Art. LVIII.—The Ancient Moa-hunters at Waingongoro.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 17th October, 1888.]
The date of the extinction of the moa has always been a favourite theme for discussion among scientists in New Zealand, some contending that it had long ceased to exist before the advent of the Maoris to these shores, others arguing that it lived contemporaneously with this race down to very recent times.
The former hypothesis has for its champion and principal exponent Mr. Colenso, of Napier, who states that his belief is based on the fact that there is nothing in the proverbs or stories of the Maoris to show that they knew anything of this gigantic wingless bird. It seems, indeed, strange to me that an authority on Maori manners, language, and mythology of such eminence as Colenso should never have gleaned anything about the moa from the natives he met. This is so contrary to my own experience that I cannot refrain from narrating an incident that came under my observation during the native war on the west coast.
It was some time in 1866, during a visit Sir George Grey, at that time Governor, paid to the West Coast, that I, with Kawaua Paipai and other natives from Wanganui, accom-
panied Sir George to the mouth of the Waingongoro River, where were the redoubts held by the Imperial troops. Here Sir George met Wiremu Hukanui, a chief of the Ngatiruanui, and supposed to be neutral; he was also a relative of Paipai.
After the talk was over Wiremu left, when a discussion arose about the moa, and Kawaua Paipai stated that in his youth he had joined in hunting the moa on the Waimate Plains, which are close by. On being questioned, he gave a description of how they used to hunt and destroy this grand old bird, which was as follows: “The young men,” he went on to say, “stationed themselves in various parts of the plains, and when a moa was started it was pursued by one of these parties with wild shouts, and sticks, and stones, until they were tired, when another detachment would take up the running, and so on, until the moa was exhausted, when a chief would administer the coup de grace.” Paipai said that great efforts were made to drive it into the high fern, the more easily to tire it out. “I,” continued the old warrior, “was a youngster at that time, and often used to join in the chase.”
I forget now whether it was Sir George or one of the officers who expressed doubts as to the absolute correctness of what Paipai had stated, thinking he was simply relating what he had heard, which doubt roused the old man's ire. He got up, and, casting his eye around as if seeking aid to his memory, said, “What I have told is true; and we used to bring them here to our fishing-village, and cook them in large ovens made expressly for them. Let some men bring spades, and I will show them where to uncover the ovens.” Some six or seven fatigue-men were assembled, and Paipai pointed out where they were to clear away the sand. After shovelling away some 6ft. square of sand, 3ft. in depth, a stone about the size of a 32lb. shot was turned up, blackened and burnt by fire, and then a number of other stones that had evidently been used for cooking, until a Maori oven some 5ft. in diameter was uncovered, containing over and under the blackened stones heaps of broken and partly-charred moa-bones—portions of skulls, and huge thigh-bones, which latter Paipai said had been broken, so that the oil, or fat, could be sucked out of them. The ring-bones of the throat, or gullet, over an inch in diameter, were there in plenty—like curtain rings. I threaded a number on a flaxstick. More ovens were uncovered, and Sir George obtained some good specimens. I think Dr. Spencer, now in Napier, got a number, as did many others.
Paipai described the plumage, which he said was of a brown colour, and unlike that of the kiwi, the feathers being larger and coarser, and more like those of the emu. He said the moa fought fiercely when brought to bay, and that it struck out with its feet, but was easily killed with clubs.
Kawaua Paipai died some four or five years ago. He must have been over ninety, at least, and by what he said he was about sixteen years old when these birds were killed and eaten; so that would bring the time to near the beginning of this century.
I am indebted to Mr. Park for the following extract from an interesting article on the excavation of an ancient umu at Awamoa, contributed to the Wellington Spectator in 1848 by Mr. Mantell.
“Last Christmas I camped at the mouth of the Awamoa, a small stream between Kakanui and Oamaru, having found there a few weeks before the umus of the extinct aboriginal tribe of Waitaha, full of bones, stones, &c.; and devoted a day to digging. The old surface, in which the umus had been excavated, was buried under a foot of alluvial deposit; beneath this the old sandy soil was blackened by the mixture of char-coal, large lumps of which were scattered among the chaotic mass. The primeval savages had evidently thrown back into the umu the remains of each feast, and lighted over it the fire to prepare the next. The disagreeable flavour which the scorched bones must have lent to each succeeding banquet was, we may hope, some slight punishment to them for exterminating the moa. Their animal food seems to have consisted of Dinornis (very rare), Palapteryx, Notornis, Aptornis, Apteryx, Nestor (kaka or kea), cormorants, gulls, ducks, and other small birds; dogs; a small rat; Haliotis, fresh-water Unios, and other shell-fish; seals, porpoises, sharks, eels, and other fish: so that the bill of fare was varied enough. The bones of all were matted and locked together most intricately, large angular burnt stones (originally round boulders, cracked by the fire) and a wet, black, sandy soil filling all interstices. Here and there we met relics of their dinner-equipage in the shape of large and small fragments of flint, totally different from any in the neighbourhood, and said by my respected friend old Governor Railway,* who formerly lived there, to come from Lake Hawea. Sometimes an ancient aborigine or his dog seemed to have retired to discuss a tit-bit in solitude, for imbedded at intervals over the surface of the ancient kaika (whose former extent is well marked by the blackened subsoil) we found an odd bone or so: I think the dogs must have done this, as the bones were generally foot- and toe-bones, which would probably have fallen to their share. The only human manufacture we found was a small ball of baked clay, the work, most likely, of some ingenious young savage, stopped on the threshold of the invention of pottery by a vindictive tibia thrown at his head by his enraged parent, with a
[Footnote] * Te Wharekorari.
concise order to go egg-hunting and not waste his time that way.”
I do not propose to treat this subject from a scientific point of view; but the bones and ovens I saw at Waingongoro in 1866, and the evidence obtained by the Hon. Walter Mantell in 1848, at Awamoa, certainly afford proofs that the moa lived down to very recent times.