Volume 5 1896 > Volume 5, No. 2, June 1896 > The Maori and the moa: notes on some moa bones found in a mud spring at Upokongaro, Wanganui, by Elsdon Best, p 121-122
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- 121

DURING a visit recently paid to the Whanganui District, my attention was directed to a deposit of Moa bones found in a curious mud spring close to Matataranui, in the Upokongaro Valley. The springs, for there are several of them, are situated on a small alluvial flat, some three miles up the Upokongaro stream, and about ten miles from the town of Whanganui. The diameter of these springs is but six or eight feet on the average, one, however, being much larger, while another is but about two feet across. Some are on a level with the surface, while others have formed mounds composed of matter ejected from the spring. One of these mounds is some forty feet in diameter, and about twelve in height, on the top of which is the spring, overgrown with raupo, &c., the whole having a most singular appearance when looking at it from the firm dry surface of the flat. I had previously seen such springs in the Sierra Nevada of California, where some of the mounds are as much as twenty-five feet in height.

These springs appear to be deep funnels or holes, filled to the surface with liquid mud. Into some of them I thrust a pole of some twenty feet in length, without meeting with any resistance whatever. In the firmer mud at the side of the springs have been found many bones of the Moa. Unfortunately these bones have been obtained by several different persons, with the result that the “finds” have been much broken up and scattered. Many good specimens are in the possession of various settlers of the district, while I, myself, obtained some by digging, and others through the kindness of the surrounding settlers. The whole of the valley of the Upokongaro has evidently at one time been covered with heavy forest, and I found remains of pukatea trees three feet below the surface, in the ground adjoining one of these singular mud springs. It seems probable that the birds have been bogged in these traps, and were unable to extricate themselves.

- 122

Other specimens of Moa bones which I now have, were given to me by Mr Humphries, and which he obtained in a deep gorge at the head of the Matataranui creek, in the heart of the dividing range between the Upokongaro and Whangaehu valleys. The remains of at least two birds were found in this gorge, which is a narrow cañon with steep cliffs, some forty feet in height on either side. No digging has been done at this place, and the remains found were exposed to view through the action of the waters of the creek. This last is a remarkably interesting discovery, inasmuch as the gully is situated in an extremely rugged and broken piece of country, the whole of which has been until lately, covered with dense forest. I regret that time did not permit of my making any excavation in this locality.

The old natives of the Ngati-Hau tribe, when questioned on the subject of the Moa, replied:—

“Our ancestors in past ages saw the Moa, and hunted it for food. When the ancestors of Te Ati-Hau first came to the Awa-nui-a-Rua (or Te Wai-nui-a-Tarawera, both ancient names for the Whanganui river), they found the Moa here. I have told you that the Koromiko was the only wood with which that great bird could be thoroughly cooked. Hence the saying: ‘Ko te koromiko te rakau i tunua ai te Moa.’ The Moa belonged to this land, the Nga-paerangi hunted it before the days of Ao-kehu, of Tama-whiro, and of Tu-mata-kokiri. Turi brought these birds with him in Aotea: the Moho, the Pukeko, the Kokoreke, and the Moa-kirua; these were a portion of the valuable freight of Aotea. The Moa-kirua was a small bird, resembling the Weka, and is never now seen of man. Our fathers before us did not see it. There is a small bird which is seen on the banks of rivers and lakes, and the young people will tell you that it is the same bird as the Moa-kirua, but they are all wrong. The name of this bird to us is Kohara-tito (Ko te ingoa o tenei manu ki a ngai-maua, he kohara-tito.)
“Friend, this is another word in regard to that great bird, the Moa. You have seen the Rata trees in the forest, and how crooked they are, quite bowed down in fact. The reason of that is, that the Moa tried many of the forest trees as roosting places, and all those trees broke, until the Rata was tried, and that did not break, but was torn away from the tree which it clasped, and merely bowed down its head. And that is why the Rata grows in that position even in these days.
“Friend, do not heed the voices of the ignorant, for in those distant times, when Hau-pipi traversed the great coast, and the brave warrior Ao-kehu slew the monsters, Tutae-poroporo, and Ikaroa, Wiwi, and Wawa, and even crossed the Sea of Raukawa to Aropawa and fought Te Tini-o-Ngongotaha, when those ancestors lived in the world of life, then it was that the Moa was seen by man.”