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The Autobiography of a Maori

Chasing the Monsters of the Deep

page 38

Chasing the Monsters of the Deep

A few years after, as a member of a whaling crew, I spent several months on this same coast. The whole coast was then still in its virgin loveliness. Besides the whalers' camp there was not a sign of human habitation. While the men were on the look-out for whales, it was my duty to look after the boat which was then moored to the rocks in a sheltered cove. The water was so clear that I could see a fish swallow my baited hook. In this way I provided fish for the evening meal. My father was the skipper of the boat, and although I was really too young, he had taken me as one of his crew. I had the stroke oar which was regarded as an unimportant position. Although for a boat to be fast to a whale was very dangerous, it was never my fortune to undergo the experience. Several times we got fairly close to as many as three or four whales, but never near enough to fasten on to one with the harpoon. That was all the whaling I ever did in my life, but I enjoyed the simple life immensely—sleeping at night in caves, catching fish, and even vainly chasing the monsters of the deep in the day-time.

There was dense bush everywhere during the years of which I write. I don't think there was one cleared acre of bush except where the people had their cultivations. Wants were very few. Sheep-farming and dairy-farming had not been thought of. After the crops of potatoes and kumaras had been gathered in, the only employment during the winter was fishing and hunting.

Shooting the wild pigeons was a popular business. Pigeons were found in large numbers everywhere and the natives did not spare them, for, like fish, they were one of their chief articles of food. The birds fed on the ti (cabbage tree), miro, kahikatea and hinau. Pigeons are most delicious when they are page 39feeding on the miro. It is my opinion that there is nothing more delicious than a fat wild pigeon. Maoris as a rule never open or clean a wild pigeon before cooking it and there is a very good reason for this practice, though strange it may sound. When a pigeon is opened it is found that the berries inside it are still fresh and their flavour has permeated every bit of the bird. A Maori would be quite indignant if he saw a fat pigeon cleaned before it was put into the pot.