Tuesday, August 7, 2012


When I was a youngster we were still harvesting the fruits of our moana in the traditional manner and in traditional places. One of Ngai Tamanuhiri’s tribal delicacies is dried shark and we tended to use another of our local delicacies (crayfish) as bait. During our diving expeditions to Taikawakawa and Orongo the fishing fraternity amongst us would often collect extra crayfish to use for that very purpose. In all honesty the crays would have struggled to pass today’s strict measurement regimes BUT… we’re talking about customary practices here… 6 hundy years or more.

Our favourite shark fishing rock was called Te Kaupapa and it was situated about half way along the northern face of Te Kuri about 400 meters from Papatewhai. There is an ancient pa site called Tunga-Kaka directly above it and they were probably using this fishing spot when that pa was active. Te Kaupapa or ‘The Rock’ as we called it was a flat boulder approx 4m by 8m and we’ve been using it as a taunga-ika for well over 600 years. It was about twenty meters from the main cliff face and was only accessible for an hour each side of low water. It was a flat platform about 4 meters off the low water mark but at high tide the water level would rise to within a meter of the top and surrounded the whole rock. The path to Kaupapa ran along a vertical wall of sandstone about 100 meters long and 4-5 stories high. At low tide there was a small corridor of sand to access Te Kaupapa but within an hour of the turning tide… the waves would be lapping against the rock wall and by mid tide the water is 10 feet deep with waves surging against the rock face… it was now impossible to pass until the next low tide.

We weren’t exactly technical fishermen… but tikanga is such a comforting support mechanism… and we all started in the same way. We came with our tuakana and we done what they done… and when they were young they done exactly the same as us… that’s how tikanga works. My older cousin Nuna always took me fishing and diving with him. He taught me all about our moana by showing me our way of doing things, our system and our special places. Nuna (Rapihana Hawaikirangi) is a first cousin on the Wyllie side and he has an absolute wealth of knowledge about our coastline including the names of every nook and cranny from Muriwai to Mahia. He’s spent his whole life diving and fishing along our coastline and has an intimate knowledge of our tikanga e pa ana ki te moana me nga tini taunga-ika o Tamanuhiri.

We would always fish the summer morning tides. We knew that if low water was at 6am… we needed to be there no later than 7am. High tide would be at 12 noon and the next opportunity to leave the rock would be about 5pm… so don’t forget your lunch. There was enough room on kaupapa for 5 fishermen… and we all needed to be on-2-it. We’d take our equipment… we had thick-as line (bootlace thick). We had huge hooks… and our anchor collection was quite impressive too (chains, nuts & bolts, diving weights)… and of course heaps of cotton. When we got there we’d bait our lines… taking a whole crayfish tail… threading our hook through it… and then use the cotton to secure the bait to the hook… E ai ki nga tohunga hi-ika… this would discouraged the smaller fish from nibbling our bait to bits.

Then we’d take turns throwing our lines in. It was like a bloody hammer-throw competition… we’d stand at one end of the rock and start swinging our anchor round and round to build up momentum. By the time we were ready to launch we’d have about three meters of line with a heavy metal weight swinging wildly over head… and hopefully… you’d release the weights in the right manner… and more importantly in the right direction. Nine times out of ten it was sweet but I did witness a few tenth time close calls… ANYWAYS… when we finally got our lines out there… the waiting game began but usually It wouldn’t take long before we’d get some company… Could be a shark or maybe a stingray… or if we’re a bit unlucky a Snapper or Kingy. We were after shark on this rock and anything else was a bit disappointing… shark was our favoured fish for drying and storing… my old man loved it.

When ever you hooked up… you knew all about it. They weren’t huge sharks… mainly schoolies up to 6 foot but it was fun and they could fight. We were old-school and you usually had two options… you either pulled it in… or you didn’t. We didn’t play the fish…. there was no give & take or letting it run… just pulling it in… or not. And there was no such thing as ‘catch & release’ either … there was catch & use for bait… catch & have for brekky… catch & give to nanny… but catch & release was never an option on this rock. I went fishing at Te Kaupapa with many whanau members … fulla Nuna, fulla Tu, fulla Jody… Uncle Viv, fulla Taro, fulla Mita, Uncle Bub, fulla Mud, fulla Snoop and my tuakana Solly & George.

We caught heaps of shark, plenty of rays and the odd kingy… life was sweet. I felt good contributing to our household and I enjoyed taking home kaimoana like… koura, kina, paua, pupu, pipi, whitiko, kutai, karengo, inanga, tuna, haku, kanae, kahawai, tamure, patiki, araara, tawatawa, kuparu, rawaru, hapuka, moki, whai, wheke and of course the tribal power food… mako. I knew where to find them… I knew which beach was best for each… I knew how to collect them and what to look for… it was knowledge passed from generation to generation…knowledge that links us to Tangaroa Whakamautai.

We are the moana… and the moana is us.

Growing up next door to my grandmother Takotohiwi... I saw how she dried many different foods in prep for winter. She would dry karengo in the sun and store it in bundles for the colder months. She would dry pipi on a big sheet of iron then store them in her pantry. She even dried some of the small kumara... they were awesome. In summer she would have eels hanging on her fence... fish frames drying on one line... and shark strips hanging on another. Dried shark is a tribal delicacy in Muriwai. We gut and bone the shark... then cut the meat into long strips (about 2-3 feet long and about an inch thick) leaving the skin attached. These are then hung over a line in the hot summer sun to dry. It is important not to get the strips wet once your start the process so the shark is always taken in or covered during rain storms or at night. It will take at least 10 really hot days to completely dehydrate the meat.

When ready the shark strips are stored in a dry place and will keep for a year or more. The strips can be eaten as is (like jerky) or the meat can be re-constituted with boiling water. It’s the same with some of the other dried food like fish and karengo... they can also be reconstituted or added to another meal. My grandmother was born in 1900 and lived a life before electricity... before fridges and freezers... and before any supermarkets. Her thinking was always focussed on our future and summer was spent preparing for winter. Tikanga dictates that in times of plenty you prepare for times when there’s less. The storage techniques devised by our ancestors were born out of necessity and form the foundations of the iwi survival strategy. Drying or dehydrating food was important in that survival plan and as long as the stocks are kept dry... they will easily see you through the winter months...

Unfortunately Te Kaupapa was covered by a huge landslide recently. The erosion around Te Kuri-a-Paoa has completely changed the coastline. Taunga-ika like Te Kaupapa and Rua-Koura are disappearing and all that remains is our fond memories. Since Paoa arrived onboard his waka Te Kaupapa has been central to our survival plan... Noreira... e Te Toka-Tu-Moana o Nga Pari E Ma Mai Ra... Kia eke... Eke Panuku... Eke Tangaroa... Whano, Whano, Hoki mai Te Toki... HAUMI E... HUI E..............................