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Fishing Methods and Devices of the Maori

The Maori as a Fisherman

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The Maori as a Fisherman

There appears to have been but little information placed on record concerning Maori usages connected with fishing, and unfortunately I can do but little to supply the deficiency, having never resided among coast-dwelling natives. My knowledge of fresh-water fish and the devices employed in taking them is, however, also very imperfect. My acquaintance with fish has been principally with the elusive eel, and then usually in connection with a hangi or frying-pan.

In Maori lore we encounter some curious myths and beliefs in connection with the ocean, and it will be as well to briefly scan these ere proceeding to deal with the progeny of Tangaroa. When, in the beginning, guardians were appointed to look after the welfare of the different realms—earth, sky, ocean, the heavenly bodies, &c.—then it was that the three supernormal beings named Kiwa, Tangaroa-whakamau-tai, and Kaukau assumed control of the great ocean and its denizens. Tangaroa represents fish, and he and Rona were the controllers of the tides of the ocean. The ocean is often styled Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa (The Great Ocean of Kiwa), but its personified form is Hine-moana, the Ocean Maid, she who was taken to wife by Kiwa. Two other beings, named Takaaho and Te Pu-whakahara, have also some connection with the ocean, on account of their offspring, sharks and whales, objecting to being located in lakes and deciding to dwell in the ocean. In the original apportionment they had been assigned to the fresh waters of earth. They are now found, says Maori myth, within the bounds of Hine-moana.

It is with the progeny of Tangaroa that we now have to deal—he who is termed Tangaroa ara rau, or "Tangaroa of the Many Paths," by the Maori; he who is lord of all fish and helps to control the tides. An old saying is: "He wai Tangaroa i whano ai ki uta" ("By means of water does Tangaroa fare inland"), an allusion to eels and other fish that periodically pass from the ocean into the fresh waters. Tangaroa is usually included among the primal offspring of the Sky Parent and Earth Mother, but the line of descent from the first woman as given below brings him seven generations down the tree. These mythical genealogies are very elastic, and marvellous things are done with them.

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A stray note from a native expert runs as follows:—

"The name Te Parata stands for disasters at sea, while Hine-moana is the name of the ocean; she is the nurturer of all fish, and, indeed, of all things pertaining to the ocean. Kiwa and Tangaroa are the atua who protect Hine-moana and her offspring." The Maori is never at a loss with regard to the origin of things, hence he has evolved the following:— Hine-ahuone, Hine-titama, Hine-rauwharangi, Hine-moana = Kiwa - Hine-puhi, hine-te-ahupuke = Tangaroa-mau-tai - All scaly fish Tangaroa-mau-tai, is also known as Tangaroa-a-tai and Tangaroa-whakamau-tai. He was originally known as Tangaroa-amua, as in his connection with the moon, and the first-mentioned names were applied to him when he became a guardian of the ocean. In importance he is said to have come second to Tane, but was superior to Tu.

Among the Awa folk of the Bay of Plenty district one Wainui is mentioned as personifying the ocean; such differences are met with in Maori myth and tradition. Tinirau, son of Tangaroa, is also closely connected with fish in Maori myth, and he is the being who took to wife Hina, the personified form of the moon. Mr. Collocott tells us that, at Tonga, Tinirau appears as the offspring of the sun. Te Puna i Rangiriri is a name employed to denote the source of all fish, which source is situated far away across the ocean.

In native myth there are many weird and supernatural beings pertaining to the ocean, and these were appealed to by voyagers and fishermen when some boon was desired. Offerings of seaweed were made to Tangaroa by seafarers on reaching land. Apart from these immaterial beings, the Maori possessed friends at sea in the form of the whale family, the Wehenga-kauki, who, we are gravely informed, would come to the assistance of any distressed mariner who called upon them for aid, so long as he possessed the necessary authority over them.

Many of the fishing devices and implements employed by the Maori people are worthy of study, inasmuch as they illustrate the ingenuity and patience displayed by the men of yore. As in the case of all other pursuits and activities of their life, there were many quaint usages, beliefs, ceremonies, and superstitions connected with fishing among the Maori. Sea-fishing was viewed as a more important pur-page 3suit than the taking of fresh-water fish on the whole, and there was more tapu pertaining to it. Much ceremonial pertained to the wetting of a new net and new line, and the numerous prohibitions connected with sea-fishing must have been extremely irksome to the people. The fact that no food might be taken in a canoe, employed for sea-fishing operations means that much unnecessary suffering has been caused by that rule of tapu, for fishing-canoes were not infrequently swept out to sea by storms or a strong offshore wind. Many drift voyages across Pacific waters were the result of such happenings.

As in the cases of other products, and that of man himself, the Maori placed his fishing areas, devices, and even the fish, under the protecting care of the gods. This meant that a talismanic object, called a mauri, was employed as a form of shrine or resting-place for such gods, and a Maori will tell you that this talisman protects the fish, attracts them to local waters, and so ensures a plentiful supply. It is really the indwelling atua, or spirit, that possesses the power, and not the stone or other material object that serves as a mauri. Certain tapu stones, known as manea, were employed by sea-fishers on the Taranaki coast, but we have no information as to how they were used; apparently they were mauri. A stone sinker found at Opunake had a curious design carved upon it that was apparently meant to represent the female organ. One of these stone manea or mauri is depicted at p. 305, vol. I, of The Maori. This one belonged to the Ngati-Whatua Tribe, but is now in England. It is shown in fig. 1. Fig. 1—A stone mauri. page 4It was used in connection with sea-fishing. The late Colonel Gudgeon stated that a stone mauri fashioned from red stone in phallic form is an heirloom of the Whanau-a-Apanui Tribe; it is known as the Whatu kura o Tangaroa, and it was formerly employed as a mauri for sea-fishing.

Inland tribes—those whose lands did not impinge upon the coastline—were cut off from the supply of sea-fish. Occasionally, they received gifts of dried fish and shell-fish from coastal tribes. Clans of a coastal tribe whose hamlets were some distance inland would occasionally move out to the coast and there indulge in fishing for some time. Dried fish and shell-fish formed an important food-supply to those dwelling on the coast. The coastal hamlets of huts occupied by people whose permanent homes were inland were thus occupied only when such peoples were engaged in sea-fishing.

Fishing was viewed by the Maori as being essentially a task for men, and so to them most of the work was left. Probably the tapu pertaining to the art, especially sea-fishing from a canoe, had some effect in preventing women taking part in this highly useful employment. Women, however, were the collectors of shell-fish, and also took part in taking small fresh-water fish, though eel-fishing was done by the men. In sea-fishing men would go out early, and on their return the women met them on the beach and took charge of the catch; they would clean them and carry them to the village. In the event of a good take the women would probably indulge in the brief chants called umere and titihawa, a form of pæan. The following is a specimen of such a chant:—

He koa kai! He koa kai!
He papa teretere, he papa teretere
E .. i! E .. e .. i!

Fishing-grounds were looked upon as tribal property, and we know that such grounds in lakes, estuaries, and other shoal waters were sometimes marked off by a series of stakes, so as to define community rights. Any trespass on such areas for purposes of fishing by unauthorized persons met with vigorous opposition, and even fighting between families or clans might result. Fishing claims were so marked in Lake Rotorua in former times, and Nicholas describes other such boundary-marks seen by him in the far North. He writes: "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 recognized 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 page 5durst not venture to trespass without incurring the resentment of all the others, who would instantly punish them for any violation of the general compact." The different tribes herein alluded to were probably different clans or subtribes.

All fishing grounds, banks, and rocks had special names assigned to them, and such names are often met with in story, song, and proverb. Inasmuch as many fishing-grounds had no rock or part of their surface above water, it behoved the Maori fisherman to be careful in locating the tohu, or signs (landmarks), by means of which he located such grounds. He did so by lining prominent objects on shore, such as hill-peaks, capes, prominent rocks, trees, &c. The taunga ika, or fishing-ground, on the East Coast known as Kapuarangi was named after a prominent hill that served as one of the lining-in objects. This ground was located by observing four hills, two in one direction and two in another; when the two series were in line, then the ground was reached. The plan was to get one pair in line, then paddle seaward on that line until the other two were in line; this apex was the fishing-ground. In some cases a canoe was paddled out until a peak or other object became visible past the outer point of a promontory. When the fishing-bank was reached the canoe was anchored. In the case of one ground on the East Coast the lining-in marks extend from Tokomaru to Te Araroa. In the Narrative of Edward Crewe occurs the following passage in an account of a fishing trip: "The tide was nearly run out when, under Kirikiri's direction, we let go our anchor precisely over the right spot, a result he attained by placing the boat at the apex of an angle the two straight lines from which were found by observing certain well-known bearings on the adjacent shore."

Major W. G. Mair has described how a good fishing-ground off the Rurima Rocks, Bay of Plenty, is located by the natives: "By bringing the northern end of White island just in sight to the left of Moutoki cone, and the inshore side of the western hummock of Rurima proper just clear of the inner face of the most southern hummock."

In fig. 2 we can see how the unmarked fishing-grounds were located by fishermen. The Ace line shows that a prominent rock on a hilltop is lined with a more distant hill peak, while the Edb line shows a distant hill peak brought in line with an offshore islet.

A brief note on fishing-grounds—toka hapuku—was contributed by Hori Ropiha many years ago. He stated that such fishing-banks and submerged rocks where groper were taken were first made known to his ancestors through the agency of the gods, "inasmuch as they could not be discovered by man." When so disclosed they were page 6
Fig. 2—Diagram showing how unmarked fishing-grounds are located.

Sketch by B. Osborne

located in the manner described above. Hori's contribution was as follows: "Na, ko nga toka hapuku i te moana na te atua i whakaatu, e kore hoki e kitea e te tangata nga toka hapuku, he mea tuhi e te atua. Ka kitea te toka ka tirohia ano nga tohu i uta; ki te ngaro nga tohu ngaro tonu atu te toka. Ko nga tohu he hiwi, he rakau, a ka oti ka waiho tena hei toka ika ma ona uri, puta noa i nga whakatupuranga, e kore e riro i tetahi iwi ke."

A still older native contributor assured me that all fishing-grounds were guarded by atua, and that in his particular district the guardian of such places was Tuhinaapo. Should any unauthorized person trespass on the fishing-grounds, tauranga ika or toka hapuku, then a turbulent sea arose and forced them to decamp. Fishermen were tapu when out fishing at sea, and touched no food until their return. The stay-at-homes also fasted during such time.

The following data consist of instructions as to how to find certain fishing-rocks near Maketu, in the Bay of Plenty, each of which is page 7known by its special name. Names of hills, saddles, trees, &c., are given on the different locating-lines, and these it was necessary to get in line. Some further information would have been welcome, but these brief instructions were jotted down by the late Captain Gilbert Mair for his own use only. He was an enthusiastic fisherman, and often accompanied natives on the sea-fishing excursions. Each list of instructions is preceded by the name of the fishing-ground of bank to which such instructions apply.

Whakaita.—Sharp peaked hill at Tirotiro-whetu in line with hollow inland of Otawa on range called Manga-kotukutuku, and Te Pua, the seventh sandhill from mouth of Waihi, going south, in line with east end of Mount Ngongotaha. This will bring a landslip at Whareama in line with cliff at Ngawhara pa.* There is a telegraph-pole on the hill Te Pua.

Haupokotaha.—Hollow at Otukehu, Maketu pa, in line with Pukemaire pa. Putauaki [Mount Edgecumbe] in line with big hollow on Te Pare-o-Tarawahirua. The kahika tree at Haukopupu in line with Taumata-tunounou.

Owhane.—Hollow on west side of Te Pare-o-Tarawhirua to show in [to line with] hollow of Putauaki. The kahika tree at Haukopupu in line with a hollow at Te Puke called Omarupoporo.

Rahokatia.—Mount Ngongotaha in line with Waipumuka; the kahika tree in line with rock at Okurei.

Hapukutahi.—A white pine tree on the south-east side of the Haukopupu bush in line with the split rock off Okurei. A landslip on east side of big hollow running down from top of Te Pare-o-Tarawahirua in line with lone karaka tree on the Waihi side of Pukehina.

Kupe.—Hollow at Otukehu in line with Pukemaire pa. Rata or pohutukawa tree at Pukehina in line with split rock or inshore one off Okurei. Philip Tapsell's house in line with small mound at Maketu pa, near the turret.

Matarakutia.—In the big hollow at the back of Ruato, called Waione, there show three small mounds. The middle one of these in line with Tirotiro-whetu pa; Tokatapu in line with Taumata-ika, Motiti pa; Raho-o-Te-Rangipiere in line with the mill at Papahika-hawai. The little knobs in Waione hollow just show over top of fern-ridge near where acacia-trees are, and nearly in line with small landslip on edge of cliff east of Warenga's kainga (village).

Mr. H. Hamilton, of Rororua, contributes the following note as given by Hapara Patahuri: The seven fishing-places alluded to are all submerged rocks of Maketu, not shoals or banks. Kupe is just page 8off Town Point, and Matarakutia is near Motiti Island. Hapara mentioned another such fishing-rock, named Pakurunui, off Wairakei, and yet another is called Okorora.

The Maori was assuredly a very expert fisherman; long-continued practice made him so; hence it rendered him expert in the manufacture of fishing implements, and gave him much knowledge of the habits and movements of many species of fish. In the account of his second voyage Captain Cook remarks of the natives of Queen Charlotte Sound: "We were by no means such expert fishers; nor were any of our methods of fishing equal to theirs."

Long years ago Missionary Buller wrote of the Maori as follows: "Their fishing expeditions were great occasions, and were attended with religious ceremonies…. They would go out into the deep sea, with their long canoes, for ten or more miles from the shore…. They made nets which were even a thousand yards in length…. From rocks and small canoes they plied the hook and line."

The Rev. R. Taylor speaks of seeing a fleet of seventy canoes fishing at sea, and Colenso of twenty canoes engaged in trolling at the Bay of Islands.

J. S. Polack, a sojourner in the Bay of Islands district during the "thirties" of last century, contributes a few remarks on Maori fishing: "Their fishing-lines are infinitely stronger, and fitted to bear a heavier strain, than any made from European materials. The method of making up fishing-lines is very tedious. The manufacturer twists it upon his thighs and rolls the flax with the palm of his hand, to which he constantly applies his saliva. Shrimps for bait are caught in common baskets on the edges of the shores. The fishhooks are made of bone, shell, and wood, and are very clumsy affairs. Many are formed of human bone." The natives are certainly dexterous in making the rolled twine as described above, and they also make a two-strand twine by rolling two strands of it together. Maori fish-hooks look odd to us, but they seem to have served their purpose very well, and although the natives eagerly accepted our iron fish-hooks at first, yet ere long they preferred to fashion their own metal hooks from pieces of iron and copper obtained from the Europeans.

In some cases fishing-canoes were fitted up with a series of receptacles to contain fish, as shown in fig. 3, p. 9. Thus each man might have such a place wherein to place his catch. These structures were made by attaching a netted bag to a framework of rods.

Crozet, in his account of the natives of the Bay of Islands district in 1772, speaks of storehouses in which were stored supplies of fishing-gear: "The whole space between the two rows of houses is page 9
Fig. 3—Receptacle for fish in hold of a fishing-canoe

Sketch by B. Osborne

only occupied by three public buildings, of which the first and nearest to the village gate is the general magazine of arms. A little distance off is the food-storehouse, and still farther the storehouse for nets, all the implements used in fishing, as well as all the necessary material for making the nets, &c. … The third storehouse contains the rope, fishing-lines, the flax for making ropes, thread and rushes for making string, an immense quantity of fish-hooks of every size from the smallest to the largest, stones cut to serve as lead weights, and pieces of wood cut to serve as floats. In this warehouse they keep all the paddles of their war-canoes; it is there that they make their nets.

* Pa = a fortified village. Often used to denote unfortified villages in modern times.