TRIBAL GOVERNMENT AND RELIGION.
Though from my increased knowledge of the language, I was enabled to hold longer conversations, I could not discover that the New Zealanders had any universal form of government: there appeared to me to be no public bodies, or any functionaries employed by the people. Each chief seemed to possess absolute power over his own slaves, and there his authority terminated. Wealth made him feared by his foes, but gave him no influence over his friends. All offence offered to any one of a tribe (or clan) is instantly followed by some act of retaliation by the aggrieved party; and if one tribe is too weak to contend against the one from whom they have received the injury, they call in the aid of another. But should the offence be of a very aggravated nature, and several families be injured by it, a meeting of the chiefs is called. They assemble in one of their forts, and, after a discussion, decide either for an amicable adjustment, or for an exterminating war. Thus these misguided beings are continually destroying each other for some imaginary insult.
I became acquainted with a few venerable men of truly noble and praiseworthy characters, such as would do honour to any age, country, or religion. They had passed their whole lives in travelling from one chieftain’s residence to another, for the purpose of endeavouring to explain away insults, to offer apologies, and to strive by every means in their power to establish peace between those about to plunge their country into the horrors of war. I have several times met these benevolent men journeying through the country on these pacific missions; and twice during my residence here they have been the happy means of preventing bloodshed. Although the New Zealander is so fond of war, and possesses such war-like manners, yet are these peacemakers held in the highest respect, although they do not hold any sacred function—indeed, no order of priesthood exists amongst the natives. I have never discovered any symptoms of religion in these people, except it consists in a great variety of absurd and superstitious ceremonies. Before I visited this island I used to imagine, from seeing so great a variety of carved figures which had been brought from this country, that they were idols, to whom they paid their devotions; but in this I was deceived. They were merely the grotesque carvings of rude artists, possessing a lively fancy, and were a proof of their industry as well as genius. Every chief’s house is adorned with an abundance of these carved monsters. One of their favourite subjects is a lizard taking hold of the top of a man’s head; their tradition being that that was the origin of man. The lizard is sacred, and never injured by them. Several of their chiefs assured me they believed in the existence of a great and invisible spirit, called Atna, who keeps a constant charge and watch over them; and that they are constantly looking out for tokens