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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 4 (July 1, 1936)

Pictures Of New Zealand Life

page 31

Pictures Of New Zealand Life

The Waikato War-Canoes.

The old-time glory of the Waikato River was the great flotilla of Maori carved-out canoes which enlivened the waterway. Indeed there was not one flotilla, but many; for the chief means of transport for the people along the banks was the convenient waka, and all the way down from Ngaruawahia to Waikato Heads canoes were very numerous. There are still many dug-outs on the river, but nearly all the large ones have disappeared or are hauled up to decay. At the great tangi over King Tawhiao at Taupiri in 1804 I saw about fifty canoes, large and small, moored at the banks of the Waikato and its tributary the Mangawhara Creek, and the beautiful broad stream was lively with waka parties of Maoris arriving, most of them bringing contributions of food for the funeral feast. About that period, we used to see very large canoes engaged in the exciting races that took place in holiday-time at Mercer and Ngaruawahia.

The Paparata, for example—this was old Major Te Wheoro's war-canoe—carried nearly fifty paddlers in those wildly-contested river matches between tribe and tribe.

Restoring the Past.

Now Te Puea Herangi, the patriotic chieftainess of Waikato, who has taken so vigorous a part in the industrial rehabilitation of her people, is engaged in the worthy congenial task of reviving the all-but-vanished canoebuilding craft among the riverside tribes. Seven large canoes are to be hollowed out from totara tree trunks, and carved and decorated in the manner of the olden waka-taua. One partly destroyed historic war-canoe is now being restored at Waingaro, near Ngaruawahia, by a party of old tohungatarai-waka, or canoe-making experts; and others will be begun when suitable trees are procured.

Most of the canoes made on the Waikato during the last three or four decades have been of kahikatea or white pine, easy to work but prone to decay. It will be far more satisfactory to use the durable totara. But it will be necessary to go a long distance for suitable trees, probably to the Mokai bush, near Taupo, or to the Upper Wanganui River, where the best remaining forests of totara are found. The Pungapunga riverside was long ago a celebrated source of canoetimber. The people living there were almost constantly employed in making canoes for those further down the river, and even for tribes as far away as the Mokau.

The Pakeha Should Help.

This canoe-building project deserves practical encouragement from the Waikatos’ white fellow-countrymen, for such efforts as these to restore the ancient arts and crafts and athletic contests all add to the attraction of the country. The work is of particular interest in view of the coming centenary celebrations. Auckland citizens especially are concerned, for Maori gatherings and canoe parades and races are set down on the proposed scheme of Waitemata festivities in 1940.

Te Puea, in writing to me outlining her excellent plan of canoe-making, says that the cutting-out and carving will take a long time, necessarily, and that money is urgently required to keep the workmen in food. I think this is a cause in which the Auckland Citizens’ Centenary-celebrations Committee can reasonably be expected to supplement in a practical manner whatever assistance is given by the Government. It will be a noble and thrilling spectacle, that canoe flotilla of seven—sacred number, and a number with mystic meaning associations for Waikato—sweeping down the great river, with forty or fifty paddles apiece flashing and dipping, as in the ancient days. Not so very ancient either, as I have shown. But the really skilful canoe designers and artisans are few, and it is well that that fine woman Te Puea —whose model village and carved house have been constructed to help in the re-birth of Maori industry—should have been inspired to revive canoeing also. All these things call for the sympathy of New Zealanders, for they help to give the people new heart. Arts and crafts, poetry and tradition are the very soul of the race.

Seaweed for Health.

The merits of seaweed, of various kinds are well-known to the Maoris. These contain iodine, and although the Maori did not know that, he found that the globules which grow on seaweed contain a juice healing for sore throats and sore ears. Also, the kind called karengo is a popular vegetable, dried and then boiled, on some parts of the East Coast of both islands. The word karenqo is curiously like the Irish “caragcen,” for seaweed used in the remedy Irish Moss, and it contains similar properties.

A good poultice is made of the convoluted tops of the mamaku ferntree, boiled. The young leaves of the poroporo plant make a healing salve.

The root of the kawakawa plant chewed is a remedy for toothache; so is the juice of the inner bark of the ngaio tree.

There are many more, all useful for some ill or other; and certainly there is an abundant supply of the raw material, some of it in our own gardens where native trees are grown.