Saturday, December 21, 2013


During the summer months... every full moon was seen as the catalyst for a tribal diving expedition. When I was a kid growing up in Muriwai the village was still thinking and acting as one. If any of the local whanau were going to the beach to get kina and paua... then everybody may as well go. It was a community way of thinking. One morning my uncle Nick turned up on the farm tractor and trailer. Tell your old man we’re off to the beach... he says. I replied... ok uncle... what times the tide? Uncle cracked up... he looked at me and said... atta bei...full moon last night, low tide’s always at midday on the full moon boy... hasn’t your useless dad taught you anything. He laughed and drove off. I never ever forgot that answer. I told my old man what Uncle Nick said and he clipped me round the ears... saying I bloody told you that heaps of times... you got no bloody ears man... I never forgot that answer either.

It was about 8am and low tide was at noon. Our favoured kina and paua beach was Taikawakawa and we needed to be in the water no later than 10. So uncle drove around the village collecting the whanau... Danny Morgan and them, Darryl Hawkins, Joe Toroa, Boof and Owen Stone, Muddy, Anthony Carrington, Nanny Hopa, Ben Smith, Rakai, Lordy and David, Guy Rock, Cricket, Leo, Mangu & Boy Kemp, Angus & Bubby and of course more Pohatu’s than you could poke a stick at... Willis; Noel; David; Barry; Lester; Paihau; Scottie; Maurice; Kevin; Simon; Harry; George and of course me. Not to mention my dad, Uncle Matene, Uncle Major, Uncle Hare, Uncle Nick, Uncle Bub, Uncle Viv and Uncle Moana... And it wasn’t strictly men either... the women were more than welcome but most stayed home to prepare lunch. Sometimes we needed two tractors so uncle Chop would take his Massey Fergusson... but no-one was ever left at home anyway. By the time they picked me and my dad up... the tractor was full... and in those pre-OSH days I use to stand at the back of the driver. It was all good... we were off.

To get to Taikawakawa we needed to drive about 4ks south along the main highway to Taranaki hill. Then we followed the Maraetaha River past Whakorekoretekai urupa down to the river mouth at Te Umu. From there we’d drive about 3ks flat tack along the beach to Umukehe where we’d park the vehicles. The ride there was my favourite part of the journey. Some of the old fullas would start telling stories and pointing out sites of interest... but most of the young fulla’s weren’t interested and laughed and joked. I guess I must have been listening tho... cos I remember Nanny Hopa telling us about the Kowhai. “Ka pua te Kowhai... ka reka te kina” when the Kowhai are blooming, the kina are sweet he says... and everyone sighs. A few minutes later Nanny Hopa reckons... “Ka pua te Rangiora... ka kawa te kina”... when the Rangiora is blooming the kina are sour... and again that sigh aaaagh. All I was thinking was (and unfortunately I said it out loud)... “What if the Kowhai and the Rangiora are blooming at the same time... are the kina sweet and sour” The whole tractor roared with laughter... Nanny Hopa sat up and glared at me... bloody cheeky little bugger he says...but the whanau around here are very witty and I knew from experience that if they’re not laughing with you... they’re probably laughing at you.

More often than not I ended up sitting in the gate opening seat. Actually where ever I sat was the gate opening seat according to Nuna. By 9.30 we were parked at Umukehe. Every one would start checking their equipment. There were no fancy diving suits but... nor any fancy extras like goggles or a snorkel. Our checklist was a lot more basic back then... bag (check)... knife (check)... diving gumboots (check)... ALL SYSTEMS GO. In many ways the term “diving” was a real stretch of the imagination as no-one here expected to be in water more that 3-4 feet deep. Some ‘DIVERS’ didn’t even get their hair wet... but all divers got their bags full... NO SWEAT. This was Taikawakawa and it was loaded with kina, paua and koura. When we finally entered the water each family would head off to their favourite spots and start gathering kaimoana. I always followed my dad and he always had a karakia as we walked along. Then he would point out rua koura to me... but nothing was ever mentioned to anyone else... these were whanau spots. One was in real close to the shore and my dad reckons crayfish used it as a low water shelter... We would always catch them there... it was always our first point of call. Then we would head out to the other one... a ledge that ran parallel to the Mapere cliff face. Sometimes we would use our feet to marshal crayfish into a better position to catch them... and catch them we would.

The first time I caught a crayfish at Taikawakawa I ran 20 meters to show my dad and said... “Look I got one”... Choice my son... he said... but where’s his mate? Crayfish always got a mate boy... go find his mate. I put my crayfish in the bag then I ran back to the rock and started searching for the mate. My dad taught me how to feel under the rocks and ledges. I knew how to search for the crayfish feelers... then to feel my way to the crayfish back... and to grab the crayfish on its back so it couldn’t hurt you. If you grab under the tail or even worst allow the legs to clamp you... then it will hurt (especially a big one). Soon I found the mate and after a bit more searching I found two more. That was lesson one in crayfish gathering. Another time... I felt the unmistakable shape of a paua... I borrowed the old mans knife... and I lifted the rock to prize it off. Again I was keen to share this first paua with my dad. Neat alright my son he said... but now you can find his whanau... they all be around somewhere... paua always travel as a whanau son. This time dad joined me and together we searched all around the rock. In the end we got 16 paua from the immediate area. As we moved rocks to look underneath my dad reminded me to always put the rocks back how you find them... that is our way son. Lesson one in paua collecting.

We would fill our bags with mostly kina... but I was always in search of either paua or crayfish. The water was about 3 feet and we would reach under the ledges and search them quickly... ever alert for the tell tale touch of crayfish feelers. You were effectively fishing blind and there were definitely other residents of the ledges and some could bite... like eels, stone fish or even stingrays. My dad told me about a time when my mum was using her feet to sweep some of the deeper ledges. They were about 15 or so... and as my mum moved along the ledge... she was bitten by a conger eel. The eel locked on to her foot and my dad helped her to the nearest rock where he cut the head of the eel off and unlocked the jaw to remove it... MY HEROE type stuff or what? And I saw with my own eyes how my uncle Chop would talk to the stingrays and tell them to piss off... this is his rock; go find your own crayfish. One time uncle Chop and I were diving around a rock when a stingray turned up. The water was about 3 feet deep and uncle stood up, splashed water at the stingray several times then told it to get lost. He told me never to panic... They looking for crayfish just like us. He pointed at the water and told me that when it’s really murky like this... they trying to ambush the crays... watch out when the water is dirty. Priceless.

Right on the turning tide... around midday... the signal would go out and everyone would start to exit the water and start making their way back to the tractor. They were parked about 1k away and everyone’s bags were generally full. Once word went out... no one complained, no one delayed and no one questioned the decision. This is how we always done it... the tide turns pretty quickly and the waters can get rough in no time. The trek back to the tractor was always quiet... and most would tend to collect pupu on the way back... my mum liked pupu so I always did... but once we arrived at thr tractor the bullshit soon started. Who got what and how many... WOT??? HOW MANY??? We would stand there and compare catches... everyone had kina... half had heaps of paua and about a quarter had all the crayfish. I was a crayfish man and getting the biggest or the most was the goal every time we went out. Once I caught two pack-horse crays (big green mothers) they were a real show stopper. But there were others with mean skills too. Scottie was the octopus man... always one or two each trip... and ironically he was a very slippery character himself. Uncle Matene knew exactly where all the big paua were. Noel would always snatch heaps of crayfish. Mangu and Boy were like mega collectors... but we were family and often the haves would share with the have nots and at the end of the day everyone got a good feed and a brilliant day out... bonding as a people.

The salt water made the eyelids heavy on the return trip and the conversation was a lot more subdued. Everyone’s thoughts were back at home and at the dinner table already... planning lunch and contemplating an afternoon nap. When we finally reached the village uncle would drop everyone off where he picked them up. Each whanau would unload there bags and take them inside to distribute as they saw fit. When we got to our place we took the bags behind the house and lay everything out on the lawn. My mum would come out to see our catch. My grandmother and my mums older sister Aunty Pae were always included in our calculations. I loved crayfish so I always cooked 2 or 3 for lunch right then. The kina were all placed in a big fresh water drum as was the preference of my parents and while we were eating lunch my nan would help herself to the koura. She’d have the pick of all the crays and we knew... she was gonna ‘mara’ them... ara koina ko te koura-mara (rotten crayfish). Not my first choice of food but a real delicacy in the minds and mouths of our old people. Sharing the catch is an important part of our tikanga and we believe those who can... should share with those who can’t.

Our trips to Taikawakawa were an awesome outing not only in terms of the kai we brought home... but also in terms of the whanaungatanga and bonding of the whanau unit. Being an iwi is all about thinking, behaving and acting as one. These tribal expeditions of the 70s and 80s... to a single place with a single purpose and a single outcome are the last remnants of the collective effort for collective gain mentality that made us an iwi in the first place. At one point the iwi done everything together... fishing, hunting, gardening, fighting and surviving... He whanau kotahi tatou.

Today the only place we meet as one... is on the iwi register.


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