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Forest Lore of the Maori

The Kāhu or Hawk:

The Kāhu or Hawk:

The kāhu or hawk (Circus gouldi) was not a bird that was often sought by the Maori, unless he wished to obtain some of its feathers wherewith to adorn his tewhatewha, or some other artifact. When snared or trapped the bird provided a meal for the fowler. The hawk appears in Maori myth in the story of Maui, wherein we are told that the colour of its plumage is the result of it having been scorched by the fire of Mahuika when that being strove to destroy Maui.

Grey has left us the saying Ko te whenua i haroa e te kahu (Lands soared over by the hawk) as one that denotes open country, which is the favoured roaming-ground of the hawk. Another old saw runs as follows: E hara hoki ia te kahu tau noa, e kore e rite ki te kahu pokere o te whenua, and teils us that a visitor or temporary resident does not equal a permanent resident; the ever-roaming hawk is not the equal of the stay-at-home. In the saying Me te kahu e topa ana ki te kiore we have a simile. 'Like a hawk swooping down upon a rat.' Albinism was but rarely noted in hawks, and so the phrase kāhu korako or 'white hawk' betokened a rarity and was employed page 335to denote an important cheiftain. So we have yet another old maxim: Me haere i raro i te kahu korako, and this advises one to ever travel under the aegis of a white hawk, for you will then fare much better than if you travelled alone, or with a plebeian Company.

The hawk was sometimes taken by means of a spring-snare called a tawhiti kahu, like an enlarged rat-trap, and sometimes by means of a tarahanga, of which the following account was given by Ngati Porou folk of Whareponga. The tarahanga was formed by thrusting a rod of manuka firmly in the earth in an upright position. The pliant top of the rod was then bent over until it formed a U-shaped curve, an inverted U-curve, and confined in that position by means of a cord fastened by one end to the end of the rod, and by the other to the upright part of such rod. Strong snares were arranged on both sides of the curved part of the rod, and a bait was attached to the cord confining the end of the rod. The hawk settled on the curved part of the rod, being attracted by the bait, which it cannot quite reach, and, in endeavouring to do so, gets caught in one of the snares, being often caught by the feet. The titara kahu seems to have been a similar contrivance for taking these wary creatures, while the kamu, given by Williams, is described as a snare. The taraharaha device is a snare or trap for hawks according to Williams, and may be the same as the tarahaha described by R. H. Matthews in the following words:—

A straight manuka pole, 6ft. to 8ft. in length, and about 2in. in diameter, with two strong opposite branches at the top, making a kind of fork, was selected. The lower end was sharpened, for convenience in sticking it in the ground. The prongs, or forks, were cut off at the top, leaving them about 18in. long, and were neatly smoothed and rounded, with a transverse notch cut across the top. A piece of straight stick about 9in. long was fastened across the prongs about a third of the distance from their base for the purpose of spreading the prongs, and the bait was tied to this cross-piece. A noose was then placed resting on the notches on the top of the prongs, the lower end of the noose hanging just above the bait. The end of the cord above the noose was fastened a little distance below the fork. The accompanying sketch (Fig. 28) of a tarahaha ready for use will give a better idea of the construction of the trap than any description. All being ready, the tarahaha was firmly stuck in the ground with the opening between the prongs facing the wind, the bait tied to the cross-piece, and the noose placed in position on the wind side of the bait. A hawk always swoops down on his prey head to the wind, and flies off in the same manner, head to the wind. In flying away the hawk is caught by the noose, generally by page 336 Fig. 28 Tara-haha (hawk trap). E. H. Atkinson, del. page 337both wings, which are consequently held close to the body, thus lessening the risk of breaking the noose."