An iron fish hook (matau rino) made by Māori in the 19th century.
Fishing was an important activity in Māori life. Fish hooks, (one of the many tools used for fishing) were made of naturally occurring materials such as wood, bone, stone, shell and flax. Fishing lines were made from dressed flax fibre (muka) twisted or plaited into cord.
Increasingly as Europeans began visiting and exploiting New Zealand from the late 1700s, they brought with them materials and technologies unknown to Māori like iron, implements and muskets. Māori were quick to adopt and adapt these new items. For example they continued to make fishhooks but abandoned the use of traditional materials. It was far easier and less labour intensive to fashion fishhooks from bartered items like iron nails.
Although Māori readily adopted new materials like iron to make their fishhooks (and other items like patu), they initially chose to replicate their traditional designs. This changed overtime as traders arrived with European mass-produced hooks. It was far easier to barter for, or purchase, these hooks than fashion them from nails, horseshoes and other metal objects.Traditional fishing was both a practical and a spiritual activity. There were many ingenious methods and tools, from complex calendars to iridescent lures and woven traps. But fish were also seen as the descendants of Tangaroa, god of the sea. Rituals and talismans were an important way to ensure his favour and protect the bounty of the ocean, lakes and rivers. When Europeans first arrived in New Zealand, they were amazed at their fishing skills. Captain James Cook, when comparing these skills to those on his ship, wrote in 1773: '[W]e were by no means such expert fishers as them, nor were any of our methods of fishing equal to theirs'.
Source: 'Te hī ika – Māori fishing', URL: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/te-hi-ika-maori-fishing, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), (published 12-June-2006)
Source: Te hī ika — Ngā taputapu, ngā tauranga, ngā tikanga hī ika', URL: http://www.teara.govt.nz/mi/te-hi-ika, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), (published 12-June-2006)
Cross-cultural exchange between Māori and Europeans — the patu pora is an important example of Māori use of European technology, and highlights Māori ability to adapt to changing circumstances, as well as their ingenuity and creative genius in mixing new materials with old forms.
Māori tools, weapons and other artefacts — the Māori of New Zealand have a rich culture, and this is carried through to their skilfully made and decorated tools.
Perspectives of Māori fishing history and techniques: Ngā āhua me ngā pūrākau me ngā hangarau ika o te Māori — to pre-European Māori, fishing was a significant component of subsistence, and the abundant coastal fish stocks provided a rich and readily available resource.
Māori fishing — an article in Te Pūhikotuhi o Aotearoa (New Zealand Electronic Text Collection).
The largely forgotten history of how early Pākehā mixed with Māori — Fragments of history suggest early interaction between Māori and Pākehā was more balanced than might have been expected.
The lost art of fishing — crafted from wood, bone, stone and flax, Maori fish hooks were masterpieces of design and function, highly effective and able to target desirable species.
The Māori fish hook: Traditional materials, innovative design — traditional Māori fish hooks made using wood, bone, stone, and shell were discarded after the introduction of metals to New Zealand by Europeans, and the knowledge surrounding their design and use was lost.
The traditional Māori ‘internal-barb’ fishhook — following the introduction of metal hooks by Europeans, many traditional fishing practices were abandoned and the mātauranga, or knowledge, surrounding the use of the different hooks was lost.
Traditional Māori fish hooks and trolling lures — article about traditional Māori fish hooks and trolling lures used for fishing.
This story was curated and compiled by National Library of New Zealand Services to Schools staff, 2019.