Volume 4 1895 > Volume 4, No. 2 > Ancient methods of bird-snaring amongst the Maoris, by Tamati Ranapiri, p 143-152
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- 143
Part 1.

THE following is a description of the methods of catching or killing birds used by the Maoris, that is, the native birds of New Zealand, such as the Kereru or Kukupa (New Zealand pigeon, Carphophaga novœ-zealandiœ), the Kaka (New Zealand parrot, Nestor productus), the Tui, Koko, or Parson-bird (Prosthemadera novœ-zealandiœ), the Kakariki, Pouwaitere, or Paroquet (Platycercus novœ-zealandiœ), the Parera (grey duck, Anas superciliosa), the Kiwi (Apterix australis), and the Kokomako or Bell-bird (Anthornis melanura).

The description will commence with the method of catching the Kereru (pigeon). This is a fine bird and very tame, and it remains for a long time in the one place on the trees. There are three methods used for catching this bird—the first is the tūtū, the second the ahere, the third the tahere.

The name tūtū is applied to an erect growing tree, in the branches of which a stage is formed, on which sits the person who uses the apparatus for catching the Kereru. At the time of year when the fruits of the forest are ripe, such as the whanake or ti (Cordyline australis), large numbers of Kereru may be seen flying about and eating the fruit. When they take flight they are like a swarm of bees, flying round and above the trees, occasionally alighting. This is their constant habit as long as that fruit lasts. So soon as the Kereru commences to fly about in this manner, all the men of each hapu (sub-tribe) possessed of pluck, strength, and knowledge who live in the neighbourhood, that is to say, the native people of the place, decide to make tūtūs to catch the Kereru. They search out a tree which has a suitable top, with inwardly inclined branches, and where the surrounding trees have projecting branches. When one is found it is prepared for a tūtū. In case there is no vine or creeper adhering - 144 to the tree, by which to ascend, maybe another suitable one close at hand will be found to serve the same purpose, from which a stage (or ladder) can be made to connect it with the tree used as a tūtū Should no such tree be available the tūtū tree itself has a ladder lasued to it, reaching right up to the branches. As soon as the tree can be ascended, poles are cut below and hoisted up the tūtū tree to form a stage with on which one or two persons can arrange the pouakas. The pouaka is a wooden rod carefully made, about 5ft. long, 2½in. wide, by lin. thick. Three or four of these are used. They are tied to different branches, directed upwards in an upright position, so that the upper end of the pouakas project above the topmost branches, where they are used to attach the tumus, or parts on which the Kereru are caught. The tumu is very carefully adzed into shape, and to it is attached the aho (cord) made of muka (scraped flax), by which the feet of the Kereru are snared. (The diagram No. 4 shows the method employed. The cord forms a noose spread on the tumu, the long end of which passes through a hole in the tumu, thence down the side of the pouaka to the hand of the snarer, who, as soon as the pigeon alights, by a quick pull tightens the noose and catches the bird.) Large numbers of Kereru are killed by this method of the Maoris sometimes as many as two hundred in a day, depending on the number of birds about. (Plate No. 1 illustrates this method of catching birds.)

Part 2.

Another method of snaring Kereru is by the ahere or makanga, or snares. When the miro tree (Podocarpus ferruginea) is in full fruit, large numbers of Kereru assemble to partake of it. The miro fruit very quickly fattens the birds, and at the same time it induces great thirst. A short time before the ripening of the fruit, the people proceed to the forest to ascertain which trees will be well fruited. When they discover one they commence to make the wakas or kumetes (troughs to hold water), or to seek for appropriate wood, such as rata vines, to hollow out for the purpose. Before the Kereru begin to visit the miro trees, the wakas are filled with water; some are suspended in the branches of the tree, firmly tied to prevent their falling. When all this has been done, and the wakas filled, they are left so that the Kereru may see and drink from them, and become accustomed to them. So soon as this is accomplished, the snares are prepared, and placed along the margins of the wakas, as well as on such of the branches of the trees as are suitable for the same purpose. (Plate No. 2 shows the method of arranging the snares along the edges of the troughs. The snares are running nooses side by side, placed all round the troughs, so that the pigeons cannot get at the water without putting their heads through the nooses, and, in with drawing, they are caught by their feathers, and thus the birds are strangled.)

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In travelling through the forest, and on finding a pool of water, a knowing man at once examines the adjacent trees, and if he finds the scratchings made by the feet of the Kereru thereon, he knows that the pool is used by them to drink from, and at once proceeds to place his snares around the water.

One single person often has six or seven wakas or troughs, or even more, and three or four trees are prepared by him. On the first day of setting the snares, from morn to night, none of the birds caught that day are taken from the snares, but they are on the following day.1 This is the custom of the ancestors of the Maoris from time immemorial. No one is allowed to make any disturbance in the vicinity of these operations—to split firewood, &c., or other similar noise—during the day, lest the Kereru take flight to some other spot; but in the evening one may split firewood or do other work. Whilst engaged in this work the people sleep in the forest near the snares; some are there to carry the birds to the home. This system of killing pigeons secures larger numbers than any other; one man will obtain two, or even three, hundred in the day, according as the birds are plentiful or not that year. So soon as the miro fruit has fallen, the work is at an end, for the birds cease to frequent the trees.

Part 3.

The third method of taking the Kereru is by the tahere or here (by spearing). The here (or spear) is a long piece of wood, carefully prepared; it is usually made of tawa wood (Nesodaphne tawa), from a carefully selected, straight-grained, long piece, easily split; it is as much as 30ft. to 35ft. in length. A young and soft tawa tree is selected, felled, and cut to a length of 30ft. to 35ft., and split in long lengths, so that two or three spears are obtained from the same tree. It is then carefully adzed down to the thickness of 1¼in. in the middle, tapering off to ¾in. near the ends, then scraped nicely to be quite smooth and straight, and then fitted with a tara-kaniwha, or barb. The barb is made of bone, one end of which is sharpened by scraping, and one side is serrated (kaniwha) in order to hold the bird when struck. After the barb is finished it is bound on to one end of the here or spear, and is then ready for spearing birds in the forest.2 The Kereru is speared in the season when the whanake and miro are in fruit; spear and snare are used at the same period. It is also speared when the koroi or kahikatea (Podocarpus dacrydiodes) and other trees are in bearing.

The proficient in the art of spearing does not seek to secure the Kereru with the barb of his spear, but after spearing the bird he withdraws the point of the spear, and allows the bird to fall to the ground. - 146 He well knows the vital parts, which, once touched, the bird dies. When the time comes that the fruits mentioned are ripe, the knowing man climbs up such a tree—a miro, kahikatea, or other one—and there remains. When the Kereru comes to feed it is speared, and falls to the ground. This method of obtaining birds does not secure so many as that by means of the tūtū, or of the ahere; it is only in plentiful years that slightly more are obtained; few birds result in few being killed by the spearsman.

The above is all in reference to the systems of Kereru taking, but the spearing is not confined to the Kereru alone, but is used for all birds that feed on tree-fruits—for the Kereru, the Kaka, the Tui, the Kokomako, the Kokako, and others.

Part 4.

There are two ways in which the Kaka is taken, both ensuring the capture of many. The first is by the tūtū, the second by the taki. The method of tūtū is exactly the same as that used for the Kereru; but the season is different; that for the Kaka is when the flowers of the rata bloom, and the Kaka are sucking the nectar (wai) from them. They fly in flocks, like a swarm of bees, or like the Kereru when they are caught by the tūtū. The tūtūs are the same for the Kaka, but they are used with a decoy (timori), with a tame Kaka, which is used to call the others to the tūtū. The snarer places himself on the tūtū with his pet bird, which remains on his turuturu or perch, with his basket (kori) of food hanging on the perch. The turuturu is a piece of wood just like a spear as to thickness and length (i.e., a spear used to spear man with, not a walking-stick). It is hewed out of maire, manuka, or some other hard wood, in order that it may be sufficiently hard when bitten by the decoy Kaka to prevent its chipping. The kori or basket is the place for the decoy Kaka's food; it is woven in the same manner as a fishing-net. Now, when the man ascends to the tūtū with his decoy Kaka, he causes the bird to call out, to entice the others to the place. When the Kaka arrive they alight on the tumu of the tūtū, when the cords of the tumu are drawn and the birds are caught. In accordance with the perfection of the tūtū and the decoy bird, is the number taken. If the tūtū is a bad one the birds will be shy of lighting on it, but on a good one they light readily. In the season when the rewārewā (Knightia excelsa) flowers is another time of taking the Kaka by the tūtū. Great numbers of Kaka are taken by this system; sometimes as many as two hundred in a day, at others more or less, often more than two hundred. When the rata and the rewārewā cease to flower this system ends also.

Part 5.

The second method of taking the Kaka is by the taki. The taki is a long pole, as much as 25ft. long, more or less, with a thickness of 2in. - 147 This pole is stuck in the ground in a slanting direction; whilst at its foot is built a hut of tree-fern leaves. The pole is slanted in order to facilitate the descent of the Kaka along it when the fowler or the decoy bird calls them.

In the event of a decoy bird not having been secured, a man understanding how to call the birds will remain in the hut built at the foot of the taki, and thence call the Kaka by his voice (imitate their cry). When the birds hear the call, they approach and light on the taki, whilst the man continues his call, in order to induce the Kaka to descend along it until they arrive in front of him. The habit of the bird in descending along the taki is to turn from side to side, first on one side of the taki, then on the other, until it arrives in front of the man within his hut. Immediately the bird turns his head away to the far side of the taki, it is caught by the man by placing one hand over one wing, another over the other, and he then carries it into his hut. So soon as one is caught it is used as a decoy, and by its cry to call others, directly it has been taught, fed, and accustomed to its perch, with a ring (poria) round its leg. It is only very skilful persons that succeed in securing Kaka by this method, because the Kaka is a bird of great sense and very shy; by knowing how to search for a proper place to set up the taki, and also through the training of the decoy Kaka; by the strength of its cry, by its constant tearing up of the earth, and by its power of biting anything given to it (will he be successful).

The fowler goes forth to the forest with his tame Kaka to catch birds with the taki, the setting up of which is finished, as well as his fern-tree leaf hut, and the decoy deposited at the foot of the taki, close to the hut, one end of the pole being within the hut in order that it may be close to him to incite the tame bird to cry out, and to bite that which is given him to bite. When the Kaka near hear the cracking of the thing bitten, they are deluded into thinking it is some seed in the ground that the decoy is biting. When they look down and behold the decoy digging (with his claws) in the earth, they think there are a great many seeds, and directly begin to descend the taki. The decoy in the meantime is digging away, and biting at his bone, all the time calling out. Thus he continues, and soon the Kaka quickly descend the taki right down in front of the man within his hut. If the bird's head is turned away, he is caught; he does not flap his wings or do anything. Brought into the hut, the man treads on his head, and the bird dies, whilst others are descending to meet the same fate. In the event of the Kaka not listening to the decoy bird, the fowler proceeds to another place and there erects his taki.

In this system of catching Kaka not so many are caught as when the tūtū is used, because the Kaka is a most knowing and shy bird. (See Plate No. 3 for illustration of this method.)

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Part 6.

The are seven methods of taking the Tui or Koko. The first is by the tūtū, the second by snares, the third by spearing, the fourth by striking, the fifth by the pewa, the sixth by the tumu, the seventh by catching them in the winter.

The Tui is a knowing and a shy bird. In the season when it is thin only is it at all tame; in the season when it is fat it is exceedingly wild and knowing. The three systems of taking it—the tūtū, ahere, and wero—are similar to those used in taking the Kereru and Kaka, but the seasons are different for each kind. The Tui is snared (ahere) when the kowhai (Sophora tetraptera) is in flower.

In the method by the “striking,” a pae or perch is made, but only the most experienced can use this system, and secure a large number of Tui. When the experienced fowler goes to the forest to “strike” Tui, or Kokomako, he very carefully searches for a suitable place for the perch, for on its suitability alone depends whether the birds will come to the perch. If the suspension of the perch or the locality is bad, no birds will come near it, for the perch is the principal thing and of most consequence in this system of taking. The “call” is of not so much consequence; most men know how to do that. Should a suitable place be found by him who uses the perch, when he has finished his work he destroys it, together with the fern-tree hut, so that no one else shall find it, and retains (the knowledge of) the place to himself. It is not, however, the knowledge alone of how to select a proper site for the perch that discloses its suitability, but the ease with which the birds can alight on it is a factor also. The perch (pae) is a pole about 7ft. long, and 1in. thick, one end of which is suspended on a tree and the other on another tree, so that one end is much higher than the other. The fern-tree hut in which the fowler sits is beneath the lower end of the perch. So soon as the hut and perch are completed, the man occupies the former, and commences to call the birds that they may fly on to the perch, which is done by the aid of a patete (Schefflera digitata) leaf inserted between his lips; with this he makes his call (imitates the note of the Tui). [The author should add that the birds are knocked off the perch with a long flexible stick.]

A great number of birds are caught in this manner; an experienced man will take as many as one hundred in a day. The season that the kahikatea fruits is an excellent time for catching Tui, and also for using the system called pewa.

Part 7.

The following is the method of taking Tui by the pewa, other names of which are the wheke and the tumu. The name pewa includes all the apparatus, such as the wheke, the peuraro, the aho, the tātā, the kohukohu, the tawhiwhi, and the tuke or korera. Some people call - 149 this collection of things a wheke, others a pewa. The principal thing amongst them is the wheke, or the perch on which the bird alights and is caught, and that part of the pewa is very carefully sought after (i.e., a branch suitable for trimming to the proper shape), and only an expert will easily find one, and his knowledge will be shown in the fearlessness with which the Tui alight on it. The Tui will not alight at once even on a good wheke, but will first warble (kauhau) from some place close to, and then get on to the wheke. If the Tui first sings near the wheke, then it is a first-class wheke, and the owner of it will never give it to anyone else, lest it be taken or concealed. Such a wheke retains its efficiency for many years. Even if one inexperienced in selecting a wheke knows how to make one, and takes it to the forest, the Tui will soon find out its excellence or defects, which will be shown by the confidence with which it alights on the perch, which will denote its goodness, whilst on a bad one the Tui will alight first on one side then on the other, or fly away altogether, in which case the wheke will be smashed and another one sought out. It is the wheke alone that will be cast away. When another is found, it is lashed on to the tuke of the pewa, and the fowler again goes to the forest to try it, when, if approved by the Tui, it is retained by the owner. When the fowler proceeds to work with a really good wheke, whose excellence has been proved, and he finds the Tui do not alight on it, he knows at once that it is due to the binding on of the bait (kohukohu), and he forthwith binds it afresh in a different manner; then it is effective, and the Tui descends on to it with confidence.

The fowler's call for the Tui, in order that they may be caught on his pewa, is the same as that used in the “striking” system; it is done by aid of a patete leaf. The Tui will not listen to the call in the season when it is very fat, but when it is not so it will answer to the call.

Large numbers of birds are caught by this means, as by the “striking.” Success depends entirely on the excellence of the pewa. In the same manner with the perch (pae), the excellence of it makes it successful. The pewa is illustrated in diagram No. 4.3

Part 8.

Another method of taking the Tui is the tumu, used in the season when the bird becomes very fat by feeding on the berries of the poporo or kaoho (Solanum aviculare). The Tui will not listen to the call at that time, so the tumu and spearing are used. The tumu used in the poporo season are like the tumu of the tūtū and pewa, but the branches of the poporo itself are used—two or three of the living branches. A limb with two branches is sought for, of the suitable sort, adapted to - 150 make a tumu of. A small branch of the limb is bent as a tuke (hook) for the tumu and as a peuraro (spring); the ripe fruit of the poporo (houto) being fastened at one end. The houto is the poporo fruit very carefully selected, quite ripe and of a perfect shape; several are gathered together to attract the Tui. The only way the Tui can secure the fruit is by passing along the tumu, and so soon as it has alighted, the fowler jerks the string and the bird is caught.

Not very many Tui are caught in this way, from ten to twenty in the day.

Part 9.

The system of spearing Tui (wero) is used in certain seasons when the birds are fat, owing to their feeding on the fruits of low trees, shrubs, such as poporo, karamuramu, powhiawhia, &c. Spearing is not resorted to on fine days, but on bad days, rainy and windy; because during the fat season of the Tui they are very shy and very knowing; if it hears the rustle of footsteps it takes alarm and flies, hence windy moist days are selected, so that the bird when hearing the noise made by the fowler may think it is due to the wind. Another reason is that on a windy day the fowler will not be heard at all. Like the tumu system, no very large number of Tui are taken by the spear.

The system used in taking the Kokomako or Korimako is just the same as that used with the Tui, i.e., “striking” on the perch, the pewa, and tūtū; and large numbers are taken by the latter method when there are many about. The spear is also used for killing this bird.

The following is another method of taking the Tui, when it is very fat, as occurs in some years. In the month of June, in winter, in frosty weather, in the evening of the day, the expert fowler seeks out the sleeping places of the Tui. Experts will never fail in finding the sleeping places of the Tui. The numbers to be found on a single perch sometimes amount to ten or twelve, sometimes more, sometimes less. The men listen for the return of the Tui to their sleeping place, known by their cry, which is the guide in such cases to their sleeping perches. Their cry in the evening is “Koee! Koee!” and the same when on the sleeping perch. When a perch is found it is carefully noted; two or three are found on a single evening. Before the darkness of night a torch is made, and, during the darkness before dawn, the men who have found a sleeping perch proceed to the forest, where they light their torches. They then climb the trees where the Tui are—one to enlighten by the torch, another to climb, and so soon as he gets to where the birds are he catches them. The birds will not fly, not the least, because their claws are contracted by the cold of the night; they, of their own accord, cannot loosen their claws from their sleeping perch at that time of night owing to their being benumbed (uhu). So soon as they have secured the Tui of one perch the men proceed to another, and so on, and thus obtain all the birds of the sleeping perches seen the previous evening. Should the night not be affected by frost - 151 the trees will not be climbed, but on a frosty night they will not allow daylight to appear before they proceed to climb the trees having sleeping places, lest the birds' claws get warm and open, and they fly away in fear and cannot be caught.

Part 10.

The following is the system adopted for catching the Kakariki or Paroquet. The Kakariki is somewhat tame, and the only system used is that of the perch, made in an exactly similar way to that for taking Tui, but the Kakariki perch, is made outside the forest, near the edges, and a decoy (timori) is used also. The first Kakariki (used as a decoy) is caught in a snare. The fowler builds his perch and his fern-tree hut, and awaits within it with his snare, calling with his lips at the same time. When the Kakariki alight on the perch, he snares one, as a decoy. The tari or mahanga or snare is fastened to the end of a stick somewhat lengthy, about 6ft., with which he snares the head of a Kakariki. The decoy (timori) is the bird first caught; a line is fastened to his leg and attached to a rod like the turuturu used in Kaka catching, the rod being fastened to one end of the perch. There the Kakariki see the decoy when the man calls them, and most of them alight on the perch, when the man has only to knock them over. The Kakariki is not a very shy bird, nor has it much wisdom.

The same system of spearing is used with the Kakariki as with other birds. Whenever a fowler comes across other birds when spearing Tui, he spears them too; such birds as the Kokomako, the Kakariki, the Kokako, the Tieke, or any others which fall in his way.

Part 11.

There are two methods of taking the Wild Duck (parera-maori)—by the snare, and hunting with dogs.

If a place is found by the fowler which the duck much frequent, in a stream, or other place that they come to, or where their food is, snares are made in such places. Should it be a river, the snares are made to reach from side to side, that is in moderate sized streams; if it be a place where they feed, the snares are placed all round, enclosing the feeding place, and in such other places as the fowler finds to be suitable.

That is all in reference to that system of taking the duck.

Another method is to hunt them with dogs, at such times as they are moulting (turuki maunu). The time of moulting is when the ducks are fat, and not able to fly very well. They are found in pools which they are accustomed to, and they remain there until the moulting time. In the same way the fowlers are acquainted with the pools frequented by the ducks as the moulting time approaches. (The ducks never forget these pools from year to year.) The owners of these pools do not allow other people to chase the ducks in them.

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When the moulting time comes, the fowlers proceed in their canoes with their dogs to hunt the ducks on each day, so long as the moulting lasts. Large numbers of ducks are caught in this manner, as many as two hundred, three hundred, or more. They are then cooked as huahua (preserved in their own fat). This is the Maori method for preserving birds, and they will keep good for a whole year in the calabashes; if particularly well done they will keep for two years.

Part 12.

The following is the method of taking the Kiwi: This is a very shy bird, and its habitat is far away on the mountains. The only method of taking them is by hunting with dogs, and by the use of a torch, to dazzle their eyes so they cannot see. The Kiwi prefers to all foods a worm. As the Kiwi proceeds along, its head is always on one side, with an ear turned to the ground, first one and then the other, in search of worms; it listen for the creeping of the worm beneath the soil. So soon as it hears the creeping (ngoki) in the soil, down goes its beak, right to the worm, which it brings up to eat. The creeping noise (patētē) of the worm in the soil is like that made by the seconds hand of a watch, but it is rather stronger. That is what the Kiwi listens for in the soil. In consequence of this habit, the Kiwi hunter prepares some little pieces of wood; they are carefully made, and are then tied to the dogs' necks, so that they may rattle (patētē) as the dogs move. When the Kiwi hears this he fancies it is a worm, and stops to listen; whilst he is doing this the dogs are able to approach, and by the time he starts to run the dogs are baiting it. The men then advance with their torches, which are burning, and as they approach so does the light to the eyes of the Kiwi, which cannot see in consequence, and is killed. The Kiwi is never hunted in daylight, but always at night, and it is also during the night that the Kiwi searches for its food, but it moves about in the daylight also.

1  The Author omits to tell us what becomes of the snared birds.—S. P. S.
2  See Plate 4 for illustration of the here or spear.
3  After all, our author omits to say how the Tui is caught by the pewa. It is by pulling tight the cord loop which lies extended on the wheke or perch, which draws the bird's legs tight against the top of the tātā, or long handle of the pewa, when it is taken by hand.—Translator.