Art. LIV.—Reminiscences of Maori Life Fifty Years ago.
[Read before the Auckland Institute, 22nd November, 1910.]
For the last twenty-five years the Maoris have lost all interest in the oldtime institution of shark-fishing. Most of the kaumatuas (or elders) have passed away, and many of the traditional customs have gone with them. The younger generation devote their attention more to gum-digging and other pursuits, and appear to prefer tinned mullet and salmon to evilsmelling shark as a kinaki (relish).
Fifty years ago shark-fishing was considered and looked forward to as a national holiday by the Rarawas and all the surrounding hapus. The traditional customs and regulations were most strictly observed and rigidly enforced. The season for fishing the kapeta (dogfish) was restricted to two days only in each year. The first time was about full moon in January, and by preference during the night named in the Maori lunar calendar rakaunui, or two evenings after the full moon. This fishing was always by night. The second time of fishing, called the pakoki, was two weeks later, just after new moon (whawha-ata), and was always held in daylight. This closed the season for the year. Any one who killed a shark after this would be liable to the custom of muru, and would be stripped of his property. No one was permitted to commence fishing before the signal to start was given; a violation of this rule would lead to the splitting-up of the canoes of the offenders. So far as I can ascertain, the two days restriction was a local custom, obtaining more particularly in Rangaunu Harbour, which was the great shark-fishing centre of the north, and it specially applied to the kapeta, or dogfish. Large sharks might be taken at any time in the open sea, but they were not to be killed inside the harbour for fear of frightening away the kapeta: “Kei oho te kapeta.”
At the time I am speaking of, the mana, or authority, over the kopua (the deep) was solely exercised by Popata te Waha, who had inherited it from his ancestors. It was he who issued the panui, or notice, of the date of the maunga (or catching), and who fired the signal-gun from his headquarters at Okuraiti to notify the camps at Te Unahi and Pukewhau that sharks would be caught that night. Popata te Waha's mana over the kopua was acknowledged by all the surrounding tribes within a line extending from Taemaro (on the coast between Berghan's Head and Whangaroa) to Kohumaru, to Victoria Valley, Herekino, Ahipara, Parengarenga, and Rangiwahia, and all the numerous kaingas, or settlements, within this boundary. Maoris from all these places were represented at the great maunga. There would probably be a muster of not less than fifty canoes, each with an average crew of about twenty. This would make a total of at least a thousand, beside many that remained in camp cooking and drying pipi.
About a week before full moon in January, 1855, I received an invitation from one of the principal chiefs of Pukewhau to go shark-fishing with him. I gladly accepted this invitation, as I had heard a good deal about the curious customs attending the fishing, and wished to see the sport. He told me that I was to be one of his kaiwhangai (feeders). Later on I found that most of the wives accompanied their husbands as kaiwhangai, thus doubling the number of each man's catch.
For many days prior to the fishing crowds of Natives were to be seen going to Te Unahi on the Awanui River, Okuraiti, and Pukewhau, the three principal rivers flowing into Rangaunu Harbour. All were bent on having a good holiday, and on getting plenty of kinaki (relish)—pipi and fish; also looking forward to a plentiful supply of dried mango (shark) for kinaki during the winter.
We arrived at Pukewhau about noon, a ride of over ten miles across country. After a hearty snack I took a stroll through the village, which was humming like a swarm of bees, everybody being busily engaged in preparations for the maunga. Some of the old dames were scraping muka (flax-fibre), others were making it into twine by rolling the fibre on the calf of the leg with the palm of the hand. Some of the twine would be used for seizing the hooks; some for pakaikai, in lengths of about 3 ft., for tying on the bait. Altogether the kainga presented a busy and animated scene, full of life and good-humoured fun.
All along the tauranga (landing-place) were canoes of all sizes, from the large wakataua (war-canoe) to the small tiwai. Several of the wakataua were surrounded by a busy crowd of workmen: some were lashing on the bow-piece with its ornamental panel and figurehead, called a pitau; others were fastening on the tall elaborately carved rapa (stern-post); while others again were fitting and lashing the rauoa (top strake). This plank is called oa when free, but rauoa when fastened in position. Carefully selected leaves of raupo (Typha) were placed over the joints inside and outside, and were clamped firmly together by means of the pokai, or battens, which were then securely lashed by cords of three-plait flax-fibre. All holes were filled or caulked with hune (down from the seed of Typha). The tauare, or thwarts, were placed in position, and carefully lashed. A separate gang of workers was employed in making the raho, a movable platform on which the sharks are killed. This was fitted in sections under and between the thwarts, extending from stem to stern, and forming a kind of deck, under which there is room for stowing the sharks which may be caught. Standing apart from the rest was a particularly fine specimen of a war-canoe, named “Kai-pititi,” newly painted with kokowai (red ochre), and adorned with a beautifully carved figurehead and stern-post. The outside battens were dressed from end to end with the white feathers of the toroa and karake (albatros and gannet). While their elders were at work on the canoes the young people usually amused themselves with various games, such as wrestling, playing draughts on an extemporized board of flax-leaves plaited in squares on which shells and slices of potato were used for pieces, or, it might be, spinning loud humming-tops carved from the hard resinous core of the kahikatea tree (kapara) from which the sap had rotted away, or else some sport that happened to be fashionable at the time.
During the evening I strolled to a large whare where the kaumatuas and principal visitors were assembled. They were for the most part engaged in resnooding their hooks, and in discussing the merits of shape and bend. The shape of a hook was considered a very essential matter. Maoris in those days preferred their own make, short in the shank, never exceeding the breadth of three fingers, the standard measure. I handed over my hook to an old fellow, and asked him to overhaul it. It was given to me by the Aupouri chief Paraone, who was an acknowledged expert. I was told that it was not necessary to resnood it, as kouaha had been used on the seizing. Kouaha, I should say, is a poisonous gum which exudes from the bark of the pukapuka (Brachyglottis repanda), especially when the tree grows in a littoral
situation. It was formerly collected by the Maoris and preserved in paua shells. It was rubbed over the seizing of the hooks, which it not only preserved, but also prevented the shank of the hook from rusting. For snooding a shark-hook a four-plait is used, made of the fibre of the tuara-whitu, or bronzed-leaved Phormium. The cord is about ¾ in. in diameter and about 2 ft. 8 in. in length, and is tightly bound round with twine, except 6 in. at each end. It is then bent in the middle, thus forming a loop; the two loose ends are placed evenly round the shank, and firmly seized, leaving about 3 in. of the loose ends beyond, which are afterwards doubled back over the seizing, and tightly bound round with twine to protect the inner seizing from being cut by the teeth of the sharks. The seizing is continued along the rest of the loop, to make it as rigid as possible, for it is by this that the shark is securely held whilst being killed. Another plaited cord, about 2 ft. in length, but not seized, is made with a loop worked on each end. One end is slipped over the loop that carries the hook; the other is made fast to the fishing-line itself.
Next day several canoes, with nets, were sent down the river to catch mullet for bait, and also as food for the kainga. * A visitor from Popata's camp arrived with the welcome news that the fishing was to be the next day, if our camp were well furnished with bait. (It was the custom to postpone the fishing until all the camps were well supplied). About mid-day the canoes returned with a big haul of mullet, which was at once served out. The fish were quickly cleaned, split into halves, the backbone taken out, and, if a large fish, cut into four parts. By this time the canoes had had a final overhauling, and were pronounced ready for sea. The large smooth oval stones used as anchors were now sorted out, netted over, and each supplied with 10 or 12 fathoms of rope. Others of the Maoris were employed in making short wooden clubs, called timo, with which the sharks are killed. The jawbone of a horse or an ox makes a most effective timo, and later on I saw several of these used on our canoe.
The report of the signal-gun fired at Okuraiti at once caused a commotion in the camp, followed by a shout of “Tarahuna nga hangi” (Light the oven-fires). The canoes were quickly launched, hooks and lines and bait put into paros and poihewas (small quickly made baskets) and stowed by each thwart, with the timo placed alongside. Soon after sunset the order was given to go on board, and off we started to the refrain of “Huka ka huka” (this is a light and rather quick stroke of the paddle, intended more to churn the water into foam rather than to gain speed). The canoes paddled along leisurely, reserving their strength for the great race and struggle later on. When we arrived at the rendezvous at Te Ureroa (roughly, about half-way to the Heads) we found the kaupapa (fleet) in position, facing the Puke-whau River. We took up our station, and kept it, as all the rest did, by aid of a toko, or long pole stuck in the mud, the stern of the canoe resting against a mangrove-tree. Here we waited for high water, the Natives in the meantime indulging in loud talking and laughter. The Maoris believed that the strong spring tides swept immense numbers of sharks into the harbour and far up the rivers and creeks, and that when the tide ebbed the returning sharks were intercepted by the fleet.
As the time of high water approached, the talking ceased, and there was a dead silence through the fleet. Presently our chief whispered, “Kua
[Footnote] * Papua is the term used when a net is stretched across a creek or inlet just before high water, so that the fish are caught as they return with the ebb. When a net is simply hauled, it is called hao.
whati te mata o te tai” (The tide has turned). Almost immediately after Popata stood up in his canoe and shouted out in a stentorian voice, “Hua-kina” (Charge). Then followed a most exciting race for the fishing-ground and the mataika (first fish). All through the fleet the Maoris were shouting “Hoea, tiaia, toia, pehia, ana kumea.” Roughly translated, these words are hoea (pull), tiaia (stick it in), toia (drag it along), pehia (press it down), kumea (haul it along). The last two mark deep, strong strokes of the paddle. The word ana is intended to make the stroke more strenuous; thus at the words ana toia, ana pehia, ana kumea, &c., every ounce must be put into the stroke. It was a brilliant moonlight night, and the whole fleet could be plainly seen paddling furiously for the channel. The shouting, yelling, and cheering, together with the noises that only the old-time Maoris could make, were indescribable.
As soon as the channel was reached anchors were let go, ngeris and kokas (waterproof cloaks made out of the prepared leaves of the ti (Cordy-line) were quickly tied round the waist, others were thrown over the shoulders, and then the ready-baited hooks were thrown overboard. Almost immediately, “Kohi kohia” (Haul in) was shouted from a canoe close to us, followed by a loud splashing and cries of “Mataika” (First fish). Then came the blows of the timo clubbing the snout, which is the vulnerable part of a shark. Presently one of our crew called “Kohi kohia,” for it was the invariable custom when any one hooked a shark to give warning, so that those sitting near could haul in or shorten their lines, and so save them from being bitten off or entangled. Eventually my turn came to give warning. I pulled the shark up to the gunwale, my friend then took charge and landed it on board by the old-time method known as whakaepa. The stiff looped cord is held about 4 in. above the shank of the hook with the left hand, whilst the right steadies and guides the shark as it is hauled inboard. At the critical moment it is promptly sat upon, and several smart blows with the timo close to the end of the snout soon quieten it. A corner of the raho is then lifted up, and the shark is passed to the bottom of the canoe. Within five minutes from the time of anchoring, and for the space of at least three hours, the sound of the timo could be heard incessantly all around us, accentuated by shouting and loud splashings. The scene was simply indescribable. All this time the fleet was gradually working down towards the mouth of the harbour, and sunrise found us anchored near the Heads. As the tide flowed we pulled up-river, and filled up at Te Mutu, a celebrated sharking-ground. The rahos were thrown overboard to make more room, and other preparations made for our return.
By half-tide the fleet, consisting of fifty canoes and two boats, were working up the harbour to the respective camps, apparently all deeply loaded. Any canoe had the right to continue work until high water, when the fishing closed till the pakoki, two weeks later. When a tiger-shark was hooked, or a large toiki (a much larger species than the dogfish), the lines and anchor were quickly hauled in, and the canoe paddled to the nearest sandbank. Sometimes the shark itself would tow the canoe into shallow water, and roll about in the endeavour to rid itself of the hook. It was quickly killed by spearing and by blows on the nose.
We landed at our camp before high water, and, now that the excitement was over, I felt stiff and tired, but was all right after a wash and a change into dry clothes. On returning to the river-side to see what was going on, I found that the sharks were all landed and laid out in separate heaps. I noticed that many of them had notches cut out of the fins and tails. This
was done to enable individual owners to identify their fish. The catch in our canoe totalled 180. (On referring to my diary, I find that on the 27th January, 1875, no less than 265, or about 6 tons in weight, were caught on one large canoe). The cleaning of the sharks had now commenced. The pane (heads) were first removed; then a strip was cut following the curve of the belly. This strip, called the whauaro, was considered a great delicacy. The bodies were hung by the tails to a tarawa (a tall scaffolding), or thrown across a top rail, belly side up. There they remained until thoroughly dried by the sun and wind. The heads and tapiki (entrails) were generally left on the scene of operations. In a day or two the stench would be intolerable. The livers were thrown into a large funnel, made of green flax-leaves with a lining of soft fern-leaves, and suspended in a rough framework of tea-tree. Large stones were then heated and placed on them, and the oil was caught in calabashes. Surplus livers were put into the stomachs of the sharks, and hung up in the sun until the oil exuded from them. The total number of sharks caught by the fleet, including those taken at the pakoki held a fortnight later, was about seven thousand, an average of about sixty-five per canoe for each of the two trips.
The kapeta, or dogfish, is well known to be viviparous. During the month of December and up to the middle of January the ova are generally perfect, the embryo very rarely to be seen. Towards the end of January the embryo is plainly visible, and by the end of February it is perfectly developed, although in many instances still attached to the remains of the ovum. At that stage they are about 4 in. long, but increase rapidly in size. Mr. C. Puckey informs me that on one occasion while fishing in Houhora Harbour towards the end of March he caught a toiki 10 ft. long. On opening it he found seventeen young sharks, each 18 in. long, which swam briskly away when put in the water. When fishing at Rangaunu Heads on the 2nd April one of my crew caught a dogfish, and on ripping it open eight or ten fully developed sharks 8 in. long dropped into the water and swam away. Captain Wilson informs me that when fishing for hapuku off the Watchman in October a great number of sharks were caught, and on cutting one open for bait no less than forty-one perfectly developed sharks were found in it, each about 7 in. in length. On the 11th November Captain Wilson took a fishing-party to the North Cape, when many sharks were caught. One that was cut open had a number of young sharks about 6 in. in length. I think it is probable that sharks carrying fully developed young keep in blue water, and rarely, if ever, go into the harbours or estuaries. I am inclined to believe that sharks breed more than once a year.
A few general notes on the subject of sharks may prove to be of interest. The dried sharks were stacked in food-houses, or whatas, just like so much firewood. Narrow strips were cut and cooked on hot stones, and beaten with a paoi (pestle for pounding fern-root) to soften the flesh. Sometimes the cooking was done in a hangi, or steam-oven. In this case the flesh was cut in chunks, and not pounded.
Shark-oil was used in a variety of ways and for a number of purposes. It was mixed with kokowai (red ochre) for painting war-canoes, urupas, and the ornamental portions of the principal houses, as well as the carved work about the pas. The urupa was a graveyard, or, more correctly, a carved monument, usually standing on two posts, erected in memory of some great chief. They were usually beautifully carved, and very tapu. The oil was also used to anoint the bones of their deceased friends after the ceremonial scraping, or hahunga. In this case it was often mixed with a
small quantity of kokowai, just enough to give the bones a light tint. As a cosmetic for the body and hair, the oil was used either with or without an admixture of kokowai, and it was often scented with kopuru moss, with raukawa (Panax Edgerleyi), manakura (Melicytus micranthus), or some other scented shrub.
The koinga shark was closely preserved at Ahipara. This is a small species, rarely exceeding 3 ft. in length. Its flesh was considered more delicate and better eating than that of the kapeta. The liver produced a finer oil, not nearly so rank, and was held in high esteem for anointing purposes. This species has two dorsal fins, and in front of each is a strong bony tusk, or spine, which gives it the distinctive name of koinga (a sharp point). The front tusk is about 2 ½ in. in length, and the hinder one a little shorter. The livers were cut into halves and put into calabashes, heated stones being placed on the top, to try out the oil.
The teeth of the mako shark were greatly prized. They were called ngutukao, and were worn suspended from a hole bored in the lobe of the ear. If sold they always fetched a high price, and I saw two bullocks given for a pair of medium size in 1855. In the north the mako is usually caught at or near the North Cape. The canoe pulls out to the mako ground, when a lot of fish is thrown overboard as a poa (attraction). The mako, which is a tame fish, is attracted alongside by the bait, when a strong ma-hanga (noose) is passed over its head below the dorsal fin and then pulled tight around the small of the body. It was never caught with a hook, for fear of injuring the teeth. Four teeth only were considered of special value, two in the upper and two in the lower jaw. The best-shaped teeth had the points bent slightly outwards, the others were bent sideways more or less according to their position. The mako attains a length of from 7 ft. to 10 ft. While mostly found near the North Cape, stray specimens are occasionally met with between Rangaunu Heads and Cape Karikari. We once captured a medium-sized fish in this locality, and lost another—a large one—owing to the line breaking.
In the “Handbook of the Fishes of New Zealand,” 1886, by R. A. A. Sherrin, the author states that the mako of the Maoris is considered to be identical with the Lamna glauca, or tiger-shark. But the tiger-shark known in the north as such is an entirely different fish: it is a good deal larger, growing from 10 ft. to 12ft., and bigger round the body; it is also much more powerful and more difficult to handle; the teeth also are different, being very large and of a triangular shape, like those of a crosscut saw, instead of the slender curved form of those of the mako.
In the same work, referring to the dogfish, the statement occurs that “the ground-shark (dogfish) deposits eggs, usually two at a time, enclosed in horny cases several inches long, not unlike those of the skate.” This is evidently a different fish, as our dogfish, or kapeta, is well known to be viviparous.
The bush-pigeon (Carpophaga novae-zealandiae), known in the north by the Maori name kukupa, is fast becoming scarce. It has always been held in the highest estimation by the Maoris on account of the peculiarly delicate flavour of the flesh. As late as the “fifties” the kukupa was found in countless numbers—all the forests were swarming with them. At that time the Maoris could only get 1 lb. of gunpowder per man during a year. They were very chary of using this, and made it spin out by using very reduced charges, whilst the old people, including many that I knew well, still used the spear, to which I shall refer later on. Since that time, owing
to the removal of the restriction on the sale of powder (in 1857) and to the increased number of white settlers, and perhaps also to the spread of diseases brought by introduced birds, the kukupa, once so plentiful, is now every season becoming more difficult to find. Before the introduction of guns, and for many years after owing to the restriction referred to above, the chief methods of taking the kukupa were by the spear and noose.
The spear named rawhi was of great length, the best being made of kapara, the gum-preserved core found in some decayed kahikatea and rimu trees after the sap-wood had rotted away. An old Maori once described to me the method of making them. Very great care was taken to select a piece of kapara so straight in the grain that when struck at one end with a toki (stone axe) and a wedge driven in it would split open from end to end. The long pieces thus obtained were roughly trimmed and taken to the kainga, where, by weeks and weeks of patient chipping and scraping they were made round and smooth When completed they were about 25 ft. in length by 1 ½ in. in diameter. A piece of the hard black substance found in an old dry ponga (tree-fern), about 10 in. long, ⅝ in. wide, and ⅜ in. thick, was smoothed, sharpened to a point, with one or more barbs worked on it, and then neatly bound to the end of the shaft. If accidentally broken, it was quickly and easily replaced. Sometimes the spears were made of manuka, in shorter lengths, two of which, from 12 ft. to 15 ft. in length, were bound together, one end being pointed and barbed. Occasionally the spear-points were made out of the bone of the sperm-whale.
Now for the mode of hunting the kukupa and using the spears. One or more trees of the miro (Podocarpus ferrugineus), loaded with fruit, and regularly visited by the birds, were selected. Several long poles were placed against the tree, or an adjacent one by preference, to serve as a ladder, up which the hunter could easily and quickly climb. If required, a cover was fixed in the tree to conceal the Maori from the birds. All being ready, he climbed up, got under his cover, and waited patiently. Presently a flock of, say, twenty pigeons would settle in the miro. Amongst the flock there is always a quarrelsome cock bird, generally in poor condition, called a tu-te, continually disturbing the others (tu-te is literally a person who nudges another with the elbow). The tu-te is always the first bird speared, so that the other birds may feed undisturbed. The spear is rested on a branch exactly in line with the birds, and is pushed up very gently until the point is within 18 in. of a bird. It is then suddenly thrust up, so that the bird is transfixed. The spear is then quickly lowered, and the bird killed and dropped to the ground. The man goes on quietly working, and in a short time bags the greater part of the flock.
When pigeons are noosed, the method usually followed is as under: The top branches of trees frequented by the birds are lopped or broken off, and straight rods of manuka tied across in several directions. To these the nooses were fastened. Great numbers of pigeons were caught in this manner. Nooses were also placed on the margin of a forest-creek where pigeons were in the habit of drinking. Sometime a kumete (trough), hollowed out of a log 6 ft. to 8 ft. long, and filled with water, was put in a suitable place, and nooses tied over and around it.
Another method was adopted for taking small birds. A long stick, called pae, was tied in a slanting position about 4 ft. above the ground; shelter or concealment was provided near it, behind which a man stood armed with a long straight manuka stick called whiu (literally a whip). With a leaf in his mouth, usually the leaf of the turutu (Dianella intermedia), he would make a “peeping” sound resembling the call of young birds. Fantails,
bell-birds, and other small species would be attracted by the noise, and settle on the pae. A rapid stroke of the whiu, sweeping from end to end of the pae, would dislodge and kill these birds. An old man once told me that in his younger days he had often taken a kitful of korimakos in this way in a single day. The pae was also employed for taking the kaka parrot. Here a tame bird was often used as a decoy; when that was not available the cry of the bird was very cleverly imitated.
One occasion, many years ago, I travelled in company with Mr. Puckey to Mangamuka by the old Maori track crossing the western shoulder of Maungataniwha. When we arrived at the bottom of Whatatawha, and when we were passing along the low foothills, we met a party of Maoris who had been spearing pigeons. Each man had a goodly number of birds slung round him, wrapped up in nikau leaves. There was not a gun amongst them. We passed through the rich valley of Hunuhunua, and arrived at Pongaheka, a kainga, or village, at the boat-landing on the Mangamuka River. On approaching the river we saw a line stretched tightly along the edge of the water, which was covered from end to end with an immense number of nooses. On inquiry we were told that it was a ta-iki for catching pigeons. The birds, it was said, were always very thirsty when feeding on miro berries. We also noticed a taraire tree near the river which had had its upper branches removed and nooses so placed that a pigeon could hardly settle on it without being caught.
Thus with spear and noose the old-time Maori was able to keep his larder plentifully supplied with the delicious kukupa.
3. Trapping of Hawks.
For catching hawks a trap called a tara-haha was used. A straight manuka pole 6 ft. to 8 ft. in length, and about 2 in. in diameter, with two strong opposite branches at the top, making a kind of fork, was selected. The lower end was sharpened, for convenience in sticking it in the ground. The prongs or forks were cut off at the top, leaving them about 18 in. long, and were neatly smoothed and rounded, with a transverse notch cut across the top. A piece of straight stick about 9 in. long was fastened across the prongs about a third of the distance from the base of the prongs for the purpose of spreading the prongs, and the bait was tied to this cross-piece. A noose was then placed resting on the notches on the top of the prongs, the lower end of the noose hanging just above the bait. The end of the cord above the noose was fastened a little distance below the fork. The accompanying sketch of a tara-haha ready for use will give a better idea of the construction of the trap than any description. All being ready, the tara-haha was firmly stuck in the ground with the opening between the prongs facing the wind, the bait tied to the cross-piece, and the noose placed in position on the wind side of the bait. (A hawk always swoops down on his prey head to the wind, and flies off in the same manner—head to wind.) In flying away the hawk is caught by the noose, generally by both wings, which are consequently held close to the body, thus lessening the risk of breaking the noose.