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Fishing Methods and Devices of the Maori

The Taking of Koura, or Crayfish

The Taking of Koura, or Crayfish

Crayfish are numerous on many parts of the rocky coast-line, and so furnished quite an important food-supply to the natives. They were taken largely by means of a lobster-pot, termed a taruke, and also often by hand. Both men and women joined in this latter pursuit of ruku koura, as it was called. This word ruku, often rendered as "diving," or "to dive," simply meant that natives sought the crayfish under water; but the Maori always descended feet first—he never dived into water head first, as we do. A man who was energetic, daring, and successful at this pursuit would be referred to as a toa ruku koura. Men stripped for the task, but women wore a form of maro, or apron. Many women were experts at catching crayfish by hand. One informant went so far as to say that men were deemed ringa muhore (unsuccessful) at the work, but that women were more expert. Mr. White stated that these crayfish-hunters descended to a depth of 3 fathoms.

Concerning crayfish Captain Cook wrote as follows: "These we also bought everywhere to the northward in great quantities of the natives, who catch them by diving near the shore and finding out where they lie with their feet."

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The Ngati-Porou folk informed me that crayfish were sometimes taken by means of a bob composed of the tough paua (Haliotis) shellfish tied round with strings of Phormium fibre, A northern method, according to Yate and Polack, consisted of taking them with a net attached to a pole. Yate explains that "when, with their feet, they have discovered where their object lies, they put the mouth of the net to the tail of the fish and kick him into it." Polack is not quite so harsh; he states that they searched for crayfish with their feet, "and when successful, they place the net close to the fish, and, with a jerk, tumble him into it."

The Rev. R. Taylor stated that the Maori sometimes employed a form of "diving-crate," or as he puts it, "a large cone-shaped basket, in which they dive to the bottom of lakes to catch cray and other shell-fish." The only corroboration of this statement that I have noted occurs in the account of Sir G. Grey's overland journey, where we read: "The taiki is a sort of basketwork frame for diving, generally used to catch cray or other shell-fish, in which the diver encased himself, with a weight attached to the bottom, so that he might be hauled up again by the rope which was held by a party on shore."

The trap termed a pouraka is known to have been used by freshwater operators, but Tuta Nihoniho informed me that the name was also applied to a form of hoop-net used in taking the marine species of crayfish. It was made of strips of Phormium leaf, and the bait of paua shell-fish (Haliotis) or of kina (sea-urchin, sea-egg) was placed in a small netted bag called a torehe, the mouth of which was then drawn together and the bag was secured inside the net. The pouraka used at Taupo in taking small fish, as described by Mr. Fletcher, is of a quite different form. This latter is evidently the pouraka of Williams's Maori Dictionary.

I have a note to the effect that tukutuku is the name of a wicker-work trap used in taking crayfish. This does not look like a specific name, but rather a descriptive name, such as might be given by a native who could not recall the correct name. A Kahungunu native gave humete as the name of a form of trap. Mr. White applied the name of punga to a lobster-pot, but I have heard it only as a name for the hinaki, or eel-pot. It may have been applied to both.

The taruke as used on the East Coast is a wickerwork trap of round or ovoid form, made of slim manuka rods. They are of ingenious construction, and the entrance is of the funnel-like form seen in the Maori eel-pot, the inner opening, however, being much larger, and it is situated on the upper side of the pot. Kaweru is a specific name for bait used in these traps, which bait often consisted of paua, and sometimes of patangaroa (starfish). The bait and stone sinkers page 62were placed inside the pot, which was lowered by means of a rope, to which a float was attached.

To the funnel-shaped entrance of the pot under discussion is attached a small netted fabric termed a korohe and puhatero, the object of which is to prevent the escape of the crayfish after entering the pot. On the East Coast, rafts, called mokihi in the construction of which the light wood of the houama (Entelea arborescens) was used, were employed by the manipulators of these pots. I recently noted such a raft still in use at Port Awanui. Of course, in former times, no native would set one of these lobster-pots without repeating a charm to cause the genial crayfish to enter it. The following is a specimen of such effective effusions:—

To toke na hiia atu na ki waho na kai mai ai
E hi ana, e rawe ana, e taki ana
Niho koi, tara koi, kia u ou niho
Hui mai nga koura.

Herein crayfish are requested to assemble at the trap, to draw up the bait and consume it outside the trap. Presumably the cunning fisherman is trying to persuade the guileless koura that such a course is quite a simple matter.

The invention or adoption of the netted fabric secured to the inner end of the entrance funnel is credited to the mythical Maui. His brothers constructed their traps with the entrance funnels at the side and lacking the baffling net, so that crayfish entered a pot, devoured the bait, and walked out again. Maui, the younger, made his pot with the entrance on the top, and by using the korohe net he took a great many crayfish, to the great surprise of his brothers, whom he did not allow to see his improvements.

The following charm, collected by Mr. John White, is said to be a crayfish charm; but, if so, it must have been composed for repetition by fishers using a rod (matira), line, and bob:—

Ngau mai, ngau mai
E ngau ki taku matira nei
E ngau ki taku matira whakataratara
Ka hika ra kei to hara [?]
E Tangaroa kia u.

It is noted elsewhere in this chronicle that in certain charms repeated by fishermen one Raro is addressed, and that Raro stands for the lower or under world, the nether realm—in this case the deeps. In another fishing charm we find the term waro used in a similar manner, as though it were a personal name. Now, waro and page 63wheuri are two expressions used to denote deep waters—the deep, or the depths, as we might put it.

Tenei hoki te maunu, e Waro
He maunu hi koura, e Waro
He maunu hi kokopu, e Waro
Kaikai kinikini, e Waro
Kaikai torouka, e Waro
E Waro, Waro uri, Waro tea
Waro kahakina atu ra te mahanga
No Rua te tupua, no Rua te tawhito
No wiwi, no wawa, no haere tu te rangi, &c.

The first three lines draws the attention of Waro, or the denizens of Waro, to the presence of the bait (maunu).

Devices for taking the small fresh-water species of crayfish will be referred to later on. It may be here observed that in one Maori myth crayfish are said to be the offspring of Tahumaero and Kohurau. One Uruao is said to have mated with Kowhara; their offspring was Tahumaero, who mated with Kohurau and produced the following offspring, representing the different forms of crayfish:—

Te Koura-punui. Te Koura-kotua.
Te Koura-pawharu. Te Koura-awai.
Te Koura-taranga. Te Koura-mawhitiwhiti.
Te Koura-mapara.

The three species or varieties of crayfish known as kotua, awai, and mawhitiwhiti are said to have been placed under the care of Parawhenuamea, who nourished them.

Another version of the mythical origin of crayfish shows us that they are descendants of one Hine-murutoka, a daughter of Rakahore (personified form of rock).

Koura is a generic term for all crayfish, the sea species being Palinurus edwardsii, and that of fresh waters Paranephrops planifrons. The pawharu is a large variety of the former species.

Colenso, in vol. 24 of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, has recorded a peculiar method of dealing with crayfish, in which the hapless creatures were anchored in a stream of fresh water for some time. He states that they were "closely packed in rows across the stream, like tiles on a housetop, and kept down with stones placed upon them. When dead they were taken out and their shells stripped off. These came off very easily, and the whole body of the fish, with its legs and feelers, came out from the shell in one piece unbroken. These were quickly prepared, flattened, with their legs, &c., confined and compressed on their bodies, and hung up high in tiers on erected page 64hollow stages in the wind and sun to dry, and when dry were securely packed into flax baskets."

An old saying runs as follows: "He tutu kaka ki uta he toka koura ki te moana" ("A parrot-snaring tree on land, a crayfish-rock at sea"). Both of these provided abundant food-supplies.

In fig. 26 we have a large-sized pot trap used in taking the koura, or crayfish, so common on these coasts. To be made ready for use it merely needs the bait and stone sinkers placed within it, and a cord attached to it for lowering and recovering purposes. The process of manufacture is carried out by tying slight rods or wands of manuka on a framework of hoops braced with a few stout rods. These hoops are of supplejack (kareao and pirita), while the slight manuka wands are such as are found in a very dense growth of Leptospermum in the young state.

The length of the trap is 4ft. scant, and its width is 2ft. 9in. in the middle. To form the base a stout rod 1¼ in. thick and 4ft. long has an oval supplejack hoop attached to it. These supplejack canes (Rhipogonum scandens) are extremely tough and pliant. Six cross-rods lashed to rod and hoop impart stability to it, and two lengths Fig. 26—Taruke koura, or crayfish pot. of supplejack are arranged longitudinally on either side of the stout central rod. The upper part of the stiffening framework is composed of five supplejack hoops, and the long thin rods of manuka, about ¼ in. in thickness, are arranged and tied on the outside of such hoops. These slight wands, termed pihi and tari, have been pulled up by the page 65roots, and the butt ends are laid across and lashed to the central longitudinal rod of the base of the fabric. They are laid or arranged alternately on both sides of the central bar, so that the butts face different ways. The pliant wands are then brought up on both sides in a diagonal manner, tied to each hoop, and crossing each other in a × × manner. The many lashings are made with a running cincture, strips of green flax being used for the purpose. About 3in. above the uppermost hoop the thin projecting ends are bunched together and so form an oval band or collar that bounds the entrance of the funnel, which is 19in. long and 13in. wide. To form this funnel a netted fabric of strips of green Phormium is made of the desired form, 15in. deep, and a supplejack hoop is enclosed in its first mesh row to distend it. This hoop is loosely attached to the rim of the open part of the trap, so that hoop and funnel-net can be quickly removed when crayfish are to be removed from the trap. Two upright rods, 2ft. long, the depth of the trap, are secured to the central base rod and to the ends of the oval rim of the entrance, and so brace the fabric. The final touch was to twist two stout lengths of supplejack together and lash them on to the oval base on the outside, and to insert two additional longitudinal rods, one on either side of the central rod. A lug or handle of split supplejack is affixed to one end. This trap is of recent manufacture, and, though serviceable, does not show the neat workmanship of the old-time Maori.

Some of these taruke koura differed in form, being round, and other materials were also employed.

In fig. 27 we have a series of illustrations showing the process of manufacture as practised in the Waiapu district. A shows the oval framework of the base of the trap, with its braces, while some of the many slender manuka rods that go to form the trap have been placed in position and secured as to their lower ends. In B nearly all these slim rods are in position, while in C the fabric has been turned and a temporary structure of four stakes set up as an aid in the wattling and tying of the sides: D shows the rods brought up and confined within a vine secured to the four stakes, while the securing of the rods to permanent hoop-braces has commenced. In E we see the trap approaching completion, and F gives it with its retracted funnel-like entrance almost ready for business; it yet lacks sinker and bait, and the trap-maker seems to be making a cord to be attached to the trap ere it is used.

The small fresh-water crayfish were taken by means of a small dredge-net, termed a paepae. They were also taken by sinking bundles of fern (bracken) and allowing them to remain for some time on the bed of the lake; into these bundles the crayfish entered for some pur-page 66pose best known to themselves, and the bundles were hauled up gently and the crayfish shaken out into the canoe.

I have heard the name of pouraka applied to these taruke koura, or crayfish-pots, by Ngati-Kahungunu folk. They also appear to use the term tapui to denote these traps, though perhaps this was not a common usage. It occurs in a remark made by Koura when attacked by Ngati-Ira at Marae-kakaho: "Nawai te koura ka kai roto tapui e kore e taea te whakaunu, ina ia koe e kai kanohi mai."

The reader should make a point of looking up a paper entitled "Maori Food-supplies of Lake Rotorua," by Te Rangi Hiroa; it contains interesting accounts of divers implements for taking freshwater crayfish, mussels, &c., and their manufacture. The paper appears in vol. 53, Transactions of the New Zealand Institute.