Sunday, August 31, 2014

The First Maori Map

Norfolk Island’s history is really quite amazing. There are so many ‘firsts’ and unique stories that emerge from this little rock, 3 miles by 5 miles, and thousands of kilometers from the mainland. One of the least known ‘firsts’ is that the first time Maori lived in a European community and the first known map made by Maori both occured on Norfolk Island! This was when Tuki and Huru, two men from the upper North Island spent nine months on the island in 1793.

Tuki's Map drawn on Norfolk Island
The reason they were on Norfolk is entwined with the reasons the British settled Norfolk Island so quickly in 1788. On discovering the island in 1774 Captain Cook recorded two items potentially very useful to Britain: the flax plant (Phormium tenax) which could be made into sail cloth and the Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) for use as ship’s masts. Access to timber and marine supplies from Norfolk Island, New Zealand and NSW became a key reason for the choice of NSW as the location for a new colony by the Pitt Government in Britain.  A Pacific boat building base could be established that would support the expansion of naval and East India Company interests in East Asia and overcome recent losses of resources from Baltic ports and North America following the War of Independence. Plans were therefore made to settle uninhabited and resource rich Norfolk Island prior to the First Fleet leaving England.

The first Commandant of the Settlement, Lieutenant Philip Gidley King tried hard to fulfill his orders to process the flax plant. When all attempts proved fruitless he resorted to an extreme measure, sailing to New Zealand to ‘acquire’ (in reality kidnap) Maori and bring them to the Island to instruct in the processing method. Unfortunately for King, those men, Tuki the son of a priest and Huru the son of a chief, quickly let him know that as it was women’s work they knew little of flax processing. However during the stay their relationship with King became a positive one based on genuine mutual respect and they lived in Government House with King, his wife and young children.  

The men appeared to enjoy a true social exchange. King recorded Maori vocabulary and customs in his journal. Tuki drew the earliest known map by a Maori of his homeland, first in the sand then transferred to paper (now in the UK National Archives). The map is a testament to the quality of communication that occurred between the men as it uniquely records social, mythical and political features in the landscape. When King personally accompanied Tuki and Huru home on the Britannia he was presented with gifts of thanksgiving for their safe return, including two Basalt patu, now on display in our museum in the Commissariat Store. King was never to learn that the reason the Norfolk flax species could not be processed was due to the local variant having little fibre content.

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