Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa Go to Te Ao Hou homepage
No. 26 (March 1959)
– 10 –

HOW OUR GREAT GRANDPARENTS LIVED.….

These reminescences were told to the author long ago by Mrs A. G. Hall who taught at Tolaga Bay School in 1883 and 1884.

I will try to tell you as well as I can remember the ways and customs of the Maoris of seventy years ago.

Along our stretch of country from the Kopuni end of the beach to Kaiaua, a distance of about two and a half miles, there were several native settlements; the main ones being located at either end of the beach. My own kin were settled at Kopuni and their ancestors had lived there for countless generations before them. My grandmother, uncles and aunts with their families and endless connections comprised our little community when my father built our home among them.

The other end of the beach was called Kaiaua, and Mr J. Morris now farms what was once the stronghold of the Tautau family.

We were also on the main highway, as all travelling then followed the Coast Road, except at points like Kopuni to Uawa, where precipitous cliffs forced the road to deviate inland for a few miles before re-emerging at the coast again.

All the kaingas were near the sea because much of the food was obtained from the sea. In the late summer and autumn months the settlements were hives of industry. Whenever the weather was favourable the men would all go out fishing in their canoes and mokihis. The settlements would be supplied with fresh fish and the remainder of the catches were dried for winter consumption. The women collected and dried pauas, and seaweed also in season. Kinas and pupus were also gathered and stored in bottles and jars.

The karaka trees grew in groves along the hillsides facing the sea and the ripe berries were gathered in great quantities. We children loved to help to gather the Karaka berries as we liked to eat the outer part; while the inner part or nut was cooked, either in a hangi, or boiled in a large iron pot, taking all day to cook. The cooked berries were then put into kits and left to soak for a few days in the creek until the wall of the outer flesh was soft enough to soak off. The process was completed by spreading the nuts on mats to dry in the sun and then collecting them again in the kits and storing in the storehouses.

When the kumara crops were dug the largest were carefully stored in the ruas or kumara pits, while the seconds were scraped and the smallest fed to the pigs. The women used to scrape the kumaras until there was a small hill of kits filled with the scraped tubers. These were now washed and put out on mats to dry. This drying out sometimes took several days to accomplish. A long hangi was then made with the object of thoroughly cooking the kumaras before they were again spread out to dry. When the womenfolk were fully satisfied with their handiwork the dried kumaras were collected into kits and packed away. If the kumaras were not properly dried and went mouldy before the next spring then the women would have a subject for their gossip, and the woman concerned would feel very much ashamed.

There was a turnip that was cultivated but also grew wild on slippery places on the hillsides. Its shape resembled a parsnip but it tasted like a swede. These were prepared and dried like kumaras and stored for winter and spring use.

There were always numerous pigs around the settlements. Some were sold to the trading vessels that called every few months and others were cooked in their own fat and packed into calabashes. The young gourds tasted like marrows, when boiled. The young gourds with the best shapes were allowed to grow to their full size and were left out in the fields until their shells had hardened and the flesh inside had dried away. A neat hole would then be cut in the top so that the seeds and dried flesh could be scraped out. A flaxen webbing with handles would facilitate their transport and stoppers were cleverly made to plug the holes in the top. A large calabash would hold about two or three gallons of water. We used to carry drinking water in them and with care they lasted for years. Others were used for storing cooked foods such as pork, both wild and domestic, pigeons and other birds that teemed in the bushes were most esteemed delicacies. In those days the bush was all around us and when we were short of meat our father would take his gun and return with six or more fat pigeons.

When we were children we used to wander about the hills with our elders, collecting the berries of tutu and pressing the juice into calabashes. We ran our hands down the sprays of berries and then squeezed the juice through our fingers into the calabashes, or taha as we called them, until they were full. Before sheep and cattle were intro-

– 11 –

duced the hillsides were covered with tutu. The juice is very sweet and purplish red in colour, and although the seeds are poisonous, the juice is not. We used to squeeze the juice into our mouths and when we had finished we were smothered with it. The juice of the tutu was used to preserve sea weed of the large flat kind that most people have seen attached to rocks. I think that kelp is the name it is commonly known by. The weed was taken from the sea cut up into pieces about three inches square, washed and dried, cooked in the hangi and then filled into the calabashes, and stored. I remember that it was very good to eat as it had absorbed the flavour and sweetness of the tutu juice.

The women took great pride in ensuring that the family pataka or storehouse was kept well filled. The men too did their part by preserving pork, birds, dried fish, eels, crayfish and also assisting in the ohu or working bees.

In those days the methods of cultivating the land differed a great deal from the ways we know today. All the digging had to be done with the spade and all the neighbours came and helped with digging, planting, sowing and so on all round until all the maaras or plantations had been done. This was one reason why it was so necessary to lay in such large stores of food.

Quite a lot of wheat was grown on the Wharekaka flats and it all had to be transported from there to the beach, a distance of some six miles

Picture icon

Miss Winnie (Tiniku) Moore in her seventieth year.—Kandid Kamera Kraft.

over steep hill tracks, that the feet of generations of my ancestors had worn until there were high banks on either side which were very handy to rest their burdens on, particularly when going up hill. The heavy packs often galled the shoulders of the men and women who backed the wheat over in the closely woven flax kits that the women, young and old, had woven throughout the winter months in readiness for the next years harvest. My father told me that the kits held sixty to seventy pounds of wheat.

When I think of those sturdy old people my heart swells with pride in them. White people may call them savages as they may have been in times of strife and war, but in times of peace one could not meet a more industrious and hospitable race. I look back to the time when they lived on the products of the land and the sea, and they were never in want. Their only needs that were supplied by the traders were iron implements. Most of the old men still wore the korowai and the pake which were their traditional flax woven clothes. The trading vessels had already begun to make their periodical visits and wheat and pigs were the principal items in demand.

The women had begun to wear print and dungaree petticoats and jackets. I had not seen the Maori use soap. When their clothes required washing they were taken down to the creek and there rubbed with a blue clay that could be found under the side of the creek banks. This clay had a sticky substance in it and the clay was rubbed onto the clothes which were then pounded on round stones in the creek. When the children required washing they were also rubbed with this clay and after a good ducking they came out clean.

My father had a steel mill which had to be turned by hand. He would bake our own bread from the wheat that the Maoris would give him in payment for grinding their wheat.

The only trade in the way of foodstuffs in my time was in big boxes of dark brown sugar; cases of hard biscuits, tea in boxes and salt. My father made his own candles and soap. Of course we had to buy the material for our garments. Our father had been a sailor and so knew how to make all his own clothes. Until we went to live at Poverty Bay I had not seen him wear anything he had not made himself.

The Maori women when meeting visitors of importance from a distance, donned all their petticoats and brightly coloured skirts so that they looked to be wearing crinolines. There would be not less than four widths, often six or more, so that when they had them all on they were the envy of their less fortunate women friends. I heard my father tell of an occasion when my mother, after a tangi, when the feast had been consumed and the speeches interchanged, stood up and took off her skirts and presented one to each of the six women present in the party. This was considered the proper thing to do as my mother was the wife of a white man.