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The Coming of the Maori



Nets of various kinds from individual hand nets to very large seine nets were in common use. An interesting myth recorded by Grey (44, p. 287) relates the New Zealand origin of the netting technique. An ancestor named Kahukura saw some footprints and fish scales on a sandy beach near Rangiawhia on Doubtless Bay and concluded that they were due to the Patupaiarehe fairy people who came out only at night. Next evening he hid near the spot and mingled unnoticed with the fairy fishing party while operations were proceeding. A long seine net was being drawn in a wide sweep by a canoe and the head fisherman called directions to make for various headlands in sequence. He called a warning, "Beware lest ye be caught on Tawatawauia and Teweteweuia." When the catch of tawa-tawafish was hauled in, Kahukura assisted the fisherman in stringing the fish on strips of flax. However, he purposely tied a loose slip knot to the first or bottom fish so that when the full string of fish was lifted, the weight caused the knot to give way and the fish tumbled to the ground. By repeating the trick, he delayed operations until the dawn revealed the presence of a stranger. The fairies fled, leaving fish, net, and canoe. The canoe was made of dry flax flower-stalks (korari) and the net of rushes (wiwi). From the net, Kahukura learned the meshing knot and so the technique of making nets was handed down to posterity. I was taken by the people of Rangiawhia to the nearby little bay where the event was held to have taken place. The people pointed out the various headlands named in the tale and as positive proof, the spot on the water beneath page 213which lurked the rock Tawatawauia. It was not visible but I was assured it was there. I believed the story at the time and now I almost regret that the meshing knot of the Patupaiarehe was known throughout Polynesia ages before the fairies and the Maori came to New Zealand.

The Maori nets (kupenga) were mostly made of green flax but some of the smaller ones were also made of dressed flax fibre twisted into cord. The green flax was split into narrow strips and their use in making large nets, such as seine nets, saved the immense amount of work that would have been entailed in preparing the requisite quantity of scutched fibre and twisted cord.

Fig. 50. Netting technique.a, mesh knot; b, c, d, extra meshes; e, f, dropped mesh.

Fig. 50. Netting technique.
a, mesh knot; b, c, d, extra meshes; e, f, dropped mesh.

In making a net (ta kupenga), a loop of cord or flax (ngakau) was hitched over a peg or a big toe and a commencement row of loops was made over it by a variety of methods (92, p. 600). The loops were made from left to right for the number required for the depth of the net. The sustaining loop was then twisted over to bring the last loop to the left. A row of meshes (mata) was now made from left to right, the netting strip making the typical netting knot on the lower ends of the loops above (Fig. 50a). When completed, the sustaining loop was untwisted to bring the last mesh to the left for the commencement of the next mesh row. Each mesh row was made from left to right by twisting and untwisting the sustaining loop. An extra mesh (mata tared) could be added to a row by knotting two meshes to the same upper loop (Fig. 50b-d) and the number lessened by bringing two upper loops together and making one netting knot over the two (Fig. 50e, f). By successive rows the length of the net was completed.

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The green flax strips were only a few feet long and when one ended, a fresh strip was added by joining it to the end of the old strip with a weaver's knot or knotting it in with the last meshing knot of the old strip. The flaxen strips were fairly stiff and it was easy to direct the end through the meshes above. The use of a series of short strips did away with the need for a netting needle such as was used in Polynesia with long lengths of cord. Another local development in connection with the use of green flax strips is that the fingers were used instead of a separate mesh gauge to judge the size of the meshes. A finger of the left hand was kept in the last completed mesh, palm upwards, and the next finger was placed in the loop of the new mesh which was stretched down to tie same level as the completed mesh before the netting knot was tied (92, p. 605). The fingers of the left hand kept moving to the right to gauge the meshes as netting proceeded.

Mesh gauges (papa kupenga or karau), however, were also made in different sizes of wood or whale bone, the two side edges being thinner than the middle of the implement. A wide mesh was termed mata tatahi and small meshes, matariki or mata puputu. In seine nets, large meshes were made at the ends and small meshes in the middle of the net.

Though a netting needle was not necessary in nets made of strips of green flax, one would have expected to find it in use with nets made of dressed fibre twine. However, Best (21, p. 13) states that the "twine was rolled into a ball for purposes of manipulation, and the ball was passed through the upper mesh in the process." If the ball was of any size, it could not possibly pass through any mesh. However the process may have resembled the technique used in Aitutaki (93, p. 281) and the Society Islands, in which a loop of the twine was drawn through the upper mesh and made large enough to allow the ball of twine to pass through the loop. By doing this twice, a reef knot was made instead of the orthodox netting knot to overcome the impossibility of passing a large ball through a small mesh. Thus twine could be used without a netting needle and the use of short green flax strips with perhaps the reef knot method with twine appears to be responsible for the disappearance of the Polynesian netting needle in New Zealand.

The smaller nets were made in a variety of types and I classified those with which I was acquainted into four classes (92, p. 612) as follows:

1.Scoop nets, unbaited, with a handle;
2.Bag nets, baited, with stone sinkers, and a line;
3.Set nets;
4.Trap nets.

The typical scoop net of central Polynesia for catching flying fish was not present in New Zealand owing to the absence of flying fish (maroro).

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However, a scoop net termed kupenga koko kehe was used in rocky channels on the the East Coast to catch kehe (Haplodactylus meandratus) which were driven into the net by assistants prodding along the channel with a pole. As the fish struck the net, it was scooped up (92, pp. 612-620). A longer net termed kupenga koko kahawai was used on the east coast off the Waiapu river to catch kahawai (Arripis trutta) by scooping up the shoals as they worked in towards the river mouth (92, p. 620). A landing net named korapa was used to land warehou (Seriolella brama) that were caught with a rod (92, p. 623).

Bag nets attached to a hoop and baited are to be found in Polynesia. A small form about 36 inches in diameter termed a pouraka was used in New Zealand. It was used for crayfish and sunk to the bottom with a stone sinker and raised with a line (92, p. 626). Another variety termed tutoko tangahangaha was used to catch tangahangaha (Pseudolabris pittensis). It differed from the crayfish net in having a handle formed of a manuka pole about 10 feet long with a forked end attached to two sides of the hoop (92, p. 630). The longest bag net termed a matarau or wahanui was used to catch maomao (Scorpis violaceus), a deep-sea fish which travelled in shoals. The marginal hoop was about 12 feet in diameter and the net was provided with baited cords and a strong rod to project it from the side of a canoe (92, p. 631).

Set nets of a funnel shape, termed hinaki kehe or haua, were made on the Bay of Plenty coast to set in channels to catch kehe (92, p. 634). Another form was used to catch grayling (upokororo, Prototroctes oxyrhyncus) in the upper reaches of the Waiapu, Awatere, and other rivers of the east coast (92, p. 636). Leading nets termed purangi were also attached to eel traps (hinaki) set in a weir (92, p. 638). A peculiar net termed a hinaki purangi was made like a purangi net with an entrance hoop, but it was continued as a long cylinder for about 15.5 feet. It was used in connection with fish weirs (92, p. 640). The set nets were unbaked and depended on the rush of water through the weir or channel for carrying the fish into the net and keeping them there.

The trap nets were represented by a unique local form termed a torehe. It was a circular flat net with flexible wooden spreaders, a sinker, and bait. A line was run through the circumferential meshes, the net was quietly lowered to the bottom, and the fisherman in his canoe held the end of the line. When the fish nibbled at the bait, the impulse was conveyed along the line, the fisherman pulled the line, and the net closed in around the fish. Various fish were caught but the most satisfactory was the leather jacket (kokiri, Cantherines convixirostris) which is the plague of line fishermen owing to its small mouth removing the bait without swallowing the hook (92, p. 642).

The information concerning small nets was gathered by me on the page 216east coast, but a number of other types of nets must have been present in other parts of the coastal line of New Zealand.

Seine nets termed kaharoa (kaha, rope; roa long) were, as indicated by the name, very long. Early white visitors described some as being of amazing size, the depth being two to three fathoms and one actually described as five fathoms deep. In length, some were estimated as four hundred to five hundred fathoms. Best (21, p. 10) quoting from Captain Gilbert Mair states that Te Pokiha, the chief at Maketu, had a net made in 1885 that was 2,090 yards in length or well over a mile. It was made by a large number of people in parts which were joined together. It was only drawn once but that one haul is stated to have secured 37,000 fish, not including small fry and sharks, and three anchors. As Best truly remarks, it is the champion fish story of New Zealand.