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The Coming of the Maori



The extensive forests of New Zealand teemed with bird life and methods of procuring forest birds for food were developed that were unknown in Polynesia. The principal forest birds sought for food were the wood pigeon (kereru, kukupa, kuku), parrots (kaka), parson bird (tui, koko), parakeet (kakariki), bell bird (kokomako), wood hen (weka), and kiwi. A number of smaller birds were caught for food but any bird that came the way of the fowler was grist to his mill.

The methods of catching birds were based on a knowledge of their feeding habits on various trees when in flower and in berry. A rich fund of information has been provided by Ranapiri (60), Downes (29), and above all by Elsdon Best whose work on Forest Lore (23) was published eleven years after his death. The details of methods and the names of the parts of the snares, traps, and other devices, varied with the different tribes. Incantations and ritual were employed in each stage of the operations and the reader is referred to Best's exhaustive monograph to gain some idea of the part they played in the Maori mind to promote success. Three of the mechanical contrivances will be referred to here: the noose snare, the perch snare, and the bird spear.

The noose snare (mahanga) was made of a narrow strip from the side of a leaflet midrib of the ti kouka (Cordyline australis) which is stiffer and stronger than flax. A running noose was formed with one end of the strip (Fig. 3a). The snares were set in a variety of ways according to the site selected. A common method was to set them beside pools or streams (wai taeke) for pigeons, which are very fat and thirsty after feeding on the miro. Upright stakes (turuturu) were erected by the edge or in the water and a perch (pae) was lashed to them just above water level. A line (tāhu, ridgepole) was stretched between the uprights about eight or nine inches above the perch and the snares were attached to the line, close together so as to overlap slightly (Fig. 3b). The pigeons coming to drink were attracted by the perch and on settling had to pass their heads through a noose to drink and so were caught. The parts of a stream not occupied by snares were covered over with branches. It is said that at one stream in the Hokianga as many as 4,500 to 5,000 were caught in one season. An eye witness stated that he saw a catch of 300 to 400 snared in one day in a few hundred yards of stream.

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Noose snares were also set in trees, the perch and line being attached to the outer ends of branches which had been cleared of foliage to make the perch stand out invitingly.

An ingenious method was to place wooden troughs containing water in trees and set snares on each side. The trough (waka waituhi) was
Fig. 3. Noose snares (after Best, 23).a, noose technique; b, snares above water; c-e, trough snares.

Fig. 3. Noose snares (after Best, 23).
a, noose technique; b, snares above water; c-e, trough snares.

page 95about four or five feet long and about eight or nine inches wide. It was hollowed out for a width of four or five inches and a depth of four inches. Projections at each end of the trough were lashed to convenient branches and a cross bar if necessary. The nooses were attached to elevated lines on each side, as in the water perches (Fig. 3c), or horizontally to side perches (Fig. 3d), or to a median bar over the trough (Fig. 3b). Sometimes, the troughs were erected on posts set in the ground. As the troughs were placed on the ridges where the berry-bearing trees grew, the water was carried up in gourds from the valleys below. Some tribes state that they never used the trough method so it was evidently a fairly late development derived from the method of setting snares by pools and streams.

The perch snare (mutu, tuke, tumu, etc.) consisted of a perch (pae) set at an angle with a vertical shank which usually projected a short length above the junction with the perch to form a head (mahunga). An appropriate branch with a secondary branch at the required angle was selected from a variety of trees and whittled down to the required size. Some perches formed a right angle with the shank and others formed a more obtuse angle. The perch usually had a knob (toretore) at its outer end. The perch knob and head were usually carved. The shank was lashed to an extension rod (tiahaere) six or more feet in length. A stick was included at the lashing to form a downward projection as a hook (korera) to hang the snare to an upper branch or bar attached to the branches and termed a hiwi. In some snares, the lower end of the shank projected outward from the lashing to form the hook and sometimes a branch (pekapeka) was retained on the extension rod to form the hook. A cord with a running noose was looped to hang down on either side of the perch and the end passed through a hole in the head and down to the end of the rod. Small sticks (ngingita) were set in oblique holes on either side of the perch near the perch knob and the noose was tucked in under them to keep it in position. A similar arrangement was sometimes present near the head. The arrangement is shown in Figure 4a.

A simpler form of perch snare termed a pewa was used to catch tui usually on the poroporo (Solanum aviculare) when the berries were ripe. A branch for the shank was selected with two side branches, one directly below the other. The upper branch formed the perch (pae) and the lower one (peuraro) was bent upwards to meet the perch at its outer end, where they were lashed together. The outer end of the perch and head and shaft were covered with lichen or moss to make the perch appear old (Fig. 4b).

The noose snare acted automatically but the perch snare required the presence of the fowler to pull the string when a bird alighted on the perch. Thus to employ the perch snare, a rough platform with a conceal-page 96ment shelter had to be built in the tree selected. Best (23) describes three forms of ladders by which the trees were ascended. Material for building a platform (papanui, kahupapa) was hauled up by rope. The fowler, having fixed his platform in a suitable place, then selected branches or attached short cross bars (hiwi) to outer branches upon which to hook his perch snares so that they would project above the foliage and so attract birds to alight on them. Perches with right angles were set directly overhead while others were set at various slants to keep the perch part of the snare horizontal. The fowler watched his snares; and when a bird
Fig. 4. Perch snares (after Best, 23).a, mutu; b, pewa.

Fig. 4. Perch snares (after Best, 23).
a, mutu; b, pewa.

alighted on the perch, he pulled the string so that the loop caught the bird around the legs and imprisoned them against the upright head of the shank. Some snares without a head (mutu porepore) had the hole bored obliquely through the top of the shank. The fowler unhooked the snare, lifted it down, took out the catch, reset the loop snare, and hooked his apparatus back in position.

The bird spear (here) was made with a bone point (tara, makoi), with a series of barbs on one side (Fig. 5a) and a wooden shaft 20 to 30 feet long and 1¼ inches thick, usually made of tawa which splits with a perfectly parallel grain. The spear was used in berry-bearing trees such as the miro and white pine for wood pigeons and parrots and also in kowhai trees in bloom when parrots were feeding on the nectar of the flowers. The tall trees necessitated a platform for the fowler who rested the point of his spear against the upper branches. When a bird lit nearby, the spear was slowly advanced towards it and when close, given a sudden thrust to impale the bird. They were also speared when feeding on the ripe berries of the cabbage tree (ti whanake) and other plants.

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The two forms of snare and the spear were used primarily for pigeons, but parrots were also caught with the perch snare and other birds were welcome. In snaring parrots, a tame decoy parrot (timori) was set on a special perch (turuturu) with a netted bag (kori) of food beside it. A ring (porta) made of bone or greenstone (Fig. 5b) was slipped over the foot of the decoy and a cord attached to it was held by the fowler. The decoy was trained to screech when the cord was pulled and the screeching attracted wild parrots which alighted on the inviting perch snares. When a trained decoy was not available, the first wild parrot caught was kept alive to do the screeching. Elaborately carved home perches with a hollow cup for food were made for the tame parrots and many of these are to be found in collections (Fig. 5c).

Fig. 5. a, bone spear point; b, parrot ring; c, tame parrot perch. (Oldman coll. no. 138).

Fig. 5. a, bone spear point; b, parrot ring; c, tame parrot perch. (Oldman coll. no. 138).

The taki was an alternative method of catching parrots. A concealment bower was made of tree-fern leaves or other branches in a clear forest space. A pole, 25 feet long and two inches thick, was stuck in the ground in a slanting direction crosswise before the bower. A decoy parrot with a long cord was allowed to play on the ground in front of the hut. The fowler pulled the cord, the decoy screeched, and wild parrots alighted on the upper end of the slanting pole. As a parrot worked down the pole to investigate the decoy more closely, it came opposite an opening in the bower and the fowler swiftly seized it by hand.

The tui was caught in noose snares set in large numbers in kowhai trees in bloom and kahikatea, kohe, and other trees in berry. The perch snare, particularly the pewa, was used and a bait (poa) of flowers or fruit was attached to the perch knob. The patu or striking method consisted of setting a horizontal rod as a perch (pae koko) beside a concealment bower in a tree and attracting birds by imitating their notes with a call leaf (pepe) from a patete or other suitable plant placed on the tongue. The concealed fowler had a striking rod (hauhau) with which he swept page 98along the perch when the birds alighted on it. The call procedure was not used when berries were plentiful for the birds would not respond to it when well fed. Spearing (wero) was used when the tui was feeding on the berries of lower shrubs but windy and rainy days were selected so that the birds would not hear the approach of the fowler. In the winter, the birds were caught by hand (hopu) in the early frosty mornings at their roosting places for the cold prevented them from letting go their perches. A torch was used to light the way.

A variation of the set noose was to attach the slip noose to the end of a stick and slip it over the heads of parakeets, wood hens, and the huia by attracting them in different ways. Birds were also taken by the puaka trap consisting of an oblong enclosure with entrance places on the groundline, at each of which a noose snare was set. Some bait within the enclosure attracted the birds.

Fig. 6. a, Korapa trap (after Best, 23); b, Albatross hook (after Hamilton, 46a, fig. 31).

Fig. 6. a, Korapa trap (after Best, 23); b, Albatross hook (after Hamilton, 46a, fig. 31).

The korapa trap described by Best (23, p. 381) was formed of a piece of supplejack bent into a U with a cross stick lashed to close the two ends (Fig. 6a). The frame was filled in with interlacing pieces of flax. The trap was set vertically with the straight piece fastened to the ground with pegs. A line was tied to the upper part, led through a small supplejack hoop stuck in the ground a short distance in front of the trap, and on to where the fowler was concealed. Bait was placed in front of the vertical frame and when birds were attracted, the fowler pulled the cord, which caused the trap to fall on the birds and imprison them. The trap was used to catch robins which were also attracted to the vicinity by the fowler repeatedly tapping on a wooden block with a club. Other small birds were also caught.

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Ducks were plentiful and they were caught with set nooses attached to cords stretched between uprights across rivers, lagoons, and shoal lakes. This resembled the set noose method for pigeons except that the perch was unnecessary. Some of the canals in the swamps of the North Auckland area were probably constructed for the set noose method of trapping ducks. Godwits were also caught on the northern sea beaches by a variation of the set noose technique.

The wingless kiwi was hunted with dogs, which shows that the dog had other uses besides being bred for meat and skins.

Sea birds were obtained for food, principally the young, on rookeries during the breeding season. In the islets off the southern coast of the South Island, the young of the sooty petrel were obtained in the breeding burrows. Adult petrels (mutton birds) were caught during their migration periods by upright nets set near coastal cliffs on misty nights with fires burning behind them to attract the birds by light. Adult albatross were also caught at sea by a special form of hook which was baited (Fig. 6b).

Birds, such as the wild pigeon, that were caught in quantity by the set noose method beside streams or troughs were preserved for reserve stores. The annual expeditions to the forest were important events in the tribal system of economics. The work was divided into its various phases. Some attended to the snares, setting, collecting the catch each morning, resetting the snares, attending to keeping the troughs supplied with water, and bringing the catch into the camp. Others plucked the birds, deboned them, and attended to the cooking. Poles were set upright before a clear fire (ahi matiti) and the prepared birds spitted on straight rods were secured horizontally to notches in the vertical uprights. A wooden trough was placed below the grill (arawhata huahua) to receive the fat from tie cooking birds and the melted fat was run into a wooden bowl or gourd at one end of the trough.

Receptacles for the cooked birds consisted of two kinds: containers made of totara bark, termed patua, and gourds. The patua were made of the inner bark which was usually steamed to make the bark pliable enough to shape into form (Fig. 7a). The technique of constructing the patua is described in detail by Downes (29, p. 10). The gourd containers (taha huahua) were made of large gourds, the stalk end being cut off to form an opening large enough to admit the cooked birds. Some gourds were enclosed with braid for suspension (Fig. 7b). Others had a carved wooden mouthpiece (tuki) lashed through holes surrounding the opening and the container was enclosed in a closely fitting flaxen basket, strengthened with vine hoops, mounted on wooden legs, and decorated with bunches of pigeon feathers (Fig. 7c). If other birds such as the tui and parrot were potted, bunches of their feathers were used not only to page 100decorate but to label the contents. Some gourds were cut longitudinally through the stalk end to form open vessels for serving preserved birds to chiefly guests. Some of these open vessels were decorated with a scroll motif (Fig. 7d).

Fig. 7. Preserved-bird containers.a, totara bark (after Best, 16, vol. 1, p. 423); b, gourd (Bishop Mus., no. 1516); c, mounted gourd (Bishop Mus., no. 1483); d, gourd dish (Bishop Mus., no. 1471); e, seaweed poha (Best, 16, vol. 1, p. 422).

Fig. 7. Preserved-bird containers.
a, totara bark (after Best, 16, vol. 1, p. 423); b, gourd (Bishop Mus., no. 1516); c, mounted gourd (Bishop Mus., no. 1483); d, gourd dish (Bishop Mus., no. 1471); e, seaweed poha (Best, 16, vol. 1, p. 422).

The cooked birds (huahua) were packed in layers in the receptacle and melted bird fat was poured in to fill the spaces. If the fat had solidified in the bowls, hot stones were added to melt the fat. It is probable that some bowls with a grooved spout were used for this purpose. The season's catch was carried into the village with much ceremony and appropriate chants. The filled receptacles were stored in the storehouses on piles and formed part of both the economic and social wealth of the tribe.

In the South Island, the young of the sooty petrel (titi) were preserved in fat. The receptacles were made of the large leaves of a species of seaweed which were split down through the porous layer between the outer skins. The bottom end of the filled bag was inserted in a flax basket and the sides of the bag protected by an outer layer of totara bark (Fig. 7e). The bag and its contents were termed a poha titi.

The preservation of birds in fat was unknown in Polynesia. The Moriori, however, used the method in preserving young albatrosses page 101(hopo) and, as they termed the preserved birds huahua, it appears that the technique was developed in New Zealand before the advent of the Fleet.

The moa, as revealed by archaeological research in the South Island, was hunted for food by the first settlers of New Zealand. These large wingless birds evidently were regarded as a substitute for the domestic fowl and were given the Polynesian name for the fowl, which was moa. Investigations by ornithologists show that the moa was more plentiful in the eastern plains of the South Island and the better game supply was evidently the reason why the early moa-hunters left the more congenial climate of the North Island for the colder regions of the south.

The Maori fowling complex forms an interesting example of local development. The noose snare was known in Polynesia but its use in New Zealand developed into a diversity of methods which were adapted to the greater variety of birds and their habits with regard to habitat, food, and water. The setting of multiple snares for pigeons and ducks beside natural water was the result of study but the use of water troughs in trees was a distinct invention, though based on previous knowledge. The perch snare is not recorded for Polynesia and its use in New Zealand was a distinct local growth. Its use, however, led to other inventions such as the forms of ladder for scaling the high trees, the tree platforms, and the provision of rests (hiwi) upon which to hook the snares. The method of fixing the perch snares to rods which could be lowered to remove the catch was also new. The use of decoy parrots and the leaf call to attract certain other species were also local aids. The decoy parrot again led to the making of parrot rings in bone and jade which from their attractive form led to their use as ear ornaments.

The Samoans were acquainted with the pigeon's habit of flying to the nearest streams for water but they utilized their knowledge in a totally different way. They set a perch over the water, but they shot at the birds with bow and arrows from a concealment bower close at hand. Development took the form of making different types of arrows, some with two and three points for a clear shot at a bird on the perch and single pointed arrows for those that remained in the branches of a nearby tree. The Samoans also used a decoy but it was a tame pigeon. They built stone platforms on forest ridges with concealment shelters. They flew the decoys on a long cord that allowed them to hover above the tree tops and so attract wild pigeons. When wild pigeons approached, the decoy was drawn down with the cord and as the others followed down, the fowler caught them with a sweep of a special form of net with a long handle. Here again specialization went in the direction of a form of net. These methods were also used by the Tongans, but with both people, the operations were more in the nature of a chiefly sport among competitors who page 102vied to catch the first bird and then to secure the greatest number. The Samoan methods are not recorded for central Polynesia and the apparent affinities with New Zealand in platforms, concealment shelters, decoys, and the perch over water were independent developments which, when analysed as to detail, belong to entirely different complexes.

The bird spears with a bone point and the extremely long shafts were also local Maori developments, in spite of mythical references to their use in Polynesia.

The Maori methods of fowling resulted in such large catches that a means of preserving the extra supply had to be sought, for no means of preserving birds were present in the land from which the Maori ancestors came. The problem was solved by preserving the cooked birds in their own fat but the solution also created the problem of providing receptacles. This was met by using gourds, totara bark, and giant kelp leaves to form the required containers. When we reflect on the various stages in the growth of invention which resulted in the taking of great numbers of birds, we are appalled by the statement of the Wilkes Expedition that the Maoris could not secure birds as food because they had no projectile weapons.