When I told friends about Nikau Hindin's recent exhibition at Manurewa's Nathan Homestead gallery a lot of them thought I was hoaxing. They were sure that Maori had never made tapa. Even when I showed them some promotional material for the show, I suspect that they thought it might be some sort of 'Forgotten Silver'-style joke. The notion of Maori tapa confuses many of our categories, it seems.
Coincidentally, I was reading David Simmons' fascinating book Greater Maori Auckland
this week, and I found a chapter about the flat and sandy islands that once existed off Awhitu and in the Kaipara harbour. These 'lost lands' were slowly eaten by wind and water, and now exist only in a melancholy photograph and some oral traditions. I'd known about the lost land of Paorae, thanks to this article by James Cowan
, but had never heard of the sunken Kaipara island of Taporapora.
Simmons says that Taporapora, which is today no more than a mangrove bank off a tiny bach village at the end of a peninsula in the central Kaipara, was once the home of a whare wananga and of a famous plantation of aute. It was interesting to learn this story, because several aute beaters
have been found close to Taporapora, in the mud-choked mouths of the rivers that feed the Kaipara harbour. Oral tradition and archaeology seem, then, to support one another.
I wonder whether we couldn't also bring palaeoclimatology to the table, and ask whether a microclimate helpful to the raising of tropical plants like aute might have existed at Taporapora half a millennium or so ago.
Microclimates certainly exist in the Kaipara region today: olives and other Mediterranean crops are grown on the Tinopai peninsula, which extends into the harbour from the north, and is known for its warm and dry weather.
David Simmons reports that different groups settled Taporapora at different times. The second group to settle on the island brought aute, and presumably wielded aute beaters. In my essay on Nikau Hindin I report linguist Roy Harlow's belief that different Eastern Polynesian peoples settled Aotearoa at different times, before coalescing and becoming the ancestors of Maori. Harlow detects a trace of Mangaian in the dialects of regions like the Kaipara.
Perhaps a fragment of tropical Polynesian society established itself and persisted in a stable state for some time, on the atoll-like island of Taporapora, centuries before the emergence of what we know today as Maori culture?
I wish our archaeologists had a submarine, so that they could look at the ancient lands of Taporapora and Paorae.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]