The Carved Figures on the Dredge.
My ancient Maori dredge and all the older ones were adorned with carvings of human figures, almost certainly in all cases representing a deity. Both the ends of the sides near where the directing-pole was tied carry a carved figure, the head of a man. On either side of the base is carved the figures such as one sees on a greenstone heitiki. The carving on this dredge is very clean, and a Maori expert declares it to be very fine and old.
Europeans often think these carved figures were placed there for mere decoration, and because the Maori loved art and liked to have pretty things about him. In the vast majority of Maori carvings, however, they were done not for decorative but for religious purposes. Figures on bone and greenstone tikis always depicted an ancient god or a revered half-deified ancestor. An ancient Maori's whole life was immersed in religion and religious ceremonies. If he went to war, or got married, or was baptized, or planted a kumara, or went rat-catching or fishing, he or his priests performed religious rites and chanted figures. He scarcely made any move without performing some act of religion—to give him success or to avert disasters. The old Maori world was peopled with gods whom he did not love, but whom he feared. His gods were nearly all cruel gods. These roukakahi carvings, therefore, were representations of some ancient Maori god or gods. In the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute” Best gives a hymn sung by the Maoris when about to eat the shell-fish dredged by the roukakahi. It was sung when the shells were brought to the feasts—” Tane roukakahi e”—and thanks Tane for giving such a liberal supply of food. Best's translation reminds one of the harvest hymn—
Lord of the harvest, once again
We thank thee for the ripened grain.
My more modern dredge with net attached has no carving. The old one was carved when Maoris began a fishing excursion religious rites: he took a dredge with these half-human,
half-divine figures carved—carried his god or gods with him. The modern Maori, performing no ancient rites, never bothers about carving semi-divine figures—hence this modern dredge is quite plain. The old dredges exhibit kindred carvings of deities, and probably, as Tane was addressed in Best's hymn, these figures are images of that great god.