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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 9 (January 1, 1934)

Pictures of New Zealand Life

page 45

Pictures of New Zealand Life

The Uses of Raupo.

The flax and the raupo swamp-reed are two of the most. characteristic and abundant wild plants of the New Zealand landscape. Flax was our earliest item of trade and export; but whatever use can be made of raupo, symbolising the waste places of land? So asks the pakeha enquirer; but the Maori can answer the question, and so, too, can the pioneer settler. Really a little book could be written around the raupo, the unconsidered plant of the marshes and the lagoons, type of the wilderness life like the bittern, the weka, and the hawk. Its associations and its stories are manifold.

To the Maori the existence of a raupo swamp within convenient distance of his home was a necessity of life, a source of food and building material. From the pools and runways among the reeds he obtained his eels, and the raupo sheltered, too, the wild duck and other waterfowl that formed part of his bill-of-fare. The long reed leaves, so light and full of small air cells, made the best of thatching for his house. Easy to cut and carry, and found nearly everywhere, it was the material for walls and roofing. Dried and tied in thick bundles and skilfully fastened on roof and sides it made the snuggest of dwellings, cool in summer and warm in winter. Our early settlers, and the long-service soldiers in New Zealand, well knew the comfort of a whare of raupo.

Then the Maori used the leaves as sail material for canoes. It was the lightest and cheapest of substitutes for canvas, and canoes on lakes and rivers and the sea coast were often wafted along by these triangular shaped sails. There was the hunehune, the down in the red and brown seed-heads, like knobs at the end of the light stems. This was used by many a pakeha housewife in the country for stuffing pillows and mattresses when feathers were scarce. (I remember being sent, when a small boy, to the swamp to gather dry hunehune for my mother, for filling cushions.) As for the root, it was cooked and eaten by the Maori. I have never tasted it, not having been reduced to that condition of starvation, but I am pre-pared to believe the old people's statement that it was edible when there was nothing better on hand. Again, there is the useful-ness of the leaf for the making of poi [gap — reason: illegible] for the popular action dances. So in [gap — reason: illegible] way and another the familiar raupo has place in the economy and the amuseme of the country.

The Mountain Bush.

The necessity for preserving the native forest on the steep and lofty places of the land has been much discussed in many quarters of late. Writers, speakers, and societies of one kind and another have expressed concern for the future of the land if the protective bush is destroyed, and the Urewera Country in particular has been cited where the saving of the forest from axe and fire should be regarded as a State obligation and duty.

The Huiarau ranges above all should be preserved absolutely untouched. The road from the Rotorua side to Waikaremoana crosses this great broken mass of mountains, the source of many streams and the home of perhaps the loveliest wild gardens of ferns in any part of our North Island bush. But more important than beauty of woodland and fern is the value of these ranges for riverprotection purposes and the regulation of the water-flow.

Woods of the Wharau.

On another bit of steep country in the Urewera district I particularly noted the uses of bush and undergrowth in literally holding the land together. This is the Wharau Range, over which the horse track goes from Ruatahuna to Ruatoki and the plains, following down the Whakatane Valley. It is almost precipitous for a thousand feet or so, but it is covered everywhere with dense and closely-matted bush. On the narrow summit there are huge tawa trees growing, usually an indication of good soil.

page 46

But once let this bush be stripped from the hills and what would be the result? It would follow as the night the day, the soil would be swept away by the rains, the range side would be scarred with a thousand landslips, the quick run-off, unregulated by a protecting forest, would flood and silt up the Whakatane River, and the farming plains below the ranges would suffer. The bush must remain on such places; it is the saving of the country.

War Banners.

A Maori war flag which has been presented to the Wanganui Museum has been described as Te Kooti's famous flag; it was captured at the fight at Te Porere, close to the Tongariro National Park in 1869. It was remarked by a newspaper that “Wanganui seems to be the accepted last resting place of all New Zealand's historic flags.” That statement did not take cognizance of the numerous flags, some of great historic value, which are preserved in the Auckland and Wellington Museums. In the Auckland War Memorial Museum is the most precious of all our storied flags, the colours of the 58th Regiment, the famous “Black Cuffs.” Auckland has many Maori war flags, including the handsomely made flag captured by the Forest Rangers in 1863 in a fight in the Wairoa Ranges. It has a history, that Kingite banner. Another in Auckland is adorned with a black warrior figure representing Tu, the god of war.

Te Kooti's Great Flag.

Stored away in a case in the Dominion Museum in Wellington is the principal flag carried by Te Kooti's warriors in their many fights and expeditions, victories and defeats. This is a really wonderful speciment of flag-making. It is a very long pennant, indeed nearly fifty feet in length, and four feet in the hoist, tapering away like a naval paying-off pennant. On the red ground are worked various patriotic and national devices—the crescent moon, a cone-shaped mountain representing New Zealand, a star, a heart and a cross. Several feet of the end of the flag were sheared off many years ago; it was originally fifty-two feet in length.

Its full history would make a thrilling narrative. Sufficient here to say it was made by the nuns in the Catholic Mission School at Meanee, Hawke's Bay, for the friendly Maoris who were fighting against the Hauhaus, was captured by Te Kooti in a fight at the back of Gisborne in 1868, and for two years of warfare was carried from one place to another by the rebels. It was recaptured at last in 1870 at the foot of Tumunui Mountain, in the Rotorua district, by Captain Gilbert Mair, who shot its bearer, the half-caste Eru Peka, and was given by Mair to Dr. Hector—afterwards Sir James Hector—then in charge of the Wellington Museum, and there it has been ever since, rolled up and boxed.

When our new Dominion Museum is built maybe there will be found space to exhibit these and other forgotten flags of our storyland. At present they are unseen, unknown.

Lake Horowhenua's Islets.

The citizens of Levin town are endeavouring to popularise their pretty watersheet, Lake Horowhenua, as a pleasuring place. Certainly it is a lake worth exploring, this shallow, glimmering plate of quiet water, for its Maori life and its historic islets. It is a pleasant place for a boating cruise, especially if there should be someone with you who knows a little of Horowhenua's past. There are five artificial islands, but they are now tangles of raupo, flax and shrubs; it is not easy to detect signs of man's hands in their making. One or two are mere dots of flax clumps, with here and there an ancient palisade post. They were built in the shallow waters by the Muaupoko tribe more than a century ago, as places of refuge; but the all-conquering Rauparaha and his musketeers soon captured them all. Most of them lie near the south end of the lake, where the Hokio stream flows out to the sea. They look like little bush-parks floating on the calm water.

Karapu, the largest built-up island, is near the mainland at the northern end of the lake. There, too, is the only island that is not artificial, Namu-iti. The old settlers used to call it “Rauparaha's Stockyard.” A sinister name! Rau' kept his captives there, drawing on them for army rations as required. The pakehas, of course, did not witness that process, but they heard enough about it from the old warriors.