The Maori dog (kuri) was not indigenous to New Zealand but was probably introduced during the period of the Great Migration (c. 1350 A.D. ). Although little is known of its distribution, it seems evident that the breed failed to establish itself to any great degree. It became extinct some years after the arrival of the European settlers.
The Maori dog was a small, low-set animal, very ugly in appearance. Although it had a poor sense of smell, it was of some use in hunting night-moving birds such as the kiwi and also ducks in the moulting season. The Frenchman Crozet, who was at the Bay of Islands in June 1772, noted that: “The dogs are a sort of domesticated fox, quite black or white, very low on the legs, straight ears, thick tail, long body, full jaws, but more pointed than those of the fox, and uttering the same cry; they do not bark like our dogs”. According to Hutton, the dog was dull, lazy, and sullen in disposition. Yet it is credited with being a plaything or favourite of Maori women who regarded it with affection. The dog's carcass was put to a variety of uses. The flesh was considered a delicacy, the hair was used for ornaments and the adornment of weapons, the teeth served as ear pendants, and the skin for cloaks. These were made of skins either sewn together or else attached in strips to a piece of woven flax fibre.
The dog figured a great deal in Maori tradition and even had its place in ritual as, for example, when the aid of Tu, the war-god, was sought before a battle took place. Sometimes a human victim was selected as a suitable offering. But there were times when a dog was accepted as a substitute. Buck states that the dog's heart was cooked on a spit and that, after the god had been appeased by the savour, the priest ate the flesh. Another war-god, Maru, was satisfied with a dog on all occasions.
by Alexander Hare McLintock, C.B.E., M.A., DIP.ED. (N.Z.), PH.D.(LOND.), Parliamentary Historian, Wellington.
- The Coming of the Maori, Buck, Peter (1949)
- The Maori, Best, Elsdon (1924).