Rubbing Noses in New Zealand (Dec. 22)

Rubbing Noses in New Zealand
Darwin, in exploring New Zealand, finds cannibalism, tattooing,
and many weird customs among the natives. Instead of shaking
hands, the salutation is by rubbing noses.
(Darwin visits New Zealand natives, Dec. 22, 1835.)
Read from Darwin’s VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE Vol. 29, pp. 425-434

December 23rd.—At a place called Waimate, about fifteen miles
from the Bay of Islands, and midway between the eastern and western
coasts, the missionaries have purchased some land for agricultural
purposes. I had been introduced to the Rev. W. Williams, who,
upon my expressing a wish, invited me to pay him a visit there. Mr.
Bushby, the British resident, offered to take me in his boat by a
creek, where I should see a pretty waterfall, and by which means my
walk would be shortened. He likewise procured for me a guide.
Upon asking a neighbouring chief to recommend a man, the chief
himself offered to go; but his ignorance of the value of money was
so complete, that at first he asked how many pounds I would give
him, but afterwards was well contented with two dollars. When I
showed the chief a very small bundle, which I wanted carried, it
became absolutely necessary for him to take a slave. These feelings
of pride are beginning to wear away; but formerly a leading man
would sooner have died, than undergone the indignity of carrying
the smallest burden. My companion was a light active man, dressed
in a dirty blanket, and with his face completely tattooed. He had
formerly been a great warrior. He appeared to be on very cordial
terms with Mr. Bushby; but at various times they had quarrelled
violently. Mr. Bushby remarked that a little quiet irony would
frequently silence any one of these natives in their most blustering
moments. This chief has come and harangued Mr. Bushby in a
hectoring manner, saying, "great chief, a great man, a friend of mine,

has come to pay me a visit—you must give him something good to
eat, some fine presents, etc." Mr. Bushby has allowed him to finish
his discourse, and then has quietly replied by some answer such as,
"What else shall your slave do for you?" The man would then
instantly, with a very comical expression, cease his braggadocio.
Some time ago, Mr. Bushby suffered a far more serious attack.
A chief and a party of men tried to break into his house in the
middle of the night, and not finding this so easy, commenced a brisk
firing with their muskets. Mr. Bushby was slightly wounded, but
the party was at length driven away. Shortly afterwards it was
discovered who was the aggressor; and a general meeting of the
chiefs was convened to consider the case. It was considered by the
New Zealanders as very atrocious, inasmuch as it was a night attack,
and that Mrs. Bushby was lying ill in the house: this latter circumstance,
much to their honour, being considered in all cases as a
protection. The chiefs agreed to confiscate the land of the aggressor
to the King of England. The whole proceeding, however, in thus
trying and punishing a chief was entirely without precedent. The
aggressor, moreover, lost caste in the estimation of his equals and
this was considered by the British as of more consequence than the
confiscation of his land.
As the boat was shoving off, a second chief stepped into her, who
only wanted the amusement of the passage up and down the creek.
I never saw a more horrid and ferocious expression than this man
had. It immediately struck me I had somewhere seen his likeness:
it will be found in Retzch’s outlines to Schiller’s ballad of Fridolin,
where two men are pushing Robert into the burning iron furnace.
It is the man who has his arm on Robert’s breast. Physiognomy here
spoke the truth; this chief had been a notorious murderer, and was
an arrant coward to boot. At the point where the boat landed, Mr.
Bushby accompanied me a few hundred yards on the road: I could
not help admiring the cool impudence of the hoary old villain,
whom we left lying in the boat, when he shouted to Mr. Bushby,
"Do not you stay long, I shall be tired of waiting here."
We now commenced our walk. The road lay along a well beaten
path, bordered on each side by the tall fern, which covers the whole
country. After travelling some miles, we came to a little country

village, where a few hovels were collected together, and some patches
of ground cultivated with potatoes. The introduction of the potato
has been the most essential benefit to the island; it is now much
more used than any native vegetable. New Zealand is favoured by
one great natural advantage; namely, that the inhabitants can never
perish from famine. The whole country abounds with fern: and the
roots of this plant, if not very palatable, yet contain much nutriment.
A native can always subsist on these, and on the shell-fish, which are
abundant on all parts of the sea-coast. The villages are chiefly conspicuous
by the platforms which are raised on four posts ten or twelve
feet above the ground, and on which the produce of the fields is kept
secure from all accidents.
On coming near one of the huts I was much amused by seeing in
due form the ceremony of rubbing, or, as it ought to be called, pressing
noses. The women, on our first approach, began uttering something
in a most dolorous voice; they then squatted themselves down
and held up their faces; my companion standing over them, one after
another, placed the bridge of his nose at right angles to theirs, and
commenced pressing. This lasted rather longer than a cordial shake
of the hand with us; and as we vary the force of the grasp of the
hand in shaking, so do they in pressing. During the process they
uttered comfortable little grunts, very much in the same manner as
two pigs do, when rubbing against each other. I noticed that the
slave would press noses with any one he met, indifferently either before
or after his master the chief. Although among the savages, the
chief has absolute power of life and death over his slave, yet there is
an entire absence of ceremony between them. Mr. Burchell has
remarked the same thing in Southern Africa, with the rude Bachapins.
Where civilization has arrived at a certain point, complex
formalities soon arise between the different grades of society: thus
at Tahiti all were formerly obliged to uncover themselves as low as
the waist in presence of the king.
The ceremony of pressing noses having been duly completed with
all present, we seated ourselves in a circle in the front of one of the
hovels, and rested there half-an-hour. All the hovels have nearly
the same form and dimensions, and all agree in being filthily dirty.
They resemble a cowshed with one end open, but having a partition

a little way within, with a square hole in it, making a small gloomy
chamber. In this the inhabitants keep all their property, and when
the weather is cold they sleep there. They eat, however, and pass
their time in the open part in front. My guides having finished their
pipes, we continued our walk. The path led through the same undulating
country, the whole uniformly clothed as before with fern. On
our right hand we had a serpentine river, the banks of which were
fringed with trees, and here and there on the hill sides there was a
clump of wood. The whole scene, in spite of its green colour, had
rather a desolate aspect. The sight of so much fern impresses the
mind with an idea of sterility: this, however, is not correct; for
wherever the fern grows thick and breast-high, the land by tillage
becomes productive. Some of the residents think that all this extensive
open country originally was covered with forests, and that it has
been cleared by fire. It is said, that by digging in the barest spots,
lumps of the kind of resin which flows from the kauri pine are
frequently found. The natives had an evident motive in clearing the
country; for the fern, formerly a staple article of food, flourishes only
in the open cleared tracks. The almost entire absence of associated
grasses, which forms so remarkable a feature in the vegetation of this
island, may perhaps be accounted for by the land having been aboriginally
covered with forest-trees.
The soil is volcanic; in several parts we passed over shaggy lavas,
and craters could clearly be distinguished on several of the neighbouring
hills. Although the scenery is nowhere beautiful, and only
occasionally pretty, I enjoyed my walk. I should have enjoyed it
more, if my companion, the chief, had not possessed extraordinary
conversational powers. I knew only three words: "good," "bad," and
"yes:" and with these I answered all his remarks, without of course
having understood one word he said. This, however, was quite
sufficient: I was a good listener, an agreeable person, and he never
ceased talking to me.
At length we reached Waimate. After having passed over so many
miles of an uninhabited useless country, the sudden appearance of an
English farm-house, and its well-dressed fields, placed there as if by
an enchanter’s wand, was exceedingly pleasant. Mr. Williams not
being at home, I received in Mr. Davies’s house a cordial welcome.

After drinking tea with his family party, we took a stroll about the
farm. At Waimate there are three large houses, where the missionary
gentlemen, Messrs. Williams, Davies, and Clarke, reside;
and near them are the huts of the native labourers. On an adjoining
slope, fine crops of barley and wheat were standing in full ear; and
in another part, fields of potatoes and clover. But I cannot attempt to
describe all I saw; there were large gardens, with every fruit and
vegetable which England produces; and many belonging to a
warmer clime. I may instance asparagus, kidney beans, cucumbers,
rhubarb, apples, pears, figs, peaches, apricots, grapes, olives, gooseberries,
currants, hops, gorse for fences, and English oaks; also many
kinds of flowers. Around the farm-yard there were stables, a thrashing-
barn with its winnowing machine, a blacksmith’s forge, and on
the ground ploughshares and other tools: in the middle was that
happy mixture of pigs and poultry, lying comfortably together, as in
every English farm-yard. At the distance of a few hundred yards,
where the water of a little rill had been dammed up into a pool,
there was a large and substantial water-mill.
All this is very surprising, when it is considered that five years
ago nothing but the fern flourished here. Moreover, native workmanship,
taught by the missionaries, has effected this change;—the
lesson of the missionary is the enchanter’s wand. The house had been
built, the windows framed, the fields ploughed, and even the trees
grafted, by a N ew Zealander. At the mill, a N e w Zealander was seen
powdered white with flower, like his brother miller in England.
When I looked at this whole scene, I thought it admirable. It was
not merely that England was brought vividly before my mind;
yet, as the evening drew to a close, the domestic sounds, the fields of
corn, the distant undulating country with its trees might well have
been mistaken for our fatherland: nor was it the triumphant feeling
at seeing what Englishmen could effect; but rather the high hopes
thus inspired for the future progress of this fine island.
Several young men, redeemed by the missionaries from slavery,
were employed on the farm. They were dressed in a shirt, jacket,
and trousers, and had a respectable appearance. Judging from one
trifling anecdote, I should think they must be honest. When walking
in the fields, a young labourer came up to Mr. Davies, and gave him

a knife and gimlet, saying that he had found them on the road, and
did not know to whom they belonged! These young men and boys
appeared very merry and good-humoured. In the evening I saw a
party of them at cricket: when I thought of the austerity of which
the missionaries have been accused, I was amused by observing one
of their own sons taking an active part in the game. A more decided
and pleasing change was manifested in the young women, who
acted as servants within the houses. Their clean, tidy, and healthy
appearance, like that of the dairy-maids in England, formed a wonderful
contrast with the women of the filthy hovels in Kororadika.
The wives of the missionaries tried to persuade them not to be
tattooed; but a famous operator having arrived from the south, they
said, "We really must just have a few lines on our lips; else when we
grow old, our lips will shrivel, and we shall be so very ugly." There
is not nearly so much tattooing as formerly; but as it is a badge of
distinction between the chief and the slave, it will probably long be
practised. So soon does any train of ideas become habitual, that the
missionaries told me that even in their eyes a plain face looked mean,
and not like that of a N e w Zealand gentleman.
Late in the evening I went to Mr. Williams’s house, where I passed
the night. I found there a large party of children, collected together
for Christmas Day, and all sitting round a table at tea. I never saw
a nicer or more merry group; and to think that this was in the
centre of the land of cannibalism, murder, and all atrocious crimes!
The cordiality and happiness so plainly pictured in the faces of the
little circle, appeared equally felt by the older persons of the
December 24th.—In the morning, prayers were read in the native
tongue to the whole family. After breakfast I rambled about the
gardens and farm. This was a market-day, when the natives of the
surrounding hamlets bring their potatoes, Indian corn, or pigs, to
exchange for blankets, tobacco, and sometimes, through the persuasions
of the missionaries, for soap. Mr. Davies’s eldest son, who
manages a farm of his own, is the man of business in the market.
The children of the missionaries, who came while young to the
island, understand the language better than their parents, and can
get anything more readily done by the natives.

A little before noon Messrs. Williams and Davies walked with me
to a part of a neighbouring forest, to show me the famous kauri pine.
I measured one of the noble trees, and found it thirty-one feet in circumference
above the roots. There was another close by, which I
did not see, thirty-three feet; and I heard of one no less than forty
feet. These trees are remarkable for their smooth cylindrical boles,
which run up to a height of sixty, and even ninety feet, with a nearly
equal diameter, and without a single branch. The crown of branches
at the summit is out of all proportion small to the trunk; and the
leaves are likewise small compared with the branches. The forest was
here almost composed of the kauri; and the largest trees, from the
parallelism of their sides, stood up like gigantic columns of wood.
The timber of the kauri is the most valuable production of the island;
moreover, a quantity of resin oozes from the bark, which is sold at a
penny a pound to the Americans, but its use was then unknown.
Some of the N ew Zealand forest must be impenetrable to an extraordinary
degree. Mr. Matthews informed me that one forest only
thirty-four miles in width, and separating two inhabited districts, had
only lately, for the first time, been crossed. He and another missionary,
each with a party of about fifty men, undertook to open a
road; but it cost more than a fortnight’s labour! In the woods I saw
very few birds. With regard to animals, it is a most remarkable fact,
that so large an island, extending over more than 700 miles in latitude,
and in many parts ninety broad, with varied stations, a fine
climate, and land of all heights, from 14,000 feet downwards, with
the exception of a small rat, did not possess one indigenous animal.
The several species of that gigantic genus of birds, the Deinornis
seem here to have replaced mammiferous quadrupeds, in the same
manner as the reptiles still do at the Galapagos archipelago. It is said
that the common Norway rat, in the short space of two years, anni’
hilated in this northern end of the island, the N e w Zealand species.
In many places I noticed several sorts of weeds, which, like the rats,
I was forced to own as countrymen. A leek has overrun whole districts,
and will prove very troublesome, but it was imported as a
favour by a French vessel. The common dock is also widely disseminated,
and will, I fear, for ever remain a proof of the rascality of an
Englishman, who sold the seeds for those of the tobacco plant.

On returning from our pleasant walk to the house, I dined with
Mr. Williams; and then, a horse being lent me, I returned to the
Bay of Islands. I took leave of the missionaries with thankfulness for
their kind welcome, and with feelings of high respect for their
gentlemanlike, useful, and upright characters. I think it would be
difficult to find a body of men better adapted for the high office which
they fulfil.
Christmas Day.—In a few more days the fourth year of our absence
from England will be completed. Our first Christmas Day was spent
at Plymouth; the second at St. Martin’s Cove, near Cape Horn; the
third at Port Desire, in Patagonia; the fourth at anchor in a wild
harbour in the peninsula of Tres Montes; this fifth here; and the
next, I trust in Providence, will be in England. We attended divine
service in the chapel of Pahia; part of the service being read in
English, and part in the native language. Whilst at New Zealand
we did not hear of any recent acts of cannibalism; but Mr. Stokes
found burnt human bones strewed round a fire-place on a small
island near the anchorage; but these remains of a comfortable banquet
might have been lying there for several years. It is probable
that the moral state of the people will rapidly improve. Mr. Bushby
mentioned one pleasing anecdote as a proof of the sincerity of some,
at least, of those who profess Christianity. One of his young men
left him, who had been accustomed to read prayers to the rest of the
servants. Some weeks afterwards, happening to pass late in the
evening by an outhouse, he saw and heard one of his men reading
the Bible with difficulty by the light of the fire, to the others. After
this the party knelt and prayed: in their prayers they mentioned Mr.
Bushby and his family, and the missionaries, each separately in his
respective district.
December 26th.—Mr. Bushby offered to take Mr. Sulivan and
myself in his boat some miles up the river to Cawa-Cawa; and
proposed afterwards to walk on to the village of Waiomio, where
there are some curious rocks. Following one of the arms of the bay,
we enjoyed a pleasant row, and passed through pretty scenery, until
we came to a village, beyond which the boat could not pass. From
this place a chief and a party of men volunteered to walk with us to
Waiomio, a distance of four miles. The chief was at this time rather

notorious from having lately hung one of his wives and a slave for
adultery. When one of the missionaries remonstrated with him he
seemed surprised, and said he thought he was exactly following the
English method. Old Shongi, who happened to be in England
during the Queen’s trial, expressed great disapprobation at the whole
proceeding: he said he had five wives, and he would rather cut off
all their heads than be so much troubled about one. Leaving this
village, we crossed over to another, seated on a hill-side at a little
distance. The daughter of a chief, who was still a heathen, had died
there five days before. The hovel in which she had expired had been
burnt to the ground: her body being enclosed between two small
canoes, was placed upright on the ground, and protected by an
enclosure bearing wooden images of their gods, and the whole was
painted bright red, so as to be conspicuous from afar. Her gown was
fastened to the coffin, and her hair being cut off was cast at its foot.
The relatives of the family had torn the flesh of their arms, bodies,
and faces, so that they were covered with clotted blood; and the old
women looked most filthy, disgusting objects. On the following day
some of the officers visited this place, and found the women still
howling and cutting themselves.
We continued our walk, and soon reached Waiomio. Here there
are some singular masses of limestone, resembling ruined castles.
These rocks have long served for burial places, and in consequence
are held too sacred to be approached. One of the young men, however,
cried out, "Let us all be brave," and ran on ahead; but when
within a hundred yards, the whole party thought better of it, and
stopped short. With perfect indifference, however, they allowed us
to examine the whole place. At this village we rested some hours,
during which time there was a long discussion with Mr. Bushby,
concerning the right of sale of certain lands. One old man, who
appeared a perfect genealogist, illustrated the successive possessors by
bits of stick driven into the ground. Before leaving the houses a
little basketful of roasted sweet potatoes was given to each of our
party; and we all, according to the custom, carried them away to
eat on the road. I noticed that among the women employed in cooking,
there was a man-slave: it must be a humiliating thing for a man
in this warlike country to be employed in doing that which is con-


sidered as the lowest woman’s work. Slaves are not allowed to go to
war; but this perhaps can hardly be considered as a hardship. I
heard of one poor wretch who, during hostilities, ran away to the
opposite party; being met by two men, he was immediately seized;
but as they could not agree to whom he should belong, each stood
over him with a stone hatchet, and seemed determined that the other
at least should not take him away alive. The poor man, almost dead
with fright, was only saved by the address of a chief’s wife. We
afterwards enjoyed a pleasant walk back to the boat, but did not
reach the ship nil late in the evening.
December 30th.—In the afternoon we stood out of the Bay of
Islands, on our course to Sydney. I believe we were all glad to leave
New Zealand. It is not a pleasant place. Amongst the natives there
is absent that charming simplicity which is found in Tahid; and the
greater part of the English are the very refuse of society. Neither is
the country itself attractive. I look back but to one bright spot, and
that is Waimate, with its Christian inhabitants.

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