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The Coming of the Maori


page 236


Much concerning scoop nets for whitebait, carved sinkers for fishing lines, different ways of catching eels, and other matters have been omitted. However enough has been described to indicate what a vast amount of thought and study was devoted to the habits and movements of different kinds of fish. Fishing grounds at sea were located in the course of time and marked down by taking cross bearings with landmarks ashore. Ingenuity and skill was displayed in solving local problems and utilizing local raw material in their solution. No Maori threw a baited hook into the sea or set a trap on chance but he knew definitely the kinds of fish he was after and the time and place where he would meet with success.

When a Dominion Museum expedition visited the Waiapu district some years ago, we obtained a wealth of information from Paratene Ngata, the father of Sir Apirana Ngata. When Paratene had told us about the construction of small weirs to catch kokopu, we asked him to instruct us in making a pa kokopu in the adjacent Waiapu River. "But," said Paratene, "What is the use? The kokopu do not run until March." I realized not only the futility but the stupidity of making a weir for a fish which was not there and would not appear for five or six months. However, the Museum wanted records so I said, "Yes, but we do not want any fish. All we want is the weir so that we can see how it is made and take pictures of it." Our ignorance of the movements of the kokopucould be understood, but to persist in making a weir not for the purpose of catching fish was in the nature of a mental aberration. However, Paratene was kindly and tolerant and we made the weir under his directions.

The introduction of metal affected the native hook industry. For quite a time, nails and wire were bent into the form of the old bone hooks in preference to the trade hooks but trade hooks saved a lot of work and so they were adopted in spite of their failings. The barracuda hook with a bent nail point lasted for a long period but the hook that really persisted was the trolling hook inlaid with Haliotis shell. However, even the trolling hook was hybridized by the substitution of a metal point for the original bone point. Trade fishing lines again saved much labour and people bought them instead of making their own out of twisted flax fibre. Bought twine also entered into the nets and the large seine nets made of strips of green flax are a memory of the past. However, the small nets of green flax were still made on the east coast twenty odd years ago and some of them may survive for a time. Traps require expert skill in their construction and I doubt if the younger generations will have the time, patience, and need to learn the technique. Even older people have learned the possibilities of wire netting as a timesaving material for eel traps and page 237crayfish pots. Eel weirs are also becoming rare. Many of the large weirs in the Whanganui River were removed because they interfered with the passage of the river steamers which now ply up and down the river.

Owing to the inevitable changes in economic conditions, the Maori has to earn his living by farming, dairying, manual labour, and office work. The people have not the time to devote to fishing as their ancestors did of old. Our fathers learned of the migration of eels from their fathers as they assisted them in preparing the weirs for the annual catch but future generations will learn about it as a biological fact from the printed pages of books on natural science. Old methods are ceasing to function and we as a people, like the pakeha, now buy our fish from the fishmonger. However, the rich collections of fishhooks, nets, and traps in our museums all bear witness to the varied means by which our ancestors exploited the food resources of sea and stream with an exceptional measure of success.