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Forest Lore of the Maori

Prized Seabirds:

Prized Seabirds:

A few species of seabirds were prized by the Maori, principally on account of their feathers, which provided decorations for personal use, and also for certain artifacts, such as canoes, weapons, garments, etc. The albatross was caught by means of a baited hook of a certain well recognized form (Fig 27); its feathers were used for personal decoration, and also for adorning the black battens covering the top-strake join of a canoe. Doubtless other species of seabirds were taken with these albatross hooks. Williams gives taere as the name of a 'square net baited with cockles, crabs, etc., used for taking sea-birds.' Sea-gulls were occasionally tamed and allowed their liberty about a village. We have been told that, occasionally, the karoro sea-gull (Larus dominicanus) was tamed and employed as a pest-destroyer, released among the sweet potato crops that they might consume the big caterpillars that infested the plants. One early collector of data tells us that such tarne birds would accompany on the wing the people of a village when moving to other parts on a fishing, fowling, rat-catching or berry-collecting expedition,* but another such collector has stated that such birds were deprived of their powers of flight by their captors. These latter may have been grown birds when captured, those taken during chickhood would probably be better reconciled to their lot.

These gulls are the creatures who pluck shellfish from the sandy beaches, carry them far upward and then let them drop on the beach so that they may be broken. I have seen evidence of this when riding along sandy beaches, and have so interrupted operations as to see the crushed shells ere the birds had time to descend and devour them. Dr. Shortland tells us of a yet more peculiar device of such birds that seems to lack corroboration. The pipi are sometimes seen on the surface when the incoming tide flows up a sandy beach, and, at such a time, the doctor tells us, the sea-gull is on the alert. To quote the passage: "As the tide flows, he is busily occupied hovering over the line of beach, prepared to drop a small stone, which he holds in his beak, between the divided valves of the blind pipi He is then able to feast on his prey at leisure." I wonder?

page 353

The amokura, or red-tailed tropic-bird (Phaeton rubricauda) was indeed a prize to the Maori of old, so high a value did he set on its long red tail-feathers. These and other plumes were prized as personal decorations, and also as valuable mediums in barter, when they would be exchanged for greenstone, or some other coveted valuable.

We are now wandering away from the realm of Tane and of Punaweko, from woodcraft, bird-lore and forest-lore, and are impinging without warrant on the domain of Tangaroa, Hinemoana and Hurumanu; of a verity it behoves us to return to woodland ways and the creatures thereof. Our task now is to describe the practices of the hanga whapiko tahiti, or trap-setting folk.

* In one version of the story of the killing by Kae of Tutunui, the pet whale of Tinirau, when Tinirau thereafter sent his sisters to secure Kae and bring him back to his punishment, the sisters and their companions were accompanied by their pet birds, who flew above them as they went along. The birds acted as guides, flying over each settlement, uttering a short cry and passing on if Kae was not there, but arriving at the settlement where he was, they cried and stayed, so that the sisters knew that Kae was found. Their journey must have been near the sea-shore, for Kae went home by sea on the back of Tutunui; but it is not certain that the bird-guides and companions were sea-gulls. [See White, Ancient History of the Maori, vol. 2 (1887) 138.]—Ed.