Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Forest Lore of the Maori



The principal birds of these flightless species to the Maori since the moa became lost to the world were the kiwi, weka, and kakapo; the first and last of these are forest-birds, but the weka may appear anywhere, like the four winds it wanders wheresoever it listeth. The kiwi is alluded to by the Maori as Te manu huna a Tone (The hidden bird of Tane), which seems applicable to a nocturnal creature. This title was also applied to persons occasionally, as to a visitor who arrived unheralded and unnoticed. Hochstetter states that in 1812 the first skin of this remarkable bird reached England, but long after that time writers were very dubious about it. Nicholas, in 1815, saw feathers of this bird worked into Maori garments, and so thought that a Speeres of cassowary existed in the interior. Cruise, who was in New Zealand in 1820, remarked that: "The emu is found page 166in New Zealand, though we were never fortunate enough to meet with one." Breton, writing in the 'thirties, told the world that emus were said to be found on Stewart Island. Natives told Rev. R. Taylor that the kiwi-papawhenua is a huge species about 7ft. in height, and Te Rauparaha told him that he himself had eaten of it in his youth; also those guileless natives told the reverend gentleman that the pouakai is an immense bird that lives on the summits of the South Island mountains, all of which is entertaining when viewed as fables of the wonder-lore beloved of the Maori.

The following names for the kiwi are recorded by Williams and others: Apteryx oweni is known as kiwi-hoihoi and kiwi-pukupuku; Apteryx mantelli as kiwi-nui, kiwi-parure and kiwi-kura; Apteryx haasti as roa and kiwi-karuwai. Canon Stack gave pukupuku as the name of the female bird of the roa. Williams, in his Maori Dictionary, gives pio, rire, and rirerire as names of the young of the kiwi. Dieffenbach told us that the cry of the male kiwi is Hoire!—and that of the female, Ho! Ho! Ho!—but Bay of Plenty natives State that the cry of the female is Poai!—that of the male they give as Koire! and Hoire!—explaining that the latter is really a hoarse deep-toned whistling sound. Whakangangahu and whakangau are two terms that denote hunting game with dogs, and so both are used in connection with the kiwi. The hoarse whistle sounded by fowlers in order to lure the kiwi is known as korowhiti; it is produced by means of placing the finger in the mouth; the act of luring birds in this manner is termed whakahihi; the bird will reply to the whistle and so the fowler is enabled to approach it.

Dieffenbach was informed by natives that the kiwi sits on its eggs for several months, hence he concluded that their notion of the period of incubation was 'rather curious'; evidently Dieffenbach did not know the Maori at that time. I have repeatedly been told that the eggs of this bird remain so long in the nest that roots grow over them, and this quaint belief is referred to in a song of the Tuhoe folk:

  • Engari te titi e tangi haere ana, tau tokorua rawa raua
  • Tena ko au nei, e manu, kai te hua kiwi i mahue i te tawai
  • Ka toro te rakau kai runga; ka hoki mai ki te pao, ka whai uri ki ahau.

The composer of this song, looking out across the waters of Waikare-moana as the shades of evening fell, saw the flocks of titi flying in from seaward to their camping-grounds on the ranges. She knew that, when they settled, they did so in pairs, each having its mate, and so bethought her of her own lone condition, hence page 167her reference to the kiwi eggs abandoned at the base of a beech-tree, there to be overgrown by roots, to be returned to upon a time and so hatched out. See No. 11 of Addenda.

The kiwi frequently nests in holes, corners, etc., and under overhanging banks and root-masses in beech-forests. Taylor, in his New Zealand and its Inhabitants, remarks: "It is said to be three years before they [the eggs] are hatched"—this is a year longer than my informants allowed. He also mentions another native belief that I have heard expressed a number of times, namely that the nest-cavity was sometimes so overgrown with roots by the time the chicks were hatched that they could not move abroad; they were imprisoned, presumably for life. These generous informants were not clear as to the position of the parent bird whose duty it was, or should have been, to sit on and hatch out the eggs, whether she was imprisoned along with the young, or not, or, if she was gradually enclosed within roots, how she obtained food. However, who recks of these hair-splitting details? Yet another Version is to the effect that the bird lays an egg and then leaves it, but two seasons later returns to hatch it.

A worthy old sage of Heretaunga remarked that there are two abnormal things in New Zealand, one is the koroeka tree (Pseudopanax crassifolium), and the other the kiwL For, look you, this tree blooms in one year, but it is the next season ere its fruit matures; its berries are eaten by birds, and so they are snared or speared on that tree. When this tree flowers people know that birds will be plentiful the following season. This tree is unlike all other trees in the land of Aotearoa, and the kiwi is unlike all other birds.

The old Maori dog was employed in taking kiwi; they were led until the fowler was within a fairly short distance of a bird that had answered the lure-call, and then liberated to seize the bird. When led, a dog had a collar made of plaited fibre put on it, and to this was attached one end of a light rod, called a potete, kautete, and katete; this was also used when a dog was tied up, otherwise he might gnaw the cord asunder. Any person leading, or following, a dog so leashed held the other end of the rod, which was about 3 ft. in length; when tied up a short cord was secured to the free end of the potete to make fast with. It was an old usage to attach certain rattles, fashioned from hardwood or bone to the neck of a dog when a-hunting the kiwi, the clacking sound made by these objects enabled the fowler to follow his dog; these rattles were called kakara in the Bay of Plenty district, tatara at Whanganui, and rore at Waikato.

page 168

The old-time Maori dog was trained to this taking of ground birds, and of ducks in the moulting-season, so far as that animal was capable of being trained, which is not saying much. A certain formula, a charm, was repeated over a dog by some, ere setting forth in search of kiwi. The following account of how these birds were taken was given by a northern native in 1849:—

A charm was repeated in order to assure success for the dog in catching kiwi. This was recited prior to the fowlers starting into the forest. An adept was accompanied by one man whose task was to lead the dog, and who also carried some food in the form of fern-root. Usually they camped at the edge of the forest, erecting a rude wharau or shed for shelter, where they left their food and heavy garments when going in search of kiwi. Toward evening they started to look for tracks of the birds. On finding one they would follow it for some distance and mark it with fronds of ponga (tree-fern) laid on the ground with the white side uppermost. The dog was held by a cord that passed between his forelegs and across his ehest. When a kiwi was seen the dog was released and urged on to pursue the bird. Any bird killed was hung up near the track. They then returned to their camp, marking any more kiwi tracks that they might chance to discover.

After dark they would again set forth, the adept carrying a small torch (rohe) of rimu or koroi bark which does not blaze. As they passed along the track the adept occasionally imitates the cry of the kiwiHoire! Hoire!—producing this sound with his little finger in his mouth. On hearing this cry a kiwi would mistake it for the cry of its mate and so approach quite close. Mistaking the glimmer of the non-blazing bark of the torch for a glow worm the bird would rush to secure it, whereupon the man who held the dog slacked out the cord so as to enable the animal to seize the bird, at the same time urging the dog to seize it, but still keeping the end of the cord in his hand. This was to prevent the dog going in pursuit of any other kiwi that might be approaching but not yet near to hand, or going off on its own account. Hence every kiwi attracted by the call was caught. It often oecurred that two men would thus take more birds than they could carry home.

Great care was taken when plucking kiwi to preserve the feathers in good condition; they were tied up in small, carefully-arranged bundles and put away for future use in making feather-covered cloaks and also head-bands worn by mourning women.

The following is another northern contribution made in long past years: Before a party goes forth to whakaaruaru kiwi, the expert will probably contrive to have a hui (twitching of muscles or the nerves page 169of the body in sleep, a good or bad omen). If his arm jerks outward it is a token of ill-luck for the hunters; but if an arm jerks inward it is a sign of good luck, and so on.

The party goes forth at sundown on the following night, having fasted all day. No fire has been permitted to be kindled at the hamlet since the previous night when the expert had his hui.

When the first kiwi is killed the expert who accompanies the party begins to recite his charm, but does not do so until he has taken the heart of that first bird and roasted it at a fire he has kindled. He then holds out the heart in his left hand towards the east, reciting at the same time the following charm. The heart, called at this ceremony a toi, is waved to and fro, and is an offering to ancestors:—

  • Haere i runga, haere i raro
  • Haere i runga o Puhikura
  • E takoto nei koe, e Tangaroa
  • Autu Tangaroa, Kahukura rangi
  • Ka whiwhi ai koe ki nga kuri
  • E marie auta marie
  • E whakatangi ai koe
  • E tu nei Tangaroa
  • Mau e whakaruru ai e.

The heart is then given to the dogs, and this first caught kiwi is cooked and eaten by the hunters.

On the day that the kiwi-hunters leave the pa for the forest, those remaining at the hamlet may not kindle a fire until the sun has reached the zenith; they are then free to cook and eat food.

The cord passed round a dog to serve as a collar was said in the above case to have been so secured as to pass 'in front of one foreleg and behind the other.' On the east coast of the island I was told that, in olden times, when a cord was secured to a dog it was passed round his flank, just in front of the hind legs. In some cases at least dogs seem to have been muzzled (mōkā, a muzzle, syn. ponini; whakamōkā, to muzzle, syn. rongowaha, ponini).

Kiwi were sometimes taken in the trap or spring-snare termed tawhiti; this was used in taking ground-birds, as well as rats, and is it not said that Ruakapanga of old caught a moa in a tawhiti of surpassing size? Any pestering wild dogs, or others that had become a nuisance, were usually captured by means of a tawhiti, hence the place name of Tawhiti-kuri (dog-trap) at Porirua and elsewhere.

Should our fowler not possess a dog, then he might rely on traps, or he might go forth armed with a firebrand and the ability to call kiwi by means of the korowhiti lure-call already described. If two birds are together I am told that they take no notice of a lure-call; page 170this would probably be when birds had mated. Single birds will approach the calling fowler, and, as it does so, he will wave his firebrand vigorously to and fro, whereupon the bird digs its beak into the earth (or rests it on the ground), and is then easily taken; the bird cannot face the gleam of the fire. Such is the gist of accounts given me by old bush-folk; I pass them on for what they may be worth. After those marvellous self-hatching eggs, I have become cautious.

Polack teils us that kiwi hunters made a large fire to attract the birds, then 'a crepitating noise is made by breaking small dried sticks, which, from the similarity to the unmusical voice of these birds, induce them to leave their nests …. Attracted by the fire they make towards it, the sudden glare confusing them renders them of easy capture.' If kiwi mistook the sound of stick-breaking for the cry of its fellows then its stupidity must have been truly abnormal. Polack also remarks that dogs often suffered in an encounter with this bird. Yate says of the kiwi: "They run very fast, and are only to be caught by dogs, by torch-light, which they sometimes kick and bruise severely." These birds seem to have been scarce in the northern peninsula in the earlier decades of last century. Taylor states that a fowler would carry his lighted torch under his garments until close to the bird, when he would suddenly produce it, and this so terrified the bird that it allowed itself to be secured. But what of the garments? Dieffenbach, who saw no living kiwi here, and only one dead one, gives us nothing new about catching it, but he did say that the flesh of the bird is well tasted. Taylor repeats the latter statement, but Polack says that 'the flesh is worthless and tough.' The present writer strikes a middle course; the flesh is neither tough nor worthless, but it is much inferior to that of the pigeon and tui.

Both kiwi and kakapo in the North Island seem to have favoured certain districts, and certain parts of a district, or forest. Old natives of the Wairarapa, Manawatu, and Bay of Plenty districts have borne out this view when explaining the distribution of these birds in pre-European times. The energetic introduced dogs have accounted for many of our flightless birds; dogs in bush camps often kill them, and I have known natives do the same, when they could sell the skins for £1 each.