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Songs And Dances Of The New Zealanders

( Originally Published 1851 )



The New Zealanders have a variety of national dances; but none of them have been minutely de-scribed. Some of them are said to display much grace of movement: others are chiefly remarkable for the extreme violence with which they are performed. As among the other South Sea tribes, when there are more dancers than one, the most perfect uniformity of step and attitude is preserved by all of them; and they do not consider it a dance at all when this rule is not attended to. Capt. Dillon very much amused some of those who came on board his ship by a sample of English dancing, which he made his men give them on deck. A company of soldiers going through the manual exercise would certainly have come much nearer their notions of what a dance ought to be.

We are as yet very imperfectly informed in regard to the distinctions of rank, and other matters appertaining to the constitution of society, in New Zealand. It would appear, however, that, as among most other Asiatic races, the great body of the people are in a state approaching to what we should call slavery, or vassalage, to the few owners of the soil. Yet we are nearly altogether ignorant of the real extent of the authority possessed by the latter over the former Some circumstances seem to indicate, that in so far as respects the right of commanding their services, the chiefs are not absolutely the masters of the common people who live within their territories; while, on the other hand, they would appear to have the power, in some cases, of even putting them to death, according to their mere pleasure. Although there are no written laws in New Zealand, all these matters are, no doubt, regulated by certain universally understood rules, liberal enough, in all probability, in the license which they allow to the tyranny of the privileged class, but still fixing some boundaries to its exercise, which will accordingly be but rarely over-stepped. Thus, the power which the chief seems to enjoy of depriving any of his slaves of life, may be limited to certain occasions only; as,for instance the death of some member of the family, whose manes, it is conceived, demand to be propitiated by such an offering. That in such cases slaves are often sacrificed in New Zealand, we have abundant evidence. Captain Cruise even informs us, that when a son of one of the chiefs died in Mr. Marsden's house, in New South Wales, it required the interposition of that gentleman's authority to prevent some of the boy's countrymen, who were with him, from killing a few of their slaves, in honor of their deceased friend. On other occasions, it is likely that the life of the slave can only be taken when he has been convicted of some delinquency; although, as the chief is the sole judge of his criminality, he will find this, it may be thought, but a slight protection. The domestic slaves of the chiefs, however, it is quite possible, and even likely, are much more completely at the - mercy of their caprice and passion, than the general body of the common people, whose vassalage may, after all, consist in little more than the obligation of following them to their wars, and rendering them obedience in such other matters of public concern.

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