Ngā Tohuwhenua Mai Te Rangi: A New Zealand Archeology in Aerial Photographs
Fishing and shellfish gathering
Fishing and shellfish gathering
Some evidence of pre-European fishing, principally shellfish middens, can be seen in aerial views. Middens can be seen at Ninety Mile Beach, on other beaches in the far North, and also at the dune-covered points forming the entrances to harbours such as Aotea or Mangawhai. Here, shellfish were gathered from the beach and perhaps steamed in umu (earth ovens) on the nearby dunes. The flesh was taken out of the opened shells to be dried in the sun, and the shell debris thrown into heaps. Once dried and preserved, it was taken inland for later consumption. Over time, as the sand eroded, the middens were scattered and exposed on the surface of dunes, spilling down them in drifts. These cover such an area that they can be seen from the air, exposed as white patches in the yellow-brown sand. 1 I had some problems gaining sufficient contrast between sand and the midden in bright sunlight in the few opportunities that I had for photographing middens. The photograph used here was taken under the direction of John Coster in overcast weather after rain showers on Ninety Mile Beach. Under these conditions, the rain had darkened the sand surface but not the white shell, and the contrast was marked.
Fish traps, consisting of placed-stone walls in the intertidal zone, are known on the Coromandel and Banks Peninsulas and elsewhere. 2 A stone wall was made in a favoured area in an estuary, enclosing up to half a hectare, but usually less, with the top of the wall lying just below the high-water level. Fish were trapped within as the tide receded. By far the largest example in New Zealand lies on the western side of the Onāwe Peninsula, in Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsula. A trap in Colville Harbour, Coromandel, 3 is still maintained by local people and is reported to catch fish.
Eeling was another important form of fishing in late pre-European and nineteenth-century Māori society. The catching of eels is normally associated with hlnaki (basket nets) and weirs, but there were other forms of mass-harvesting, such as the capture of eels as they crossed from lagoons across sand flats to the sea in the course of their migration to breeding grounds at sea. Eel channels are particularly transient in the landscape view, but can be viewed and analysed in the wider landscape setting if aerial photographs have been taken at the appropriate time. Shallow channels, known as whakamate, found in the more inland parts of the Horowhenua/ Manawatū dune country, are the oldest landscape evidence of Māori practice for catching eels.
Shell middens near Te Paki, at the northern end of Ninety Mile Beach
The beach below high-water mark was a very productive source of shellfish. This locality appears to have been particularly favoured because of the stream flowing into the beach from the small dune lake. The beach is at the bottom of the photograph, and the midden patches are about 8 m across. The shells, mainly of tuatua with some toheroa, showing as white patches against a darker yellow-brown sand (lower centre), were probably gathered in summer. The patches mark the edges of short-term settlements probably occupied in summer for this fishing. The shellfish were probably steamed in umu, extracted from the shell, dried in the sun and transported inland to more permanent settlements by the inland lakes and forests of the peninsula.
Fish trap, Onāwe, Banks Peninsula
The fish trap is marked by the distinct arched band of seaweed immediately offshore, at centre left. The seaweed is attached to the original rock wall which is probably lower in height than it was originally. Towards the shore, the stone wall appears to have been destroyed. The view is to the north-west; the fish trap is about 25 m across. On the broad ridge are some of the defences of the pā itself, to be revisited in chapter 14.
The channels, constructed for the mass-capture of eels, lie on the principal drainage outlet north-east of the former lakelet. Eels had to pass through the barrier of the dunes. The eels naturally followed moist channels. These channels did not contain running water, which would have eroded the banks. Instead they attracted the eels by offering a moist path, from which the eels could be scooped. G.L. Adkin regarded the largest of the channels, circling around the foot of the dune, top right, as the most ancient. At this date (August 1991) a regional council drain runs from the lake (out of view at bottom) parallel to the channels. The view is to the north-east.
In summer, groundwater levels are low and the lakes partially dry up. In late summer, newly matured eels begin to migrate from the lakes to the sea. They cross the barrier of the dunes and dry sand plains using natural drainage channels and lower-lying wet areas. Māori soon learnt that, by creating shallow channels across the sand barriers at strategic places, eels could be concentrated in vast numbers and caught by scooping them out of the channel. This was not a trapping routine, but more a form of mass-harvesting. Typically, the sand plains now have lower groundwater levels than 100 years or more ago, because of modern land drainage. However, channels have survived on the ground where land development has not been too intense, although these show only because the channels are slightly moister and have a different colour of grass. In chapter 3, eel channels are illustrated in such dune country (near the pā, Awamate on the Rangitīkei River), 4 but the best known example is at Tangimate, inland from Waitarere Beach, a few kilometres north of Lake Horowhenua. 5 The channels have little surface relief so that colour differences between the channels and the surrounding ground are important in photography. When I photographed these channels in light overcast weather in August 1991, the conditions were excellent, the channels showing as light green lines against the yellowing grass of the sand plain.
Not dissimilar techniques were, and still are, used at the outlets to coastal lakes today, for example at Wairewa (Lake Forsythe), Banks Peninsula. The older evidence does not survive there as it does in the Manawatū or Horowhenua. However, the location of settlements such as Orariki, near Taumutu (south end of Waihora), or the pre-European and nineteenth-century settlement, Oruaka, at Wairewa (Lake Forsythe), 6 are evidence of the importance of this and other lake fisheries. 7 Illustrated in a later chapter are other sites such as pā near Gisborne, which are located at the downstream end of suitable migration channels, partly because of the good eel fishery.