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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 1 (April 2, 1934.)

The Fish Talisman

The Fish Talisman.

There are several tribes, or sections of tribes, which still preserve fragments of the old-time customs relating to the fertility of the soil and the fishing waters. A few of the old people in certain districts observe the ancient practices of offering the first-fruits to the spirits of soil or sea. Certain emblems called mouri, or mauri, are treasured at the mouth of the Motu River, beyond Opotiki, where they are supposed to ensure an abundance of kahawai and other fish; and a few years ago offerings of fish to the deity of the sea-harvest were hung up on the lowest branch of a great pohutukawa tree there. Such traces of those customs as still persist are of particular interest because they are part of the ancient worship of the powers of Nature. Tangaroa, the god of the sea and of the fish, was invoked by all fishermen in old Maoridom, and it is well that this respect for bountiful Nature should be retained in an age which is too forgetful of its debt to the all-providing spirit of life and plenty.

In South Taranaki some years ago I noted an instance of these survivals of old-time custom. Tu-patea te Rongo, the chief of the Pakakohi tribe, of Patea, a veteran of the Hauhau wars, discussed with me sundry customs of his people in war and peace, and our talk turned on the mouri (or mauri) ika, which concentrated and preserved the fishing of his river, the Patea. I mentioned that I had seen at Hawera a sacred stone, of heavy quartz-like flinty substance, such as were formerly used as mouri.

Tu-patea said that near his home he kept in a secret place a relic of that kind, a whatu-kura or sacred stone, circular in shape, with a hollow in the centre. Its special mana was shown when the season came for catching the piharau (lampreys) in the Patea River. He took it down and placed it in the river at the fishing place, and there was a large catch of piharau every season. Its virtue never failed.