Story: Te hī ika – Māori fishing
Page 4 – Communal sharing and gifting
Traditional Māori fishing included large-scale tribal expeditions. One expedition in 1855 by the Te Rarawa people, led by the chief Popota Te Waha, involved more than 1,000 individuals in 50 canoes, and lasted over two days.
The fish caught from such communal efforts were divided by the leading chief among each whānau (family). The fish were then either steamed in a hāngī (earth oven) or hung up on a scaffold to dry in the sun, and saved in pātaka (storehouses) for future consumption.
Sometimes fish were caught for gift exchange with inland tribes. Coastal people gave dried fish, dried edible seaweed and shark oil to those who lived in forests, who reciprocated with preserved birds, rats, hīnau berry cakes, and other food from their domain.
Occasionally the gifting of fish took place as part of a feast, which could be particularly grand when different tribes came together. At a feast prepared by Te Waharoa of Ngāti Hauā in 1837, 20,000 dried eels and several tonnes of fish were presented to the guests. In 1844, 9,000 sharks were laid out at a feast given by the great Waikato chief Pōtatau Te Wherowhero at Remuera.
In the South Island, where similar exchanges occurred, an account of the Ngāi Tahu people who lived on Banks Peninsula has been recorded:
At Pigeon Bay they used to catch large numbers of fish which they suspended in the sun to dry. Shark was one of their favourites. It was customary in the ‘forties’ [1840s] for the Pigeon Bay and Port Levy Maoris to carry tons of these dried fish inland, meeting halfway the Natives from Little River laden with eels. On the summit both parties held a kōrero, and after exchanging their burdens, returned respectively to their homes. 1