Something Tamil got here 500 years before us

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Before you can appreciate the Tamil object that got here so many years ago, I must tell you something about the person who discovered it.

William Colenso was an English missionary, explorer, naturalist, and politician. He was also a printer and set up the first printing press in New Zealand at Paihia, Bay of Islands, December of 1834. Did you know that the first book to be printed in New Zealand was The Epistle to the Philippians and the Ephesians and was in Maori. Even more noteworthy is the Maori New Testament that he took eight years to complete. These were by no means the only works he published.

Colenso played an important role in the early politics of New Zealand and was present at the historic signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Every New Zealander would know an appreciable lot about this treaty, and as for Immigrants like us, the country made sure that we knew about it before we got here. The Treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of New Zealand as a nation. It was signed in 1840 between the Crown and Maori who as tangata whenua (first peoples) would need to act reasonably towards each other with utmost good faith. My daughter, Lydia had a lesson on this treaty earlier this year, and her father (and my husband) had a chapter devoted to this treaty in his Commercial Law paper. Apparently, it is a subject that is frightfully relevant today and very controversial as well.

As an explorer and naturalist, Colenso made many trips across the country. On his journeys, he heard about the Moa that became extinct after the Maori settled on the land. I am tempted to tell you about this huge bird that was taller than the room in which you are sitting now, but cannot do so because I must talk about the Tamil object that was found in Whangarei, which is a two-hours drive from Auckland.

In 1836 the missionary explorer found some Maori women of the Iwi tribe cooking potatoes in a cute little pot or kohua, 13 cm long and 9 cm deep. Hungry though he may have been, Colenso was more intrigued by the pot that these Maori had obviously been using as a cooking pot for who knows how long. To make matters curiouser, the pot, that was made of bronze, had an inscription and he could make out that it was a bell of some sort. On further investigation, he was told that many generations ago, when a heavy gale had uprooted a large tree, this pot was uncovered among the tree roots. The missionary took the bell off the hands of the owners in exchange for a good iron pot.

After his death, the bell found its way to the Colonial Museum, that has come down to us as the Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand in Wellington. Copies of photographs of the bell were sent to England and other parts of the world. Tamil scholars in South India recognised the script immediately as a being an archaic form of Tamil, that was about 500 years old. They could even read the inscription that translated reads “Bell of Mohoyideen Buk’s ship.”

Several theories were put forward to explain how the bell got here. A piece of the puzzle could be the evidence that Tamilians were seafarers and there is evidence that some of them reached Northern Australia before the 14th century, but how exactly the bell got to New Zealand remains a mystery.

Click here to see the Tamil bell

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