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No. 63 (June 1968)
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TOKI

He thinks he's a good fisherman, Toki, a good fisherman. Ah, yes. From the North he came in his young day to show the Ngati Porou how to fish. It was his boast that, to show the Ngati Porou how to fish.

‘They are all there the fish,’ he said. ‘In the waters of the Ngapuhi. The tamure, the tarakihi, the moki and the hapuka. And Toki, he has the line and the hand for all of them. Toki from North, Toki the fisherman.’

But it was not as a fisherman we saw him then but as a boaster and a stranger, though she was from among us, his mother. Ngati Porou she, married to a Ngapuhi and Toki her only son. A young man, Toki, when died his father, and his mother she came back to her home among us. A big welcome for her we gave, and gave it also to her son though we looked upon him with some suspicion. A boaster and a stranger this, and named Toki Fish by us since long ago days.

It was long ago days before the war, we had a mind for the same girl, Toki and I both. A beautiful girl this, and looking my way till he came with his boasting ways. The throat of a bird, she, and promised to me, for it had been arranged between our families. Then he came, Toki, and her head was turned until I showed him as a boaster.

After the wedding of our eldest brother when all were gathered for singing and dancing, he began again to boast of days fishing, Toki. And she listened with eyes down, the girl, which was a way of hers. Very jealous then I, and stood to speak.

‘Well it may be,’ I said, ‘to catch many fish where fish are many. In North they are plenty, the fish, and you wait with your hooks and your lines for them to come. A fisherman of skill catches fish where there are none to catch.’

‘They are many or they are few, the fish,’ said Toki. ‘But still they come to me because I have the line and the hand.’

‘Together then we, tomorrow,’ I replied, and he knew my meaning as did those who listened.

‘Not together, but one, then the other.’ he.

‘Together tomorrow to choose a place,’ I. ‘Equal then we. After that I go, and the next day you.’

They all spoke then, the old people, of days fishing, and much advice they gave to us of young days. But sat quietly, I, to wait for morning. Many times fishing with my father, and the fishing grounds known to me, but not for the ears of a stranger this. So I decided a place next day. Rowed together past the point of crayfish rock and in a line to Poroti where green meets blue.

‘Here then,’ I said.

‘So,’ said Toki.

It was all there, the bait, when we returned, for all were eager to see who would be the fisherman of skill. To the rocks for crayfish they, for it is best bait in these parts, the crayfish. Tied to the hooks with strips of flax because it is soft, very soft, the crayfish bait.

Next morning then I, with many there early to see me go. Out to sea with the day just coming, pulling strong and straight. Around the point, then quickly to the chosen place to get my line down before the sunrise.

Not one of the fishing grounds this, and doubtful I, at the start. But as the day came in, the tarakihi. A quick pull this, and knew many would follow because it is the way of the tarakihi. Eight hooks on my line and counted eight before bringing them up. Fat they were, waving in the water as my hand pulled in my line. Quick

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to put on my bait again and put it at the bottom of the sea, for it feeds quickly, the tarakihi. Four times to the surface with eight, and a good beginning. But the time after this, pulling in the line, there came the heads of my tarakihi but not the bodies. Gone, the bodies. The work of a hapuka this, and very excited then I.

Quickly to change the bottom hooks for a bigger size and tie the bait on firmly.

‘Come to me hapuka,’ I said. ‘Come old man. Come to the line of Hotene. This is the line for you and this the bait.’

My hand felt the pull of the tarakihi many times but waited. Then away, the line, with the strong, slow pull of the hapuka.

‘Mine then,’ I said, and brought him up.

A big size this, though it was not the ground of the hapuka.

Then the slacking of the water, and rolled in my line to rest and get ready my ‘spinner’, for it is the time of the blind eel, this.

Not many more fish for me that day, but knew my catch was good for such a place of chance. Home then, hard pulling with my paua shell ‘spinner’ flashing at the back of the boat, waiting for the eye of the kahawai. Round the corner it waited, the kahawai, and a spread of green and silver as it took the spinner.

A happy fisherman then, I, heading for home to the crowd on the beach. A lucky day this, and knew I'd not be beaten. But then it was, as I waited for the eighth wave to take me in, that I thought of what could happen. He sees all these fish of mine, Toki, and he will know he cannot equal in such a place chosen. He will go then, well out to sea, to the grounds of the hapuka. There to fish because his boast is strong.

Now in these parts the landing of a boat is not safe except to come in on the eighth wave. Watch for the biggest, then after this, turn into the eighth. It is the right size this one to take your boat to the shallows safely. Kept from the ears of Toki, it would be my safeguard, this.

To the hills, I, early next morning and from there saw the little boat head straight for the deep. Glad then that I had kept the secret of the waves.

Many were there to watch him come in and so sat quietly to watch. No counting of waves Toki, but turned his boat into a breaker of small size which brought him halfway in. But then came the big one. A big one this, swelling and getting faster, up to the boat, then … crash!

Swamped, the boat, and Toki in the water with his catch around him as I had known. Toki Fish we called him as he swam for shore and that has been his name since. All were happy for me to show him as a fool, because all knew he had not gone to the chosen place to fish. And she came to my side once more, the girl, and is there still though old lady now, she.

He goes for the paua and the kina now, Toki. He throws his line from the beach for the shark, but no more in a boat he, for fear of what would be said. But a boaster still this one, a boaster still. It blows strong, the wind from North.