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Forest Lore of the Maori

The Karuwai or Robin:

The Karuwai or Robin:

Karuwai or pihere, the robin (Miro australis). The writer has pleasant recollections of our friendly robin, even from long past days in the 'sixties of last Century, when we explorers of two feet nothing were wont to carry food to the robins that frequented a vast forest that lay far away, probably 200 yards, from childhood's page 324home. In the ninth and tenth decades of that Century I saw nought of the friendly karuwai or toutouwai, but in 1901 a few were seen at Ruatahuna, and they were more numerous in the Papuni district, east of Maungapohatu, where they persisted in following survey lines being cut at the time. Any such work will attract the robin, the displacement of a log, Clearing of scrub, any disturbance of soil will expose some desirable food to the pihere, as the Tuhoe folk call the robin. Toitoireka is an east coast name for this bird, in use in the Waiapu district, where, in former times, these birds were attracted by means of turning over a small patch of soil. This disturbed piece of ground was at once enclosed by means of a barrier consisting of branchlets stuck in the earth, and this barrier was called a whitiwhiti. Several small openings were left in it at ground level, in each of which was arranged a snare, a running-noose connected with a whana or spring, the appliance termed a tawhiti by the Maori. The birds were attracted by the freshly-turned soil and would readily attempt to enter the enclosure by way of one of the openings when they would release the spring and so be caught. An additional lure was often provided in the form of a few earthworms secured in a cleft stick stuck in the disturbed earth. A concealed fowler would occasionally appear to secure the snared birds, and to reset the spring and noose.

The korapa or whakarapa was another form of trap employed in the taking of the robin, though of course other small birds, miromiro, etc. were taken in the same trap at the same time. The construction of the apparatus was simple, as seen in Fig. 26. A length of pliant aka or supple-jack was bent into the form of the letter U, when a straight rod was lashed across the open end of the letter, and so the framework was provided. This simple frame was then covered with a netted fabric composed of strips of flax (Phormium) leaf, the same being secured to the frame, in fact netted on it. Two of these traps in the Dominion Museum are respectively 20 and 15 inches high. This trap was set up in a vertical Position, rounded part uppermost, on a level piece of ground, and kept in that position by means of two pegs driven into the ground in an oblique manner over the straight rod of the frame that rests on the ground. These pegs will keep the trap in the required vertical position. A little distance in front of the trap a small inverted U hoop of bent supplejack was stuck in the ground, and a cord about 20ft. in length, one end of which was tied to the curved upper part of the trap, passed through the hoop, and was led away to where the fowler was concealed. Immediately in front of this racket-trap some alluring bait (poa) in the form of worms, berries, or grubs was page 325scattered, but only on such extent of ground as would be covered by the trap when it fell. As an additional allurement the fowler had lying beside him a block of wood, which he kept tapping with a wooden club; in his other hand he held the cord attached to the upper part of the trap. The tapping sound, according to our Maori informants, attracted the robins, and then would soon be busy with the bait, whereupon birds of other small species would join them. When a number had assembled to discuss the bait the fowler would give the cord a smart tug; this pulled the flat racket-like trap down and imprisoned the birds beneath it. The fowler would then advance, being careful to keep the strain on the cord as he did so, collect the little victims, and reset his korapa. The small korowhiti or hoop near the trap through which the cord passed kept the trap pressed down on the trapped birds, and so allowed the fowler to retain an erect posture as he advanced.

In his account of his explorations in western Nelson in 1860,. Haast mentions the friendliness of the robin for man. Of the totoara, by which name he knew the robin, he wrote: "Amongst the small inhabitants is one which by its tameness always gives animation to the camp; it is the totoara, the New Zealand robin, which is the first to welcome the explorer in the wilderness, and which remains steadily near the camp. Gravely does it look to the doings of men. I observed how strictly these robins maintained the right of priority. The second comer was always fought till he went away … I have seen one of them sit on my hand with which I held my paper when sketching, and pecking quietly at it."

The robin is known as pitoitoi in some parts, because the Maori represents the cry of the bird as pi-toi-toi-toi!; the Tuhoe folk call the female rnokora; at the Wairoa, Hawkes Bay, the robin is known as karuwai. The following saying was collected by Grey: Kua rarahi nga mata o te totoara (The eyes of the robin are dilated), meaning that the shades of evening are falling. If you hear the cry of a robin on your right hand, then you know it for a waimarie; good fortune is hurrying to meet you; if on your left, then be wary, trouble is toward; if dwelling in an open hamlet then sleep out in the chapparal until the evil omen has lost its force; if living in a fortified village, then let a watchman be set at night, indeed for several nights.