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Catching eels with my grandmother {Part 2}

Posted on : 08-07-2009 | By : Cindy | In : Maori kai, Traditions

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This is Part 2 of Haare’s story about going out and catching eels with his grandparents. ( Part 1 is here.  Also see added footnote at the bottom of this post, about my husband’s eel hunting experiences too) ..c

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It was late afternoon when we settled down beside a blazing fire with Wairemana positioning herself close to the edge of the river. Other kuia were settling down along the riverbank for some distance away.  We were positioned near a dark, swirling pool, which looked quite threatening.  Wairemana was adept and had great skill in catching the eels hungry for the bait with muka, threaded through its body.  The hand held muka line was suspended from her frail but anxious hand and as she dipped it into the water, the bite was immediate as dozens of eels rushed to grab the bait.

The swirl of the eels in the water and the rhythm set up by Wairemana meant that the eels, whatever their size, were flung with ease onto the shore.  With just a single effortless movement she flicked the line over her shoulder and with a quick flick, the eel let-go of the bait landing some way away from the river.  It was so quick; Rimaha and I had to work fast to recover the snaking fish in the dim light of the fire.

It was a joy to watch her in action.  So rhythmic and composed.  She had done this so many times before.  It looked second nature.

Yes, during the night she let me have a go as well.  But I could not flick the eel over my shoulder.

She held her position all night and by dawn we had several sacks of the choicest eels in the river.  All dead.  The smaller ones were put back.

As they lay stretched out on the ground, I was a little scared to even touch the gleaming black and grey yields of the river.  Eels everywhere.

Rimaha and I then cleaned the slime off them by passing them through the ashes of the dying fire.  And then clean them.  A job I hated.

Wairemana had earned the right to sit and rest with her torori tobacco pipe in her mouth.

Further along the river others were gathering around and cleaning their cache.  It looked like a great night for everyone.

After the karakia we said goodbye to the river and headed home.  Lady, our trusted old horse had a very satisfying load to take home.

Pawhera tuna (eels) everywhere.  They were opened up from the belly across its spine and along the back. It was then smothered in salt, rubbed in and hung out in the sun to dry.

This is tuna pawhera.  Each night the hundred or so eels were gathered in and put out again the next day. They took up every vantage spot around our kainga. And after a week of drying in the sun, the delicacies were ready to be stored away for special occasions and for our meals over a long winter.

“Mauria mai he tuna pawhera e moko kia tunutunua ki runga i te ahi o te kauta nei. Kei te rongo koe i te kakara, nera?”

“Tino rawe tena e Ma,” showing my enthusiasm to slowly smoke pawhera tuna above the smouldering embers of the open fire in our kauata.

What a meal.  Oil under the thick skin of the smoked tuna running down my cheeks and arms.  I can still savour its unique and special taste. Still taste it now.   ..Haare

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* Cindy’s footnote: My husband recalls his eeling days as a teenager on his tribal farm, Mangatu …

what22“I’ll never forget it!” my husband started. “I was about 15 or 16, and staying with my cousins on our farm – 50,000 acres of rugged sheep farming country in my tribe’s Mangatu farm blocks, Whatatutu, near Gisborne (you can see how rugged the country is on this google map). Freezing cold – a night just like tonight”  – at the moment we are sitting warm and cosy at home on a cold New Zealand winter evening as he tells me this story of his teenage eel catching adventures.

“We got up at 3am mid-winter and drove in the old Land Rover beside our river until the road ran out. We then walked inland another couple of kilometres through the river’s freezing water and up over cascading waterfalls in the pitch dark (no moon), except for light from our kerosene lamps. I’ll never forget seeing the eels (NZ long fin variety) once we arrived at our posy – the water was teeming with them, attracted by the lamps.”

“They just lie there on the bottom of the stream, blissfully unaware what’s going to happen next. You sneak up to them, whack the metal hook under their bellies, jerk up and fling them up onto the bank. It took four of us – Uncle Tiny, my cousin Laurie, another cousin and me – about two hours to catch 60 or 70 eels – huge black slimy monsters.

I’ve never been so cold in my life, frozen to the bone.”

“I’ll never forget that cold and carrying those massive eels back on my shoulders – thick bodies, and this long.”  He stretches his arms out as wide as they can go.

“How did four of you carry so many back?” I ask.

“I don’t know how we did it, but we did. We threaded them with No. 8 wire through their mouths. They were so heavy. And we had to trek back down those treacherous waterfalls and through the river. We got home about 7am – soaking wet, freezing cold, knackered! We dried and smoked the eels the next day for a wedding celebration at our marae (Tapuihikitea) that was coming up – all the trouble we went to, to get them, was worth it.”

My husband’s whanau (family) on the farm are strong, tough as, rugged types, Maori – if we all had to work that hard for our food we sure wouldn’t need gyms, weight watchers or protein powders! ..c

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Related articles:

For the nutrition part, read this: Maori diet of eel could help stop diabetes rise | NZ Herald
See Haare’s other story about cultivating Kumara

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Catching eels with my grandmother {Part 1}

Posted on : 07-07-2009 | By : Cindy | In : Maori kai, Traditions

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eel3I first tasted smoked eel last Christmas. Some friends hand-delivered the delicacy, wrapped in foil, and described their nocturnal adventures catching it from a stream about an hour’s drive from Auckland. “You mean you drove down there in the middle of the night?” I asked. “Sure – that’s where you find them”, they replied matter-of-factly. Give me a deli any day, I thought!  ..c

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In this post, my father-in-law Haare Williams, tells of his growing-up experiences catching eels with his Maori grandmother (kuia). This is Part 1


 

NZeel“When are we going, e Ma?. I was anxious to get going.  The build up had been intense over the past few days, and I was excited about the prospect of catching eels on the banks of the Nukuhou River at Matakerepu, some eight miles inland.

“Apopo, a tahira ranei.”

“Why not tonight?”

“Ehara tenei i te po e ngau ai te tuna.  Kaua e kaika.  Koina te mate o te mokopuna pihikete.  Tuatahi me ata mahi nga noke hei mounu i mua i te haere tawhiti nei.  Taihoa.”

“When then?”

“When the night sky tells us.  She said. “You see, e moko, we have one night to do this, so we have to do it right.”

“We wait then?”

“Ae.”

We went to the bush and collected worms, not just ordinary worms, but large, snake looking, wriggly worms.  Rimaha and I dug them out of the layers of soil deep in the bush behind our whare.  These worms had thrived for many years in the rotting accumulations of leaves.  All we had to do was scrape away the top layers of soil and there they were.

My thing was to collect those wriggly creatures and place them into a wet bag.  They were covered over with wet leaves to keep them fresh. These crawlies were kept in their moist billets until the day before our trip to the riverbanks at nearby Matakerepu.

“So. e Ma when is the right time to fish for eels.”

Wairemana explained “No Whiro ke tenei po, ehara i te po e tika ana ki te haere ki te mahi tuna.”

“So this is Whiro’s night.  Does that mean that the moon is not yet right for the tuna(eels) to run?”

“Kao.  When the moon is in that new-moon shape, just a crescent, it means this is the night of Whiro when neither the night nor the day is good for anything.”

“We have all the worms we need in the bag, e Ma.”

“Ka pai.”

“Tomorrow e moko we will thread the soft muka through the bodies of the worms and then we will be ready for Oua, the fourth night of the moon when it’s the right time for us to go and catch them.”

“Do you put hooks on the ends of the muka?”

“Kao.  You see when the bait is dipped into the swirling water of the Nukuhou River, the eels will bite into them and their teeth get tangled in the muka, and all I have to do then is flick them ashore.  Once they’re airborne, they release and they land up on the dry land. Easy.”

“Can I do that?”

“Of course,” she smiled quizzically.  “But your job, e moko with your koro, is to chase them when I land them, give a sharp bang on the tail, and gather them up, before they wriggle back into the water. . .”

Part 2 of this story is on my next post

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Related articles:

Maori diet of eel could help stop diabetes rise | NZ Herald
See Haare’s other story about cultivating Kumara

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Memories and recollections of the Kumara and other traditional Maori food {part 3}

Posted on : 26-06-2009 | By : Cindy | In : Maori kai, Traditions, Vegetables

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… Continued from part 1part 2. (last of series).te manawa

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Rangiatea

“E kore au e ngaro

He kakano i ruia mai

i Rangiatea”

I will never be lost

The seed scattered across the Pacific

From my ancient home in Tahiti

(Old Maori saying)

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Postscript:

Funny how things come round again. I was recently (2004) in Te Kuiti at Oparure Marae where I met whanau who, a few weeks before came upon and unearthed an old kumara pit with its cache of perfectly preserved kumara, big and seed size. The find also disclosed that the families who lived on that site moved out in the early 1950s, and surmised that the dad2abandoned kumara pit had remained untouched all that time. The tubers were covered in bracken fern and manuka brush and had remained untouched by moisture, sunlight or air. This information rang a bell for me. The next day, we shared our experiences with the students of the Raranga Diploma. The seeds were planted and germinated and I was handed a small collection to try out in my tiny Papakura garden. Yes, I still have seeds from that exchange.

Extraordinary!

Memories and recollections of the Kumara and other traditional Maori food {part 1}

Posted on : 22-06-2009 | By : Cindy | In : Maori kai, Traditions, Vegetables

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My father-in-law, Haare Williams (now in his 70’s),  grew up with his Maori grandparents, Rimaha and Wairemana, on the shores of Ohiwa Harbour near Whakatane, New Zealand. Here he recounts the food they ate, especially the kumara (please see my related post: “Kumara to KFC”). The back-breaking work, the use of the stars to guide planting and harvest times and the ingenious storage method – it’s a far cry from my quick drive to the vegetable shop to buy a few kumara for my roast beef!  Thank-you, Haare, for sharing your memories and treasured knowledge with us in this 3-part series.

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Kumara planting“Ko te kumara i a Rangi

Ko Pekehawani ka noho i a Rehua

Ko Ruhiterangi ka tau kei raro

Te ngahuru tikotiko i a Uru

Ko Poutu te rangi te matahi o te tau

Te Putunga o te hinu e

Tama”

(Excerpt from Ori ori from Te Aitanga a Mahaki tribe)

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Of all the crops at hand to us at Karaka, the most valued was kumara. You see, kumara has a long whakapapa and apart from the story of Poutini, the green eye of pounamu, and later the movements of whales, kumara is a part of the epic journey of Maori across the Pacific to Aotearoa. Acknowledged in songs and whakapapa, kumara is traced to Maui Wharekino and Pani their mating seed they begat the essence of kumara.

The arrival in Aotearoa of two migratory birds, the shining cuckoo with its distinctive call, was celebrated with songs, prayers and tears of joy. The other was the long tail cuckoo. They too paved a pathway to this land and back again, guided by instinct and the prevailing currents.

The sacred seeds after all, were borne here on the backs of two giant birds, nga Manunui a Ruakapanga, across Te Moananui-a-Kiwa from Parinhuitera.

Rimaha and Wairemana each year scanned the skies for the appearance Te Aotahi and Takurua (Canopus and Rigel), sent a prayer to Rehua (Antares) and his two wives, Pekehawani and Ruhiterangi, guardians for the seasons of planting and for the harvest. They offered thanks to these deities as kaitiaki of kumara.

The planting season was marked with rituals, which ushered in the calls of spring and planting. Rimaha and Wairemana followed closely the seasons of the moon and awaited and read the appearance of Matariki (Pleiades) and Puanga (Rigel) in the sky. Their appearance indicated the beginning of the season for planting. Planting and harvesting were determined by appearances of lunar measures, which they understood and applied knowledge honed over centuries of observation and practice by their tipuna.

Planting, cultivating, and preserving food was an art with Rimaha and Wairemana. That isn’t surprising given that they, and their hapu came through a time where mere survival was an imperative following the legislative taking of their Tuhoe and Te Whakatohea lands. These matters surfaced often, a link to land grievances and the economic devastation of Tuhoe and Te Whakatohea whanau and hapu. In that frame, kumara was also a symbol of survival.

Gardens. Lots and lots of gardens. Extensive gardens for just three people, two of them elderly and the third, a kid.

Wairemana sat in the dust moving around on her hands and knees from one spot to the next, working from dawn to dusk. They seemed to live for those gardens and their annual yields of kumara, potatoes, kamokamo, watermelons and rock melons, sugar cane, maize, onions and tobacco. Puha seed was scattered around the perimeter of the gardens amongst the kamokamo. There was even greater responsibility to ensure the preservation of mauri (the life essence) in all things and the food planted and harvested.

The mauri was embodied in the seeds and in places where food was obtained. In these, the mauri of the land must be protected from abuse or over use and was applied by them not only to kumara but all other food bearing resources. It was a natural way of life for them.

Wairemana would remind me, “Kaua e tukinotia te whenua.” Do not take the land and its natural gifts for granted.

In the case of kumara, the part that was eaten was accepted for the body (tinana), but the mauri, that is its spiritual substance (wairua) needed protection through karakia and by being mindful of its importance to life. With such a noble lineage, no wonder kumara had a life of its own.

Back breaking work. A shovel was modified into a heavy hoe with the blade bent, and used to break down clumpy, lumpy turf into fine malleable soil.

Weeds. Everywhere weeds. Wairemana was especially attentive to her patch of watermelons and rock melons. She tended the gardens well and occasionally I helped with watering the tender shoots. She sang lullabies and fondled the plants as friends.

We lived close to nature’s lushness with the bush behind us and the sea in front. To one side there were the streams and extensive swamps with their seasonal offerings of kopururpuru, eels, weka, raupo and flax. On the other side the stretches of mudflats in the harbour, a constant source for flounders, herrings and the muddy titiko (periwinkles). Besides it provisions of medicines, the bush at the back yielded timber, kiekie and dyes, and as well the delicious harore, a fungus which grew best on rotted logs, teure a very sweet pine-apple shaped fruit found in the centres of the kiekie. Then there was pikopiko, the delicious curly fern fronds. Berries as well …

Kei runga

Kei runga ko Ranginui

Kei raro ko Papatuanuku

Kei mua ko te moana

Kei muri ko te ngahere

Kei tena taha

Ko nga awaawa

Kei tera taha

Ko te puna wai

Ko nga repo

Kei konei

Ko nga momo oranga

Katoa

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Part 2 of this series by Haare, recounting early experiences with traditional Maori food is to follow on another post soon …

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Related:

Maori Dictionary Online
Kumara to KFC – How Maori eating habits have changed
Kaipara Kumara

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