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The Coming of the Maori


page 211

Fish formed a staple article of polynesian diet and the various methods of capturing the finny children of Tangaroa were well developed in central Polynesia. The early settlers brought established techniques with them and with the methods such widely distributed terms as kupenga (net), aho (line), matira (fishing rod), marau.(hook), hinaki (trap), and pa (fish weir). Differences in raw material and varying local conditions led to changes and new developments.

In central Polynesia, the fibre for lines and nets was obtained from the oronga (Pipturus velutinus) and wild hibiscus; and on the neighbouring atolls, the people had recourse to coconut-husk fibre. In New Zealand, the indigenous flax supplied all needs with this advantage that nets were sometimes made from strips of green flax which thus saved the labour of scutching the fibre and rolling it into cords. Pearl shell which formed excellent material for hooks in Polynesia was replaced to a small extent by the local paua which was not so strong. The local Freycinetia banksii(kiekie) supplied aerial roots for traps like the kiekie or 'ie'ie of Polynesia, but in the Auckland area, an additional material for traps was provided by mangemange (Lygodium articulatum).

The fringing coral reefs of central Polynesia, with stretches of tidal lagoon between reef and shore, provided some methods of fishing which on the open New Zealand coast were not feasible or not necessary. The technique of narcotizing fish with poisonous plants in lagoon pools formed by the falling tide was not sufficiently possible to create an incentive to explore the local flora for substitutes for the Tephrosia plant and Barringtonia fruit which were used in central Polynesia. The fish weirs, easily constructed from blocks of coral within the lagoon, could have been replaced by wooden fences on the mud flats of rivers and estuaries but for some reason, the New Zealand fenced weirs moved inland to rivers and streams to catch fresh-water fish, principally eels. The page 212common method of catching fish in the reef channels by driving them into hand nets held in the channels was not generally applicable in New Zealand coastal waters, but it was used in certain parts of the east coast and the Bay of Plenty where uptilted rock strata formed channels frequented by the kehe fish.

What would seem a curious form of fishing to a Maori is the wide-spread Polynesian method of community fishing with a leaf sweep (rau), composed of long lengths of vine joined together as a rope to which split coconut, banana, or Cordyline (ti) leaves were closely tied. The sweeps were hauled like seine nets and drove fish before them on to the beach or into a net placed in an appropriate channel. The leaf sweep was a substitute for a seine net, not dictated by poor craftsmanship but to over-come the obstacles caused by coral growths and boulders on the bed of the lagoon. The people following behind the leaf sweep lifted the vine rope over any large obstacle and the leaves slid easily over them without becoming entangled as would have happened with a seine net. In New Zealand, the large river beds and the sea adjoining many beaches did not offer similar obstructions, hence the seine net replaced the leaf sweep.