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The Old-Time Maori


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Much nonsense has been written about the starving Maori. People have written as though the Maori attended a meeting or a tangi just for the sake of having a good meal or overfeeding, and as though he starved or lived in a state of semi-starvation after it until another feast came along. These writers often speak as though a Maori made himself poor by giving a feast for the opening of his house, the marriage of his daughter, or by the food he supplied for a tangi for his mother or father or other relative. I am writing enough in this chapter about the large cultivations of kumara, aruhe, taro, and other foods of the Maori, about the fishing for sea fish and fresh-water fish and shell-fish, about the many varieties of fruits and berries gathered in the forests, and about the birds caught or snared there, to show that the Maori always had plenty of food, and that he need never wait for a hui (gathering) to have a square meal. Indeed, there never was a poor or hungry Maori before the days of the Europeans, when the Maori left their kainga to work for Europeans and a necessity for money arose and disorganized their former wonderful method of living.

Perhaps it would interest the reader to know how food was collected and supplied for a hui, either at page 158 a large meeting of the tribes to discuss affairs of state, or at a marriage, or at the opening of a new whare-puni (meeting house), or at any other ceremony of importance. Take as an example an important gathering to discuss affairs of state, given, we will say, at Te Wairoa where Te Keepa Te Rangipuawhe, a chief, lived with his hapu Tuhourangi. Although the hui would be spoken of as being arranged by the chief Te Rangipuawhe, the food collected to feed the various members of the hapu attending was not supplied only by the people of Tuhourangi who lived at Te Wairoa. All the hapu of Tuhourangi, and they were many, when they heard that there would be a hui, began at once to collect food to help to feed the multitude. A hapu living near the sea began getting fish and preparing them a year or more beforehand, and clans living near a forest collected birds and berries and fruits. Extra cultivations of kumara, taro, and hue would be planted, and aruhe would be collected in quantities. These foods would be brought to Te Wairoa as they were ready, and stored, and greater quantities were brought by the many hapu when they arrived a week or two before the meeting. This may show that the expense of the hui was not borne entirely by the hapu of Tuhourangi who were supporting their chief, and that his hapu was not made poor as a result of the gathering. In addition, all of the other hapu or tribes who attended never came without a presentation of food to help the page 159 ceremony, and the expense, being so evenly distributed among a great many people, would scarcely be felt by any of them.

Again, take the opening of my own whare (house) Tuhoromatakaka, named after my ancestor Tuhoromatakaka, eldest son of Tama te Kapua who was captain of the Arawa canoe which brought my ancestors to New Zealand. Many hapu attended the whaikawa (opening ceremony), and there was a hui, which is described in my chapter on houses. Here then I will simply speak of the food supplied for this ceremony at Whakarewarewa. I did not supply it, and the ceremony cost me very little. My relatives in the hapu descended from Wahiao supplied the necessary food, and attended to the preparation and cooking and giving the food (whiu kai), as I have described it later in this chapter. Here again the cost of entertainment was spread over so many people that it was scarcely felt by anyone. Yet we had food and to spare for the hundreds of visitors who attended the ceremony. (Plate XX.)

Cooking was never done in a dwelling house, but in the open, or in a wharau or kauta (cooking sheds). They were shaped like a whare with uprights and rafters of wood. The sides were split boles of kaponga, tree fern, with a small space between each. The roof was generally of the same material, or of nikau palm which was used as a thatch. The door was usually in the middle of one side, and there was no window. Smoke page 160 escaped through the door and the spaces between the uprights. Each dwelling house had a small wharau, and a large one was attached to the principal house of the kainga. This was used by the community for preparing food for visitors or for a great gathering.

Cooking was done by women and pononga (slaves), but mainly by the women, who waruwaru (scraped) the kumara and prepared the other vegetable food, and very often prepared the hangi, or cooking oven. No woman may cook tawa berries, and some other foods, during menstruation, neither must she prepare a hangi while in that condition. It was believed that the food would not get cooked. Tohunga and chiefs must not cook food, for fear of losing their mana. Food must not be passed over the head of a chief, Tohunga, or elders, as the head is very tapu indeed. A young member of a family must not pass food over an elder brother's or elder sister's head, nor over the head of an ariki (first born), for the head was tapu. The food must be thrown right away or buried.

Food was preserved or stored in whata, two open work shelves, one above the other, supported on four uprights. The lower was about five feet from the ground, and the upper about ten or twelve from the ground. The shelves were reached by an arawhata, step-ladder, which was a tree trunk or pole with notches cut out to hold the front part of the foot. The shelves were used for drying fish, and as a larder for human flesh, or dog flesh which was to be eaten shortly.

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The pataka (Plates XVXVII) was a permanent store house whose shape was identical with that of a whare, but the sides were much lower. The door, also a sliding slab, was in the centre, and there were no windows, except in very large ones. But this was very rare. The size varied from 4 by 2 feet or 6 by 3 feet, up to that of a good-sized whare 20—24 feet long or more. The pataka was raised on posts, one, two, four, or more, according to size. These posts pass through inverted cones of wood to prevent rats from climbing up. There were many ways of keeping rats out, but a favourite way was to cut lengths from an old disused canoe, and invert them over the tops of the posts. Sometimes the post was cut so as to leave a projection all round the top, and again, a straight plank might be placed on the top of the post. The side walls were generally of large planks, 2 or 3 feet wide and 2 or 3 inches thick, and carved with manaia1 figures. They were placed in a horizontal position. The pataka was approached by a permanent arawhata, step-ladder, a log with notches cut out for the foot to step on. There were two kinds of pataka, the small private one belonging to a whanau (family group), and the large one, generally elaborately carved, the public property of the hapu which was attached to the wharepuni (meeting house). A large pataka was sometimes used as a whare for sleeping. The large ones were most elaborately carved with some of the

1 See p. 293.

page 162 finest carving that the Maori did. This carving was usually confined to the front part, the threshold plank, the verge boards and their vertical supporting planks, and the interior of the porch. The walls were of planks, and the roof was thatched.

Food was cooked in hangi. A rounded hollow was dug in the ground, usually circular, and with a diameter of 2 feet or more and a depth of 1 foot at the deepest part, the size varying according to the number of people for whom food was to be cooked. A fire was built in this hollow. Small wood and logs were arranged in a cone, and a layer of hard stones (kohatu) about the size of cricket balls was placed on the fire. When the stones were red hot, the unburnt parts of the logs were removed, leaving only embers below the stones. Water was sprinkled on the stones to make steam. The sides of the hangi were then lined with fern leaves tied together with flax. This lining had been dipped in water. Meat or fish was wrapped in wet leaves and placed on the stones, and kumara (sweet potato) which were already scraped and placed in water, were taken up with both hands and placed wet over the meat or stones. More water was then sprinkled over the whole hangi, and layers of korokio fern leaves were placed all over the food to cover it well. Then a taka made of rough flax was placed on the top, and earth was heaped over the whole, which was left an hour or more to cook. Food was beautiful cooked in this way. When the food page 163 was cooked, the earth was scraped off with a flat piece of wood, and left in a heap by the hangi ready for the next time. Hangi in kainga (villages) were permanent, but temporary ones were often made as occasion required, for instance, in the bush. When there was a large gathering and many people had to be fed, many large hangi were made, of a long rectangular shape.

Two meals were taken each day, the first about 9 a.m., and the other about 4 p.m. The members of a household ate together. A Tohunga had his meals alone. There was only one course, but this consisted of a variety of dishes served together. The food was served in rourou baskets made of flax, or on a taka of plaited flax. Much work was done in the early morning before breakfast, as the Maori was an early riser.

Feasts were held for a marriage, a victory in war, a tangi, a burial, the entertainment of visitors, the opening of a meeting house, the opening of a fortified pa, or the completion of a waka taua (war canoe). During a feast the men and women who have done the cooking, with others who are not partaking of the feast, entertain the visitors with songs and dances. Invited guests have places of honour, and help themselves first. The food is brought in in pieces in rourou baskets. There are generally three or four rourou for each person, containing different foods. The rourou are placed on a long narrow plaited tuwhara, i.e. a page 164 strip of coarsely woven flax 3 or 4 feet wide and in 20 foot lengths, which forms a kind of table-cloth on the ground.

When the rourou kai are placed on the tuwhara, the head man of the cooking party, holding a stick in his hand, touches different parts of the tuwhara, saying, “Ara ra kia ngati mea!” This is for the people or descendants of So-and-so, and thus apportions the feast to the members of the different tribes present. The visitors may then sit down and begin to eat.

A family of two to four or so would have their food served on a taka. The taka would be taken to the hangi and filled with the kumara, taro or hue (gourds) and the relish would be placed on top of the food. The taka would be carried to the place where the food was to be eaten, and the family would eat their food without forks or knives. Food was picked up between the thumb and first finger of the right hand. It was only in dividing a bird or any other relish which might be on the food that the thumb and first finger of the left hand would be used. The hands as a whole did not come into use unless a penu (mash) was wanted, when the third finger could be used. Thus the hands did not get dirty. The Maori was generally careful how he picked up his food. He liked to look at it, if it was a tasty relish. If there was not much relish, the parents would not have any themselves, but pass it on to be shared among the page 165 children or old people. No word was spoken during a meal, and all meals were eaten in silence.

A Maori sat on the ground close to where the food was laid. A man sat with his legs crossed tailor fashion, and a woman with her left leg bent so that her knee came up near to her chin, and with her right leg bent underneath her. Boys usually sat tailor fashion, and girls with both legs bent sideways. A woman sometimes sat like this when eating.

A Tohunga had his meals cooked with other food except on tapu occasions, but his food was served in a special rourou or taka made for his own use of prepared flax. A Tohunga was not allowed to touch food with his hands for fear of losing his mana. Generally a boy six or seven years old, a relative, carried his rourou or taka of food to him, and with a purau, a long stick 12 or 18 inches long with two prongs at the end, placed the food in the mouth of the Tohunga. Water was generally poured from a calabash into his open mouth if he needed a drink. Liquid food was served in the same way, or poured down through a funnel into his mouth.

In parts of the thermal district, food was cooked in the boiling or steam holes. At Whakarewarewa where I lived with my koroua Maihi te Kakauparaoa and his sister Marara who brought me up, we never had any fires at all. All the food was either boiled or steamed. Kumara, potatoes, or taro would be placed in a tukohu, a basket made for this purpose page 166 from the leaves of the toetoe (pampas grass), and the plaited string at the top would be pulled, so closing its mouth (Plate XVIII). This would then be placed in the parekohuru (boiling spring), and the end of the string would be tied to a peg in the ground near the edge of the hole. After a quarter of an hour or so, the tukohu would be lifted out and placed in a hangi, or natural steam oven dug and prepared in the ground, and left for about ten minutes to steam. The basket of kumara or potatoes could also be rinsed through the boiling hole and put into the steam hole straight away without boiling. Food cooked in these hot springs was very nice to taste. Meat, birds, or fish were generally steamed and tasted good.

We lived in a wharepuni made in the real old style. The slabs of totara were all put into the ground about three feet deep, and shone with age. The floor was of earth which was slightly warm, and the place where we slept was covered with lycopodium, waewaekahu, then tuwhara and whariki (sleeping mats) were placed on top. The inside of the house was lined with kakaho reeds, and the heke were beautifully fitted. Everything was made well. The house was about 25 feet long and 14 feet wide, and stood about 10 yards from the rahui (ground belonging to us) where we had our cooking holes, baths, etc.

How well I remember my young days when I lived at Whakarewarewa with my koroua Maihi te Kakauparaoa and my kuia Marara his sister, those page 167
1. Home at Whakarewarewa

1. Home at Whakarewarewa

two fine old people of the old order who lived their good and simple life, not knowing a word of English. We lived mostly at Whakarewarewa during the winter season, going to Parekarangi now and then to get potatoes and other foods, as nothing was grown at Whakarewarewa owing to the heat of the ground. We had a rua kai (food pit) on the site where the government now have a so-called model pa, for we owned the land then.

The two baskets of potatoes brought from Parekarangi would be emptied into the storage pit, page 168 and my kuia would take a supply on to the kainga which was not far away, for our immediate use. Sometimes after the hauhake (the digging up of the food), my mother or other relatives helped to carry the baskets of potatoes from Parekarangi to Whakarewarewa to be placed in the pit there, while the greater part of the mara kai (crop) was gathered and placed in a pit at Parekarangi, to be taken out from time to time as we needed them. In later years pack horses were used for fetching potatoes.

When I was older, and able to walk longer distances and not be carried on my kuia's back, I enjoyed those journeys backward and forward. The stream Puarenga had to be crossed before arriving at the kainga. This the people waded, generally knee deep, but after heavy rain, it became deeper in parts, and the current was strong. I crossed this stream on the back of my kuia till I was big enough to look after myself. The place where we crossed was from fifteen to twenty yards wide, shallow in most parts, then deep under the steep bank on the other side. A path was made in a cutting down this steep bank.

How well I remember sitting on the taumata, the brow of the hill above this Whakawhitinga (crossing), looking down on that dear old kainga and on the fine old people who occupied it, that old generation who have nearly all passed away. I close my eyes, and I am there again, sometimes alone, page 169 and sometimes with my relatives and playmate Ataraiti, companion of my childhood.

It was on this taumata that we concocted the haka (songs) for Repora and Taranaki, when we were about nine years old, songs which are sung to this day at meetings and tangi.

he haka pao. na makereti raua ko ataraiti
Kai whea Taranaki ka ngaro nei ia hau
Kai te Mahi ruri tika moku ka ai.
Ma wai e kau te awa nei Puarenga
Ma taku tau kuiairehe ka ai.
He hui nga he memenga ki roto o teneti
Waiho a Repora tangi raho ka ai.
Kihai koe e Naki i ki mai kia hau
Kai whea he whare ai tanga moku ka ai.

When Repora heard us singing them, she chased us, but could not catch us. The taumata we sat on looked down on the Puarenga stream, and not far from the opposite bank was where Repora and her sister lived with their mother Mareti. They were all my own relations, and I have mentioned them in the genealogy of Wahiao when I tried to show the people who were living at Whakarewarewa in the early eighties. These people were called Ngati Wahiao, and were made up of sub-hapu of Wahiao, being Ngati Huarere, N. Tukiterangi, N. Tuohonoa, N. Te Amo, N. Taoi, N. Waihakari, N. Te Anumato, N. Umukaria, and others.1

1 See chapter on Social Organization p. 34.

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In preparing a meal at Whakarewarewa, the women would first scrape the sweet potatoes (kumara) or potatoes (riwai) with the half of a kakahi (freshwater mussel shell), the potato being held between the thumb and the first and second fingers, and the shell between the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand, about midway of the shell. A woman would waruwaru (scrape) a basketful in a very short time. Hue (a gourd) would be put into a different basket, and not put into a cooking hole until later than the potatoes, as it did not take long to cook. The tukohu (basket) of potatoes was drawn at the top as I have described, and carried by its long tau, plaited string, to the edge of Parekohuru, the large cooking hole, and dropped in, then drawn out and gently dropped up and down on the smooth stone edge of the cauldron, and afterwards put back into the water for a final rinse before tying the string on to a stake near the edge. The basket might also be put straight into the steam hole a few feet away. In the old days the sides of these hangi, or natural steam cookers, were made of slabs of wood, and the bottom of the hole had a plank or two with holes between to let the steam through. They were very hot, and one had to be careful of the steam. The holes were covered over to keep the steam in while cooking, and potatoes would cook in twenty to twenty-five minutes. The boiling spring was a little quicker. Puwha (Sonchus oleraceus. var., rather page 171 like sow thistle) would be left in the boiling water for about ten minutes. It could be steamed, but boiling was preferred. Hue was cooked either way. Meat would be steamed, and would take longer than vegetables. Koura (crayfish) would be placed in a tukohu and dropped into the boiling water for a few seconds, then taken straight out and eaten, or the crayfish might be put into the steam hole for two or three minutes. Koura cooked in this way were beautiful. Fish was generally steamed in a hangi, either in a tukohu or in a vessel, and meat or birds were also cooked in these steam holes. Koeaea (whitebait), like koura, needed very little cooking, and might be put for a minute or two in the boiling water, or steamed in a tukohu, or put into a vessel and stood in the steam hole, or in the shallow part of Parekohuru, the boiling hole, close to the edge.

It was a fascinating sight to see the great numbers of tukohu belonging to several families hanging one over the other about a yard or two from the top of the cooking hole, with all their strings tied on to a large stake in the ground a yard or so from the edge. Each person knew her own tukohu by the string, and there was never any difficulty in finding one's own. If I had two or three in one hangi, I would tie their strings together outside the hangi.

When I was a small child at Whakarewarewa, the cauldron for boiling the food was Parekohuru, a bottomless pit of clear boiling mineral water which page 172 boiled up to the surface from somewhere in the bowels of the earth. It was nearly round, about fifteen or twenty feet across, and had a small outlet at one end to let the water flow away.

Although we lived at Whakarewarewa, we had other kainga, and spent much time at Parekarangi, where we had our cultivations, about six miles from Whakarewarewa, just as my other relatives who lived at Whaka, or in other districts belonging to Tuhourangi and Ngati Wahiao. Each whanau (family group) at Parekarangi had a whare close to its cultivation. My koroua Maihi te Kakauparaoa had a wharepuni and a pataka standing on our land there, and on one side of us were Mohi and his Makarena, and on the other side were Haira and his wife Wiripine with their family, and so on. We all lived up there during the cultivating season, only going to Whaka occasionally for a few days to have baths, and the old Koroua generally had something that he wanted to do there. How well I remember these journeys, always on foot, and without shoes or stockings.

No food was grown at Whakarewarewa, and it all had to be taken from Parekarangi. My kuia Marara would carry it in a kawenga, rope of fibre, on her back. A large basket would be filled with potatoes, then covered with bracken. A long piece of flax would be threaded crossways through the loops at the top of the basket to draw the sides together. page 173 After arranging the kawenga on the ground, she would sit down with her back against the basket, and put her arms through the flax ropes on each side, but nearer the middle really, and raise herself gently with the load on her back. We would start off on our six-mile walk, with me beside her. But I soon got tired, and she would rest against a low bank beside the track, and allow me to climb on to the basket and place my feet over each of her shoulders. Thus I was carried home on top of the kete riwai (basket of potatoes), an extra burden to the dear old soul, who thought nothing of it. So for the next five miles I sat on the basket, sometimes two baskets.

On our extreme right, we passed Haparangi, which rises to a height of 2,808 feet, and on our left many cultivations of the clans of Wahiao at Ngapeho, Te Waikorowhiti, and Waitaruna, looking towards Kapapiko on our right and Waipa. Then we passed Te Rua ki o Koko, and through Te Hemo gorge where the road passed round the cutting, with the Puarenga stream rushing down the valley on its way through Papakura Whakarewarewa, Turikore, and Ngapuna, before joining Lake Rotorua. The view after passing the gorge is wonderful. In the distance is Rotorua Lake with Mokoia Island rising up near the centre, the island home of our ancestors in days long past, the home of Tutanekai, son of Whakaue, for whom my ancestress Hinemoa left her home on the mainland, and swam over to him page 174 from Owhata; Mokoia, where brave chiefs lived and are buried, where Tohunga keep the tapu places tapu, especially the top of the island where so many of my ancestors are buried; Mokoia, where was Te Atua Matuatonga, which the Arawa people brought over from Hawaiki, the distant home, in the canoe Arawa!

Then there was Ngongotaha Maunga to the left, on the west shore of the lake, rising to a height of 2,554 feet. On the top was Te Tuahu o te Atua. From here one saw the other lakes beyond Rotorua, and the view took in the sea and the coast from Tauranga to Maketu, about forty miles away.

We passed on by the side of Puarenga, with Pohaturoa hill on its other side, and looked down upon the many boiling springs and mud holes at Papakura, Waikite, Pohutu, the old sites of Te Puia Pa and Puke a te Ruahina, the old pa and homes of dead ancestors, famous warriors of bygone days.

Then we arrived at our destination Whakarewarewa, where so much of my youth was spent, when we were not at dear old Parekarangi. The journey from Parekarangi was generally begun after the morning meal somewhere about ten or eleven, and we arrived at about two o'clock.

If Marara carried only one basket of potatoes, it was taken to the kainga for our immediate use. If she carried two, most of them would be emptied into a storage pit just before we reached Whaka.

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On arrival, the kete taewa and hue and puwha would be placed on logs at the foot of the tawhero tree which stood near the front of the whare on the left side of the entrance. On its branches would hang two, three, or four tukohu of different sizes, used for cooking food in the boiling or steam holes. These were made of toetoe, pampas grass, plaited by the women. Flax was not used because it gives a taste to the food. Baskets of flax were used only when pork was being cooked at a meeting, when the very large parts were cooked in one piece. Pork would be placed in a large but old flax kete (basket). Green flax would seldom be used, as it gave food a bitter taste.