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The Autobiography of a Maori

Simple and Cheap Living

Simple and Cheap Living

I have already stated that we live a simple life at East Cape, and I may add a cheap life and wherewithal a happy life. On the farm we have milk in plenty page 127and also cream and butter; we have chicken, mutton, pork and bacon and poaka tahu—pork preserved in its own fat. Occasionally we have wild pig or hare. We get sea-foods: crayfish, paua, pupu, limpet and karengo the edible seaweed and sea-eggs. We can catch kehe1 whenever we choose, day-time, night-time; fine weather, rough weather. My sister, on her last visit to us, enjoyed kehe so much that she pronounced that it was "the champion of fish." Many people don't like it, but, in time, they could probably learn to relish it, as we do. Here at East Cape, kehe is tender and fat in autumn. In my young days, catching the fish was my daily joy during summer and autumn. At the right turn of the tide and at night-time one could always expect to bring home a kitful of kehe. So fond was I of netting the kehe that I earned the sobriquet, "The Kehe-catcher of Pouretua." We also caught eels, of course, in our little lake, Manawa-arohia.

We have vegetables throughout almost the whole year. Time was when the luscious tomato was unknown among the Ngati-Porou. About the year 1880, my father and his friend Reihana Moari paid a visit to Auckland. On their return they told the people of their first experience of the tomato which they had seen displayed in the shop windows. "We saw this delicious-looking fruit for the first time," narrated my father, "and it looked so tempting that we bought some. We didn't know its name but it was easy to point out. We looked for some quiet spot where we could eat this new fruit. Our first taste was not at all re-assuring. We chucked away the whole lot." When my wife and I migrated, with our family, to the East Cape in 1908, we grew tomatoes but others looked askance at them. We can now claim that we taught the people here to discover what an indispensable fruit the tomato is.

Two Maori foods, kina (sea-egg) and rotten corn, page 128could never be enjoyed by pakehas, and yet Maoris are passionately fond of them. There is nothing really objectionable about kina except its appearance. As a pakeha lady friend of mine once said, "How could you eat a thing like that? I don't like its looks." Of course, it is not the looks which the Maoris eat, but the pulp inside the prickly shell. As a Maori, I love kina and I think there is nothing, either in the sea or out of it, that can be more enjoyable than the white kina in season.

Very few Maoris turn up their noses at the mention of rotten corn. Steeped in running water for several months, the corn must smell, and yet its smell is not like that of putrid matter. It is strange how Maori children take to rotten corn. Both my wife and I occasionally enjoy a dish of kaanga wai, as the Maoris of Rotorua call it, although we can't help but think rotten corn is not a wholesome food.

Despite our half-hearted objection our grand-children have taken two bagfuls of good maize and have thrown them into a running stream until the corn becomes soft and ready for consumption. There is no accounting for tastes. I may point out that corn is not a native food; it was introduced.

1 Kehe, granite trout.