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Forest Lore of the Maori

Ducks and Teal:

Ducks and Teal:

The many species of ducks and teal provided the Maori with quite a considerable portion of his food-supply in some favoured districts, while in some regions, such as high-lying forest-country, they were of little Service. The most highly-favoured districts in the matter of these water fowl were those abounding in lagoons and swamps, such as Matata, parts of Marlborough, Waikato, etc.; many lakes were also the haunts of Moe-tahuna, the duck, and his congeners. As in the case of forest-birds, however, water-fowl are greatly reduced in numbers in these days. Of all these species the parera or grey duck is most frequently mentioned in native tradition, accounts of food-supplies, and the arts of the fowler. The putangitangi or paradise-duck seems to have disappeared from the North Island since the writer's young days; we used to see them on the Stretch of sea beach north of Otaki. The whio or blue duck was never numerous page 348in the sense that the parera was. This latter species was exceedingly numerous in some districts, and so, like the pekehā petrel (Prion vittatus), it was employed to exemplify prodigious numbers, as in the saying: Taku moana he moana i kauria e te parera. This saying conveys a Special meaning that is not expressed by the words; it was meant to signify that the men of a certain district were so numerous that it would be useless to attack them. When Te Umuariki of Tuhoe proposed to attack Taupo, Te Wharangi of Awa quoted the above saying as a warning, but Te Umuariki remarked: "Although the ducks be numerous, yet will I carefully devise snares whereby to destroy them; then will I cause them to enter the water-weeds, where they will perish." (He aha koa te nui ai te parera, maku e ata mahi ai i te mahanga hei patu mo te parera, a maku e a ki roto i te keketuwai ka mate ai.)

Young ducklings are called kawaiwai when they take to the water, and turuki is a name for fledglings in some parts; it is also the verb 'to moult.' A flock of ducks in flight is a pokai parera, but when in their usual element the flock is called a kawai parera.

A South Island native contributor gives the following account of taking these water fowl, of which the original will be found in No. 13 of the Addenda: "With regard to the taking of the putangitangi (paradise duck), the parera (grey duck), the pateke (brown duck), the tataa, the whio (blue duck), the kukupango, and the pakura (pukeko), the taking of these birds commenced in December, the ninth month of the year in Maori reckoning. Let me explain how these birds were taken: during that ninth month the feathers of the wings of those water-fowl came out; at such time only did they moult. The catching of them was then a simple act, as they could not fly; men entered canoes in order to pursue those birds in favourable parts of lagoons and in streams, where they would take them by hand; great numbers were so taken. These birds were placed in the canoes and conveyed to the homes of the people, where they were plucked and cooked in the same manner that wood-hens and rats were cooked; when so cooked they were packed in poha and calabashes. So the people continued to catch those birds, even until the middle of January (?), when the work ceased, although at certain times snares were also set in streams and lagoons. At the disposal of such snares, many slip-nooses were secured to a sustaining-cord that was set up in the streams and lagoons; when so arranged in streams, stakes were driven in on either side of the stream, and the cord supporting the snares was tied by one end to a stake, pulled taut, and secured to the stake on the other side of the stream, and so left. At night the water-fowl would come swimming along, and, page 349on reaching the row of suspended snares, would be caught by the neck; possibly twenty birds would so come floating along, and all be caught. Ere long perchance others would drift along and be caught, and later others from further up stream. When birds were so caught they would turn and struggle, and flap about in vain for a space, but ere long would be dead; when the fowlers visited the snares in the morning they would find many birds ensnared, as would also be the case with the snares set in lagoons. Such were the methods employed by the Maori in taking these birds in former days, but those old bird-taking places are barren now, and the Maori no longer catches birds as of yore; the lagoons that they frequented are now dry."

The old man who gave the above account would have been more at home had he omitted reference to our month-names, the ninth month of the Maori year was not December, but February, that is to say it included a part of February.

Many lakes and lagoons in the Bay of Plenty district were famed as resorts of water-fowl in former times, including Rotomahana and surrounding lakes. Feed was plentiful in that region, and included the small green beetle known as kekerewai (Pyronotafestiva), that, in former years, were seen in myriads on manuka shrubs. When ducks were moulting they used to become very fat, and then the rahui was lifted and the close season ended. The birds having become flightless they could be collected, driven and herded from open lakewaters into inlets, and water-plant growths lining the shores; in such growth, and in brushwood, etc., the birds sought refuge, and in such places they were caught in numbers. Youths, girls, women, and children often took part in the drive; they would enter canoes and make a pleasure-jaunt of it, and so a line of laden canoes would advance with animated crews and much splashing, before which the birds swam on in search of a refuge. Dogs held in leash were often used when taking the helpless birds, the owner of a dog being quick to recover a bird ere it was mauled, when he quickly killed it by biting its head. Sir. W. Buller tells us that in 1867, 7000 ducks were taken in three days at the one lake Rotomahana; at the same time natives were busy taking them at all the many other lakes in that district.

During the moulting-season ducks are apt to retire a considerable distance away from water, or certainly from any water in which they can swim. I have so found them myself, frequently by the aid of a dog, where they were concealed in ditches, or fern, or some other growth. When large numbers were taken many would be preserved page 350as huahua in gourd or bark-vessels, sometimes in the seaweed poha, when available.

When Bishop Selwyn was traversing the eastern coast of the South Island in January, 1844, his native companions caught 18 moulting paradise-ducks at a time when ducks were much needed. Sir W. Buller has stated that this species was seldom seen north of Napier, but that a small flock was seen at Rotomahana in 1866. Colenso stated that birds of this species were occasionally tamed by natives in olden days.

There is some evidence to shew that ducks were sometimes taken in nets set in narrow water-ways, especially in the ditches or canals that were cut in some swamps, such as those of Marlborough and the far north. I have no Information as to the form of the net used, and would assume that such a method was employed in the moulting-season. One writer speaks of netted enclosures 100 yards long, 20 ft. wide, the nets being 14 ft. in height, into which flocks of ducks were slowly and very carefully driven, but I have never obtained any corroboration of this Statement.

The method of snaring ducks has been explained by our South Island contributor. Cords, termed tāhū or kaha when so used, were stretched taut across a waterway, being attached to vertical stakes where necessary, and from these the slip-nooses were suspended at such a height above the water surface as to be handy for Moetahuna to put his head into when moving abroad at night. Ducks are supposed to be very wary creatures, but they seem to have been taken in numbers in these openly-set snares. In favoured feeding-grounds of water-fowl long lines of such snares were set. Williams gives naha as 'a noose for snaring ducks,' but I could gain no evidence to show that a noose for ducks was anything more than the ordinary running or slip-noose. So we have dealt with theparera apuparu or mud-gobbling duck.