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No. 22 (April 1958)
– 50 –
FROM A NOTEBOOK

About the year 1871 Pokiha Taranui, the Head Chief of Ngati Pikiao commenced the making of a net for sea-fishing. When the net which was made of undressed flax (that is it was made of ordinary split flax which was passed through fire for the purpose of making it more pliable) was finished it was eighty-six chains long and thirty feet wide. In the centre for sinkers on the bottom of the net some tons of small round boulders about the size of a man's fist were used, each one netted into a small pocket, for the top side of the net in the absence of cork the whau, a very light wood was used, with here and there a calabash to give it buoyancy.

On the first occasion the net was put into the water, it was placed on a platform between two large war canoes before crossing the bar at Maketu. A rope of undressed flax was passed ashore and the canoes went seaward and under the direction of the people on shore, who, by waving coloured shawls directed the movement of those with the net, an immense shoal of Kahawai were enveloped. A second line was then passed ashore and from two to three hundred men, women and children attached themselves to each of the two ropes and commenced hauling in. As the net neared the shore a large number of men swam around the net on the seaward side to endeavour to prevent the escape of the Kahawai, by jumping over the top of the net while a number of natives were on the landward side engaged in killing the sting rays and sharks of which some hundreds were taken besides araara, schnapper, taharangi, kumukuma and other fish.

It was computed that 20,000 (twenty thousand) kahawai weighing about fifty tons was taken in this, the first haul. While the net was surrounding the fish a peculiar ceremony took place. A Maori Tohunga was invoking the assistance of Tangaroa, the deity presiding over the denizens of the deep. Several of the natives were stung by the rays which seemed to be very painful. The only remedy used was to extract the barb and then beat the wound till profuse bleeding took place. One Native was badly bitten on the buttock by a Takiari (one of the man-eating sharks).

The Kahawai were distributed among the tribes, large hangis were made along the shore and when the hangis were ready the fish were packed in, and allowed to cook for 24 hours, after which the fish were placed on stays to dry by the heat of the sun. When perfectly dry they were stowed away, and in that state would keep for some years.

The share allotted to me was about one and a half tons which were accepted and returned.