being amalgamated as the salty, “fetid”, wasteland described with Gog and Magog. Seems to me al-Idrisi was running out of map so lumped we outlier antipodean islands together in the same corner. That’s fit for purpose for an Italian Prince.

        What we need next is to go back to an earlier text to find some missing words. What is being said (twice) about ‘Maori’ men’s hair? And what is being said about West Coast ‘Coal’? Did Arabs know New Zealand as Aotearoa too!?

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