Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 50, 1918
This text is also available in PDF
(6 MB) Opens in new window
– 296 –

Art. XXXI.—Notes on Eels and Eel-weirs (Tuna and Pa-tuna).
Plates XXIIIXXXIV.

[Read before the Wanganui Philosophical Society, 17th December, 1917; received by Editors. 31st December, 1917; issued separately, 24th June, 1918.]

Introduction.

In commenting on the annual report of the Wellington Acclimatization Society the London Field says, “Various things in the report make it clear that the big eels for which the country has always been famous continue to trouble the fisheries. The New Zealand eel is a mysterious creature, as to which one would like more information. He reaches an immense weight, and has been credited with being dangerous even to human beings when they are bathing. A monograph of his life-history and habits would be very interesting.”

I much regret that I have been unable to find any descriptive matter in connection with our native eels, but in the new edition of Williams's Maori Dictionary (1917), under the heading “Tuna,” the following note is given: “This is the generic name for eel. Nearly a hundred distinctive names are recorded,* many, of course, being synonyms for varieties of the three species observed in New Zealand waters.” Five species of fresh-water eels (in addition to the marine conger) are listed by Hutton in his Index, but no varieties are there recorded. Certainly there appear to be a good many.

On the west coast of the North Island, the only district in New Zealand with which I am thoroughly familiar, the eel, or tuna as it is called by the Maori, has ever been conspicuous upon the native bill of fare. Indeed, often for months at a time, owing to the fact that they could keep the fish alive, and also as they were able to preserve it by sun-drying, it was their only animal food; consequently a large part of the time of the people was formerly spent in the manufacture of hinaki (eel-baskets), pa-tuna (eel-weirs), and other implements used in connection with the fishery.

In olden days the pa-tuna was an elaborate as well as an exceedingly strong piece of work, often adorned by carvings, and always made to stand years of flood-timber buffeting; occasionally it required repairing, but it was never quite destroyed. To-day on several of the upper Whanganui River rapids there are the remains of old pa-tuna, though the huts of the adjoining villages have long since been obliterated by time.

I have heard that the Waikato River, with its tributaries, was the most celebrated in New Zealand for its pa-tuna and the quantities of eels found there, right away from the mouth up to the Huka Falls, near Lake Taupo, above which none are found. The Manga-tawhiri, the Maramarua, the

[Footnote] * I am informed by a correspondent that about 110 eel-names are on record, most of which are to be found in the 5th edition of Williams's Maori Dictionary (1917).

[Footnote] † F. W. Hutton, Index Faunae Novae Zealandiae, London, 1904.

– 297 –

Whanga-marino, the Manga-wara, the Waipa, the Awaroa, the Opuatia, and the two lakes Waikare and Whangape, all in middle Waikato, were famed for their eels. Along all these streams (most of them navigable) the Maoris in former times erected enormous eel-weirs, which have now been destroyed by floods or removed to admit of navigation by launches and barges. On the Maramarua there were most extensive pa-tuna, the main posts of which were frequently 2 ft. in diameter, with roughly carved tops. How the old Maoris, without mechanical means of driving, ever got these heavy posts into position is not known, but it must have been a strenuous work. (From notes by Mr. Percy Smith.)

A note from Mr. Best states that he was informed by natives at Huntly, Waikato, that their elders did not construct eel-weirs in the Waikato River, on account of its depth, & c., but set eel-pots in the open river, to which eels were attracted by bait. Weirs of the V form were, however, erected in the numerous tributary streams, more especially those running from the numerous lakes to the river. Eel-pots were also set in the lakes without any form of weir. Eel-weirs are termed pa rauiri by Waikato natives, on account of the wattling process by means of which the fences are constructed.

Although the hinaki or eel-pot, is a common object in most Maori villages and in every museum, I do not remember ever having seen it described. Even the late Mr. Hamilton in his fine work on Maori Art entirely omitted it. Why this was done I do not know, for a well-made hinaki is a beautiful object, fashioned with infinite care and artistic ability, and also made to stand many years of hard use. There are, however, in Museum Bulletin No. 2 some pictures of hinaki of a rather poor class, illustrating an article entitled “Notes on Matters connected with the Sea, & c.” In these modern days the kareao, or supplejack, and even fine-meshed wire netting, often take the place of the old-time kiekie root or akatea, but these work-saving substitutes, though perhaps just as effective, are certainly not very artistic.

There is in Hochstetter's New Zealand a picture of a pa-tuna but it is a very rough and imaginative affair, and gives but a feeble idea of a weir made for use and wear. Hence I include some photographs which will, I think, illustrate this article better than I can explain by description.

Eels.

The eel enters very largely into Maori mythology,* into which I do not intend to enter, but the earliest reference I have come across regarding pa-tuma (eel-weirs) in local history was in Rua-matatoa's time (seventeen generations ago), when a man's leg was carried down the Whanganui River till it was caught in a pa-tuna at Hiku-rangi (now Karatia) and afterwards eaten, the result being a civil war.

In the early volumes of the Transactions there will be found some discussion as to whether eels migrate annually to the sea or otherwise, it being pointed out by some writers that they do so, and by others that they are numerous in lagoons that have absolutely no connection with the ocean. It seems, however, to be an accepted theory that eels migrate. According to the natives, and they are keen observers of nature—or, rather, they were—there are many varieties of eels, distinguished by different

[Footnote] * Elsdon Best, Food Products of Tuhoeland, Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. 35, pp. 45–111 (see p. 65), 1903.

[Footnote] † See T. W. Downes, Old Whanganui, p. 51, 1915.

– 298 –

names, but unfortunately, owing to these names varying in different localities, it is impossible to classify them at all thoroughly by Maori nomenclature. One point seems, however, to be established by them to my mind, and that is that some of the species or varieties migrate and others do not.

The eels that travel to the ocean annually are classed under the general name tuna-heke (see fig. 1), and the migration itself is known as whaturoa. It is for these that the pa-tuna are built, and the natives know to within a few days when the eels can be taken. They are never caught with bait,

Picture icon

Fig. 1.—Outline of head of tuna-heke (tuna-ngahuru).

and seldom seen except when they are travelling down the river. The word heke implies to migrate or descend. These eels are subdivided into two or three (possibly more) varieties.

The eels that are caught with bait and that remain in one place throughout the year are called tuna-toke (see fig. 2)—that is, the eel that takes the worm as bait. This eel also embraces several varieties. It is often taken

Picture icon

Fig. 2.—Outline of head of tuna-toke (tuna-puharakeke).

with a baited hinaki, but even in streams where it abounds it is an exception to capture one in a pa-tuna. Occasionally they are washed down the race, but very seldom. Among over eight hundred tuna-heke that I saw taken from the Moumahaki pa-tuna last season there was only one tuna-toke of the variety called puharakeke, although the stream was literally full of them.

It seems to me that this name tuna-toke has long been known to the Maori. Upwards of twenty generations ago there lived a certain Whanganui ancestor (so says legend) who adzed out a famous canoe under the water. He used to dive down to his work every day and remain under water till the evening, when the eels, swimming about his legs, gave warning that it was time to cease work. Owing to the exceptional feat performed by this man he was called Tama-tuna, otherwise “The son of an eel.” This man's eldest daughter was named Tuna-toke, and sometimes Hine-toke—“Daughter of the worm.”

– 299 –

According to local natives, the first of the tuna-heke to go down the rivers is tuna-ngahuru, an eel with a thick but soft greeny-brown skin seemingly sprinkled with fine gold-dust. A special feature is the large eye, which can be moved independently, with an outer ring of blue, an iris of gold, and a black pupil. The word ngahuru sometimes means “ten,” sometimes “fruitful” or “abundant,” also “harvest-time” and “autumn”; and this name may be given because of the quantities in which this eel is sometimes taken. There is a small pa-tuna built in the Moumahaki, about a chain up from where it joins the Waitotara River (see Plate XXIII). This stream is fed by a small lake-system, called Manga-whio, far up the valley, and it is from this source that the eels apparently journey. It was finished on the 1st April of this year (1917), and was just in time to catch the annual heke, or migration. About a dozen eels were taken the first night, and this number gradually rose to forty by the 12th, when the first fresh took place. As soon as the water rose about 1 ft. the number immediately increased till it reached over eight hundred for a twenty-four-hours catch. This lasted for only two or three days, when the numbers gradually diminished, and by the 20th the migration of tuna-ngahuru was over.

The natives say that it is almost useless to set a hinaki on a moonlight night, and also during the daytime; but when the water is at all muddy or discoloured the eels come down in hundreds during the season, day and night alike, except that at night-time they are much more numerous and swim nearer the surface of the water, as proved by the fact that in the daytime the bottom net takes the most fish, and during the night the top one; for whenever the water is deep enough one net is set above another at the mouth of an eel-weir, as will be explained later. When the eels are making this mad dash for the ocean the baskets are examined every hour or so, and, judging by varying success, it seems to me that the migration begins shortly after twilight sets in, is at its height from about 10 p.m. till 2 a.m., and then gradually dwindles down towards dawn as the eels seek hiding-places for another day. With the gathering darkness of the next night they once again take up their swift glide down-stream, and so on till the ocean is reached.

With tuna-ngahuru another eel is taken, called tuna-hau (Whanganui) or tuna-hao (Waitotara), which can easily be distinguished by its silvery belly. Other names for these silver-bellied or allied eels are puhi and pango. I must confess that I can detect but little difference between the two eels tuna-ngahuru and tuna-hau. I selected one of each from a large catch on the 12th April: ngahuru was very dark-skinned, almost black, and hau light-coloured and silvery; yet on the following morning when both were dead they were scarcely distinguishable, both having returned to the colours as first described. The natives are aware of this peculiarity. One person explained it to me by likening tuna-hau to a photographic proof that I had given him a few days previous—light and bright at the time, but quite black a few hours afterwards. Both these eels are very difficult to skin; indeed, the skin cannot be removed without tearing away a portion of the flesh, which is somewhat pink.

Another of the tuna-heke, or migrating eels, is the tuna-riri (Whangaehu) or tuna-rere (Whanganui), sometimes called putaiore—a blue-black eel with large pectoral fins, rather small mouth and teeth, flat head, tail rather broader than the usual type, and blue eyes resembling those of a sea-fish. The skin is very hard, and absolutely refuses to be removed. This eel is very lively when caught, and is said to be able to jump out of a canoe,

– 300 –

hence its name riri—wild, angry. It is esteemed the finest of all the eel family, the flesh somewhat resembling wild pork in flavour. The natives, of course, do not attempt any skinning or cleaning, as doth the uneducated European, but they say that if the fish is dipped in boiling water the slime is at once removed. Those I saw taken at the Kauwae-roa Rapid, Whanga-nui River, on the 19th April, 1916, were all about the same size, 2 ft. 9 in. long and 8 in. in circumference. I have noticed this peculiarity in connection with other tuna-heke that I have seen caught, and it seems to me to be conclusive evidence that only the fully developed (and probably female) eels are seeking a spawning-bed in the ocean; the small and immature fish remain in the fresh water.

Although the tuna-riri is usually taken going down the river when the water is discoloured by rain, yet some natives say that occasionally it climbs the rapid, so the pa-tuna is constructed to intercept the fish whether it travels up or down. Under ordinary water-level a heavy log, called huahua, is placed in the weir, running parallel to the current, and held in position by cross-stakes driven each side of it. This creates a backwater running up the swiftest rapid, and as the eel swims up this channel he takes advantage of the assistance so given to climb the rapid. As soon as he reaches the top he follows round a smoothly dressed post placed right at the head of the weir, leading to the inside, and he is immediately caught by the strong current and thrown back into the net leading to the hinaki, or eel-pot, at the foot of the weir. Patonga, my Waitotara informant, stated that tuna-riri will not preserve by sun-drying, as does the ordinary tuna-toke, but this is questioned by the Whanganui people. The catch lasts only two or three days, and while it is being dealt with the eels are transferred to large baskets, called puwai and puhara, made for this purpose, and also spare hinaki, and then put back into the water to be sorted out at a more convenient time. When all available baskets are full the surplus fish are put into holes, called parua, dug in the clay, and covered with fern, where-they will keep alive for a day or two.

The favourite way of cooking the smaller eels is to grill them. They are taken out of the baskets and killed by a cut behind the head which severs the bone. Without further treatment they are strung close together by a thin stick being passed through the heads, and then placed on a grid over a fire of embers—usually, in these degenerate days, on some fencing-wire or wire netting. This method of cooking is called rara, and the eels so treated are certainly very good if one could only get over the idea of grilled entrails and slime (paratea). As a matter of fact, the entrails of all the tuna-heke variety are very small, most of the inside of the fish being filled with what appears to be fat or undeveloped roe. This part to the Maori mind and taste constitutes a special delicacy.

Those I have examined have shown no traces of food, consequently I am inclined to think that these eels, like the salmon, travel on empty stomachs.

Other eels caught in the pa-tuna are tuna-paranui, a black eel; ruahine, very large but short (one of this variety weighing 38 Ib. was caught last year on the upper Whanganui); arawaru, not so thick but longer than ruahine; mona-nui, a small variety; tuna-keke, somewhat larger; tuna-kuia, the largest of all, and filled with roe, or probably fat, only seen and caught for two or three days each year. Of the above the only eel that I have had an opportunity of seeing was ruahine. On the 2nd May, 1917, the large eels commenced to go down the Moumahaki, and fourteen of these immense fish were taken on that date. The smallest probably weighed

– 301 –

12 lb., and the largest was, according to native measurement, 6 ft. 1 in. in length and 20 in. in circumference. I went down to the Ngutu-wera settlement immediately I heard of the capture, but found the large eel had been taken to Waitotara. It was found dead in the poha (leading-net), where it had been jammed by sticks and debris. The rest of the catch was emptied out for my inspection, but as far as I could judge by match-light, although they were called ruahine, they were very similar to tuna-ngahuru except in the matter of size.

Although the natives here affirm that tuna-ngahuru and tuna-riri are different varieties, I am not at all sure that this is so. I have seen both eels, but not in the same year, and, as far as I remember, they showed the differences as described; but different localities and conditions may have caused the slight variation that is to be found. However, to the natives they go under different names, and they readily detect the difference.

According to Te Whatahoro, a well-informed native of the East Coast tribes who has contributed largely to our store of Maori information through the Polynesian Society, the names of the tuna-heke and the order in which they go down the East Coast rivers are as follows:—

“The first and smallest to be taken on the East Coast pa-tuna is tutuna, called tuna-riki by the Waikato people. It goes down the rivers during November, December, January, and February. It is the smallest of all the eels.

“The next is tuna-hau, also a small eel, about 18 in. long and 1 in. through. It is dark-skinned, with a fine head and large eye. It is of exceptionally fine flavour, and is usually cooked by the rara method. It is one of the best varieties to dry, and will keep in good condition all the year. It is prepared for this process of preserving by the finger being inserted down the throat and the entrails dragged out through the mouth, great care being taken not to injure the skin, as that would allow the flies to enter. Soaking brings the fish back to the standard of fresh fish. This eel is considered and reserved as a special food for chiefs and visitors.

“Next comes the mata-moe (sleeping-eye), about 2 ft. 6 in. long and the thickness of one's wrist. It is taken from sandy or stony rivers, and is very fat and good. It occasionally takes bait (mounu), but is one of the fine-head and migrating varieties. There is a sort of film over the eyes of this eel, giving it a blind appearance; hence its name. It is taken from November to May, but is not common.

“Next comes tuna-reko. This eel has a silver belly and is of a light-grey colour. It also is somewhat scarce, and goes down during February and March.

“After tuna-reko comes kokopu-tuna and ruahine, which go down together. They are both large (about 5 ft. long), but ruahine has a fine head and is soft and fat, while kokopu-tuna is coarse and has a head resembling the bull-dog type of the tuna-toke varieties. It has to be handled carefully, as it will endeavour to bite, and when it does so the episode will long be remembered. I once saw an old man named Horomona who had been bitten on the shoulder as a child, when bathing in the Parapara-kino River, South Island, by this eel. It must have been an ugly flesh-wound, for even in old age there was a long deep scar. I disbelieved the story at the time, but have since then heard of others who could speak from experience in regard to an eel-bite. I myself was bitten as a youth when trying to extract the hook by which a large eel had been caught, but it was, I think, tuna-puharakeke that got hold of me on that occasion.

– 302 –

Kokopu-tuna is not really a tuna-heke, for it is seldom taken in the hinaki. It is usually speared lying in shelter of raupo (bulrush) or rubbish. Ruahine goes down between the months of February and June.

“The kopakopako is a swamp-eel about 2 ft. 6 in. long and 2 in. in diameter, having spiny fins and being very bony right from the back of the neck to the tail. It is very poor food, and is dried and stored only in case of famine.

“Another eel, called tuwerewere, has similar spines, and is also very poor food. It is the last of the eels to go down-stream.”

Two other eels mentioned but not described by Te Whatahoro were hau-mate (small) and karaerae (about 24 in.).

As before mentioned, none of the tuna-heke take bait, such as worms, weka (wood-hen), & c., the natives affirming that they live on water and foam (kohuka). The great heke, or migration, seems to take place during March, April, and May, but the natives have no record of the large eels returning. The young fry go up the rivers in the spring in countless numbers. I have taken them in a whitebait-net in October, but am told by the natives that they continue travelling up-stream till well on into the summer.

Of the tuna-toke, or “worm-eating” varieties, often called tarehe, usually taken with a hinaki baited with native worms, pigeon, or wood-hen, the principal eel caught is called tuna-pa in the Whanganui district. It is said to be the favourite variety of tuna-toke, and is always roasted by the rara method, being considered a delicacy when so treated. The baskets are placed in a favourite locality in the late afternoon and raised the following morning. Often the hinaki contains 1 cwt. or even more for one setting. The most I ever saw taken with baited hinaki was at Kaiwhaiki, Whanganui River, in 1907, when something over 3 cwt. was netted from two large hinaki in a single night.

Tuna-iakaaka is another eel taken with tuna-pa. It is of a light-green colour. It is considered inferior to tuna-pa, and requires a considerable amount of boiling. It is never grilled.

Tuna-puharakeke, the large yellowish-brown-skinned eel with which most of us are more or less familiar, is also taken in the hinaki, but usually by the bob (tari) made of the large native worm strung on dressed flax (muka). At a small creek called Manga-weka that runs into the Moumahaki near Ngutu-wera I have seen the Waitotara natives drive this eel to a narrow part, of the creek where a trap had been prepared. When an eel is disturbed it seems to invariably travel down-stream. The natives therefore go into the water and make all the commotion they can, working downstream, while one man stands with a deep basket, called reherehe, at the narrowest part and lifts the eels as they enter, one or two at a time, and quickly transfers them to a sack. While I was watching the fishing at this stream about a quarter of a potato-sack of large eels was taken in two hours by three men. When fishing for this eel with a hook the natives use lamprey (piharau) as bait if at all procurable, as the puharakeke is very greedy for this food and will take it when it refuses everything else.

Tuna-puharakeke has a large head, small eyes with a black pupil, ring of bright gold, and an outside ring of dull gold. The lower jaw protrudes somewhat, giving the bull-dog appearance, and the teeth are sharp and set very thickly, running back like a wedge on the roof of the mouth. The under part of the head is whitish. This eel often grows to an immense size. Some years ago I saw two extremely large ones taken out of a hinaki near Upoko-ngaro. Their weights were respectively 46 lb. and 32 lb.

– 303 –

The natives were very much excited when they were caught. The large eels of this variety are usually dried for winter use, although they can be caught throughout the year. In sun-drying, the heads are taken off; they are skinned and split open, the bone being taken out, and they are then dried for several days on stages, when they will keep for several months. This eel is usually boiled or steamed with potatoes in an umu or steam-oven.

Another yellowish eel is tuna-kaingara, which is said to be poor and lean. It has a large head, is readily caught with the bob, and does not go to the sea with the April floods.

In the upper reaches of the Whanganui River there is a tributary known as the Ohura, which, owing to its situation and formation, is a most suitable place to capture the young eel-fry as they go up-stream. This little eel, varying in size from 2 in. to 6 in. in length, is called tuna-riki, and the Maori up till a generation ago used to journey down from Taumarunui and up from Pipiriki to procure this delicacy. The fishing commenced in the early summer, long after the tuna-heke migration was over, and lasted for two and sometimes three months. The manner of taking tuna-riki was as follows; At the mouth of the Ohura there is a small waterfall, 4 ft. or 5 ft. high, at the foot of which is a very deep pool. The little fish congregate here in countless numbers, probably waiting for a flood to enable them to mount the obstacle and continue their course up-stream. Loose bundles or balls were made by the native women, who rolled fern, rushes, and manuka together until the mass reached about the size of a football. These were then tied up with flax to hold them in shape, and let down into the hole at the foot of the fall overnight, being held to the shore by flax lines. It is said that these little fish are very curious and attracted by anything new, and so crawl into the balls in great numbers. I have an idea that they may be attracted by the fern-pollen, but I may be wrong in this. These bundles are called koere, and the Maoris say that two small balls are much more attractive to the fish than one large one. When the koere are lifted in the morning they are shaken over a kit, and the eels drop out. Captain Mair* has a note on this little eel, in which he says that between 2 cwt. and 3 cwt. were taken in a single night by hanging funnel-shaped bags on the Ohura Falls, up which these little eels were making their way in thousands. I have not seen the natives fishing in the manner described by Mair, but saw upwards of half a sack taken by the koere method about twenty years ago.

At the Waitangi Falls, Bay of Islands, which are some 20 ft. in height, composed of basaltic rock, the water falling vertically into a deep pool subject to tidal flow, Mr. Percy Smith informed me that he had seen thousands of young eels, from 2 in. to 6 in. long, wriggling up the rough rocky surface, where a thin film of water descended. The Maoris came to the falls in their canoes and scraped the young eels into baskets for food.

There is an eel well known by repute to all the river natives of this district. It is called tuna-tuhoro, and is described as a black eel about 3ft. long, with a very large head and small tail. Now and again it is hooked, and occasionally it is found in the hinaki with other eels. It is a fish of ill omen. When the natives were building a pa-tuna on the Au-tapu Rapid, Whanganui River, four years ago, and had ten timbers driven into

[Footnote] * Notes on Fishes in Wanganui River, Trans. N.Z. Inst, vol. 12, p. 316, 1880.

[Footnote] † Sir Ray Lankester notes, in From an Easy Chair, that in England young eels are sometimes seen “wriggling in numbers up the face of a damp rook or wall ten or fifteen feet high.”

– 304 –

the stony bed, they saw a tuhoro swim past. They immediately gave up their work and started again on Te Aute-mutu Rapid, lower down the river. All the natives dread catching this fish, for should a Maori be sick or any near relative be ill at the time when a tuna-tuhoro is caught death always follows. There is no alternative: the patient simply must die. Of course, this eel is never eaten. The effect is quite bad enough if it is simply seen or caught. It seems to be scarce, for Patonga, the old Wai-totara native from whom I obtained most of these notes, had never seen one, though, of course, he knew of their dread power. I have been more fortunate. During the summer of 1916 a fisherman dragging a net in the lower Whanganui meshed a small one, about 18 in. in length. The natives who were assisting immediately raised such a commotion that the man took notice of it, and eventually brought it to the Whanganui Museum. I was secretary of that institution at the time, but had not thought of writing on eels, so took but little notice of it. It was, however, without slime, and seemed capable of inflating the throat, thus causing the head to appear larger than its natural size. This specimen was placed in spirits, so that it can be examined if thought a new variety. It is said that it is a very fast swimmer.

Mr. Percy Smith tells me that this eel is known to the Kaipara natives as tuoro, and that it is looked upon in that place as being somewhat mythical and harmful to man. It is said to be found in the lakes on the North Head, and was described by the natives as being very large, almost as big as a man's body, with a great lump on its tail. It was supposed to come ashore and chase men, who could only escape by passing over ground where the fern had been burnt. So much for Maori beliefs !

I was in the Upper Ohura district a short time ago, and when there heard some bushmen speaking of an eel with hair or bristles on its back that is to be found in some of the creeks near the Ohura Township. I was unable to see any natives at that time, but shortly afterwards met an old Maori at Taumarunui who recognized my description as tuna-piki, or the feathered tuna, Further, as I had heard that Mr. W. K. Williams, of Ohura, had seen the eel, I wrote to him and obtained the following reply:—

“Some years ago, when passing a Maori pa, I saw quite a number of eels hung on poles in front of a Maori whare, and upon examination I noticed these eels had a sort of bristle upon their backs, starting about 4 in. behind the ears and terminating at the tail. Their ears were about ¾ in. long, shaped exactly like a pig's. The ears were slightly forward and up, and gave the eel a most peculiar appearance. The ears varied in size from 18 in. up to 5 ft. Their colour was dark—almost black—at fin, along back, and getting a little lighter towards the belly. The belly was of a cream or pale yellow. … I understand they are caught with both hinaki and line at the headwaters of the Ohura, in a stream called Waikaka. The Maoris stated they were plentiful.”

The mud eel is called by the Maoris tuna-kohau, and the salt-water or conger eel tuna-koiero, koiro, and ngoiro.

In some districts an eel called kaueri (?) is largely taken by spearing, but the Whanganui River does not lend itself to this mode of fishing. I remember as a boy seeing native women spearing in the Turakina River, and I also remember finding a bundle of spears in a hollow cabbage-tree near a large swamp at Turanga-waikanae, below the Bulls racecourse, some forty years ago. The spears were made of several hardwood points lashed to a handle, and were called matarau. Although this mode of taking fish has fallen into disuse in the Whanganui lagoons, I am told it is still common

– 305 –

in the Manga-whero. The usual procedure was to probe among the water-weeds and roots along the banks of a creek, lake, or swamp, and when an eel was struck this was easily ascertained by the vibrating feel. The hand and arm were next put down in the water, so that the eel was held to the prongs while it was being lifted.

About the year 1880, when visiting the Kai-kokopu Lake, a large lagoon in the Lower Rangitikei district reserved to the natives for eel-fishing, I saw some natives of the Ngati-Apa Tribe empty some small eels from a hinaki into a fire they lit at the edge of the lake, from which the scorched fish were allowed to crawl back into the water. On inquiring the reason I was told it was an old custom, called tunutunu-ki-te-ahi (roasting at the fire), and was supposed to make the eels that escaped large and fat.

In many low swampy districts near the sea there are extensive sand-flats, and it was formerly a common practice for the natives to make a cut or drain from the lagoons or swamps near by to well out on the sand-flats. After heavy rain causing the swamp waters to rise a few inches the eels endeavoured to get out along the cuts, and were soon left struggling on the sand. I have seen upwards of 1 cwt. of fish so gathered (one New Year's Day) on the large sand-flat north of the Rangitikei River mouth. In the Whanganui deed of purchase similar eel-cuts from the Kaitoke, Wiritoa, and other local lakes are mentioned as native reserves.

Yet another method is occasionally adopted in taking the tuna, and was practised on the Okorewa, down which tons of eels annually migrate from the Wairarapa Lake. If a man has no hinaki, or if the pa-tuna are constructed too close for him to get another in, a shallow drain is dug from the river across the sand, terminating in a large hole. He watches the eels swim past till he considers he has enough in the hole, blocking with a stick any that seek to return. Then the drain, and later the hole, is filled with sand, quickly smothering the imprisoned fish. Such a place is called awa-one-huna.

The following is a list of the west-coast (North Island) eels given by an old bedridden Waitotara man named Patonga:—

  • Tuna-pa.

  • Tuna-riri (sometimes called tuna-putaiore).

  • Tuna-taiaka. Described as an eel with a fine head and hard skin, that will not boil tender.

  • Tuna-kaingara.

  • Tuna-ngahuru.

  • Tuna-hau.

  • Tuna-opuha.

  • Tuna-ruahine.

  • Tuna-kopure.

  • Tuna-paranui.

  • Tuna-keke.

  • Tuna-kahau.

  • Tuna-tangaroa.

  • Tuna-tuhoro.

  • Tuna-puharakeke.

  • Tuna-kaueri.

  • Tuna-arawaru.

  • Tuna-riki.

  • Tuna-monanui,

  • Tuna-kuia.

  • Tuna-iakaaka.

As a rule, the prefixed generic term tuna is not employed. In regard to the opuha and iakaaka it is possible that a missing h should be inserted.

The following are the names of eels as supplied to Mr. Percy Smith by Aporo te Kumeroa, the late well-known chief of Wairarapa, and are all said to be found in the Wairarapa Lake or the rivers flowing into it:—

  • Matamoe (also called hikumutu).

  • Hao (also called puhi). This eel has blue eyes, and is the best eating of all.

– 306 –
  • Riko. The largest of all. Te Kumeroa said he had seen them 6 ft. long.

  • Kokopu-tuna. Very large. There are two kinds: paratawai, a short one, and putake-harakeke, reddish in colour.

  • Haumate. Like the hao, but with short ears. Karaerae.

  • Kopakopako. Silver-eel. The Ngai-Tahu people call this pakeha, a name they used long before the advent of the Europeans.

  • Tarehe (called also tirehe and mairehe). A silver-eel; is short, and not the best eating.

  • Kongehe. Can be caught with the hand. Soft and flaccid.

  • Tatarakau. Same thickness head to tail; black like riko.

Piharau.

The lamprey (piharau) is about 18 in. or 20 in. long, with a cartilaginous skeleton. It is considered a great delicacy by the Maori, but is difficult to preserve, as it cannot be dried or smoked. My informant stated that the longest time it can be kept fresh is four days. It is therefore put into holding-baskets (korotete) (see Plate XXVIII, fig. 3) and kept alive for months. Other natives say that the piharau can be preserved by drying, but the method is somewhat different to that employed for eels, as they are partly sun-dried and then finished by a slow fire. It goes up the rivers in considerable numbers during May, June, July, and sometimes August, and returns to the sea in October and November, when the skin is very soft. It is taken in the hinaki during flood-time only, at a weir built from the shore at right angles into the river. This is called utu, and is exceptionally strong. The piharau is taken as it goes up the river, climbing close to the shore to avoid the current. Although it is seldom seen swimming up-stream (I have only seen one, although often motor-launching on the upper river), yet great numbers are sometimes taken. On the 2nd May, 1917, 1,434 were lifted from the hinaki at Kai-manuka, Waitotara River; and in the Waitara, for a single night's netting during a fresh in June, three sacks were filled—probably between two and three thousand.

In some districts another method (called whakarau) of catching piharau was adopted, but has now fallen into disuse. A large thick mat was manufactured of bracken laced together with flax. This was about 4 ft. wide, and was pegged down in the river right up to the shore with parallel rows of pegs. This was laid down in a sheltered spot with either a natural or artificial breakwater, and the piharau would shelter and hide in the provided cover. Two men would walk out into the river and roll the mat up, working towards the shore, and, of course, taking the fish with them. It is said that many were taken in this manner; but nowadays, I am told, a sheep-skin is used (I do not quite understand how) instead of the bracken mat, and is almost as effective, and has the merit of being simpler.

The Taranaki natives say that in former times they used a certain sand (brought from Hawaiki !), which was placed in a little stone cup called punga-tai, and, having had charms said over it, this cup was deposited in the river near the pa and attracted the piharau to it. Tau mahi, a te Maori !

Other Fish Taken In Eel-weirs.

The small fish taken in the pa-tuna at the same time and mixed with the eels are kokopara and pangohengohe, probably the mountain-trout; toitoi, a

– 307 –

small blue fish rather full of bones; inanga, a fish about 5 in. long, almost transparent, with white belly; atutahi, a larger variety, or probably a larger fish of the same family; papanoko (sometimes papanuku) and panokonoko, varieties of kokopu; titihimi, the smelt (sometimes ngaure when young and takeke when large); mawhitiwhiti, the shrimp; and upokororo, sometimes the grayling and sometimes the name given to a small fish about 6 in. in length that is taken only during flood-time. The latter has red fins, and is said to be rather delicate in flavour. All these fish are boiled whole, and, in eating, the flesh is drawn off the bone by a sucking action of the mouth, the head and bone being thrown behind over the shoulder. The water in which they are boiled is used as soup.

It is said that the kokopu and other small fish are not as plentiful as formerly, the introduced trout being responsible for the decrease. About the year 1880 my father was engaged in a survey near Parikino, Whanganui River, employing natives as linesmen, who one Sunday brought a full sack of these little mixed fish to the camp. It was only one of three that had been taken that day on the Parikino Rapid.

In Best's paper already referred to there will be found a great deal of information dealing with these “small fry”; also in Illustrations for White's Ancient History of the Maori there are a few plates illustrating various ways of catching and preserving inanga piharau, and tuna, but the methods as pictured are not practised in this district, so will not be touched upon in this paper.

In Mr. Cowan's Story of Kimble Bent mention is made of the Taranaki natives catching piharau by torch-light; but this method also is unknown here now.

Eel-Weirs.

Eel-weirs were in many cases assigned proper names in former times, as also were sea-fishing grounds and rocks.

The pa-tuna, or eel-weir, is of two or three types, one for small streams and others for rivers. I will endeavour to describe those I am familiar with.

The Pa-tuna for a Small Stream.

The timber used in its construction is kopuka (white manuka), if procurable; otherwise the ordinary manuka is used. It is carried as near the site as possible, together with the rest of the required material, and then each stake is carefully prepared by two men for driving, one holding and turning, the other sharpening and trimming off the head so as to prevent splitting in driving. The stakes are given a long tapering point, and as soon as they are prepared they are carried to the canoes. In one I saw built at Moumahaki a full day was spent by a company of eight men in trimming these stakes, together with the horizontal logs, which are of totara, and are carefully stripped of sap and have heads formed at the heavy end of the timbers, which are placed down-stream. The lashings are all of split supplejack (kareao), and each stick is securely tied by crossing and recrossing the vine in the form of the letter X. Driving the prepared stakes and lashing on the horizontal timbers took the company another ten hours.

The Moumahaki Stream is between 30 ft. and 40 ft. wide at the chosen site, a spot where the banks rise sheer out of the water, and the most confined spot to be found. Fences are built out from both banks at opposite points, running down-stream and gradually converging to a point. These fences are about 30ft. long, and they close to within 18 in. or so of each

– 308 –

other and then return at a sharp angle to the bank. The fences are constructed of rows of stakes placed within 1 in. or 2 in. of each other, which are held firmly in position by horizontal beams lashed on. (See fig. 3.)

While this work was progressing other natives were employed cutting and sorting out manuka brush and bracken. The latter is carefully tied into small bundles about 2 in. in diameter, and lashed to the stakes under the water, stems up-stream. Other stakes are driven in to assist in holding the bundles, which are forced down until they form a solid mass through which even the water can scarcely find a passage. About 1 ft. above the ordinary water-level manuka brush takes the place of the bracken, as it is stronger and, being on top, can be more easily repaired than the bracken, though the latter lasts much better than the manuka in the water. This manuka brush is also closely wattled together and carried right to the top of the stakes. The whole fence is then securely lashed from the heavy horizontal timber (which in this small type of pa-tuna is on top) to the shore by heavy crossbeams, especially strong sticks being carried from the angle of the pa-tuna down-stream to the shore. Two heavy posts are next driven in about 1 ft. down-stream from the mouth of the weir, one opposite each angle, to which they are securely braced, and they are also braced to each other. These carry the poha, or leading-net, which is shaped something like a huge phonograph-trumpet, with diamond-shaped meshes, which appear to the uninitiated to be too large; but apparently the eels, in the full force of the strong current, which converging to such a narrow point is exceedingly swift—indeed, it is quite a miniature waterfall—are unable to detect this way of escape. The small end of this net is securely sewn to the mouth of the hinaki with green flax (harakeke), and four cross-pieces of manuka about 5 ft. long, notched where they intersect, are then fastened to the large end of the leading-net, which is held open by a large hoop made of akatea vine, and this is slipped behind the two posts at the mouth of the weir and held in position by them, and all is ready. (See fig. 3.)

Picture icon

Fig. 3—V-shaped weir. The arrow shows the direction of the current. 1, braces; 2. poha; 3, hinaki.

The post inserted away from the end of the fence in order to hold the poha in many cases had its upper part carved into the form of a human head. The last such seen in this district was in a weir on the Matahiwi Rapid of the Whanganui River in 1878.

Quantities of manuka branches are pegged down between the fences and the shore until the whole creek is forced into the newly made channel. The first night the hinaki were set after the completion of the Moumahaki pa-tuna twelve eels were taken; a few nights later forty was about the average, except when the moon was bright (the eels apparently do not travel on a moonlight night), until the first fresh took place, when the numbers

– 309 –

immediately increased to hundreds. When the fish are going down-river freely the hinaki is visited and changed every two hours. The poha and hinaki attached are lifted into a canoe, and the eels transferred to a puwai (holding-basket) or another hinaki, and while this is being done other men drop a new leading-net and hinaki behind the posts, working from the pa-tuna itself, and pushing them to the bottom with the feet.

The men are quite naked, and it seems to me to be cold and somewhat dangerous work. When a fresh is in evidence the men are often immersed nearly up to their necks when pushing the under-net into position, and it takes all the power of two strong men to hold the operator from being swept away by the fierce current; add to this the darkness, and I am convinced that few Europeans would care to take up the work. The nets are lifted by means of a supplejack rope, which is attached to both leading-net and pa-tuna. The hinaki is allowed to swing with the current. Occasionally it breaks away, usually during a flood, when driftwood cuts the poha net to pieces. I myself have at various times found three, two containing eels and one lampreys, that had so broken away. In flood-time, when the water is deep enough, two hinaki and poha are set, one above the other. In a high flood the pa-tuna cannot be operated upon, and in this way the natives often miss the season's catch.

By the arrangement of this type of pa-tuna eels are taken going downstream and lampreys going up. The eels are carried down-stream by the full force of the current, without chance of escape, and the lampreys going up-stream attempt to enter the current between the posts that hold the leading-net and the angle of the pa-tuna, the only possible way, and are immediately swept back into the poha net by the force of water.

The first night the hinaki were placed at the Moumahaki pa-tuna twelve eels were taken, as before stated. The following morning a tohunga (priestly adept) very carefully opened the basket just a little, and the first eel that crawled through into the canoe was killed and taken away by him to a secret place unknown to the rest of the Nga-Rauru people. Thereafter the rest of the eels were noa—that is, suitable for common food.

Formerly the first catch from a new pa-tuna was divided into three parts; in the case of a large weir which accommodated several baskets the outside basket—that is, the side away from which the fishers resided—was taken and so divided. The first division or third was for the gods only, and was cooked in a separate umu (oven), placed in flax baskets called kono, into which the eels were coiled without breaking, and deposited in some sacred place. The second division was for the women, and was eaten by them while the last division was being prepared. The food-baskets in which it was placed were called tapura or iapora; those for the last third, for the men, being designated rourou.

The names of the various parts of this pa-tuna are as follows: The upright stakes are called matia, but usually pou; the heavy horizontal beam, huahua; the braces, tapapa; the two strong posts to hold poha, pou-rerenga; the water-race, ia; the bundles of fern matted into walls, pakipaki; the manuka bundles pegged down, tapapa; the mouth of the pa-tuna, ngutu; the fern-matted fences, karapi; the maul for driving stakes, ta.

In rivers of some width this V-shaped weir may be repeated two or three times, as VVV, thus providing two or more outlets, or waha, at each of which a head-net and eel-pot would be placed. Such a weir was seen in the Waikare-taheke River about twenty years ago.

– 310 –

The Poha (Waitotara) or Powha (Whanganui).—The poha, or guiding-net, is constructed of green flax split into about ⅜ in. strips and woven into about a 2 in. mesh. The knot is the same as that used in the construction of ordinary fishing-nets. The poha, is always made by men, the women being engaged in making baskets for holding inanga and kokopu. The mesh is regulated by the first two fingers of the left hand. The net is commenced at the small end, and as soon as possible it is suspended and worked downward (Plate XXIV), gradually being enlarged to 4 ft. 6 in. or 5 ft. by adding meshes (see fig. 4). The small end is about 9 in. or 10 in. in diameter, according to the size of the hinaki for which it is being made, and the length 6 ft. or more. The poha, when finished, is fastened to a hoop made of a strong akatea vine (in modern days more often to a few strands of fencing-wire), which is in turn fastened to a square of manuka poles lashed together, with projecting ends to catch behind the two posts in front of the pa-tuna (see fig. 5). When a fresh is in evidence the poha lasts only about two nights, as it is quickly torn to pieces by the strong current and odds and ends of timber forced against it. The small end is securely sewn to the hinaki with green flax.

Picture icon

Fig. 4.—Method of enlarging poha (whakatepa).
Fig 5.—Poha hoop (kaututu) attached to frame (tekateka) for holding in pa-tuna.

The names of the poha parts are as follows: The vine hoop, kotuku (Waitotara), kaututu (Whanganui); the manuka square to which the above is lashed, tekateka; the mesh, mata; adding extra mesh, whakatepa; the small end, pihanga; the large end, waharau; the complete net before hoop is put on, purangi.

The Pa-tuna for a Large River.

This pa-tuna is always built with the top end on the crest of a swift rapid, and consists of two parallel fences with cross-returns of a single post facing each other at the foot to hold the hinaki. They are exceedingly well built, and very strong considering they are erected in the middle of swift waters from canoes that have to be held in position by poles, and also where the river-bed is composed of boulders and large stones. I am informed by the natives that the fence on the western side is always the shorter, but no reason is obtainable why this is so. Reference to the illustrations will enable the reader to see that this form of weir, composed of two straightened parallel fences, differs widely from the V-shaped weir employed in many rivers, and also from the lamprey-weir, which extends from the river-bank outwards at a right angle to the current. (See Plate XXV, figs. 1 and 2.)

Picture icon

Plate XXIII
Small pa-tuna of the V type at Ngutuwera, Moumahaki River

Picture icon

Plate XXIV
Making a poha, Wartotara

Picture icon

Plate XXIV
Fig. 1—Pa-tuna, or eel-weir, at Kauwae-roa, Whangan River, looking down-stream
Fig 2—Pa-tuna at Kauwae-roa, Whanganui River, looking up-stream. The right-angle return posts, or wings, have been carried away.

Picture icon

Plate XXIV
Pa-tuna on Te Aute-mutu Rapid, Whanganui River (damaged)

– 311 –

After getting all the poles, timbers, and lashings together, it takes from four to six men at least seven days' hard work to construct the simplest form of this pa-tuna. The hardwood stakes of kopuka* are, as a rule, about 4 in. m diameter, and they are driven into the heavy shingle from 2 ft. to 2 ft. 6 in. with a sort of wooden maul, called a ta.

The weir is, as a rule, from 50 ft. to 60 ft. long and about 20 ft. wide, and the work is commenced at the crest of the rapid and continued downstream. After a number of poles have been driven in, two horizontal timbers are lashed on, one below the other, after which more stakes are driven, it being easier to keep in line with guiding-timbers on top. A long and very heavy totara log, from 12 in. to 18 in. in diameter, is then lashed to the stakes at about low-water level, and further held in position by another row of stakes driven at an angle, the top of the stake finishing flush with the inside of the fence (fig. 6). The last post down-stream is clear of the heavy log, and only held by the top horizontal timber, so as not to interfere with the poha sliding up and down. This will be seen in the picture of the pa-tuna on Te Aute-mutu Rapid (see Plate XXVI).

Picture icon

Fig. 6.—Section of large pa-tuna.

Considerable judgment was required in setting the fences at the proper angle against the current, and because of care in this matter, combined with good workmanship and position, some pa-tuna took more fish than others. The angle of fences was of the utmost importance, and always they ran into the current to a greater or less degree according to the arrangement of the stakes. If parallel with the current, or nearly so, few fish were intercepted, and if at too great an angle the eels escaped through the fence.

In a close arrangement of stakes, as the pa-tuna at Kauwae-roa (Plate XXV, figs. 1 and 2) a greater angle is given than in the pa at Te Aute-mutu (Plate XXVI), where the stakes are wider apart. The double fence was only for the purpose of intercepting more fish.

A bad architect superintending the construction of a pa-tuna was the object of much derision, and his failure was known throughout the district. An unsuccessful pa was always pulled down.

It is said that when eels travel up-stream they usually take the deepest and darkest water, taking advantage of every help, while lampreys keep close to the edge, especially in swift water. The log with its double row of stakes causes a sort of backwater right up the full length of the weir, and provides an easy passage for the wily tuna, which he is not slow to take advantage of. At the top of the pa-tuna a sloping rounded log, carefully smoothed, is fixed so as to turn the eels and cause them to be thrown back by the current, which carries them down into the poha before they regain shelter. At the foot of the weir two posts are driven in about 5 ft. away from the fences, one on either side, facing each other, and strongly braced to the main structure, their object being to hold the, poha frame.

[Footnote] * I believe the name kopuka is peculiar to the Whanganui River natives, the names kanuka and maru being used for the wood (Leptospermum ericoides) in other places.

– 312 –

Usually there are sliding logs that work between these posts and the fences, held by the force of water, and also a rope that lifts or lowers them, together with the poha frame of the inverted Y pattern (see later), which is fixed to the hinaki in the manner before described (see fig. 7). These angles, being right across the current, are soon broken by driftwood, and, as a rule, have to be renewed or repaired annually. All the lashings used in the construction of the pa are of aka or kareao vines; no pegs or nails are ever used even in modern times. Usually the fences are lowest at the top of a rapid, gradually rising as they go down-stream.

Picture icon

Fig. 7.—Attachment of the poha. 1, angle brace; 2, sliding timber used to raise and lower the poha, 3, hinaki; 4, ropes of twisted kareao.

The names of the parts of the pa-tuna are as follows: The stakes are called pou; the top horizontal timber, uaua, sometimes (I think, correctly) huahua; the second horizontal timber, kaiwai; the heavy bottom totara log, huahua-kaiwai; the angle stakes holding same, noko; the angle log at head of weir, noko-panawai; the return angle or wing at foot, hoi; the side posts holding same, pou-riri (sometimes turu); the sliding timber, rango; the same timber when fastened down, huapae; the water between the fences, ihonui; water outside of fences, auroa.

When a fresh is in evidence two baskets are placed in position on each side, one above the other, as in the case of the small pa-tuna. Of course, in this particular style of weir a great many eels must pass without being caught; but it would be quite impossible to net a large river in this manner thoroughly, owing to the logs and debris coming down. No doubt if the fences were to converge gradually they would be more effective in fishing, but they would be more liable to be destroyed, as the drift timbers would be caught and the weight of waters would soon be irresistible. However, a very large number of fish are taken, usually in April. The only time I saw this pa-tuna being worked upwards of half a ton of fish was taken out within twenty-four hours. This was during the tuna-heke migration.

A very large pa-tuna capable of holding eight or more hinaki is called pa-tuna waharoa. There is also another built on a zigzag principle, but neither of these have I seen, nor have I been able to obtain any description of them.

Picture icon

Plate XXVII
Fig. 1—Utu, or lamprey-weir, at Parikmo, Whanganui River, looking down-stream.
Fig 2.—Utu, or lamprey-weir, at Parikino, Whanganui River, looking up-stream.

Picture icon

Plate XXVIII
Figs 1, 2 —Hinaki herehere of different patterns
Fig 3 —Korotete lying under whata tapu (tapu storehouse) at Tawhata, Whanganui River.

Picture icon

Plate XXIX
Hinaki pattern (ripeka).

Picture icon

Plate XXX
Hinaki pattern, showing arrangement of ribs

– 313 –

The Utu, a Weir for taking Piharau (Lampreys).

This is built at right angles from the shore, and is built on dry ground by the side of a rapid, being only operated during flood-time (see Plate XXVII, figs. 1 and 2). It is like the pa-tuna, a fence built with closely driven stakes and horizontal cross-timbers, heavily matted or thatched on the up-river side, and strongly braced on both up- and down-stream sides. As the utu has to stand the full force of flood-waters, the bracing is exceptionally strong, upper and lower rows being thrown out at an angle from both horizontal stays on each side. Strong as they are, they seldom last more than a season. The photographs in Plate XXVII were taken at Parikino, Whanganui River, about five years ago, but of the original not a vestige now remains.

The fence is constructed so that the water is blocked at regular spacings, usually about 5 ft. wide, and can escape at alternate spaces of about 2 ft. The up-stream braces are fixed so as to lead the water towards the open parts, as is shown by the illustration. The matting is of bracken and manuka brush—principally bracken. Posts are usually fixed below the fence each side of the water-channel to hold the poha, the circular vine of which for this style of weir is generally attached to a forked piece of wood resembling an inverted Y, or to two pieces of straight wood spliced and tied together as an inverted V (see fig. 8). On the down-stream side a sort of floor is laid of manuka or fern, pressed down with thin manuka poles, which are held in position by pegs driven across them both ways.

Picture icon

Fig. 8.—Poha frames for large pa-tuna or utu.

The piharau congregate in the slack water immediately behind the wall part of the fence, but directly they attempt to go through the weir-opening they meet the full force of the swollen current and are thrown back into the nets.

Names of the utu parts are as follows: The stakes are called pou; the top horizontal pole, huahua; the second horizontal pole, ngakau; the braces, noko; the blocked part of fence, pawai; the opening, ngutu; the floor, whariki; the poles holding down the floor, tapatu; the crossed pegs holding down the poles, tarapi.

Hinaki.

Eel-baskets, or hinaki, as they are called, are of several shapes, sizes, and patterns. They are hard or flexible, regular in construction, and as a rule cone-shaped. They are small at each end, bulging out in the middle,

– 314 –

and are usually from 5 ft. to 6 ft. long and 18 in. to 2 ft. 6 in. in diameter at the widest part. One end is secured tight by a lid; the other returns inwards by a neat curve as a funnel, and finishes with an opening 3 in. or so in diameter about 1 ft. or 18 in. down the net. Hinaki were formerly chiefly constructed of serial roots of kiekie (Freycinetia Banksii) steeped in water till pliable, and were light, strong, and flexible; but I am informed that the akatea vine (Metrosideros albiflora) and aka tororaro gave the best results both as regards strength and lasting qualities. The pohue vine (Calystegia sepium) was also used in the construction of the hinaki, but was called aka korewa when so used. Another vine, growing on stony plains, was also used for fine work and flexible springy baskets, but my informant was unable to remember the name. The kiekie, probably the most common, being the easiest to procure, was also the poorest, as even with care it only lasted from five to seven years. Sometimes in a pattern called pakipaki thin manuka was used for the long strips which were laced on to kareao hoops with small vines, but I have never seen a basket made in that manner, although I understand they were common. In these modern days kareao and sometimes even wire netting are easily obtained substitutes, and it seems to me that the days of the old-time hinaki are numbered. Indeed, as European ideas and methods are gradually growing into favour and practice with the Maori, the old systems of obtaining food are gradually falling into disuse. Twenty-five years ago pa-tuna were common enough in almost every river and stream on the west coast of the North Island; now there are only two in the Whanganui, practically the home of the pa-tuna, and I do not think that farther south even one will be found.

Picture icon

Fig. 9.—Types of hinaki: a, hinaki herehere; b, hinaki tatairangi, c, hinaki waharoa or hinaki aranui.

Picture icon

Plate XXXI
Hinaki pattern (elongated upeka).

Picture icon

Plate XXXII
Hinaki pattern (pakipa or aurana)

Picture icon

Plate XXXIII
Hinaki pattern (phable)

Picture icon

Plate XXXIV
Hinaki kareao

– 315 –

For the hinaki that was used for setting at pa-tuna the trap, or return part, was woven separately and laced on the hinaki afterwards, giving a continuation of the poha lead. Otherwise it was made in one piece. Sometimes for the bait-setting traps loose ends of vine ran together at the inner end of the net funnel, through which the eels could easily push their way but which securely blocked egress. The common shape was called titika. It was used entirely for catching tuna-toke with bait. In this as in the other shapes all the enlarging or reducing was done by adding or dropping strands. Hinaki herehere (fig. 9, a) was another style of trap used for baiting only. The bottle shape with parallel sides bulging at one end was called pae, sometimes tatairangi (fig. 9, b, and Plate XXVIII, figs. 1 and 2), and the large-mouthed hinaki for placing in the pa-tuna was called whakapuwai, and by some waharoa and aranui (fig. 9, c). This hinaki had usually a lid for both ends to hold eels if used as a storing-basket.

Puhara and puwai were baskets made without a trap end, used for keeping eels alive in the water.

A similar basket for holding live lamprey was called korotete. Occasionally these baskets were protected by vine rings tied on outside. A very fine specimen photographed by the writer, lying under a whata tapu (tapu storehouse) at Tawhata, about 120 miles up the Whanganui River, is manufactured in this manner (Plate XXVIII, fig. 3).

Hinaki-pitau, a very small trap of the hinaki pattern used for catching whitebait, was very closely woven of a thin vine called kaii.* Another net for catching whitebait was called hauwai. It was in shape something like a huge scoop without the handle, and is now obsolete. As a boy I saw one of these used by a woman in the Rangitikei River, but that is the only one I have ever seen. It was made of a rush which I regret to say. I have lost the name of. In the Whanganui district the whitebait is called karohe when the shoals first go up-stream in the spring.

Hinaki and Korotete Patterns.

There are at least three patterns, with their modifications and variations, used in weaving hinaki and korotete, one of the finest being called ripeka. It is rather complicated, but very strong (see Plate XXIX). The ribs run the whole length of the hinaki in a continuous spiral, and are placed about 1 in. apart. It will be seen from the accompanying photograph that the diagonal vines from left bottom corner to right top corner pass round the ribs at each intersection, passing under the two-ply twist that holds all together at the same time.

Plate XXX′ shows a modification of the same pattern, the twist round the rib taking place at intervals of between 2 in. and 3 in. Part of the basket-work was cut away in the original of this illustration in order to show the arrangement of the ribs, which gradually grow stronger towards the middle of the net.

Plate XXXI shows an elongated variation of the same pattern, and Plate XXXII the common oblong pattern called pakipaki and also heaurara (? aurara). In the illustration the ribs are shown close together, and

[Footnote] * The long, slender, and flexuous branches of the young plants of matai (Podocarpus spicatus), which young trees are called kai and mai by natives, were used in the manufacture of eel-pots. Possibly this is the material alluded to.

– 316 –

tied at irregular intervals by the long vines passing round them, but in many hinaki of a somewhat similar pattern they are arranged at intervals of about 6 in.

In Plate XXXIII is shown a flexible basket of a somewhat similar pattern to above, made of the kaii* vine. The ribs are two-ply twist of the same material, but somewhat thicker, and are placed four or five close together within the space of 3 in. or 4 in., a similar distance being spaced without ribs. A basket constructed of this material is very fine, light, springy, and pliable, and must have taken a long time to manufacture.

Plate XXXIV shows the common basketware pattern made with split kareao. I have been unable to obtain a name for this basket except hinaki kareao. The Whanganui natives call this vine karewau. It is said that it usually takes an expert about a week to weave an ordinary hinaki about 5 ft. long of the heaurara pattern, which is certainly the simplest.

The parts of the hinaki are as follows: The ribs are called potaka; the ribs when continuing in a spiral, whenu; the lid, taupoki; the net or funnel-shaped entrance for pa-tuna hinaki, akura (also kuao and te ure); twisted vine handle at top, popoia; manuka handle at side, kaharoa; eye for securing lid, popoki; pin for same purpose, taheke (and also kopiha); the two-ply twist following round the ribs, whatu; the vine hinge, toroaka; outside protecting vines, porowhita popoki.

Tanning (Whakawahi).

Any one who has looked at hinaki closely will have noticed that some of the oldest types are sometimes black in colour. This is due to a tanning process that was formerly employed in order to lengthen the life of all hinaki, but which is now entirely omitted in the manufacture, and has not been used for many years.

Quantities of maire and whinau (hinau) bark were gathered, parcelled up, wrapped in leaves, and placed in an umu for prolonged steaming. A special trough, called patua, made of the inner bark taken from a large totara tree was provided. This bark was taken off in one sheet, first cut at both ends with a stone adze at the required length, and then prized off with a maire or akeake lever made especially for the purpose with a fire-hardened point. When a piece of bark was removed in this manner without split or flaw the ends were gradually softened by steam in an umu until they were quite pliable and could be bunched and tied.

This bark receptacle was used because it did not absorb the tannin as did a canoe or trough cut out of wood.

The softened pieces of maire bark were rubbed and worked by the hands until they crumbled away, and the whinau, which would not crumble, was broken as small as possible, and the mass was left in the patua just covered with water until the juices thoroughly impregnated the water. The bundles of vines intended for hinaki were placed in the dye and left for one or two nights, according to the thickness and texture of the bundles so treated. The process was called whakawahi.

[Footnote] * Some natives give this vine as the kii, and say it is found near the sea; but I am unable to give its botanical name.