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The Autobiography of a Maori

The Sacred Moki

The Sacred Moki

The opening of the moki2 season always roused great interest and was attended with some ritual. Its harbinger is the appearance in the middle of June of Matariki (The Little Faces) or the Pleiades, commonly called the Seven Sisters. And also when the kapua (bush mushrooms) are plentiful it is a sure sign moki will be plentiful also. Very early in the morning, long before sunrise, the removers of the tapu put out in their canoe, without tasting food and even without using the beloved pipe. People on shore, too, are forbidden to light a fire even for the cooking of food. The landing place is also regarded as tapu. On the return of the fishers, a woman prepares the hangi in which the moki caught that day are cooked and eaten by the fishers only. Moki has become very scarce on page 30the coast, probably owing to the effect of erosion interfering with the beds frequented by moki. Cape Runaway is the only place now where moki are still caught in large numbers. The white settlers there have their own moki ground where they can fish, and eat their lunch and drink their beer without fear of breaking the immutable laws of the moki. I have been told that as many as twenty boats have gone out at Cape Runaway on one day.

The cooked fish was tapu and could be eaten only by the fishermen, even the mere woman who had been good enough to get things ready for them must be content to look on, although she had been fasting also. In their hunger and greed the men gorged themselves and entirely forgot the mere woman, even though she might be the wife of one of the eaters. Other fish which were not moki were not eaten, but were suspended on a tree as offerings to Pou, the god of fish. No other persons besides the fishermen should tread on the landing-ground and I have been compelled when riding along the beach to turn aside and pass the holy ground by some other way. I have always suspected that these rules were formulated by some greedy ancestor or hapu.

Fishing grounds belong to particular hapus and some of these fishing-ground-owning hapus are notorious for their stinginess. The Treaty of Waitangi recognises the claims of the Maoris to their fishing-grounds, even though these grounds may be outside territorial waters.

When rights under the Treaty of Waitangi were being discussed at the Maori Labour Conference held in Wellington in 1936, I pointed out that claims to fishing-grounds could not be enforced, for the sea belonged to everybody, and outside the territorial waters it belonged to all nations. While some laughed, others looked quite serious. In the assertion of exclusive rights to fishing-and landing-grounds, there page 31is, I am afraid, behind it a spirit of selfishness. I have openly stated on more than one occasion that, but for the white fishermen and hawkers, the majority of people, even of Maoris, would not be able to obtain fish. Private people supply only their friends and important people while the vulgar herd is left out in the cold.

I have treated with levity the customs relating to moki, and some ethnologists would probably take exception to my remarks. If they do it is because they are superstitious themselves and lack a sense of humour.

2 Latris ciliaris.