The Maori - Volume II
Fishing an important native industry—Tangaroa—Origin of fish—Tinirau, and his Puna—Fishing a tapu pursuit—The mauri of fish—Tribal fishing rights and areas—Fishing banks and rocks—How fishing grounds were located—Fishing charms—Net fishing—Net making—Intense tapu of new nets—Seines—Different forms of nets—Ceremonial wetting of new net—First fish released—Ceremonial performances—The umere or pæan of joy—Funnel-shaped nets 70ft. in length—Efficiency of “long slumbering cormorant”—Huge seines—The great Taranui seine of 1885—The sensational hauling of a huge net—Mythical origin of fishing nets—Trolling—The octopus as a food supply—Sharks—Crayfish—Shellfish—Line fishing—Different forms of hooks—Ceremonial observances over new lines—Outrigger fishing device—Curious forms of hooks—Iron nails planted—Albatross hooks—Freshwater fish—The eel—Eel weirs—Migrant eels—Eel pots—Fish traps of fine manufacture—Eel fare—Eel spears—Eel bobbing—The koumu—Mythical origin of eels—Lampreys—Description of lamprey weir—Small species of river fish—The kokopu (Galaxias)—Grayling—Whitebait—How Cheimarrichthys Forsteri is taken—Other small fry.
Fishing was an industry that was universally followed in the land of the Maori. Agriculture could not, as we have seen, be followed in all parts, but fishing in some form was followed in all districts. Those tribes whose lands gave upon the coast were specially favoured, and sea fishing was one of their most important activities. Tribes that dwelt inland were cut off from access to the ocean, and so devoted their attention to the taking of fresh-water fish. It is a much-to-be-regretted fact that we know but little of the pursuit of fishing as practised by the Maori; its methods have never been explained by any of the early writers. The voluminous ritual and innumerable beliefs and superstitions pertaining to fish and fishing are page 398 practically unknown to us. A few fragments have been collected; the greater part of such lore has been lost. E taea hoki te aha? The salved fragments must suffice.
Tangaroa, one of the offspring of the primal parents, the Sky Father and Earth Mother, held the position of tutelary being of all fish, and is often alluded to as personifying fish. He was appealed to by fishermen when repeating charms to ensure good luck in fishing, and offerings were made to him for the same purpose. The other duties of Tangaroa were those of controlling the ocean tides, a task that he shared with Rona, the guide or conductor of the moon, the “woman in the moon” of popular myth. Tangaroa of the vast realm of ocean waters is closely connected with the moon, and we have seen that several nights or phases of the moon bear his name.
After the poutiriao, or guardians of the different realms of the universe had been appointed, including those of the ocean, then the denizens of the ocean and the fresh waters of the land were placed in those waters, and all are under the sway of Tangaroa. Apart from this overlord there are other beings who are spoken of as being connected with the origin of fish. Thus the river eel, the conger eel, and the frost fish are said to be the grandchildren of Te Ihorangi, personified form of rain. The freshwater eel is called tuna, a name that is also employed as that of the personified form of eels. There are many clans of the Tuna tribe, or, as we would say, many varieties of eels. Eels were not produced on earth but in the heavens, and only came down to earth when a great drought prevailed in celestial regions. The whitebait, shark, frostfish, conger eel and lamprey are said to have come down at the same time in search of the cool waters of earth. The eel, lamprey and whitebait were assailed by the others and so sought refuge in the fresh waters of earth, where we still find them. The stingray, garfish and some others are said to be the offspring of Te Arawaru.
The name of Tinirau, often met with in Maori myth, is another term connected with fish. It is the name of a mythical being said to be the son of Tangaroa. In the myth of Hina, the personified form of the moon, Tinirau appears to represent page 399 the whale, and bears Hina across the ocean on his broad back. Hence the small carved objects occasionally seen that represent Hina being carried by the whale. A specimen carved from what appeared to be steatite was found in the old shell midden at Tarakena, near Wellington.
Another version of the myth of Tinirau makes him the offspring of Te Pu-whakahara, who was born of the Earth Mother. Tinirau became the progenitor of whales. Tinirau seems to have been a fish conserver; he is spoken of as having preserves of fish. The myth of what is called Te Puna i Rangiriri (the Spring at Rangiriri), speaks of that place as the origin of all fish. Thus it is often mentioned in charms repeated by fishermen. It is sometimes alluded to as Te Puna a Tinirau—the spring or well of Tinirau, a name that is also applied to the blow hole of a whale. The words tini and rau are both employed in the sense of “innumerable,”hence the being so named may well represent the countless myriads of sea fish. There is also the narrower association with the whale to be considered.
In writing of the natives of Queen Charlotte Sound Captain Cook remarked: “We were by no means such expert fishers as they are; nor were any of our methods of fishing equal to theirs.” Early writers enlarge upon the dexterity of the native fishermen, the excellence of their fishing lines, and the huge size of some of their seines.
There is one matter connected with fishing on which particular stress must be placed, and that is the strict tapu that pertained to the industry. This was not only in connection with the actual fishing; it also extended to the manufacture of a new net, and appeared in divers other ways. The good fortune of fishermen hinged largely on the attitude of the gods, who must be placated and invoked in order to secure a good take of fish. Hence the tapu of the gods permeated all proceedings and processes; the prohibitions and inconveniences imposed by the condition of tapu represent the price paid for success.
These prohibitions were particularly noticeable in sea fishing, and men proceeding out to sea in fishing canoes were not allowed to take any food with them, inasmuch as the vessel page 400 was under tapu. When hauling a fish into the canoe it was counted an unlucky happening if it was allowed to touch the gunwale thereof. That fish must be laid lengthwise in the vessel, otherwise if any person stepped over it some dire misfortune would assail him. So say the Bay of Plenty natives.
We have spoken of the material mauri or talisman pertaining to forests, streams, etc., and the same institution existed in connection with the fish of the sea. The mauri of sea fish was sometimes a stone that was concealed at some part of the coast line of the tribal lands. It attracted and conserved the fish of the adjacent part of the ocean. Its power to do so emanated from the gods, and it served as a kind of shrine or emblem of such gods; it represented their powers. The mauri of a stream would be concealed near that stream. Should it be found and taken away by any illdisposed person, then fish would forsake the stream. A fishing canoe might also have its talisman, and its mission was to retain the tapu of the vessel, to influence the gods to protect it at sea, and to render “complacent” the denizens of the deep. Should the fishermen using the vessel be repeatedly unlucky in their fishing, then it was known that there was something wrong with the talisman. Perchance it had been stolen, or its condition of tapu had been interfered with.
In his History of the Taranaki Coast Mr. S. Percy Smith tells of the mauri of the kahawai fish (Arripis salar) of the Wai-o-ngana district. It consisted of a small quantity of sea sand that had been rendered tapu by means of certain ritual performed over it by a priestly expert. It was kept in a form of stone cup called a punga-tai, and a little of it sprinkled in the water by fishermen caused the above fish to throng about the canoe. These talismanic objects were believed to attract fish hither from Rangiriri, mentioned above, which is situated somewhere far across the ocean. In that district (Taranaki) was also a special talisman for the lamprey, which formed quite an important food supply in former times.
The mauri of whales at Te Mahia peninsula is a famous talisman. It appears to be a hill or hillock that resembles a whale in form. It has the power of attracting whales, hence page 401 many have come ashore there, and so provided much food and useful material for implements for the residents of those parts. No matter how far whales may wander across the ocean yet they ever remember and return to this talisman. When a kauika pakake (school of whales) was seen at sea the beach near the talisman was put under tapu. Like all other things, whales possess an immaterial mauri, or life principle, and so can be affected by charms and magic rites.
All tribes whose territory impinged upon the ocean held the right of fishing off such coast line, and any trespass on such a domain by folk of another tribe would be resented. As to how far out to sea such rights extended I have no information. With regard to rivers and lakes a similar rule was in force. In the case of a lake that provided an important amount of food supplies the surface thereof was divided into different areas as belonging to different sections of the people. Thus in Lake Rotorua these divisions were, at least in some cases, marked by posts or stakes fixed in the shoal waters.
Nicholas has left us the following note on a similar custom in the Bay of Islands district in connection with the taking of sea fish, as observed by him in 1815: “These people are very industrious in attending to their fisheries, which are here numerous and well supplied; and the right of fishing in certain places is recognised among them, and the limits marked out by stakes driven into the water. We observed several rows of these stakes belonging to the different tribes, each having respectively their prescribed boundaries, beyond which they durst not venture to trespass.”
Each fishing rock and fishing bank or ground belonging to a community had its proper name. These banks, and many of the rocks, were situated out in deep water, for the Maori fisherman would run out eight or ten miles to reach a good ground. All these places were located by fishermen by means of certain tohu, or sings; that is, they were found by lining certain objects on shore. Occasionally, if not quite sure, the fishers would lower a stone anchor some depth, and fish as they slowly drifted. When fish began to bite they knew that the fishing ground was below them. The lining in of a page 402 bank was done by getting, say, two certain hill peaks in a line and paddling seaward on that line until two other natural objects, hill peak, promontory, tree, etc., came in line. The intersecting point of the two lines marked the fishing ground. If possible, the canoe would now be anchored. A fishing ground is termed a taunga ika and tauranga ika. The fishing ground of Kapuarangi, on the east coast of the North Island, was named after a hill that forms one of the lining points. Some hill peaks so utilised are many miles inland.
The charms repeated by fishermen are in many cases difficult to render into English. In one is noted a peculiar use of the term waro, a word meaning a deep pit, chasm, but here used to denote the depths of the ocean. It is employed as though the reciter was addressing the personified form of the ocean deeps, as: “Here is the bait, O Deeps; a crayfish fishing bait, O Deeps; a trout fishing bait, O Deeps,” etc. The Maori had great faith in such charms.
No phase of the art of fishing better illustrates the ceremonial performances and tapu pertaining to it than the making and wetting (whakainu) of a new net. When a large seine was to be made the work of netting the fabric was often done piecemeal; each family or family group of a community would make a certain length. When these were all completed arrangements were made to assemble them and so turn out the complete article. A part of this task would be the attaching of the ropes, sinkers and floats. Long, waterworn and rounded stones were sought to serve as sinkers. A favoured material for floats was the extremely light wood of the houama or whau, a small tree (Entelea aborescens). Net ropes were made from undressed leaves of Phormium tenax, or leaves of the so-called “cabbage tree” (Cordyline). Occasionally the material was the strong bark of the whauwhi, the “ribbon wood” of bush nomenclature. The material used in making the nets was also Phormium, the leaf being split into strips but not scraped or dressed in any way.
The following curious practice was followed in some districts. When a supply of leaves of Phormium was to be procured for the purpose of making a new net, an expert would proceed to the pa harakeke, or grove of Phormium, and there page 403 pull two young leaves from the centre of a fan. If, in so plucking them out, a screeching sound was caused by the act, as frequently occurs, then that fact was viewed as a good omen; the new net, not yet commenced, would be a lucky one; good hauls of fish would be secured. These two leaves he conveyed to the tuahu or sacred place of the village, where he deposited them. After this the people would proceed to cut the required quantity of leaves.
The process of netting the seine would now proceed, each party working on a section thereof. The middle portion was made with a smaller mesh than that used in the manufacture of the two ends. A mesh is termed mata, a word that has at least four synonyms. A wooden mesh gauge was sometimes employed, and it was known as a papa kupenga, but many net makers formed the mesh over the fingers, dispensing with the gauge. A gauge for a small mesh is a papa kutikuti, while one for a large mesh is termed a papa matahaere. There are other terms denoting large and small meshes.
Stringent tapu pertains to the place where a net is being made. Certain formulæ were recited during the process of manufacture. If the work was carried on near the beach, then not only the place itself, but also the adjacent stretch of sea was placed under strict tapu; all with a view of conciliating the gods. Any canoe passing into the forbidden area would be seized and destroyed; its occupants would be lucky if they escaped with their lives. The village home and all its occupants were under tapu. No person might cook or partake of food. The Rev. Mr. Yate has left us an account of his coming upon a party of net makers on a beach he was traversing. He was not allowed to proceed on his journey, and so had to return. He remarks that the tapu of net making was next in importance to that of death. Wade tells us of a similar experience that he had, and states that tapu was a fruitful source of warfare; its breach being treated with great severity. Polack tells us that net makers were placed under tapu in order to get them to continue at their task until it was finished, but the cause of the embargo was a much more serious one, as already stated.page 404
Some native authorities have told us that, among their people, net makers might not wear their ordinary garments, but each man had to provide himself with a new garment to wear while engaged in the task. In the process of manufacture many knots were formed where a fresh strip of material was attached. Should two of these knots chance to come close together the netter would make a curious noise with his lips. We are gravely told that this was to call the attention of great Tangaroa to the two knots, that he might send so many fish into the net that they would be as close together as the two knots. If a man had his finger caught by the strip of material when forming a mesh, some tell us that it was an unlucky sign for him, while others say that it betokened the catching of a fish in that mesh. The knot employed in making a net is the same as our own.
The generic term for nets is kupenga, and the seine we are now describing is termed a kaharoa. The following names of the parts of the seine have been culled from Williams'Maori Dictionary. The belly, or middle part of a net, is the ngake, kete, or konae. The tu, tapai or uru is the first part put in the water. The matakēkē are the two sections on either side of the ngake or middle section. The tuara-matakēkē are the two sections outside the two matakēkē sections. The hawhe or kauangaroa are the two end sections. The terms wana, tarukenga and takapu are also applied to the middle portion of a seine. The whakahihi is also a section name, but it is not quite clear as to where its place is, or as to which part is the uru. Kahatu and tahatu denote the upper edge of a seine. The kaha-runga is its upper rope, and the kaha-raro is the lower one. The pae-runga and pae-raro and the ropes by means of which a seine is hauled. The rod placed at the end of the seine to keep it stretched is the taketake. The floats are termed poito, pouto, karewa and korewa. The stones used as weights or sinkers are karihi. Sinkers were often smooth, waterworn stones of elongated form, and these were enclosed in a sort of netted bag called a kopua that was then attached to the lower part of the seine.
The rangatahi is a small form of seine about ten fathoms in length. We have wai as the bag of a net; korohe, a bag page 405 net; puhoro, a large net; while hutu, kukuti, matiratira, porohe, takeke, tarahou, tauwhatu, tawauwau, tiheru, turangaapa and whakawhiu are other net names. The tarawa or tawiri is a conical net, the purangi a bag net for lampreys, or a guiding net used at a weir. The korapa is a scoop or landing net, the koko a small hand net for taking the kehe fish, while the koko kahawai or tikoko is a landing net for kahawai fish. Horapa is the name of a small hand net, while the atata, toemi and pouraka are hoop nets or traps. The whakapuru is a shrimp net fixed on a frame, the titoko a hand net arranged on a forked stick, the toere, rohe and aruaru are also hand nets. The kaha is a net for whitebait, and the tata a small bag net. Probably some of these terms are synonyms. The auparu net is used in the mouth of a river, fastened to poles called pou-tahaki. Tauhokai and ririwai are also names of stakes driven into a river bed to fasten nets to.
In some districts the net makers were not allowed to cut the loose ends of a knot when tying two strips of material together. All these loose ends were cut off by the directing expert when the net was finished and all the different sections had been arranged in place and fastened together. The ropes, end spreaders, floats and sinkers were then attached. Our new seine is now finished and is ready for the ceremonial first wetting.
The expert gathers together the loose ends he has cut off, takes them to the tapu place of the village, and there deposits them, reciting at the same time a charm to ensure good luck in the first hauling of the net. He then returns to the net, which is lying at full length on the ground. The net is not rolled up for the purpose of carrying it to the canoe, but is carried at full length by a number of men. The net is lying spread north and south; the men take station on the west side of the net about ten feet or two fathoms apart. At the cry of “Hapainga!” (Lift it!) from the expert, each man assists in gathering the net together, when they swing it up on to their left shoulders. The expert now gives the word to march, and the long line of net bearers swings forward, the expert at the head of the line. On arriving at the canoe that is to be page 406 used the line of bearers halts and two men enter the vessel in order to stow the net. If it be a large seine the vessel will be a taurua, two canoes fastened together side by side. As each man passes over his portion of the net he turns to the right and steps aside.
When the whole of the net is placed on the canoe the expert repeats another formula addressed to Tangaroa. The restricting tapu lies heavy on land and sea during these operations. The prow of the vessel is now swung seaward, and the crew and expert step on board, the latter first, and all are careful to place the left foot in the canoe first. The paddlers bend to their work and the vessel makes for the hauling ground. All people of the village home are compelled to fast until the return of the fishermen. Having reached the grounds the men proceed to pass the net overboard, and, as it touches the water the expert stands up and repeats another formula. As the canoe forges slowly ahead the net is paid out. When the middle section of it passes out another charm is repeated.
The net having been drawn, the expert takes one fish therefrom with his left hand, and, holding it so that its head is under the water, he repeats: “Now go to the great ocean and assemble and conduct hither your multitudes.” He then liberates the fish outside the net, thus allowing it to escape. If that fish darts swiftly away the fact is taken as a sign that the new net will be a lucky one. In some cases the expert, prior to releasing the fish, would pull a hair from his head and place it in the mouth of the fish. Some held the fish out toward the east as they recited a charm over it. In some places this first fish had a small shred of flax passed through its gills and tied, after which it was either taken to the tuahu and offered to the gods, with a request for good hauls in the future, or liberated.
If a heavy catch has been made the expert repeats a charm to prevent the net breaking, as a line fisher repeated one to prevent his line breaking when he hooked a large fish.
The fish are now taken from the net, but none may be cooked and eaten until another ceremony has been performed. The expert takes two fish of the catch to the sacred tuahu, where he thrusts two rods into the earth, one on the eastern side of the tapu place, and one on its western side. To each of page 407 these he suspends a fish, repeating, as he does so: “The products here suspended are the products of Tangaroa.” After repeating yet another formula he retires. The people may now prepare a feast of fish to mark the occasion.
In some places the second fish taken from the net was cooked and eaten ceremonially by prominent members of the community. Another custom was for the expert to take three fish to the tapu place, and there deposit them in three holes that he dug to accommodate them. He then recited a charm and departed. The people might then prepare food, and the tapu was lifted from the proceedings, people, and surrounding land and sea. The expert returned to the tuahu on the morrow, and if the three fish had been molested in any way, then Tangaroa was said to have accepted the offering, and all would be well with the new net.
Men were often stationed on the hill tops near the beach in order to act as lookouts. They would observe the movements of a school of fish and signal to the fishermen in their canoes.
“He koa kai! He koa kai!
He papa teretere! He papa teretere!
The kaharoa net was sometimes used in the wide-mouthed tidal rivers, one end being secured ashore. Small gourds were sometimes employed as floats for this net. In cases where a heavy catch was made a form of scoop net secured to a pole handle was useful in taking fish from the net ere it was drawn up on the beach.
A form of huge bag net was used in tidal rivers. Colonel McDonnell speaks of seeing them 70ft. in length, 25ft. in diameter at the mouth, of a funnel shape, narrowing to 18 inches at the small end. The Matatua folk apply the name of purangi to these nets. A better known name is ahuriri, of which riritai is a synonym. This latter is not a widely-known name, and its origin was as follows:—A chief of the Popoto clan, named Ahuriri, made one of these nets single-handed when over 90 years of age, it being about 75ft. in length. Here a difficulty arose. The net could not be referred to as an ahuriri, for that was the name of the chief of the clan, and to call it by his name would have meant trouble swift and certain. Hence a new name for that kind of net had to be coined, and the name so adopted was riritai.
All fish nets and traps that are set, and not handled, are termed kawau moe roa (long slumbering cormorant). This bird, though ever so still, is yet alive to its business, and, in like manner, a sleeping net takes many fish. When a good haul of fish was taken in such a set net, then might be heard the remark: “Ou mahi, e te kawau moe roa” (Thy deeds, O thou long slumbering cormorant).
The following few notes on net-making are contributed by an east coast native.
When a large net was being made, the section undertaken by a family might be sub-let as it were, several persons making a portion each, and these pieces would be joined together. Or several might work together at the section, each person netting a line of meshes, and working so as to follow each other. Netting was done from left to right. In com- page 410 mencing a net a strong plaited cord, the ngakau, was doubled and secured to a peg driven into the earth. On this looped cord the first line of meshes was made, the meshes working loosely and freely on the cord. As the kaita or netter proceeds with his work he pushes the formed meshes along the cord to his left, thus bunching them. In making a mesh, the operator passes the strip he is manipulating over the gauge, which was sometimes fashioned from whale's bone, and hitches it on to the row above. When the section is finished the ngakau is drawn out. The netter has frequently to tie on another strip of Phormium leaf as he works.
In making some of the small nets that were made of dressed fibre twine, that twine was rolled into a ball, which was handled and passed through the upper mesh. Also the ngakau was stretched taut between two pegs.
When watching a Whanganui native making a net it was noted that he used two fingers of the left hand for regulating the size of the mesh. One finger was inserted in the formed mesh of the completed part, and the other extended to form the new mesh on. This means that the fingers were not bunched to serve as a gauge, and that the size was really regulated by eye; yet the work was well done.
The early visitors to these shores were much struck by the dimensions of some of the seines employed by the natives. Dr. Thomson stated that some were 1,000 yards in length. Cruise (1820) wrote: “Though of the same size with others served out to king's ships, our seine was contemptible when compared with those of the New Zealanders. They are immensely large, and they are hauled remarkably slow, but with great success.” Crozet (1772) gives 500ft. as the length, and tells us that the stone sinkers were enclosed in a network sheath at the bottom of the seine. The number of men necessary to haul these seines, as given by early writers, runs from 60 to 500!
Polack speaks of seines “several thousand feet in length” in his jaunty manner. Banks saw a seine that was five fathoms deep, the length of which could not, he stated, be less than 400 or 500 fathoms.page 411
To conclude these remarks on the big seines formerly employed by the Maori let us note a huge one that was made in 1885 by the Pikiao clan of the Arawa tribe, at the instigation of the old chief Te Pokiha Taranui. It was made at Maketu during the winter months. The ropes of this net were made of leaves of the Cordyline. The stone sinkers were enclosed in a sort of pouch which was secured to the lower edge of the seine. The sections of the seine were carried to Otumakoro, where the toronga or joining was carried out under tapu. When the completed seine was stretched out it was measured by Captain Turner and others, and found to be three-quarters of a mile in length.
No single canoe could handle the above net, hence the two largest available, both of the waka taua type, were placed side by side and so secured by crosspieces, the huge seine being placed on a platform built across both vessels. The canoe was paddled seaward, and an old expert ascended to the top of the telegraph tower hard by to direct operations. These were witnessed by many people, and were, briefly, as follows, as described by Capt. Gilbert Mair, N.Z.C.
Shoal after shoal of fish was allowed to pass by the wary old expert on his lofty station. The crew wished to encircle one of the larger shoals, but the expert knew better. At last an insignificant brown patch was seen moving across the water, and then came the cry of the cautious expert: “Haukotia mai!” (Intercept it). The paddlers bent to their task and paddled north, then west, with six men paying out the seine. The canoe made the shore about 400 yards from the starting point, with a considerable portion of the seine still on board.
The task now was to haul the seine, but this was found to be impossible, in spite of the many hands employed. The catch was too heavy to be hauled. The unexpended portion of the seine was then taken to reinforce the konae, or belly, which was 30ft. in depth. The old expert, Te Whanarere, descended from his perch and swam out to attend to matters. The waters he swam through were alive with fish, including sharks, but they had other things to think of, and so did not molest him. His characteristic cry of “Ko Tangaroa pukanohi nui e page 412 kimi putanga ana” showed that he knew that the dangerous creatures in the net thought only of escape. On reaching the canoe he told the men to hoist the belly of the net so as to let a large part of the catch escape. This was done, but the net was still immovable, hence the konae was again lifted and another mass of fish released. The people now complained that there would be but few fish left in the net, but the expert knew his business.
The net was then hauled in on a full tide and secured to many firmly driven stakes; it was impossible to haul it up on the beach; it was so anchored that the ebbing tide would leave it exposed. The people impatiently awaited the fall of the tide; they were not allowed to partake of food while so waiting. When the catch was stranded Te Pokiha had the catch separated into 37 lots, one for each band of natives present, and not forgetting European visitors. Under the supervision of tallymen the large catch was distributed. Many big sharks and stingray were left in the net. Seven species of shark were found in the seine, and among the flotsam hauled in were three anchors. The number of fish ran into many thousands, and this was a small proportion of the original catch of that small school. With this narrative it were well to conclude our notes on big seines.
The small hoop net or trap, termed a toemi, has the net fabric extending inward at the top over the hoop. By pulling a cord attached to this part the fisherman can close the net prior to pulling it up. A form of this net was used for taking crayfish on the east coast.
The above story has been localised in New Zealand, but was brought hither from Polynesia. The natives of Mangonui, in the far north of New Zealand, claim that their eponymic ancestor Tamatea was the man who had the above adventure with a clan of Turehu folk known as Parau. The same story is told at Niue Island, in Polynesia.
The large nets were suspended on elevated rails termed tarawa for the purpose of drying. They were then piled on elevated platforms called whata kupenga, and these were roofed over to preserve the nets.
The kahawai, a prized fish, was taken without using bait, the hook being formed of a wooden shank or back lined with a piece of brightly-coloured Haliotis shell that served as a lure. The lines were towed through a school of fish from a canoe that was paddled at a good rate. The barracouta was also taken with a baitless hook of rude form with which the water was thrashed. These hooks are termed pohau mangā. In olden days they were sometimes set with dogs'teeth. Wood of the beech called tawhai is said to be attractive to barracouta.
In many cases a lure of feathers was fastened to baitless hooks. Any ordinary bait is termed mounu, but the term poa, frequently heard, is not precisely a synonym of mounu; it carries more the sense of lure. Ground bait (taruru) is termed poa, but an ordinary bait of fish or shellfish secured to a hook is called mounu. Some fish cannot be taken by hook and line, but only by net or trap. The so-called frost fish was not taken, but simply found; it is a deep water fish that is found cast up on the beach after a frosty night. The nohu page 415 is a sea fish the spines of which are said to be highly poisonous, though the fish was eaten. At Tahiti the nohu is said to be a poisonous fish.
The whai or stingray was taken with a wooden spear. Small wheke (octopus) were taken by hand among rocks. When the creature twines its tentacles round the fisherman's arm, he seizes it with the other hand by the under part of the body. A native companion of mine once came across one as we were prowling among some rocks that were partially submerged. He at once proceeded to capture it bare-handed, and succeeded, whereupon he cut off its tentacles and cooked and ate the creature. Meanwhile the writer had modestly retired.
Sharks were taken by the Maori both for food and, with regard to certain species, for the sake of their teeth, which were utilised as cutting implements and as ornaments. The dried flesh of sharks, so much prized by the Maori as a delicacy, is a highly fragrant comestible.
The taking of crayfish formed quite an important part of sea-fishing activities of the Maori. Even the small fresh-water species was taken in large quantities in a few places, as at the lakes of Rotoiti and Rotorua. Several different devices were employed in taking this prized food product, and these were known by the names pouraka, roukoura, taruke, tau, tauhuroa, tukutuku and whakaweku.
The small freshwater species of crayfish was taken by means of dredge net, called a paepae at Rotorua, and also by means of bundles of fronds of the common fern or bracken. These were sunk in lakes and allowed to lie on the bed thereof for some time. The crayfish looked upon them as desirable refuges, and entered them in numbers. When the bunches of bracken were hauled up into a canoe a shaking process soon dislodged the koura or crayfish. These contrivances were known as tau koura and whakaweku. They were also taken in the pouraka, a form of trap that was set for kokopu (Galaxias) at Lake Taupo.
Shellfish were as important a food supply as fish in some places, and great shell middens seen on some coast lines show how much the natives relied on this food supply in olden days. The collecting of shellfish was generally the task of women. Where plentiful they were eaten in large quantities in a fresh condition, and also dried for future use, being threaded on cords termed takiaho. The terms raro, karau and hao were applied to implements used in taking shellfish. The paua or Haliotis was taken from the rocks it adhered to with an implement termed a ripi, of which a fine specimen, fashioned from moa bone, was found at Wellington. These large shellfish were collected in baskets termed kawhiu.
Shellfish were cooked in a steam oven, or, in some cases, the tuwhatu method was employed, consisting of placing the shelfish in a heap and then encircling the heap with a ring of fire. In Maori myth shellfish are the descendants of Hinemoana, the Ocean Maid. Cockles originated from Te Arawaru and Kaumaihi; mussels sprang from a female relative of the Ocean Maid, who produced all the different species of seaweed to serve as shelter for her descendants. Those shellfish children were taken to Rakahore (personified form of rock), who acts as their guardian, and protects them.
The taking of freshwater mussels was effected in several ways. In shoal waters the natives often felt for them in the mud, lifted them with their toes, and placed them in a basket. The writer has procured a meal in this way, but found the process a somewhat tedious one, and the subsequent meal by no means a satisfactory one.page 418
The kapu was a form of long-handled scoop that was employed in taking these mussels (kakahi) from the bed of a lagoon or shoal lake. At Rotorua lake the name seems to be applied to the dredge rake (manga or mangakino) though such application scarcely seems to be a happy one. This dredge rake had a net attached to it and was manipulated by means of a long pole handle. At Horowhenua the mussel-taking device is called a tangare.
Dredge rake for taking fresh water mussels. A bag net was attached to this contrivance. (This specimen is in the collection of the estate of the late Dr. A. K. Newman of Wellington.)
A fishing line is termed an aho and nape. Fish hooks are termed maka, matika, matikara and noni. The shell or shell-lined hooks used without bait are called pa, pakirori, and paua, sometimes kowaiwai, on account of their sinuous motion when drawn through the water. The shank or back of a shell-lined hook is the papa, or kauawhi. I have also heard the name of kawiti applied to it, but I am not sure of its correctness.
A cord on which fish are strung is called a kaui, and to one end of it is attached a form of bodkin to act as a threader. This is the autui, auika, or auwai. The whakarino was a form of fish basket secured to a hoop in which a fisherman deposited his catch.
The peculiar term mangoingoi has been applied to fishing from the beach by night, but as to why anyone should so fish at night, and also claim a specific term for doing so at unholy hours is more than I can say. In shore fishing some natives had a singular mode of procedure. They waded out as far as was practicable, and, when a fish was hooked, walked ashore, and so hauled the fish to land, instead of coiling up the line. Line fishers would sometimes hold one line in hand and hold another by means of placing a foot on it. The latter is called an aho tararo. Charms were employed by all fishermen. The use of feather lures was well understood. Early voyagers tell us that some of the fishing lines were of great length, and Labillardiere describes some symmetrical sinkers, carefully fashioned, and having a pierced protuberance through which to pass a cord.
H. Hamilton photo
When a man used a new fishing line for the first time his companions refrained from casting their own lines until he had wetted his. As he tied the bait on each hook he spat on it. He then coiled up the line and passed it under his left thigh, after which, as he faced the bow of the vessel, he cast his line over the left side. When the line was out he held it in his left hand, and, dipping up some water in his right hand, he cast it on the line. The first fish caught by him on his new line was not eaten; it was reserved as an offering to the gods and to the spirits of his ancestors. When he returned home he generated new fire and roasted at that fire the gills of the fish. He divided this into two portions, one of which he held up and waved to and fro, as an offering to the spirits of his male forebears. He then acted in a like manner with the other portion, but offered it to his female ancestors. The first fish caught was styled “the fish of Tangaroa.”
The form of outrigger used in line fishing on the east coast was called a tautara. A similar device was used at Tahiti, as described by Ellis. The latter was a long rod with two prongs at its outer end. The tautara used on the east coast of our North Island is said to have had bunches of shells fastened to it, and these warned the fisherman of a catch.
When engaged in kahawai fishing (hoe kahawai) the trailing lines were apt to become entangled, hence certain outriggers were employed to space them out. Several were trailed immediately overside, one at the stern passed over a crotch in a rod secured in an upright position. Others were trailed on either side from the ends of poles lashed to the canoe in a horizontal position and projecting outward. When a fish was caught on one of these lines a paddle or rod was used to reach the line with and bring it inboard.
Three trolling hooks (pa kahawai)
H. Hamilton photo
The barracouta is termed mangā by the Maori, who applies the name to several fish. The mangā-ahuone is the one commonly used as an article of food. The mangā tutara is said to be valueless as food, while the mangā ripo is some deep water fish, the teeth of which are said to have been sometimes used in what we term “shark tooth knives.” The expression kaihau mangā denotes the peculiar mode of taking the barracouta. The hook was secured to a short rod by means of a short cord. The fisherman forcibly dashed this to and fro in the water, and the eager fish took the baitless hook readily.
The tamure and a few other fish were eaten raw in the form of what is termed kaniwha. The flesh was cut up, soaked in fresh water, and then underwent a squeezing process in several waters prior to being eaten.
Old natives have informed me that hooks having the barbs inturned so much as to be near the base of the shank are superior to those showing a wider space, hence they did not approve of our hooks, preferring to acquire nails or other pieces of metal, and fashion from them hooks to their liking. They explained that wide-spaced hooks need to be jerked by the fishermen in order to catch a fish, but that the close set ones do not. With the latter they could attach six or eight hooks to a line, and, if fish were biting readily, wait until they had caught a fish on each hook.
Some hooks were made in one piece, including the barb, the materials being bone, sometimes shell, and occasionally wood. Then we have the pa type mentioned above. Some of these were composed of a shell shank having no kauawhi or backing, and a detachable barb. Others had a shell (Haliotis) lining secured to a backing of wood, stone or bone. The barbed points were neatly secured to the shanks by lashing. Detachable barbs were generally bone, sometimes human bone, and occasionally kaka ponga, the hard part of the trunk of tree ferns, was utilised for the purpose. Stone points were also occasionally used, as greenstone (nephrite), and a few green- page 426 stone shanks are known. Bones of the great extinct moa bird were also used from which to fashion fishing implements. The remarkably neat workmanship of old hooks is a pleasing feature. The Maori did strive to do neat work, and succeeded. His fine cordage and rolled twine employed in connection with fishing gear is a marvel of neatness and regularity as to size.
Wooden fish hooks of large size were used, as those employed for catching sharks and other large and powerful fish. Wood for such hooks needed to be strong and tough. In order to secure pieces of wood having the necessary curve, it was a native practice to bend a pliant growing young plant of a suitable species and secure it in that position. In a few years it would be thick enough to serve as a hook, and, moreover, would have acquired rigidity in its tortured position. It would then be cut and utilised. The Bay of Plenty natives tell us of a marine growth, a form of plant called totara moana, that grows at a considerable depth. Its branches are soft and pliable when brought up from the depths, and pieces were then bent into the desired form for hooks. On becoming dry they were extremely hard and of great strength. Capt. Cook remarked of Maori fish hooks that they were so oddly formed that a stranger would be at a loss to know how they could answer the purpose. However, the Maori knew perfectly well what he was about.
A large wooden hook measured is almost circular in form, its greatest width across being 7½inches. The opening between the barb and the butt of the shank opposite it is so small that one marvels how one could secure any creature with it. The point has apparently been fashioned from a whale's tooth, and it is worked into three barbs, one of which is longer than the other two. This point is nearly three inches in length. A projection at the base of the shank is carved into the form of a human head.
Fish hooks received in some cases special names, more particularly when fitted with a barb fashioned from a bone of a tribal enemy, a common native practice.
The Maori was a deft fashioner of hooks from bone. He traced the form of the desired hook on the material, and then, with his thong drill, bored a series of holes along the lines. The finishing process was carried out by means of using stone rasps.
Spears were used in taking flounders and eels, but the Maori possessed not the dexterity of his Polynesian cousins in spearing sea fish.page 429 page 430
Hook used for catching albatross were much more open than most other forms, and their wooden shanks were often elaborately carved.
The taking of freshwater fish was another important activity of Maori life, more especially among tribes possessing no seaboard. The most important of the river fish to the Maori was the eel, which, in some districts, formed no small part of the food supply of the people. This was the case in certain places where great numbers of eels were taken in lagoons, swamps or lakes, and in districts through which flowed rivers much favoured by eels, such rivers as the Whanganui. There is a great difference in rivers as to their being haunts of the eel. Some rivers evidently do not suit them, inasmuch as few eels are found in them. Again certain high-lying districts have a very scanty supply of eels. None have ever been taken in the high-lying lakes of Taupo and Waikare-moana; possibly the waters are too cold for them. In such districts the natives turned their attention to the smaller fish—kokopu, inanga, etc. Very few eels were ever taken in the Rua-tahuna district, on the headwaters of the Whakatane river.
The eel of New Zealand is no insignificant creature of a pound or two in weight. They attain a great size, though those taken in eel pots are not the larger specimens. The largest ever taken by the writer weighed 19½lbs., but very much larger ones have occasionally been taken. There are several species of eels in these isles, and apparently a number of sub-species or varieties.
The Maori did not take eels by means of hook and line, but by means of eel pots, the bob, the spear, and occasionally by netting, and also by hand. Of these methods the eel pot was the most important one. These traps were set either at an eel weir or in open water. When set at a weir the mouth of the pot faced up stream in order to take the eels as they passed down stream to the ocean in the autumn. When set in the open stream they were set with the entrance down stream to take eels as they passed up stream. Eel pots for use in lakes and large rivers of sluggish current were generally of the waharua type, that is, they had an entrance at each end.page 431
Two forms of eel weir were employed by the natives. One of these was of a zigzag form, and usually extended across the stream or river. This is the pa tauremu, and it was a farspread usage. In the swift Whanganui river, which brings down much driftwood, the above style of weir was unsuitable, hence a very different form of weir is there used. It consists of a perfectly straight fence erected at a slight angle to the stream.
The term pa tuna denotes an eel weir (pa=an obstruction tuna=eel). They are often called pa rauwiri, because the fences are rauwiri or wattled ones. The pa auroa is a straight fence weir. The ordinary form of weir is constructed in the form of V, with the foot of the letter left open. The narrow outlet, the base of the V, is down stream. According to the width of the stream there would be one or more of these double fences. These guiding fences are called paihau, pakau and pakipaki. When four fences are erected we have [gap — reason: illegible], and the central part is called the tuki. The wide upstream opening is the waha, while the narrow outlet is the remu, tou, ngutu, rae or maene. In the spaces between the fences, from the waha down to the remu, a bed or matting of manuka brush is pegged down on the bed of the stream to prevent scouring. This is the whakareinga, whakatakapau, or whakatahuna. It usually extends a little way downstream from the narrow outlet. To take eels by means of a net at these weirs is described by the term whakaheke.
The stakes used as posts in the fences are called matia; they are driven down into the bed of the river with a heavy wooden beetle termed a ta. Weirs had special names assigned to them. In some cases each aperture had its own name. Occasionally the permanent main posts of a weir had a carved design, such as a grotesque head, or their upper parts. Some had a narrow footway made of poles running along the top of the fence, or possibly a rope secured to the down stream side of the fence, the latter for the convenience of those who came in canoes to attend to the eel pots. Interference with a weir was a serious offence.
The two posts at the ngutu or outlet of the weir are braced with stout poles placed as struts on the downstream side. In page 432 some cases bracken fern is used instead of brush as a scour preventing mat. At each ngutu of the weir a funnel-shaped net, called a purangi, poha, and rohe, is secured. The large end is distended by means of a hoop and is secured to the posts of the narrow outlet. The small lower end of this guiding net was inserted in the entrance of the eel pot.
Eels are proverbially slippery gentry to deal with, and no matter how many weirs might be built across a river, or how carefully they might be constructed, yet there would be no lack of eels further down stream. Hence an old saying of the Maori is the following: “Ko Tangaroa ara rau” (Tangaroa of the many ways).
A South Island native tells us that, in taking eels in streams flowing into Lake Waihora, the eel pots were set so as to catch the eels coming down stream during summer and autumn. Later in the year they were set with the entrance down stream so as to take the eels as they went up stream. Occasionally the eel pot was discarded at weirs, and nets were substituted.
The use of a material mauri has already been explained, and it was a Maori custom to deposit such a talisman, usually a stone, at an important eel weir, to ensure good luck. The Whanganui natives sometimes refer to this talisman as an iho, because it is the very heart or essential part of the weir; success depends upon it. As in the case of birds, it kept a prized food supply from deserting tribal areas.
In the manufacture of fish traps we see some of the very neatest work performed by the Maori, that is in old specimens, for his handiwork has deteriorated of late generations. The form of eel pot having an entrance at each end is a waharua. Hinaki whakatikotiko, korotete and puwai are all names for a corf. Punga, pohea, pongenge and purohu are other names for eel pots. Hinaki pitau are small forms used in taking small fish, such as whitebait. The funnel-shaped entrance of an eel pot is called the akura, puarero, toine, tohe and rea; surely it has enough names. The small net often fastened to the inner end of it to prevent eels escaping is the toherere, naha, or rohe. The other end of the pot is the tau or kotore; the loop handle is taupopoia. The name of pu toke denotes a small wickerwork bait pot resembling somewhat a diminutive eel pot. Bait, often worms (toke) is placed in this receptacle, which is closed with a cover, and placed inside the pot. Bait is sometimes enclosed in a small bag made of Phormium (flax) and styled a torehe. In some cases the bait is simply tied inside the pot. No bait is used in pots set at a weir.
Many different materials were employed in the manufacture of these fish traps. Of these the best is the slim stem of the mangemange (Lygodium articulatum), a climbing plant. This, however, grows only in the north. Another favoured material is represented by the aerial roots of the kiekie (Freycinetia Banksii). Both these are carefully split down the middle, and are both durable and phant. Fine twigs or rods of manuka, and the pliant, tough branchlets of young forms page 438 of Podocarpus spicatus are also used, likewise the stems of a number of climbing and creeping plants, those of the akatea (Metrosideros albiflora) being much employed for the distending hoops.
The inner end of the entrance funnel is sometimes small, the ends of the material projecting inward being sharp pointed, to prevent eels escaping. In other cases the little net fabric referred to above was used instead; either baffled the eel desiring to escape. The catch was taken from the pot through a small trap-door at the rear end, or side of the pot. Occasionally it was made in the entrance funnel. The slight wands of manuka used in making eel pots are called tari in the Bay of Plenty. The roots of flax (Phormium) were sometimes used as lacing or binding material for the longitudinal pieces, as also were stems of aka pohue, a species of convolvulus. In some pots the longitudinal pieces of manuka or other material are arranged in a diagonal (whakawiri) manner. In others they are laid straight (torotika).
Smaller hinaki, or pots, of a similar form, were employed in taking the lamprey, and the double entrance pots used in lakes were also small, some 2ft. or 30in. in length, whereas some of the large pots used at weirs are as much as 5ft. in length, or even more. Diminutive forms were used in former times for taking inanga and other small species of fish. In making these pots the task is commenced at the small inner end of the funnel-like entrance. When this funnel is long enough a strong hoop is introduced over which the material is bent and the work then proceeds in the other direction, so as to enclose the akura or funnel.
A very small but well-made pot of this hinaki form was found under many feet of peat in a swamp. It is ten inches in length and is made of small stems of Lygodium carefully split down the middle. It has six longitudinal strips to the inch, and these are laced together every ⅝ of an inch. Some of the traps for small fish were made of a species of rush, probably Cladium Vauthiera, called wiwi-tane. The finest and neatest specimens are old ones found buried in swamps; modern specimens cannot be compared with them. One dredged from the bed of the Ohinemuri River by the Paeroa page 439 Gold Extraction Company is a marvel of neat work. It is 3ft. in length, and the hoops forming the frame are composed of small stems of Lygodium twisted into a kind of rope. The slender longitudinal pieces are split stems of the same climbing plant, and are from 1-12th to 1-16th of an inch in diameter, split precisely and carefully in half. The space between these strips is but 1-16th of an inch, and the crosstie lacings are only ¼ of an inch apart. Truly is this trap a marvel of neat workmanship.
The Waikato natives use a large form of eel pot called by them a hinaki tarino for setting in the Waikato river, which is too deep for weirs. They are set with the mouth down stream, anchored with a stone, and have a cord attached to them, the other end of which is taken inshore and secured to a stake or snag under water, lest it be seen by prowling eel thieves. These folk use a double entrance eel pot about 2ft. in length, a much smaller form, for setting in their lagoons and shallow lakes. The bait of earthworms is tied to pieces of korari, the flower stalk of Phormium, and slipped inside the pot. This tied-up form of bait is called tahoa; the pots are hinaki tukutuku. Many of these are set in a lagoon, secured to long poles of manuka forced into the bed of the lagoon in a straight line. Each pole has a few leafy branches left on its upper end that projects above the water, so that they may be seen by the pot tenders, who proceed along the line of poles in a canoe every hour or two during the night, to lift, empty and reset the pots. The eels caught in these lagoons are small species. Birds were sometimes used as bait in eel pots. Bait so used as an attracting agent is called poa, while bait for a hook is styled mounu. Occasionally a temporary form of eel pot was made of the broad green leaves of the Phormium tenax plant, called flax by settlers. These leaves were plaited so as to form a hollow cylinder about 6ft. in length, and this was distended by hoops of supplejack, a climbing plant. Outside this fabric were secured four longitudinal rods to serve as braces. These were waharua traps, that is, they had an entrance at each end, the ordinary funnel form, also fashioned of green flax leaf. A cord was secured to the inner end of each funnel entrance, pulled taut, and fastened to a hoop at page 440 the opposite end of the trap. By this means these akura or entrance funnels were kept extended. Half leaves of flax were used in the manufacture of these traps, which were not durable, but became useless when the material became dried up. They were useful to travelling parties.
Eels are taken on dark nights of the moon; they do not like moonlight nights apparently. The Waikato folk tell me that the best nights for taking eels are the 4th, 5th, and from the 23rd to the 30th nights of the moon. They were taken in daytime by two methods called wero tuna and rapu tuna. The first of these methods consisted of spearing, a practice that was also followed at night by torchlight under the name of rama tuna (rama=a torch, hence “to catch by torchlight”). The latter method was simply taking by hand, groping for eels in the mud.
The Maori eel pot and fish trap of hinaki form, with retracted funnel entrance, reappears in far-off Borneo, where a number of parallels of Maori artifacts, designs, etc., are encountered.
The term tawhiti awaawa is applied by the Whanganui natives to an eel weir, thus comparing it to a rat trap, as seen in an old tribal saying: “Ka mawhiti tawhiti awaawa, ka iko tawhiti karawa.” The one secures its prey as surely as does the other.
The advent of eel fry or eel fare was looked for in some istricts where the small creatures appeared in such numbers as to provide a considerable supply of food. They are termed porohe among some tribes, and are taken at waterfalls, where they avoid the rushing waters and wriggle up the wet slopes on either side. Bunches of bracken are deposited at suitable aces in which the young eels seek a resting place. These inches are then removed and shaken over a receptacle of some kind. In former times they were dried and packed in closely-oven baskets for future use.
Eel spears or grains were made by lashing together a number of sharp-pointed tines of hardwood, in some cases katote, the hard, black part of trunks of tree ferns. The aft was a short one. This implement is called a matarau d marau. It has been replaced by a steel fish hook lashed page 441 to a short rod, with which eels are jagged, as it is termed by Europeans.
Bobbing for eels was much practised, and is still followed in some parts. As a rule the bait was of earthworms, which were threaded on twine formed of Phormium fibre, and then tied in a bunch. This is the tui toke, herehere tuna, or tari. It was secured at one end of a cord, the other end of which was tied to a short rod called a katira, matira, pato and ngatire, etc. A club used for killing eels is a ripi or patu tuna. A hole dug in the earth to put one's catch in is a parua. A platform from which to fish is a puhara.
Some eel fishers used a round basket-like net called a whakarino to place the catch in, a deep receptacle secured to a hoop, to which was lashed a stout rod. This rod was thrust into the bank of the stream so that about half the receptacle was in the water; the eels were placed in this net bag when caught.
The huhu grub was sometimes used for a bob. Spiders are said to be the best bait for eels, but these have to be enclosed in a small netted bag of Phormium fibre. Eels do not approve of the dark-coloured earthworms; they are fastidious in such matters. Charms were repeated by eel fishers.
In one name for the fishing rod, matire, we find a far-travelled word that appears in several variant forms. In far-off Nukuoro Isle, south of the Caroline Group, matire is the name of the bamboo.
Eels were occasionally taken in a net trap called a korapa on the east coast. It resembles the kape net or basket-like form used by the Tuhoe folk in taking the fish called kokopu, of which more anon. The eel was caught in a form of scoop net secured to a handle. On the apparatus being lifted the eel slipped down into a form of bag net called the ngake, with which the scoop net communicated. It is as well to mention here that, if the nose of an eel fisher itches, it is a sign of good luck at hand. Also it is an evil omen to see a large eel in the daytime.
Eels were sometimes taken by the koumu method. This was practised at places like Waihora and Wairarapa, where a page 442 shingle bar separated a lagoon from the sea. The plan was to dig channels from the lagoon some distance into the bar, so that the water flowed into them, and kept so flowing, because it would percolate through the gravel. Eels entered these channels in order to reach the sea, and then men furnished with nets, called kohau, entered the channels and captured the eels. Eels would not attempt to cross dry sand, but we know how they will cross grass land at night to reach other waters.
An old tradition has it that eels were introduced into New Zealand by those ancestors who came hither in the vessel named Takitumu. This is, however, a point that the writer will not press. At the same time eels were sometimes introduced into ponds, lagoons, etc., by the Maori. Thus eels of the haumate and matamoe species (?varieties) were occasionally liberated in the roto hawai (half swamp, half lagoon) that formerly existed at Miramar, Wellington.
Should students of Maori myth wish to know the origin of eels let them consult the following table:— Here be names well known in Maori myth. Puanga was the origin of sharks, while Karihi produced the frost fish, barracouta, conger eel and freshwater eels. Q. E. D.
The first eel caught at a new weir is offered to the gods. The first eels caught by a young person of the Matatua tribes were cooked at a fire called the ahi parapara, and a kind of ceremonial feast followed, in which women were not allowed to join.
A South Island native has stated that the lamprey moves up the rivers in four different migrations each year. The lamprey is not now seen in the numbers that it formerly was, but weirs are still erected by natives in the Whanganui river for taking them. This weir is quite different from that for taking eels. The latter is erected in the middle of the river and nearly parallel with the current, to take eels coming down stream. The lamprey is taken when migrating up stream, when it keeps close to the banks, avoiding the swifter current in mid-stream. Hence the utu piharau, or lamprey weir, is constructed near the bank and runs out at right angles thereto for 30 ft., in some cases further. Inasmuch as the weir is broadside on to the rush of flood waters it is necessary to make it of great strength.
Now the difficulty of taking the lamprey in a hinaki or pot set at a weir while they are travelling up stream is that it is not convenient to set the trap-pot with its entrance down stream. Hence the Maori employed a device by means of which it could be set with entrance up stream and yet take the lampreys as they moved up stream. (See illustration on opposite page.)
Lampreys were sometimes taken by a device akin to the taruke and tau already mentioned. It was a mass of closely laid bracken that was secured to the bed of the river, and in which lampreys took shelter. The Whanganui natives term this the whakarau method. It is also known as whakapua. Into this mat of fern the lampreys crept, presumably for a page 446 rest. These Whanganui natives state that when the lamprey reaches the headwaters of the river its head increases in size and in this state it is not eaten.
So strong is the pressure of the water against a lamprey weir that it is braced or stayed on both sides. The favoured mode is to construct the weir in the dry months when the river is low, so that it can be erected on a part of the river bed that is then dry, but which is covered by the flowing waters as soon as the autumnal rains come. Green timber of white manuka (kopuka) is usually preferred. On the down stream side of the firmly driven posts are lashed two stout sapling rails (huahua), one about 18 inches above the ground, the other 3ft. above the lower one. To the upper rail the upper bracing struts are lashed. Those on the down stream side are called noko; the holding braces on the up stream side are the kumekume; the up stream ends of the latter are secured to stout pegs driven into the river bed to secure the mat or brush laid down to prevent scour, and termed the whariki or whakareinga. There are two series of struts of the lower side, the series lashed to the upper rail, and a shorter series secured to the lower rail.
These notes were taken when watching a native constructing an utu on the Whanganui river. Doubtless my numerous questions rendered me somewhat of a nuisance, but when a couple of cakes of tobacco were handed over they gave great satisfaction. This weir was 35ft. in length, and had five ngutu or open spaces for the water to pass through, and where nets (poha) and traps were set on the down stream side. The posts (pou) were five feet above ground, and the one at the outer end is termed the kaiau. The brush wattled fabric supported by the posts and covering all spaces between the openings is pawai. The brush scour mat extended 25ft. up stream from the weir and 6ft. below it. Several series of poles were laid across the mat and pinned down by means of stakes driven X-wise into the river bed. These containing poles are styled karapi and the holding down stakes were lashed together at their junction. All lashings were of green split supplejack (karewao—Rhipogonum scandens).page 447
Ere I left this native hamlet the first of the autumn rains came one evening. The next day I went to see how the weir fared, but found six feet of flood water rolling over that shingle bed; the weir was entirely submerged.
Meeting some folk from this hamlet in town later in the season I enquired as to the catch at the lamprey weir, and was informed that the catch had been a small one. The reason given for the poor result was that no mauri (talisman) had been located at the weir.
We have now a few other methods to scan, as employed in taking certain small species of freshwater fish. Of these the kokopu (Galaxias), inanga (Retropinna), upokororo (Prototroctes) or grayling, and the panoko were the most important. The small flounder found in the interior was never plentiful, but the various larger species frequenting the mouths of rivers formed an important food supply.
Pouraka trap for taking small fish (kokopu) in Lake Taupo.
H. Hamilton photo
The upokororo, or grayling, has almost disappeared from our rivers for some unknown reason. East coast natives recognise three varieties of it—the tirango, kutikuti and rehe. It was caught in traps when ascending rivers. One method of taking it is known as tuki, in which walls of stones were carried out from both banks of a stream, and an open space left in mid-stream just wide enough to accommodate the hoop net used. The fishers proceeded up stream, entered it, and drove the fish down into the net. Another mode of taking them was by means of an umu or koumu, a channel excavated from the stream into a sand spit or shingle bank. A pakau (wing) or wall of stones run out into the stream caused the water to flow into the ditch, so that there would be a sufficient depth of water therein. The fish were driven down stream as before. Each fish driver had in his hand a raupoto, a bundle of brush or fern fronds, with which he threshed the water to scare the fish. Having entered the umu they were held there by a person at its outer end, the others busying themselves in displacing the piled up stones that dammed the waters of the stream. Ere long the receding waters left the excavated channel dry, and the fish became an easy prey. Yet another method was to take these fish in nets toward the latter end of a flood, when the water was still muddy. They were also taken at weirs. It is an extremely shy fish. Up to about the year 1874 the grayling was wont to ascend the Waikato river in multitudes, and was there taken in large nets. It would take a fly, but not any form of bait used for eels.
The inanga, or whitebait, is a much appreciated fish. Though small, it can be taken in considerable quantities by net. They were sometimes taken in an oval hoop net, sometimes in a small conical scoop net fastened to a rod for a handle, and sometimes in a pouraka. In late times natives have taken to using scrim for nets used in taking this fish. They say that the fish ascends the rivers each year in three different migrations. The third of these movements occurs when the star Takero appears in the east. These fish were often dried for future use. In Maori myth they are connected page 450 with the star Rehua (Antares). In some districts they were taken in traps made of rushes, and styled kaka on the west coast.
When the first catch of inanga of the season was made, some were set aside as offerings to the gods, and the balance was consumed in a ceremonial feast, being cooked in five different ovens for as many different castes of the people. As usual, charms were recited by those engaged in taking the fish.
The panoko has a number of native names, but its European name is superior to all; it is Cheimarrichthys Forsteri. And yet the fish survives! They are often taken in pots set for eels, and pots were sometimes set specially to take them; this was at the tararua or V-shaped weirs. They are caught up to eight or nine inches in length, and will take bait in the evening, but not after dark. They move in the same “jerky” manner that the toitoi does. This latter is a diminutive creature also known as titarakura, and several other names. It was taken by net, also in bunches of fern, the taruke. Its scientific name is Gobiomorphus gobioides.
Another of these small river fish is the tikihemi, which is sharp-nosed, flat-sided, scaly and about five inches in length. It has a blue stripe on its sides and is often taken with whitebait; it has a peculiar odour. It goes down to the sea about March and comes up the rivers with the whitebait. Its scientific name is unknown to the writer. The tarare, para, reretawa and papauma are probably varieties of Galaxias. Other dubious names have been collected.
Flounders were speared and also taken by net. South Island natives recognise four forms of this fish—the mohoao, raututu, whaiwhai and patotara. Shrimps were taken in a form of basket net called kete pahao and kete tihao.