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The Coming of the Maori

Fish and Shell Fish

Fish and Shell Fish

Fish from the sea (ika moana) and from the rivers, lakes, and streams (ika wai whenua) provided a rich food supply and local developments in the means of procuring them will be dealt with later under "Fishing". An interesting item of local development is that fish were preserved by drying. Thus sea fish and eels were cleaned, split open to the backbone, and hung up to dry on a vertical scaffold (whata) of poles. Sharks, mainly of the dogfish species, had the heads removed, and were hung up without splitting. To this day, dried shark is greatly appreciated by the older Maoris who take no notice of its clinging odour though they object to the ripe smell of rich cheese such as Gorgonzola and Stilton. Small fish from the fresh water were also dried and packed away in baskets for future use. Small fry like white bait (Galaxias attenuatus) were cooked in leaf packages, dried in the sun, and stored. The fresh water crayfish that abound in Lake Rotorua were cooked, the fleshy part detached from the shell, and dried in quantity for reserve food. Shellfish such as the Haliotis (paua), sea mussels (kuku), and clams (pipi) were cooked, detached from their shells, threaded on long strips of flax, and dried also as reserve food. The drying in all cases was by the sun and not by smoke. In Polynesia, the drying technique was not used except in Hawaii probably on account of mould. In Mangaia, however, fish were cooked in leaf wrappers and kept for some days to provide a sufficient supply for a feast. If mould appeared on the packages, they were recooked and so carried over to the day of the feast. Thus, though Polynesia had a richer and more continuous supply of vegetable foods, the Maoris were able to preserve birds, fish, and shell fish and so build up a reserve that would carry them over to the next season. In order to store the preserved food, special storehouses (pataka) had to be built.