Monday, February 27, 2012



THE study of languages is a fascinating and leisurely pastime. This is particularly evident with the Maori language or, to be precise, the Polynesian variant spoken by the tribes in New Zealand. Maori has no alphabet. All aspects of the language, including chants and songs have passed from generation to generation by recitation. Its teaching by tohungas or the learned men of ancient times, remind one of the methods once adopted by Sanskrit scholars in India to teach the dictionary of Amara Kosha to disciples.
Maoris, who were not necessarily the original inhabitants of New Zealand, came in the middle of the 14th century in large numbers. There were earlier migrations but they were not on a large scale. About A.D. 1350, certain canoes left Hawaiki for New Zealand. The present Maori tribes trace their ancestry to one of these famous canoes—Arawa, Tainui, Aotea, Takitimu, Horouta, Tokomaru, Kurahaupo and Mataatua. Between 1840 and 1896, the Maori population declined from 100,000 to 40,000. Since 1896, there has been a rapid increase.

The latest census of the population of Maoris or part Maoris was 140,000. Under the able guidance of some Maori leaders and the sympathetic administration of later Governments the Maoris recovered considerable ground and have gained for themselves a place in the social and political life of the country. The Nationalist party now in office is also interested to implement the progressive measures initiated by the late Mr Peter Fraser, then Labour Prime Minister.
I have neither the time nor the resources to undertake the study of comparative philology and could not do justice to any of the Oceanic languages. This paper, therefore, has its limitations, presumably coming within the definition of an essay by Dr Johnson.

It was only in the early 19th century that the missionaries who followed Europeans into the Pacific, tried to reduce the Polynesian language and its variants to European orthography. The nasal, glottal, labial and dental sounds or pronunciations, which could not be easily reduced to writing, presented problems in printing and there were numerous mistakes. This process began in Tahiti and was followed subsequently in Hawaii, Samoa and other islands.
The Maori variant of the Polynesian language is, with slight difference spoken throughout the Polynesian islands, and in certain Melanesian islands. The late Sir Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa), the eminent Maori authority on the subject, traced the migration route from the West to include the Malayan archipelago. He called the tongue of this people the ‘Malayo-Polynesian language’.

The Malay language spoken ever since the migration of Indians and Chinese into Malaya has been subjected to the influence of Sanskrit, Prakit or Pali, Tamil, Telegu and other Dravidian languages and Bengali, in addition to the various forms of Chinese such as Cantonese, Mandarin and Fukinese. The Turkish, Arabic, Persian and Siamese languages have also left their imprints.

Then as far back as 200 B.C., Buddhist monks, under the patronage of the Emperor Asoka, travelled along the coasts of Burma, the Malay peninsula the gulf of Siam, and so reached China. They established their religion, and centres of learning in Burma, Malaya, Siam, Indonesia, and other coastal countries of Indo-China. 

Then Pallavas from the Coromandel coast of South India, founded Hindu settlements. In the 8th century Mahayana Buddhists from the Pala Kingdom of Bengal re-entered into Malaya. In the 7th century A.D. Sri Vijaya Empire was founded in Malaya, which had its capital in Palembang (Sumatra), and ruled over Malaya and Indonesia for six centuries. 

South Indian, or Dravidian culture, including the language, spread throughout the Malayan archipelago, including the eastern islands of Indonesia, the outskirts of Melanesia, and as far east as Indochina on the Asian mainland. The Pali and Sanskrit scripts were in vogue for writing, but the language used was Tamil. This type of writing is called ‘Granthi’.  

Granthi inscriptions are found in many parts of the Malayan archipelago, and, particularly at Nakon Sri Thammarat or Nagara, named after the hero of Mahabharata, the great Indian epic. Evidence of Hindu culture or Indian influence is noticeable in almost all places in South East Asia, and in Indonesia in particular. Hindu mythologies of Ramayana and Mahabharata were adopted in the Malay archipelago and contiguous countries then under the Sri Vijaya influence. Bali island, which is in the centre of the Indonesian group of islands, looks like a transplanted village from the South India, and almost all the inhabitants are Brahmins by faith.

Contemporaneously with the Sri Vijaya Empire at Palembang, the Hindu kingdom of Kamboja or Cambodia came into existence. Under the inspiring leadership of Shilandra Varma, Jaya Varma, and Raja Varma, the famous city of Angkor Thom and the temple of Angkor were built. Adjacent countries and islands were conquered, both in the military and cultural sense. The city and suburbs of Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat, housed one million people, and was the largest city in the world in the 13th century. Diplomatic mission was sent to China by these Hindu Emperors. 

The court of the Varma kings was known for its splendour and learning. This kingdom collapsed suddenly in the 14th century, due to the revolt of the Khemer slaves, and a change in the course of the river Mekhong. The public library which was set on fire was said to have burned for three days. The result of this sudden collapse was an unplanned dispersal of a large section of the people. 

This might possibly have caused a ripple in the western waters of Melanesia, which prompted the great migration of the Maoris to New Zealand in the 14th century. However, that point is remote from the present article.
Following the fall of the Sri Vijaya Empire in the 13th century, Malaya was ruled by the Chinese for 200 years. Unlike the ingratiating influence of the Buddhist and Hindu rulers, the Chinese pirates who wielded power, were aggressive, and introduced their methods of living, likewise their language. The penope of ‘Nan-yang’, or the southern province of China, as the Chinese preferred to call Malaya, did not take kindly to Chinese language and speech. The Chinese language died, though admittedly it left its influence on the Malay language.

The Malays, including the Javanese and other Indonesians, have accepted Buddhism, Brahminism, Islam and Christianity in turn, and have thereby enriched their own culture. Such religions and cultural influences have been at work for the last twenty-two centuries, and have, consequently, had their effect on the Malay customs and language. The original stock of words twenty-two centuries ago would have been very meagre indeed. In the absence of written records, it is almost impossible to trace the words which were free from the influence of other languages which flourished in the Malay archipelago for twenty-two centuries.

The original inhabitants of Malaya, like the Sakai or Senoi classed by some as Veddoid and Samong dwarfs belong to very ancient times, and have not been touched by Eastern or Western civilization. They have negrito characteristics such as thick lips, dark skin and curly hair. They are pygmies in size, and anthropologically quite different from the Polynesians. The poetical recitation of language, which is a significant feature of the Polynesian system of education, is not found among the inhabitants of Malaya, either of Negrito or Mongoloid strain, while that is not foreign to the ancient system of learning in India. The migration of the Malays from the adjoining province of Assam, Naga Hills and the Yunan province of China, took place between 2500 B.C. and 1500 B.C.

The above-mentioned facts, should, in my opinion, lead the philologists to seek for the root words of Malay and ‘Malayo-Polynesian languages’ in Sanskrit, Dravidian or Chinese sources. As the Chinese language did not take root in Malaya, the other two languages may prove to be more faithful, as they had longer time to leave their influence on the Malay language. If the Polynesian language is grouped with Malay, as it has been done by Buck, it would be worth-while to study the languages which lingered longer in Malaya and which influenced the Malays in their original home near Assam borders and contributed to the development.

The Polynesian Society which was founded in New Zealand in 1892 to further the scientific study of the history and native life of the peoples of the Polynesian islands, Melanesia, Micronesia, including the Maoris has done important work. The annals of this Society which contain a wealth of Maori material, are conspicuous for the lack of material on comparative philology relating to the Maori and Indian languages. This may be due to several reasons, two of which appeal to me as important. One is the concept that the Society is devoted to the study of subjects relating to ‘… Australasia, New Zealand, Melanesia, Micronesia and Malayasia, as well as Polynesia proper’. Secondly, no Indian scholar, with a good background of the Sanskrit and Dravidian languages, has come forward to contribute a paper. Another reason might well be lack of funds, which is often the case with some learned bodies, to give fellowships to study this question of languages.

The inspiration for this paper was provided by the fact that the material I studied on Polynesian linguistics, by Sidney H. Ray, Percy Smith, C. E. Fox and the two dictionaries by Tregear and Williams did not trace the root word of the Maori beyond Malay or Indonesian dialects.
It is my intention to outline in this paper some of the Maori words which sound like Kannada, one of the South Indian languages. I would counsel caution. The reader should not take these words to have any authoritative basis, or strain the imagination farther than I propose.

The Maori word that caught my imagination was rite, which means like in Maori and Kannada. The next one was mana, meaning prestige, authority, respect of power, in both the languages. 
Manawa-reka in Maori is used to denote pleasure or satisfied. In Kannada also it has a similar meaning. Maha means many and is used as a suffix to denote plurality. The Samoan form is mafa and the Tahitian is maha. The Hawaiian maua also means large or many. 

The Malay root is maha again. This simple word has the same meaning in Kannada, Sanskrit and some other languages of India in addition to whole of Pacific islands and Malaya. Hani in Kannada means distress or in trouble. In Maori it has the same meaning and also indicates spoilt. 

Hani with dental pronunciation in Kannada means drop of water or drizzle. In Hawaiian, hanini means spill the liquid. In Kannada we say anga to denote limb or part of the human body, and use the expression anganga for aspect. In Maori the same meanings hold good. 

Stars are called tara in Kannada. In Maori this word means a shaft of light, presumably from the same origin or root word. A place of landing or a harbour is called tauranga in Maori, and in Kannada, waves or ripples over a lake are called taranga. 

Power acquired by spiritual leaders or rishis by meditation or contemplation is called tapas in Kannada. In Maori, tapatapa, is a kind of curse, that the spiritual leaders or tohungas, could use on people. 

Amaru in Maori means a dignified aspect. In Kannada, amara, means dignified, angelic or immortal. Urupu in Maori and hurupu in Kannada have the same significance, namely to be inspired or to be brought to the point of doing anything. 

Tomorota in Maori is the equivalent of tamarasa in Kannada or Sanskrit, meaning emotion or strong feeling, or craving. 

To comb the hair, the Maoris say wani, which refers to hair in Kannada. 

A residence or house is called whare in Maori. Wat in Siamese which has been derived from wata or awasa of Sanskrit means a place or residence. 

Marae in Maori means the court yard or the meeting place. In Kannada marae means shade or protected place and manae is a house. 

Mata is mother in Kannada and matua in Maori means elders or parents. 

In Kannada we say paka for cooking and paka shastra for the art of cooking. Cooking or baking is called paka in Maori too. 
Kama is joy in Maori, and kamakama is joyous. Kama in Kannada is used to denote strong desire or sexual impulse. 
Kati in Maori and kadi in Kannada have the same meaning, namely to cut or bite. 
Wahine and mahile in Maori and Kannada refer to daughter or woman. 
Ngati in Maori is used to denote relatives or clan members. It means a cousin or relative in Kannada. In Maori a forking or branching place is called manga or tanga. The confluence or the meeting place of two rivers is called sangama in Kannada or Sanskrit. Sanga also means companionship or being together in Kannada. 

In Indonesian Malay, mari means to come, with the base or root word, gari or move. Gari or Gadi in Kannada and Sanskrit is a vehicle or motion.  
The word kuku in Indonesian Malay and the Marquesan variant of the Polynesian language, which is said to have kept its purity and has suffered the least from phonetic decay, refers to a dog. Kukka in Telugu, one of the Dravidian languages, means a dog. Kuri in Maori refers to a dog. 

Lastly the word horo-matua in Maori refers to a priest who guided the canoe from Hawaiki to New Zealand or to those who directed the canoes on their voyages. These priests had great knowledge of stars, astronomy and navigation science. If horo means astronomical science and matua means the elders or parents, I would like to know if horashastra or the astronomical science we refer to in Kannada has an allied meaning?

After the arrival of the Pakeha or Europeans in New Zealand some words commonly used in everyday life got into the Maori vocabulary. Buck lists the following: Tikera (tea-kettle), pata (pot), naihi (knife), paoka (fork), pureta (plate), tiriti (treaty), kooti (court), minita (minister), pihopa (bishop), teepu (table), and turn (stool).

It is possible to multiply the above list and enlarge the scope of the article, but that is not my intention. It would be worthwhile for either the Government of India or some patrons of learning, like the Maharaja of Mysore, or the Institute of Oriental Studies, to depute Sanskrit and Kannada scholars to study the comparative philology of Oceanic and Indian linguistics and the different Polynesian variants. 

I am convinced that such a study will provide a secondary history to the great problem of Indian migrations and Oceanic settlements of the early Indian voyagers. Such a research could also provide valuable data on the cultural history of India in the South East Asia and the Pacific Islands. 

The remains of a vessel, obviously of Eastern construction, from which was obtained a bell with an inscription in Tamil, had rusted under sand on the West Coast of the North Island of New Zealand for centuries, and has not been investigated sufficiently. This wreck might prove the existence of early links between India and New Zealand. Until research is completed on this subject, this must remain a matter for conjecture.