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No. 21 (December 1957)
– 45 –

THE KERERU
YESTERDAY AND TODAY

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Photograph: C. A. Fleming

Cook and other early writers speak of being wakened in the early morning by beautiful melody produced by the chorus of myriad bellbirds, tui and other birds of the forest. In ancient days this clamourous morning concert was known as “te mara o tane.” Banks once wrote “They make the most melodious music I have ever heard.” It would not require a great deal of imagination to picture the pigeon as the “big bass!” Today this glorious and melodious concert is no longer to be heard in the forests of Tane, for the breast of Papa-tu-a-nuku has been denuded by a thoughtless and destructive people.

During the bird snaring season the forest was under strict tapu. In each area resided a talisman in which the powers of the gods who ruled over the forests and their products were held. This material talisman was called a mauri. It might be a prominent stone or one of unusual shape, or perhaps it might be a special tree or hill. It could be practically any object. The mauri retained the mana of the forest and ensured that it was frequently visited by numerous flocks of birds. It also attracted birds by protecting the fertility and productivity of the forest. Offerings would be made and ceremonials performed at the mauri.

When the birds failed to make their appearance in the forest, obviously, something was wrong with the mauri. A tohunga would then be sought out who could revitalise the spirit of the talisman by reciting karakia or charms over it.

One of the most important of all birds, to the Maori, was the kuku, kukupa, kereru, or pigeon. Not only did he relish the flesh of the bird—the equal of which it would be difficult to find—but he also found a use for the feathers in the adornment of his beautiful cloaks.

The snaring season for the pigeon began in the Autumn, but long before this, the snarer would be busy noting the state of the trees and picking out for future reference those heavily laden with berries and endeavouring to calculate the number of birds which would frequent the forest.

It was not possible for a snarer to roam at large through the forest wherever his fancy might take him, but, provided he lived for a time in each community where his parents held interests and was recognised as belonging to both hapu, he was permitted to take game from those areas. For an unauthorised person to snare birds outside his own territory was greatly resented and, in the past, trespassers have been slain for so doing.

Some fantastic stories have come from the pens of early writers in regard to the methods used in taking the pigeon. One suggests that the snarer called the bird with a leaf, and lulled it to sleep! Another, that the Maori had no means of taking birds until the firearm was introduced!

A certain amount of tapu pertained to the making of snares and no women were permitted near. Cabbage tree (cordyline Australia) leaves were used as they were stronger and more durable than those made from harakeke or flax (phormium tenax). Leaves were formed into strips when one or two of these would be cast into a special fire in order to ensure good luck, and karakia recited in order to placate the gods. To give the strips an aged appearance and to ensure that they lasted, they were held in the smoke of a fire. The first bird caught was offered to the appropriate god, usually being placed on the verandah part of an Ipurangi—that small hut one sees in old pictures of a pa, sometimes elevated to twenty feet or so, from the ground. Or it might be cast