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The Maori: Yesterday and To-day

The Mauri of the Fisheries

The Mauri of the Fisheries.

Some of the mauri-kohatum, or stone emblems sacred to the gods of the fisheries, are preserved and are used to-day as they were centuries ago. At Taumaha, in South Taranaki, in 1921, the veteran warrior, Tu Patea te Rongo, head of the Pakakohi tribe, told me that he had two of the sacrad stones called “Nga whatu a Turi” which were brought from Hawaiki in the canoe Aotea. Thes small stones of power, rounded and hollowed, were hidden not far from his house. He made use of the when the fishing season came round. When it was time for the piharau or lamprevs. he took the marui down to the bank of the Patea River, to ensure the success of the fishing. These whatu, sacred to Tangaroa, had never been known to fail in bringing large catches if they were used with the proper forms of invocation.

At the mouth of the Motu River, in the Bay of Plenty, the local people, the Whanau-a-Apanui tribe still treasure as a sacred and most potent fishing talisman a very ancient stone called “Te Whatu kura-a-Tangaroa” (“The Sacred Red Stone of Tangaroa”). It is a small carved red stone, des cribed as about two inches in length and half an inch broad, with a piece of human bone attached to it for a hook. It was brought to New Zealand by one of the canoes from Hawaiki (Tahiti) about six centuries ago, one statement I have received says the canoe Tauira. This whatu (locally called a puna in allusion to the Puna-i-Rangiriri, the legendary source of all fish) is believed to have the power attracting great shoals of fish to the Motu River tidal waters. It is the mauri of the fisheries. Great page 179 quantities of the kahawai are taken at the Motu, and the Maori are careful to observe the ceremonies of thanksgiving, in recognition of the abundance of fish, the good things of the gods. Offerings of the first catches of the season are made to Tangaroa, and some of the largest of the kahawai are hung on the branches of the pohutukawa trees, near Maraenui village. The kahawai are caught with hook and line along the beach and the river-side; no bait is used;
A tapu relic at Mokau Heads: Maoris of Ngati-Maniapoto tribe transferring the Punga-o-Tainui from the beach to the tribal burial-place. [From a photo, 1926

A tapu relic at Mokau Heads: Maoris of Ngati-Maniapoto tribe transferring the Punga-o-Tainui from the beach to the tribal burial-place. [From a photo, 1926

page 180 the hook is inlaid with glittering pawa shell, or, in these days, a brass hook takes the place of the olden lure.

The Whatu-kura-a-Tangaroa is preserved as a holy relic; it is very seldom that it is revealed to public gaze by the Ringa-tu folk of Maraenui, who have it in charge.

At Mokau Heads the mauri of the fisheries lay on the beach until recently. This was the historic punga or mooring stone of the canoe Tainui, which came to Mokau six centuries ago. In 1904 I saw this punga lying on the northern bank of the Mokau, below the cliffs on which the township stands. It was popularly believed that its presence there assured the abundance of fish of all kinds for which Moka in mouth was celebrated along the coast. Once it was surreptitiously taken away to Waitara by the master of a cutter, who intended selling it to a museum. The Maori declare that the fish deserted the river until the cutter-man was compelled to restore it to its ancient resting-place. In 1926 it was suggested that the relic should be transferred to the Auckland Museum for safe-keeping as an ethnological exhibit, and some of the Mokau Maori favoured this proposal. But most of the Ngati-Maniapoto objected to this manner of disposal of the sacred mauri, and accordingly a party of men one morning took a cart to the beach at low-water, loaded it with the heavy treasure—it is a smoothly-rounded boulder like an hour-glass or dumb-bell in shape and about four feet in length—and took it to the tribal cemetery, between Mokau and Awakino Heads. There it was cemented into a concrete canoe representing the Tainui, so there is no danger of anyone making off with the punga now; and from its permanent resting-place it can still look out over the fisheries it guarded, in local belief, for centuries. Our illustration on page 179 shows the natives of Mokau Heads removing the page 181 mauri from the beach to the burying ground. There is a part of the beach called Te Naenae, near where the punga formerly lay; this is where the fishermen until recently placed their offerings of tamure and other fish to Tangaroa, the Maori Poseidon.