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The Maori Race


page 187


The fishing-net (kupenga) was, when of a large size, a most valuable possession of the Maori. It was made of flax; the mesh (takekenga) being formed over bunched fingers, and the knot was identical with that used by European net-makers. The meshes were closer and the material stouter towards the centre or belly of the net, where the strain was greatest. The upper (kaharunga) and lower (kahararo) ropes of the net were of undressed flax; to the upper were fastened the floats (pouto) of buoyant wood placed at about eighteen inch intervals, the lower rope being weighted with stones. The centre float was often highly ornamented. Great care was taken of the nets, and, after they had been used, they were dried, folded, and put away on a stage or in a regular store-house (whata) raised on piles (see, also, nets, under Textiles). The seine net has been known to have been cast for human fish on several occasions of which tradition has recorded tragical adventures. A funnel-shaped net (riritai) was also used. Sometimes nets of this kind were very large. One measured 75 feet in length with a diameter of 25 feet at the mouth and this particular net was the work of one man who was over 90 years of age at the time.

Small nets (rohe, kori, etc.) were used by hand, some of these over hoops and fastened to poles, some (toemi) were made to draw together like the mouth of a bag. A hand-net (tapora) page 188 with very fine meshes was used for catching white-bait (inanga). An eel-net (pukoro), in shape like a long bag, was to be seen at times, but generally the eel-basket (hinaki) or the many-pointed spear (heru or matarau) were the more favoured methods of catching eels (tuna). The eel-basket (hinaki) was nearly of the same shape as that used in England for the same purpose, the form being that of a pear, and the length from five to eight feet. It (the hinaki) was woven of the wiry stems of the Climbing Fern (Mangemange: Lygodium volubile) and was utilised in the narrow openings of eel-weirs whereof the wings were strong palisading.

Fish-hooks (matau) were of all sizes and were generally made of wood or bone. The large hooks such as those for catching sharks were of wood with bone tips. A hook used with the line running behind a canoe was decorated with the iridescent shell of the haliotis (paua). Hooks were generally barbed, but not always. Flounders were transfixed with a barbed spear. The sea-mullet (kanae: Mugil perusii) often ascends tidal rivers in great numbers. They were caught in canoes into which they jumped when alarmed suddenly. These fish are thus called proverbially “The leaping sons of (Tangaroa) the Sea-god.” Crayfish were caught in baskets (taruke). Shellfish were sometimes collected with a rake (rou kakahi) which had a net (rori) attached to it, and into this net the molluscs would fall when scraped up or off with the rake.

page 189

Many superstitions were connected with fishing. On large fishing expeditions, the men engaged in making or mending nets were tapu. If cooked food was carried in a fishing canoe no fish would be caught. To cut up fish, freshly taken, to serve as bait at the same time or place was absolutely forbidden; if such action had been performed the fishing ground would be ruined. Before a new net could be used an invocation (whaka-inu) had to be uttered over it. Men carrying the net to the canoe had to be naked for fear that a morsel of cooked food might have touched their garments and so defiled them, and Tangaroa the Sea-god would be angry. If fish were caught in tapu water, any such fish had, when cooked, to be taken a considerable distance from the oven before they could be eaten. If a party was about to set out on a fishing (hi-ika) expedition with hook and line, the evening before the day of departure the hooks to be used were carefully collected and made efficient by charms. The next morning the hooks were taken to the canoe and stuck into the covering of the joints of the side-planks (rauawa), the priest meanwhile invoking the aid of a god; on the West Coast this was usually the god Maru. The first fish hooked was put back into the water after being charmed so as to induce plenty of its fellows to come and bite. The next fish taken was reserved as an offering to the gods and a priest took charge of it. When the party returned to land, three ovens were prepared, one being for the gods, and in this latter the first fish kept was cooked. Another oven was page 190 for the chiefs and the third for the common people who were allowed to eat as soon as the priest held up one of the fish (by a string through its gills) before a sacred place and uttered an accompanying invocation.

If when fish were caught, snapper (tamure: Pagrus unicolor), or a variety of fishes were taken, women as well as men could share the food, but if only the fish named kahawai (Arripis salar) was obtained women were not allowed to partake.

Not only were human bones used as fishhooks, or as barbs for fish-hooks, on purpose to insult the family or tribe of an enemy whose bodily remains were thus treated with contempt, but sometimes a chief would fix the dried head of an old foe on the gunnel of his fishing canoe. Then the fishing line would be fastened to the ear of the trophy in such a way as to cause the head to nod freely when the fish on being hooked hauled on the line.

When human bones were made into fishhooks, it was not always done in scorn by an enemy of a dead person. There were curious and quaint notions concerning the powers of such fish-hooks. It is related that when a certain chief who had been cursed was dying, he ordered his sons to make fish-hooks from his bones. Having, in due time, exhumed the bones of their father, they made the required hooks and went fishing with them. Having caught some fish, they sent them all to their father's enemies, who, having partaken of the fish, died in great numbers “by the power of the god who was in the bones.” Again, a page 191 Taranaki tribe wished to make war on another tribe in the same locality, so they killed a boy of the people with whom they desired to quarrel, and made fish-hooks of his bones. The fish caught with these hooks were sent to the boy's relatives who ate the food and then, having heard of the way the fish had been caught, instantly formed their war-party to revenge the deadly insult.