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Forest Lore of the Maori

The Kiore Maori or Native Rat(Mus exulans)

The Kiore Maori or Native Rat(Mus exulans).

It will be necessary to refer to three species of rats in the following pages, and the appearance of these species here occurred in the following order:—

1.—Mus exulans. The Polynesian rat, a frugivorous field and forest rat,
2.—Mus rattus. The so-called black European rat, really a bluish-black, another field and forest dweller, does not frequent houses to any extent.
3.—Mus decumanus. The so-called Norway rat, or grey rat, that abides in all places, from sewer to forest.

Of these three species the first must have been brought to these isles by progenitors of the Maori folk some centuries ago; indeed, the natives have preserved traditions to that effect. No. 2 is the black European rat that is said to have been driven out of England by the later-coming Norway rat, both 2 and 3 must have been brought hither by European or American vessels. No. 2 reached our islands before No. 3 arrived, and seems to have been well established here before it had to face the more persistent and pugnacious Norway rat. No. 2 is still with us, but prefers the open air life, and so we find it in bush lands, where, in diminished numbers, it still holds out against the aggressive Norwegian; No. 2 is often alluded to as the black rat and the Maori rat; many believe it to be the old native rat.

Two other names have been used in the past, viz., Mus maorium and Mus novae zealandiae, which seem to have been applied to rats believed by certain writers to have been the old native rat of these islands, which original rat is now recognized as being identical with M. exulans of Polynesia.

Much ink has flowed from many pens to prove that the Maori rat, No. 1, died out many years ago, in the 'thirties or 'forties of last Century; that it was very numerous in 1884; that it has been seen page 354long since the latter date. Colenso believed that the Maori or native rat became extinct during the early days of European occupation. Dieffenbach could not procure a specimen of it in the early 'forties. Travers, in 1869, spoke of the native rat, No. 1, as having become scarce prior to the introduction of the Norway rat, and Dieffenbach had remarked some twenty-five years before that it was No. 2, M. rattus, that had driven out the kiore maori, Hutton then thought the latter, the Maori rat, was M. rattus, but by 1876 he had formed a belief that it was the Polynesian rat. The creature described as the old Maori rat by Dr Buller in 1870 was assigned by Hutton and Dr. Knox to M. rattus, and so M. novae zealandiae had nowhere to lay its head, and hence passed out of our ken. As late as 1883 Dr. Buller stated his belief that the Maori rat was identical with the common Mus rattus of Europe; Dr. Hector concurred in this opinion, but Captain Hutton disagreed, and finally won his point. In 1884 occurred the remarkable plague of rats in the Nelson and surrounding districts, when Meeson and others held that the marching hordes were Maori rats, the No. 1 of our list; in 1892 Dr. Buller agreed that the swarm consisted of M. exulans (No. 1), but Dr. Hector decided that the species was M. rattus (No. 2), in which decision he seems to have been right. By 1893 it seems to have become widely held that our native rat was the Polynesian species, M. exulans.

Our No. 2 rat, M. rattus, resembled its Polynesian predecessor here in appearance, habits and size; it is apparently semi-arboreal and the Maori seems to have utilized it as a food product. I have heard that he also tried the Norway rat as a substitute for the prized but lost native rat; if appreciated, however, as a delicacy, he seems to have lost his enthusiasm ere I took to the bush and its ways.

Our first note on the kiore maori or native rat is met with in Captain Cook's account of his sojourn at Tolaga Bay when on his first voyage. Of quadrupeds he remarks that they saw only dogs and rats, "and these were very scarce." Some five months later he wrote "the rats are so scarce that many of us never saw them." They would not be likely to see them in their long-shore wanderings. Dr. Banks states that he saw none, and thought their scarcity due to the fact that they had been introduced by man. Crozet also noted that dogs and rats were the only quadrupeds seen, and adds that: "The rats are of the same species as those we have in our fields and forests." He may have been alluding to No. 2, M. rattus. Cruise speaks of the native rat as being much smaller than the European rat.

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In the Journal of Mr. Strange, the naturalist of H.M.S. Acheron, we read of an expedition made by him into the interior of Canterbury in 1849. He speaks of having seen many rats, which he calls "the common Norway rat," but gives the scientific name as Mus rattus, so that we do not know which species he did see. He obtained a specimen of the native rat at Nelson. In traversing the Canterbury Plains he saw "numbers of the bones of the Dinornis, but mostly broken." He notes that the nest of a native quail seen contained "five eggs of a brown colour, with large, irregular black Spots." Dr. A. S. Thomson, of the 'fifties, stated that the Maori dog and rat were nearly extinct in his time. He remarks that it was the Norway rat that destroyed the native rat, and makes no mention of the first rat introduced by Europeans; adding that the Norway rat was not eaten. Hochstetter stated that the European rat had totally exterminated the native rat; this was in the early 'sixties. Haast, in his report on explorations in western Nelson (1860), speaks of "the native rat (Mus rattus),"s and the rats he saw were probably of that species, but not native rats. Taylor, in his Te lka a Maui, remarked that the native rat was much smaller than the imported one; that it was nearly extinct and seldom seen; this in Chap. 29 of 2nd ed.; but in Chap. 34 he shows that he looked upon M. rattus as the native rat. In the first edition of the above work, published in 1855, Taylor had stated that the Maori rat (No. 1) was then nearly exterminated by the Norway rat. It is now quite clear that certain persons who have written on these matters confused M. rattus with the old native kiore, and so infected others with that confusion.

Some assert that the distinguishing mark of the native rat was its pendulous scrotum; if this peculiarity is not a feature of Nos. 2 and 3 of our list, then the native rat has survived in small numbers even unto our own day. Dark coloured rats shewing this peculiarity were noted in Rangitikei in the latter 'sixties, and another was caught at Waitakaro, East Coast, in 1918, concerning which a local native remarked that he had heard of these kiore raho roroa from his elders, but had never seen one before.

For the origin of the rat, as explained by the Maori, we must delve far into Maori myth, even unto the time when cultivated food products were first acquired, and the Earth-Mother took an active interest in human affairs. We are told that one Pani, whose fūll name was Pani-tinaku, was a sister of Tangaroa-i-te-rupetu, who took Taranga to wife and begat the five Maui brothers of immortal fame. Pani was taken to wife by Rongomaui who introduced the kumara or sweet-potato into this world by causing Pani to give birth page 356to that tuber. Behind this singular parable seems to lie the concept of the fruitful earth being impregnated, fertilized by the moon-god of agriculture. The word tinaku carries the meaning of 'to increase'. The name Papa-nui-tinaku appears in Marquesan myth; evidently this is the fruitful and food-providing Earth-Mother of our Maori myth. Now this Pani is said to have given birth to a female being known as Hine-mataiti, who represented, or was the progenitor of, the kiore or rat. Said an old man of Awa to me: "The descendants of Hine-mataiti are a numerous folk in the world, ever do they assail the offspring of Pani, that is the kumara, hence man ceaselessly attacks the Kiore folk, destroying myriads."

In a highly-curious version of the story of Mataora and Niwareka the former has become confused with Mataaho, and so the two stories have to some extent become mixed. When Mataora found that he was refused admittance to the underworld on the occasion of his second visit to the portals of that region, he resolved to cause the waters to cover or destroy both men and land. Even so he prepared for use Nuku-taimemeha, the vessel of his ancestor Maui, that lay in a cave on mount Maunganui, or Maungaparoro as some say. When the vessel was ready Mataora told his followers to place food and seeds, etc., in it, and then demanded that Pani provide some of her rat-offspring to be placed in the vessel; likewise that the bittern, white-heron, swamp-hen, blue-duck and grey-duck be placed in a receptacle and taken along; also the tuatara and other reptiles. After this came the dread time when the earth was torn asunder, and confusion reigned; such was the upheaval caused by Mataaho.

The mixture of two myths given above seems to have been affected by the Christian myth concerning Noah, and this careful preservation of the rat by placing it on board the ark of safety cannot be admitted as a genuine Maori myth.

The rat enters into Maori folk-tales and sayings to some extent, and the following fable is a sample of a number of such simple folk tales. This is a tale concerning the Rat and the Parakeet:—

  • Said the Parakeet to the Rat: "O Kio! Let us ascend the trees."
  • The Rat enquired: "And what shall we do there?"
  • Replied the Parakeet: "We will feed on tree berries."
  • Asked the Rat: "What berries are they?"
  • Said the Parakeet: "They are miro and kahikatea berries."
  • Then said the Rat: "I am of the earth, of the realm of Tane, until man comes and snares me by the neck." (See No. 20 of the Addenda.)

In another version of the above the rat is asked to descend so as to feed on berries.

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We have heard nothing of late concerning the flat-tailed rats of the South Island sounds and lakes that roused some comment 80 years ago; these musk-rats, beavers, or kaurehe were hinted at as far back as Cook's second voyage, but so far have succeeded in eluding us. However, one Puanaki of the vale of Whanganui, a man of parts, has seen fit to State that the old native rat was in the habit of shedding its tail early in each month, albeit new tails developed before the end of the month! Love of the marvellous was ever a marked Maori characteristic.

Honoa te hono a te kiore is a saying connected with walking in Single file, following each other as rats do. Te aio i kauria e te kiore refers to 'the calm waters swum by the rat'; this possibly in connection with the brave stories of this creature's swimming powers. Me te kiri kiore (Like a rat's skin) is a simile employed when remarking on a smooth, sleek surface, as of a garment. Ko tini o para kiore is used when referring to a large number of persons; they resemble a swarm of rats, so numerous are they.

It can be assumed that M. exulans, the Polynesian rat, was introduced into these isles by man, probably by the ancestors of the Maori folk, for these folk tell several stories of how the rat was brought hither by immigrants from eastern Polynesia. In most cases these stories assert that the vessel named Aotea brought the rat to these shores, but others are occasionally mentioned. That vessel is also said to have brought the pakura or swamp-hen (=pukeko), also the karaka tree, or seeds thereof: the story runs as follows: "The house in which Nga Toto dwelt at far Hawaiki was named Rangiatea, and when Rongorongo was taken to wife by Turi, his grand-children Turanga-i-mua and Taneroa were born there. The stream in which the daughters of Nga Toto bathed and fished was Waima-tuhirangi. Now when Turi made away with Hawe-potiki, the youngest child of Uenuku, he was pursued by the latter, who strove to slay him. Turi fled to the home of Nga Toto, the father of Rongorongo, where he asked that his father-in-law's canoe be handed over to him, and so Nga Toto gave him the vessel named Aotearoa, which had been named after the land so called. For when Kūpe returned to those parts [after his expedition to New Zealand] he said to the people: There is a mist-enshrouded land in far ocean spaces wherein herbage and trees flourish, and the soil of which is kindly. I have named it Aotearoa as a token of our long pursuit of the Wheke a Muturangi, myself and my children and grandchildren.'

"Now it is said that the two canoes, Aotearoa and Mātātua, were both fashioned from the one tree, and that both belonged to Toto; page 358that tree stood on the banks of the Waiharahara stream. To Toto also belonged the Mātāharua vessel, the one obtained by Kura-marotiri, while Aotea was given to Rongorongo; Kupe and Reiti were the principal persons on Mataharua, and Kura-marotiri, daughter of Toto, was the wife of Kupe. I may remark that Kura-te-au was the place where the great octopus was slain by Kupe, a place of swirling currents. Now Kupe said to Turi: 'Keep the bow of your craft to the right of Tama-nui-te-ra [the sun] even to the settling of the sun, and you will surely make your landfall at Aotearoa, on the western side of which is the place where I left the sail of my vessel, the place whereat I found a fragrant and kindly soil.'

"Here Turi remarked: 'Let us two return to that land.'

"But Kupe said: 'Kupe will never return '

"The paddles used by Turi on the voyage hither were named Te Rangihorona and Kautu-ki-te-rangi, while the two baiers of his vessel were called Tipua-horo-nuku and Te Rangi-ka-wheriko. The variety of sweet potato known as kakau was placed on the vessel, as also were the kiore [rat], the swamp hen, and seeds of the karaka tree, hence the famed saying Aotea utanga nui, or Aotea of the important freight."

So it was that the rat reached this land of Aotearoa, according to Maori tradition, and so it may well have come to these shores; but if the crew of Aotea brought seeds of the karaka tree hither, then they must have procured them at Sunday Island, for they certainly did not bring them from their old home in the Society Group. The voyager Turi was a native of Rangiatea island, now known as Ra'iatea, and the story of his voyage hither has been published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, and elsewhere. The story of the Wheke a Muturangi or giant octopus is explained in the same Journal, and in Bulletin 11 of this series. Other versions have it that the prow of the vessel was to be laid to the left of the setting sun during the voyage to New Zealand.

Kupe is another voyager who has been credited with bringing the rat to New Zealand, while historians of the east coast, not to be outdone, maintain that their rats are descendants of immigrant kiore that came over in Horouta, another old-time vessel; they also claim to have received the dog and swamp-hen by the craft.

The mouse is usually called kiore by the Maori, but they did not see this creature, apparently, until after the European rat had arrived. On the east coast it was often called the kiore teoteo or small kiore.

The word kiore as a name for the rat is known far and wide across Polynesia, but a number of other names for rats have been collected locally:—

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  • Hamua—Williams gives this as the name of a variety of the native rat, the cry of which was ominous of evil. White stated that its cry sounded like Kato! Kato! Mohi Turei said that it was a name for one of the introduced European rats; White tells us that it was not eaten. Imoa is a rat-name at Samoa, and this becomes kimoa at Nukuoro and elsewhere.

  • Hinamoki—The native rat, according to Williams, who gives hinamoa as an equivalent. Nihoniho of Ngati Porou said it was the native rat, of a dark colour, and that it was deemed unlucky to hear its cry. Mohi Turei stated that the hinamoki was a brown indigenous rat, it was unlucky to see one. Its cry sounded like Kol Kol Kol Taylor gives Hinamoki as the progenitor of rats.

  • Mohorangi—Mohi Turei told me that the kiore mohorangi was also a native rat, and added he koma pango tona ahua, which looks somewhat contradictory, this 'dark pale' creature carries a name applied on the east coast to dogs, perhaps to a variety of the old Maori dog. I have not heard the word applied to rats elsewhere.

  • Matapo, Moke, Muritai, Tokaroa, Hamua, Pouhawaiki, Riroi—Mohi Turei remarked that all these names pertain to the introduced European rats. Williams gives matapo as the native rat. Tamarau of Tuhoe and Ranapiri of Raukawa both said it was the native rat, kiore maori. It is just possible that they meant M. rattus. Note the peculiar name of kaipuke maori, employed to denote a sailing vessel. Moke appears in Williams as a name for the native rat, but Mohi denied this. A Tuhoe man said that muritai was another name for the moke; it was a dark-coloured rat, the species M. rattus according to Waiapu natives I interviewed. Of tokoroa Williams says 'a light-coloured variety of native rat.' Tamarau of Tuhoe said it was a grey native rat; possibly old rats were so termed, gaunt creatures greying with age as rats do, for tokoroa signifies 'thin, lean, gaunt.' As to pouhawaiki Williams gives 'the rat first introduced by Europeans,' which supports native evidence, but Williams adds Norway rat, which does not agree with the evidence. The first rat introduced by Europeans was M. rattus, not M. decumanus. Riroi, given by Williams as=rat, but Mohi places it as introduced.

  • Rūrūwai—Appears in Williams as 'native rat.'

  • Torokaha—Appears in Williams as 'a large būck rat.'

  • Kaingarua—Williams says 'the introduced rat,' but there are two species of introduced rats. Williams says it=maungarua, under which however we get the lone word 'rat', lacking all embellishments. Taylor has his rat-notes sadly mixed, and gives us no help. Mohi Turei stated that maungarua was applied to all big rats, of whatever species, introduced or otherwise. Another Waiapu note is to the effect that big rats were termed ruarangi, which term was also applied to big native dogs, the word denoting size. Small, thin rats were often alluded to as teoteo, on account of their condition. These natives explained that only two kinds of rats were introduced by Europeans, but that many different names were applied to them in different districts. One described maungarua as a light coloured rat, which makes it appear like a name for M. decumanus.

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Mr Downes tells us that the native rat was known as kiore tawai in the Whanganui district, but as a rule these creatures were simply styled kiore in pre-European days, there being but one species. Certain expressions were sometimes used in an adjectival manner and indicating size, colour, or some other peculiarity of the creature or creatures alluded to. So this name of kiore tawai seems to denote rats that frequented the beech forests, tawai being a generic name for several species of Fagus. When I traversed the Whanganui district laden with rat-queries, the local natives gave me the name of kiore kai tawai for the native rat, a name that shows that they ate the beech-mast, which they assuredly did. But as all native rats fed on that mast whenever they could get it, then such a name seems to be superfluous; it embraces too much; as a modern writer puts it—you might as well speak of an apple-eating boy. This expression 'beech-eating rat' may have come into use after the introduction of the Norway rat, which clung more to the haunts of man; or it may have been used to denote the native rat in olden times during the time it was feeding on the beech-mast, but not in other seasons. Such a procedure would be Maori-like. Another rat-name in the Whanganui district was kiore mohunu; it was applied to the old native rat. Hori Ropiha has stated that there were two kinds of native rats, puhina and koka, but these terms simply mean 'grey' and 'brown,' they were apparently not names of different varieties.

It would appear that the native rat was by no means the aggressive and truculent creature that the Norway rat is, and that it was also less mischievous than M. rattus, the first European rat introduced here, the pouhakaiki or pou-o-hawaiki of the Maori. Tutaka, born about the latter 'twenties, told me that on one occasion when he, as a youngster, accompanied a party of mutton-birders, to the summit of the Huiarau range near Maunga-pohatu, the fowlers found that a new species of rat had appeared there and had devoured the young titi in the pit-nests. This ravenous creature was probably the Norway rat.

The native rat ate many kinds of berries, including those of the hinau, miro, kahikatea, patate, and many other species of trees, shrubs, etc.; the hua tawai or beech-mast was apparently highly appreciated by the child of Hine-mataiti, and the period during which the mast was available was the most important period of the ratting season. The flower-bracts of the kiekie or Freycinetia were also much favoured by the kiore. These native rats were generally in good condition during late autumn and winter, but fell off much in summer; they are credited with having been clean feeders. They were given to page 361eating the bark of the houhou (Nothopanax arboreum), as also do the kaka parrot and horses.

It occurs to me that the late Paratene Ngata of Waiapu told me that, so far as he knew, he had seen only one native rat during his long life, and that was a very dead, dried-up specimen that he saw an old man wearing as an ear pendant in his boyhood; its head was thrust through a capacious hole in the ear of the wearer.

When forest-foods grew scarce numbers of rats would betake themselves to the open lands, lands supporting merely scrub and fern, such lands as is described by the term parae. When the beech-mast came to an end then rats often sought such parae lands, where they lived in holes or burrows; when they had become numerous at such places the fern would be burned off, at least in some cases. After the fire natives would search diligently the burned area and dig the rats out of their holes; at such times quite a number would often be found in one hole.

As to the eating of rats by Europeans, I have the following item of evidence to offer, and this has been culled from the account of Lieutenant Impey's trip into the interior of the South Island in 1850. Under date May 16 is the following entry: "We encamped on the banks of the Awatere, and had delicious little rats for dinner, which, to my taste, are quite equal to the frogs in France." We do not know what species of rats these 'delicious' ones were, probably M. rattus.

We will speak of a most persistent belief of former generations of Maori folk, a belief that was here universal, and that also exists, or did exist, in other and far-distant lands. That belief is connected with the swimming powers of the rat: the Maori credited the native rat, Mus exulans, with marvellous swimming powers; not only are they said to have swum rivers and lakes here in New Zealand, but also they are said to have sum hither from the isles of Polynesia, and to have occasionally swum out from a coastline in great numbers until they perished. Not only so, but also their manner of swimming, as described by the Maori, may be described as being highly curious, not to say marvellous. The following account of the kiore maori and its swimming powers was given by Hori Ropiha of Waipawa in the early 'nineties of last Century, original appears in No. 21 of the Addenda.

"The Maori people knew when rats would be numerous in this land; they knew this by observing the flowers and mast of the beech-trees; when these foretold a plentiful season, then it was known that rats would be numerous. Now, when the tawai [beech] blossomed in such a manner then the pollen of the blossoms was carried by streams to the ocean, and drifted far across the great ocean, even to page 362Hawaiki [the former overseas home of the Maori folk]. It was then that the multitude of rats of that land swam hither across the Great Ocean of Kiwa, even so that the ocean was covered with their my-riads, and, as they swam hitherward, they fed on the pollen [nehu] of the beech, even until they arrived on these shores, and so, on that account, they were in good condition when they so arrived. Their arrival would be known by the signs of their nibbling the tatarahake [? Rubus australis], the turikakoa [Spinifex hirsutus], the toetoe [Arundo conspicua], etc.; such plants would be much gnawed by them. When the rats eventually reached the beech-forests they would be found quite fat, and were easily taken by the Maori.

"The Maori took these rats by means of setting spring-snares, by which means one man would take many, that is to say the traps of a Single person would take many. When many were so taken they would be plucked; when all were plucked then they were cooked and packed in gourd vessels, whereupon they were known as huahua, and huahua kiore was extremely good; the best kinds of such potted foods were kiore [rats] and koko [the tui bird].

"There were two kinds of rats, one grey, the other brown, but still they were alike, they were both native rats. All the introduced European rats are detestable creatures, mischievous thieves, house-gnawers, garment-destroyers, with an abominable habit of defecating on articles of food, absolutely disgusting creatures. The native rat is now extinct; it has been exterminated by the European rat [kiore Pakeha], just as the birds of New Zealand have been lost through the introduction of European birds. Another reason why they have been lost lies in the destruction of Maori authority, and certain innate powers, old customs, methods and ritual by means of which birds and rats were enticed from divers places; for in former times charms were employed in connection with all methods of taking birds and rats, and indeed in connection with all other activities. Rat-catching was quite an important task to the Maori, for such food furnished a relish for fern-root and kouka [the fecula or sago of certain species of Cordyline]; such were the food-supplies of the Maori on which he subsisted in these isles of his."

T. Ranapiri of Ngati Raukawa was good enough long years agone to describe to me how the above mentioned rats managed to swim across, say 1600 miles, of rolling ocean in order to reach these shores. It appears that they ever acted up to what may be termed their racial motto, viz., Me hono i te hono a te kiore, that is join together as rats do, one behind another so as to form a chain. A leader was selected to act as forelooper, and this leader entered the page 363far-reaching Pacific at, say Rarotonga, and paddled forth lustily on the sea road of 500 leagues that lay before him. Could Columbus have done better? A dauntless multitude thronged the shore and lined up in orthodox queue form for the stirring adventure. No. 2 seized the tail of No. 1 in his teeth, No. 3 joined himself to No. 2 in like manner, No. 4 bit on to No. 3, and so the whole swarm of migrants headed for the far-distant land of Aotearoa. We are not told how they steered a true course, how they made up leeway, whether the leader hauled the rat-chain across wide seas, or made each kiore paddle his own canoe. It is sufficient to say that Mr. Ranapiri and many of his compatriots have assured me that so it was that the Hawaikian rats were wont to reach New Zealand.

Whanganui natives told me that the native rats used to swim across rivers in the above-described manner, also that, should anything occur to cause the chain to part, then the rear part of the chain, lacking an expert leader, would perish. 'Tis hard to accept some of our friends' Statements, try one never so bravely. At Waikare-moana old natives of past years told me of the habits of the native rat in those parts in the days of their forebears. Even those mountain-bred rats indulged in water-excursions, according to the veracious Child of Tamatea. When the shades of night had fallen, and mist lay low on the placid waters of the mountain-lake, then it was that the kiore maori or native rat would assemble in numbers and swim out into the lake, and so continue swimming. I was told, until they were drowned. Some told me that these rats were urged to take to the water by the cries of the morepork owl, of which they were frightened, but if so then such lacustrine excursions should have occurred more frequently. But other wise folk asserted that rats swam out into the lake only when the nehu or pollen of the beech flowers lay on the surface of the waters, and this they ate.

Another wild tale of Maori folk lore is to the effect that rats used to swim across Cook Strait in the tail-gripping formation described above, apparently recking little of the strong currents of the Sea of Raukawa. A division of the migrating army of rats that afflicted Nelson in 1884 is said to have swum across a Channel of Nelson Harbour, and some believed that an army of them swam across the French Pass. Going further afield we read that the lemming a rodent of northern Europe, has been credited with the craze for periodically swimming out to sea in great numbers. The same is said of the Alaskan lemming, see a Statement made by H. Stuck, the author of A Winter Circuit of our Arctic Coast, wherein we are told that a swarm of lemmings sometimes swims out to sea and presses forward until all are drowned.

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Ara kiore. This is the Maori term for the 'rat-paths' formed by the little native rats, and along which they passed, in single file, when making their nocturnal trips to favoured feeding-grounds. Such paths were about three or four inches wide and showed the signs of nightly use, a padded appearance produced by the frequent passing of hundreds of the little creatures. Taylor was the only man to collect any account of the taking of these rats in the early days of European occupation, and some of his Statements are doubtful. For instance his account leads the reader to believe that the ara kiore were laid out by man, and not formed by the rats. He explains the matter as follows: "This little animal is said to run only in a straight line; if the roads made for it were at all crooked, it turned off where they diverged, and ran into the forest." Of the taking of these rats the same writer says: "…. not only were a great many traps required, but also roads had to be cut, which were made with much care, as the slightest obstruction was sufficient to ruin the undertaking… . . The hunting party then cut a line through the forest, carrying it up hill and down, however great the declivity; this was often many miles long. There were generally two roads made, one parallel to the other, along them were many tawhiti or traps placed."

According to evidence gathered from old natives of 30 to 50 years ago the above remarks appear to be misleading. No paths were made by trappers for the rats to pass along; the rats made their own narrow paths simply by innumerable traversings of the route they selected in order to reach a feeding-ground; the barefooted Maori of yore formed marked, padded paths in the same manner. What Clearing of the track was done by the trappers consisted of the breaking off of branches projecting over the ara kiore so that they might pass along it with ease when setting traps on it at frequent intervals. The Maori had no handy tool suitable for such work as slashing out a trail; his method was the ara pawhati already described. When engaged in setting his traps on an ara tawhiti or trapping-path, or run, the trappers would remove from the run any debris, such as twigs, leaves, etc., that might interfere with snaring-operations, but they did not make the rat-runs, the rats themselves attended to that. As to the remarks about the paths or ara being straight, regardless of the formation of the land, that cannot be granted, for they were no such a thing. They simply kept to the crest or higher part of a spur, ridge or range, and so naturally followed all the curves, angles and dips of such crests; even rats are not foolish enough to travel on bee-lines in hill country. Rats kept to such tracks as described until they reached a place where food was obtainable, and then, naturally, page 365their movements were not confined to the narrow rat-run; they left the path and wandered about in search of whatever food the place provided, berries of the hinau, miro, patate, etc., or beech-mast (hua tawai). Traps were set across the rat-paths, principally at places providing little or no food, for at such parts the rats strayed little from the path, but pushed on for the promised land beyond. Where food was in good supply the rats scattered about in search of it, and so traps set away from the paths were baited, but not so those set on, or athwart, the run, these it was not necessary to bait; the spring trap erection was left open immediately over the little rat-path, and so the first rat that came along after the trap was set essayed to pass through the open space to continue its way. But in passing through the gap the hapless kiore would have released the curved spring-stick and so knew death, plucked up and jammed against the superstructure to leave a clear runway for following rats.

The rat-trapping season was opened in much the same way as was the fowling season. This was the huhunga or whakanoatanga, the lifting of the tapu or prohibition, the opening of the close season, so that all might go forth and commence trapping. That is they were free to go and take rats on their own lands, on such runs or portions of runs as were on their own land. A day would be set apart for the trapping of a number of rats to furnish the principal dish for a ceremonial feast, and the recital of charms, and other ceremonial activities, were sometimes continued for two days. The charm known as Tuota was supposed to be very effective in the way of bringing game to snare or trap, and after the recital of this formula then the whangai rite would be performed, in which a placatory offering was made to the gods. Certain auguries as to future success and failure in trapping were derived from the way in which the first rats were caught during that first day's trapping. In some parts some singular restrictions were imposed on the actions of trappers, and even of others who took no active part in the task of taking these highly-esteemed rodents. In at least one district certain terms might not be employed, otherwise the trappers would assuredly have no luck. Thus when they were out in the forest setting their traps they had to be extremely careful to refrain from using certain banned words. At such a time a child or young person (tamaiti) had to be alluded to as a moiti; a woman (wahine) as a puanga; an old man (koro-heke) as a purakau or kohumu, and a young man as a himu. Moiti is otherwise unknown to me as a Maori word; puanga occurs as a word of vernacular speech meaning 'decayed, dried, dry branch, thin.' I fail to see any connection here, but if the woman chanced to be an old one then she might be thin and dried up. In purakau we have a page 366genuine term for an old man, but kohumu I know only as a variant form of kohimu 'to whisper, back-bite, defame,' possibly old men were given to such practices. Himu I have heard only in the form of himu marur an approbrious epithet; himu, a stockade post, and himu = hip-bone.

We have seen elsewhere that the Maori did not go eel-fishing on moonlit nights for the reason that eels do not care to move abroad at such a time; in like manner the rat is said to have disliked moonlight, and so did not move abroad freely; as my informant put it: Ka Rakaunui te marama e kore e mate te kiore—when the moon is full then the rat cannot be taken.

Mr. T. W. Downes has explained a peculiar divinatory performance practised by rat-trappers of Whanganui in former times. One of the first acts of the officiating expert was to construct two rat-traps in the forest, one of which faced the east, and the other the west; the former was known as the tamatane and the latter as tamawahine, presumably they represent the male and female elements that entered so frequently into Maori ritual. These traps were set and baited, and so left; probably they were not situated on an ara kiore or rat-run, but to one side. The expert had to fast until a rat had been caught in one of the traps. Should that first rat be caught in the tamawahine trap then the omen was a good one, and the season was opened under the most cheering auspices. Should the tamatane secure the first rat then it was known that the time was not propitious for opening the trapping-season.

In most, if not all districts, fasting entered into the Performances of the first day of the season. I have also been told that on that day, when the first traps were set, it was necessary for the trappers to refrain from speaking for the balance of the day, the following night, and until their traps had been visited and attended to on the following day. After that they were still under certain restrictions, but the worst was over; they might talk.

The following account of how the native rat was dealt with was contributed by a South Island Maori. As given by him in the original it may be perused as No. 22 of the Addenda. In this narrative we are told that the activities of rat-hunters commenced in the autumn, and at such times the people were wont to leave their homes to go and camp on or near the grounds frequented by rats at that season; these expeditions represented one of their annual tasks. Prior to the commencement of actual work connected with trapping operations all experts assembled and consulted as to the procedure to be followed with regard to the ceremonial functions connected with this important task, the rites, observances and formulae proper to the page 367occasion, even that all be carried out or observed with due eare and formality, so that no untoward happening might be the forerunner of failure. On the morrow work was commenced at the ara kiore, when traps were set on all the rat-runs, truly a multitude of such traps were set on a Single run in the forest, as belonging to various sub-tribes. Such rat-runs were extremely numerous; many such would belong to a single clan or sub-tribe. Here it must be understood that a long rat-run, such as ran along the summit of a rānge, might cross the lands of several clans, each of which would confine its trapping operations to the portion of the run belonging to it, otherwise they would have serious trouble on their hands.

Now during the nights rats would move abroad and traverse their narrow pads searching for food, and so came to the many traps carefully set across their runs. Thus it was that each trap soon held its victim, whereupon the trappers, who would not be far off, would appear, collect the snared rats, and then reset the traps. So the work would proceed throughout the night, until, when dawn appeared, the movements of the rats ceased. A daylight task was the collecting; of the rats and carrying of them home, where they were plucked, as birds are plucked. So the work continued throughout every night, until the food-supply of berries failed, when it ceased; the trapping continued as a rule from April to August.

Rats were esteemed as being rich and very palatable food, nourishing, one of the food-supplies that served to build up vigorous bodies. These rats were cooked as the weka bird was, and then packed in kelp-bags and gourd-vessels, preserved in their own fat as huahua" From remote times such food has been viewed as fitting sustenance for the most important persons; down the changing generations has this been the case. In like manner did the rat-runs descend from one generation to another, each clan worked its own runs season after season, even until the time when the rat-trapping of our Maori folk was ruined by Europeans, when the English acquired the land. When Mr. Kemp arrived he found the Maori folk still taking the rat and other food-providing creatures as of yore.

There is some further evidence to shew that rat-traps were, in at least some cases, attended to several times during the night, just as eel-pots set at weirs were under certain circumstances, as during the annual eel-run to the sea in the autumn. Take a case wherein a family-group or sub-tribe held the ordinary usufructuary rights over a section of a ridge along which ran one or more rat-runs. The land on either side of this section, belonging to other groups or subtribes, would be worked by the members of such groups, including the trapping of rats. The group or owners of each section would page 368naturally strive to take as many of the rats as possible while they were traversing that section, for they could not take game on the lands of neighbouring groups. As soon as rats crossed a boundary they became prey for others, and so they were lucky who had on their own land trees that provided food for rats and birds, such as tniro, hinau, kahika, etc., this abundance of food would keep game in the vicinity so long as the supply lasted.

The native rat is said to have preferred high-lying forest-lands, especially beech forests such as are seen on many of our higher North Island ranges. Such forests are tokens of hunua lands, as the Maori terms them; such land as would be deemed sterile by pastoralists in many cases, but trees flourish on such ranges, as also does brushwood-undergrowth in many parts. These rats were also found in the lowlands and in open bracken-covered lands, but they were not so numerous as they were in the bush ranges. They used the same paths or runs year after year, but we do not know how far a colony would roam from its headquarters; it seems quite probable that they would have to shift quarters occasionally, as when a food-supply failed them, such as beech-mast or other berries.

The little padded runs, three or four inches wide, were often alluded to as ara tawhiti, because of the tawhiti kiore or rat-traps that be-straddled them every three or four feet when trapping was toward. When the trapping season commenced the folk of a hamlet or hill-fort would move away and camp at any trapping-place that was distant from the home-village. We have seen that similar working picnics were held when bird-snaring, berry-collecting, sea-fishing, etc., were in hand; such a mode of working was very attractive to the Maori. Rats were sometimes termed nihoroa or long-toothed ones on account of their nibbling and mischievous ways.

When a trapper set forth to examine his traps and found the first one empty, he would regard that fact as a puhore, an indication of ill luck, and so would be convinced that he would take but a poor bag on that day. When asleep, or lying awake, should he experience a tumeke or convulsive Start, a spasmodic movement of the limbs, then he would know that some of his traps contained rats that had not been gripped by the spring-snare in the usual way, i.e., by the neck, but had been gripped round the body. There were many omens, superstitions, quaint beliefs, and practices pertaining to the work of the hanga whapiko tahiti or trap-setting folk.

Tawhiti kiore:

The principal apparatus employed for taking the native rat was certainly the tawhiti (sometimes termed tahiti) form of trap, so named, page 369I take it, after the principal feature of the trap, viz., the whiti, or tawhiti, or whana, the spring that operates the contrivance, though memory recalls that I have heard certain Whanganui natives apply the name of tawhiti to the two rupe or hoop-like pieces of vine or pliant rod that formed the frame of the trap-barrier, in which case I opine they connected the word tawhiti with whiti, a hoop. The Waiapu natives apply the name pawa to the hoop-like rupe, and the pawa seems to be a variant form of pewa, meaning anything bow-shaped. I am not aware that rupe denotes any form of curvature, or that any comparative terms exist. The term tawhiti is sometimes used in a very peculiar, and what we might term illegitimate manner; it is the name of the spring trap that we are about to deal with, but the introduced figure of 4 trap is called tawhiti papa, though it has no spring. The pit-trap is in some places known as a tawhiti pouwhenua, and occasionally as tawhiti oneone, and certainly we would not expect the term tawhiti to be applied to a pit. At Whanganui a tawhiti kiore is also known as a tawhiti karawa, as seen in the saying: Ka piko tawhiti karawa, ka mawhiti tawhiti awaawa. Here the term tawhiti awaawa denotes an eel weir; of karawa as here used, I can say nought. In these peculiar instances the word tawhiti must be understood as simply meaning some form of trap.

When erecting the ordinary single-entrance tawhiti kiore the first part set up was the rupe or pawa, and this consisted of two pieces of aka (stems of climbing plants) or rods; these were thrust into the earth so as to resemble diminutive croquet hoops about 6 in. high, or a little more. On the east and west coasts of the North Island they were placed near each other and parallel (Fig. 29), but the Tuhoe folk conjoined them by twining one loosely round the other, the two pieces being left open in the middle part, the intertwining being at the sides only.* When set on a rat-run these traps were erected across the run at right angles. Some small straight sticks were thrust down through the space between the two rupe and into the earth, these uprights were called turuturu, and they blocked the passage of rats on either side of the open space or fairway through which rats would attempt to pass; this narrow opening was immediately over the runway of the marching rats, the ara kiore. The two turuturu bounding the opening were often thicker than the outer ones; in the Tuhoe method the outer ones were often fixed outside the rupe, not between its two hoops but close to them. Marching rats did not go aside to pass round the barrier because their runway was still open. Whanganui natives often used half of a length of split supplejack (Rhipogonum page 370 Fig. 29—Tawhiti; kiore- (rat) trap. E. H. Atkinson. del. page 371scandens) to form a rupe, or tawhiti as they term it; this split piece was again split, but only in its central part, the two ends were left intact, and through the split were thrust the turuturu uprights. As shown in the illustration the pliant rod used as a whana or spring was thrust into the ground to one side of the runway, then bent over when the trap was being set. This rod was known also as the whiti tūpā and panapana in some districts; the tūpā given me by Ngati Hau is possibly allied to the tupa of Williams' Maori Dictionary. The upper end of the whana bears two appendages, one of these being the tohe or loop that serves as a noose wherewith to catch the rats; it is a piain cord-loop, not a slip or running noose. The other appendage is a cord (aho) to which is attached the taratara or katara, called a panewai at Whanganui, the cord being attached to the short stick termed taratara at about ℅ in. from its upper end.

In order to set the trap the operator grasps the upper part of the whana or spring-stick and bends it over until that part is immediately over the trap; he then holds it in that position with one hand as he arranges the tohe loop with the other, passing it down between the two parts of the rupe and arranging it as shown in the illustration; care is taken to prevent the loop hanging slackly so that the two parts come close together; a certain stiffness of the cord enables the trapper to so dispose it as to remain open. Our trapper then grasps the little taratara stick and places it in a vertical position, as depicted, being careful to place it toward one side of the opening, and so leave room for a rat to pass, or rather to attempt to pass. This upright piece is so arranged that the rupe rests in the space between the upper end of the taratara and the aho or cord that attaches it to the whana. Fig. 29 will make this clear. In order to keep the upright position where the strain of the spring comes on it the trapper places a small piece of stick, the kurupae, in a horizontal position between the lower end of the upright and the bases of the turuturu, and quite near the ground. He then slackens his pressure on the spring rod, and, as he does so, the aho and taratara take the strain of the upward pluck. It is this strain that clamps the kurupae against the rupe and keeps the trap set, but any slight downward pressure on the kurupae causes it to slip down and so release the spring and the attached taratara. The violent effort made by the whana to regain its normal straightness means that the pluck is a strong one, the tohe loop and the taratara are swiftly jerked upward, and so, if there be no foreign body within the bight of the tohe loop then the bent whana regains its rigid form, for the looped cord is drawn up through the space between the two parts of the rupe and so is free of that contraption. Now we will suppose a rat passing along the runway; it comes page 372to our set tawhiti, and, seeing sufficient space to pass through the obstacle, it proceeds to pass over the low-set kurupae that presents no real obstruction to its progress. But in so crossing the horizontal stick the slight pressure exercised by the small paws of the rat causes it to drop and so frees the taratara, whereupon several things seem to happen at once. The swift pluck of the released spring snatches the loop up only to catch the rat round the neck or just behind the forelegs, and ere the creature can make an effort to free itself it is jammed up against the under side of the rupe, where life is quickly squeezed out of its little body by the heavy strain of the still-flexed spring-stick.

In setting the trap the aho is outside the rupe, but the upper end of the taratara is on its inner side. Mr. Downes gives us toropana as a Whanganui name for the taratara, and rango as that of the kurupae. Panapana is a name for the spring-stick of a trap. In some cases the sides of a runway near a trap were blocked to prevent rats passing round the trap instead of endeavouring to pass through the opening. It will be seen that the angle between the aho cord and the upper part of the taratara accommodates but one part of the rupe, not both. Occasionally some form of bait was used with this form of trap, and occasionally, also, we are told, birds such as weka and moho were caught by the neck in these traps when discussing such baits. Bait was much more used with traps that were set away from the runway. In cases where a bait was used with the tawhiti, it was deposited on the ground near the rupe, and then some small sticks were stuck in the earth behind and on either side of the bait. Among these sticks leaves were intertwined, and these prevented rats approaching the bait otherwise than by passing through the open space under the rupe. If traps were set on moonlit nights we are told that rats would turupana them, that is spring the snares and escape. These traps are sometimes called rore kiore; another term, rore kati, may or may not be old, the word kati being a name for our introduced rat and mouse-traps. Tawhiti hao and tawhiti whakaruatapu are said to be names of traps for the old-time rats, but these were traps having several entrances, possibly a four-sided enclosure having a snare on each side (see Fig. 30); we have seen that similar ones were constructed for the purpose of taking certain flightless birds; bait (poa) was certainly used with these traps, and they were not set on runways or tracks. The double rat trap called a waharua or tawhiti waharua (and apparently tararua by Whanganui natives) had the appearance of two ordinary tawhiti Standing back to back as it were, with a little space between them, which space was enclosed within a barrier of small sticks stuck in the ground, and within that space the page 373 Fig. 30—Four Tawhiti; kiore-(rat) trap. E. H. Atkinson. del. page 374alluring bait was deposited. This form of trap was not constructed on runways but they were scattered about over any area of forest roamed by rats when in quest of food. The tawhiti form of trap is one used in other lands; in New Guinea it is used by natives for taking the wallaby.

Another kind of tawhiti was known as a pokipoki (Fig. 31) on account of it being covered. Our Maori folk say that some rats would not enter the ordinary form of tawhiti, and that such trap-shy creatures were often taken by means of the pokipoki; these suspicious rodents seem to have objected to passing over the kurupae stick, for which they cannot be blamed, for it was the undoing Fig. 31—Pokipoki; (rat trap). E. H. Atkinson. del. page 375of all that strove to pass it. In making this trap the rupe or pawa was first set up, and then the turuturu were thrust downward between the two parts of the rupe and inserted in the earth in a vertical position. These turuturu or uprights were much longer than those of the common form of trap, and, having been thrust into the ground, they were half broken through just above the hoop-like rupe and then bent backward until their upper ends rested on the ground say 8 in. to 10 in. from the rupe; these sloping sticks formed a framework for the roof of the trap, a support for the leaves and earth with which the little roof was composed. These turuturu would be wands or branchlets with the leaves still adhering, and their number was often confined to two; the little covered chamber would be about 6 in. in height as to its front part, at the rupe, while the roof sloped down to the ground line, as shown. The small spaces on either side of the entrance were blocked, usually with the large leaves of wharangi or rangiora (Brachyglottis), and the sides and roof of this diminutive enclosure were covered with the same material, after which the whole save the front, was covered with earth or debris of decayed leaves, etc. The front would be about 7 in. wide. A small stick called the katara by Tuhoe was thrust down through the roof until its lower end was about 1 in. above the ground line and to this the bait of berries was attached; the katara is No. 5 in the diagram. To the upper end of the whana or spring (1) was attached the tohe or snare loop (2), which, being knotted a little above its middle part, really consisted of two loops. The twine, or strip of fibrous leaf called whiti (6) was secured by either end to the rupe. When the trap was to be set the spring (1) was bent down as before, until the lower end of the tohe was in position in the fairway or entrance. The operator then took the small stick (4), the kurupae, and inserted one end under the whiti (6) and through (2) the upper loop of the tohe, while the other end he carefully rested on the top of the katara (5). While so setting the trap the operator kept one hand on the spring stick (1) so as to hold it in position while he set the trap with the other; having placed the kurupae in position he cautiously released his hold on the bent spring, and so caused the kurupae (4), the whiti (6) and the katara to take the strain of the bent spring-stick. The strength of the pull of the spring had to be carefully regulated; if too strong it would force the katara (5) downward until its lower end reached the ground, which would lock the trap, for the nibbling of the rat at the bait would probably not release the tohe. It will be seen that the whiti (6) takes the strain of the spring until a rat, pulling at the bait, displaces the katara (5) and releases the looped cord and the straining and strained spring (1), which flies up and jerks page 376the enclosed rat up against the rupe, as in the ordinary tawhiti. Prior to the springing of the trap the strain is on the upper loop; the lower one hangs slack; after the trap is sprung the strain is on the lower loop—and the rat. The position of the katara (5) is important, for, when a rat is discussing the bait attached to it, its body must be within the lower loop, the tohe (3).

Tawhiti makamaka:

The following account of a singular form of portable rat-trap known by this name was given by natives of the Waiapu district, and hitherto undescribed. It was a free trap, not fixed in any way, either to a stake or in the ground, but could be thrown down anywhere. To make this portable trap a piece of supplejack (Pirita. Rhipogonum scandens) was split at one end and the cleft end was kept open by means of three small hoops made of split pieces of the same material. The largest hoop was large enough to admit the body of a rat and was secured at the outer end of the cleft. The second hoop was smaller and secured further in the cleft, the third one was diminutive and fastened well towards the inner end of the cleft. Thus the cleft end of the stick was kept open by means of three little hoops of different sizes set and tied at right angles between the two halves of the cleft end of the stick. The larger ring at the mouth of the cleft is a split ring, through which split the cord of the snare will be passed.

On the outer side of these little hoops are now tied thin strips of fibrous bark of manuka or totara, so as to enclose the conical space in the cleft stick. Thus we now have a little elongated funnel, the outer and larger end of which is open, all the rest closed in by the bark covering. Within this funnel, up at the small end, the bait was placed.

The free unsplit end of the stick is now bent over until such end is opposite and parallel to the cleft end, and this serves as the whana or spring of the trap. A cord attached by one end to the curved round end is passed through the middle of the funnel trap and tied to the outer piece of the cleft end of the stick. This keeps the bent stick in position. Another cord is tied to the end of the bent part, passes through the cleft or split ring at the mouth of the funnel, and its double end is so arranged as to form a loop-snare (not a running-noose) that a rat must enter as it enters the trap. The rat, in trying to get at the bait, enters the funnel through the dangling looped cord at the first little hoop or ring. Before it can pass through this ring, its progress is blocked by the cord in the page 377middle that controls the spring and takes the strain thereof. There is not room for the rat to pass on either side of the this cord, hence it gnaws it so as to get at the bait lying beyond. When the strained cord is weakened, it snaps, the bent stick flies back, jerking the loose cord at its end through the split ring. But the rat's body is within the loop at the cord end, hence it is jerked up and jammed against the split ring, which takes the place of the pawa or rupe of the common tawhiti or trap, The bent stick, not having regained its normal condition of straightness, is straining the snare-cord, and so holds the rat securely, until it is freed by the trap-tender as he makes his rounds.

The above-described trap was not set on the runways of the rats, but at the feeding-grounds; they were just laid on the ground at any piaces where rats roamed about in search of food, where berry-producing trees such as hinau, miro, tawai, patate, etc, were dropping their fruit.

The tawhiti papa or figure of 4 trap, seems to have been employed to some extent by the Maori in late times, but natives have told me that it was not an old Maori form; it was introduced by Europeans.

The following charm was recited by rat-trappers when engaged in setting their traps; this version was given by Waiapu natives:—

"Kiore, kiore, kiore ki te whakamau tawhiti
Waiho kiore kia mau ana
Katikati tu ki runga i te rotari

Pakura e! naumai ki uta
E moho e! naumai ki uta
Ki uta ki a Hine-wairere
Hua taketake, hi . . e, hi . . e

Tenei hoki au te whanatu nei
Me taku mea iti, me taku mea rahi
He miti te ringa o te wahine
He hawa te ringa o te tane
Taku tara i whakanohoia ki te kotore o te koko
Ko-i, ko-a, koire, oreore te kata a te wahine. E . . he . . he!"

I have collected this highly effective charm in several other districts, but in no other case were four indented lines included. A version of this formula given by East Coast natives is said to have been chanted on the return of rat-trappers to their home-village, laden with vessels full of potted rats. It is by no means easy to grasp the meaning of the invitation to the swamp-hen and rail to come ashore or inland and there interview one Hine-wairere, whomsoever she may be. As usual I draw the line at attempting to render this weird effusion into English; some can do so with charming facility; but not so the uninitiated.

page 378

Here is another such charm that was repeated by trap-setters: "Kiore, e! Hei konei ra piko ake ai. Ka haere au ki te whare nui, ki te whare roa, e tataia te mahanga, ka ruahamutitia te kiore, te mau ana."

The following is a form said to have been employed, not only by rat-trappers, but also by fowlers and fishermen:—

"Tapatua koe i uta, tapatua koe i tai
Tapatua Tane, tapatua Tangaroa
He kaha koe i uta, he kaha koe i tai
He kaha a Tane, he kaha a Tangaroa."

The following was collected at Hokianga, but the collector seems to have gone a little astray in piaces, or possibly my transcription is faulty; it is styled a taki kiore, a rat-luring charm:—

He taki kiore.

  • "Te kiore i te pukorukoru ra e, iheihe mai, hekeheke mai; ko para tukia, ko para takina, me taki koe ki te wai o Tutawhiorangi, e . . i . . Haramai, e Kio! Ka pau te marae o to whare te tawhiri ki Aotea. E Kio! He kiore koe, he tangata au; waiho o kiore kia kau ana, he mea ka mate, ka mate, e Kio! Kei nga mahuta nei ra e tumua ana mai, kei nga marohi nei ra e tumua ana mai, kei nga kakahu nei ra e tumua ana mai, kei te tawhitiwhiti noa, kei te rorerore noa, tawhi mau ake ki te turuturu, tawhi mau ake ki te rongotaha, e . . i. . Whakarongo ake au ki te tai tangi mai o Pukehuia nei. Tamaua, e tapu hoki tana taumaha te kainga ai, a ka kai i te ara tu e, i te ara pae, i te ra taua, e . . i . . Ka whekori, ka whekori wairua o manu, wairua o Tane hanga, e . . a . . i. Te kiore nui, te kiore roa, te kiore roro tai, haere mai whakatomokia taku rore."

The Pit-trap:

This was a widespread usage in Maoriland, and the pits used in taking rats were known as torea, kopiha, paepae, maioro, pokereti, tawhiti pouwhenua, and tawhiti oneone; sometimes alluded to simply as poka or rua, i.e., pit.

Mr. D. C. Wilson was perhaps the first to describe the pit-trap, his account appearing in vol. 10 of the Transactions of the N.Z. Institute, p. 239. His description I have heard corroborated by many natives; it runs as follows: "Their method of capture was to construct a pit wider at the bottom than the top, then strew some roasted hinau berries over the floor, and place a log to serve the rats as a ladder. After a night or two, when the rats had got accustomed to being fed in this manner, the log was removed. The rats, unable to resist the savoury smell of their favourite food, jumped boldy down. On seeking to return they were prevented by the overhanging sides of the pit, and in the morning the Maori page 379hunter found them safely trapped." This account of the use of the pit trap is correct, and agrees with what natives of divers tribes have told me; certain minor differences obtained in some districts, and these are referred to below.

White tells us that the rats were singed, and that any hair that escaped the singeing process were pulled out. Several natives have assured me that rats were plucked, even as birds are. The same writer states that, when the first rats of the season were caught, an expert would take the first one killed in his left hand, and, facing the east, wave it up and down, and to and fro, as he repeated a charm such as the folio wing:—

Taumaha ki runga, taumaha ki raro ki taku matua wahine.
I ki ai taku kiore ma te reke. Taumaha, taumaha; e taka te po,
e taka ki Tuhua; e taka te ao, e taka ki Karewa; i tutu ai he kiore.

Long years ago I obtained from T. Ranapiri of Ngati Raukawa an account of this paepae kiore or pit-trap, as formerly used by his tribesmen in the Waikato district. (See No. 23 of the Addenda.) It mentions a peculiar contrivance employed to enable rats to enter the pit; instead of placing a pole in a slanting position in the pit, down which the rats might pass, a number of cords were secured by one end to a peg driven into the floor of the pit at its precise centre. These cords were led up through the entrance to the pit, where they seem to have been made fast to a single cord or vine, so that a person by grasping and pulling such cord could pluck up the central peg and haul it up together with its attached cords. Thus when a number of rats had entered the pit in order to eat the attractive bait, the rat-hunter would appear, haul up their means of exit, the radiating cords, then descend into the pit and proceed to slay the captured rats. Obviously one could not bait such a trap in the evening and defer the examination thereof until the next day, and so the pit would have to be visited by torchlight during the night, the rats secured and the trap rearranged for another batch, otherwise the rats, having eaten the bait strewed over the floor of the pit, would ascend the taut cords and pass on their way to other fields.

Ranapiri's account runs as foliows: "There were two ways of taking rats, by the tawhiti trap and by digging pits; the pits would be four or five feet deep, and the sides would overhang. A stick would be placed in the pit, to which the cords down which the rats would descend into the pit were secured. Bait, consisting of seeds, or some other food, was placed in the pit, and when it was seen that all this bait was consumed, then more would be put in, and on the following night the pit would be visited and the rats taken. The page 380trapper would know whieh cord or vine to pull in order to pull up all the cords by means of which rats descended into the pit. As he pulled on the single cord he brought up all the rest of the cords, also the stick to which they had been fastened below. Then the trapper would jump down into the pit and proceed to kill the rats; having killed them he would carefully sweep the pit in order to dispel the odour of rats, so that other rats would come and enter the pit when it had been baited.

"I have been told that rats swam hither from Hawaiki to Aotearoa, swam hither together, with a leader in front, each rat gripping the tail of the preceding one in its teeth, and so on, even unto the last one."

The contributor of the above note, Tamati Ranapiri, was a man who had acquired from his elders a remarkable knowledge of old tribal forest-lore, woodcraft, and other quaint matters. He contributed a very interesting paper on the arts of the Maori fowler to vol. 4 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society.

An octogenarian of Ngati Awa at Te Teko informed me that he had trapped rats in his youth, say in the 'thirties of last century, and that the pits were visited during the night. Not only might trappers take several batches of rats in one night by such means, but if they left going the round of the pits until daylight they might not take any rats; rats would abandon a pit when daylight appeared, or just before, and retire to their day-quarters. Seemingly the Awa folk did not use the pit with overhanging sides.

In his Story of Aotea the Rev. T. G. Hammond tells us that the Maori rat was dark in colour, that it had bright black eyes, short legs, and that it was about half the size of the common rat.

In the Matatua district these pit-traps, I was told, were about four or four and a half feet in depth. Rats were lured to enter them by employing bait and a slanting pole, as described above. When the rats had become accustomed to visiting the pit, then the convenient pole was withdrawn, and a number of slight rods were stuck endwise into the sides of the comparatively narrow entrance to the pit in a horizontal position, while at the extreme end of each rod some form of bait was tied. On arriving at such a pit the rats would miss the ladder pole but would be attracted by the baited rods, and so would creep out on them to obtain the bait. But when that bait was consumed a rat found it impossible to turn round on so small a stick, and so would fall into the pit.

Waiapu natives told me of a more ingenious device that was practised by their forebears. This called for a longer stick that was not inserted in the earth, but was simply laid on the surface of the ground so that its baited end projected out over the entrance to the page 381pit. Each of these baited sticks was tied to a small peg thrust into the earth, loosely attached by means of a slack cord that allowed the horizontal stick to tilt sufficiently to dislodge a rat, but not enough to cause the stick to fall into the pit below; on the contrary, checked by the hampering string, it simply fell back to its original position, and so was ready to receive another confiding rat, and to precipitate it into the pit of destruction. This tilting-stick device was also employed by the Whanganui natives, and Mr. T. W. Downes has given us a description and illustration of it in vol. 35 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, pp. 229-230. The advantage of the pit-trap over the tawhiti form was that many rats might be taken in the former without any resetting of the trap being necessary, whereas the tawhiti form of trap, as used on rat-runways, had to be reset after it had been sprung. When our Maori folk are claiming ownership-rights in a block of land such evidence of old-time occupation as hut-sites, rat-trapping pits, pits used as subterranean food-storage piaces, eta, are frequently mentioned, and Native Land Court judges are not infrequently asked to go and inspect such evidence of occupation by former generations.

That the use of pits in taking rats was not confined to New Zealand is shewn by the following extract taken from the account of Cook's second voyage; it refers to the faet that such pits were seen on the island of Tana in the New Hebrides group:—

"We observed that in all or most of their sugar [cane] plantations were dug holes or pits four feet deep, and five or six in diameter, and on our enquiring their use we were given to understand that they caught rats in them. These animals, which are very destructive to the canes, are here in great plenty. The canes, I observed, were planted as thick as possible round the edge of these pits, so that the rats, in coming at them, are the more liable to tumble in."

When lying in Queen Charlotte Sound in 1773 Cook found rats to be very numerous on an islet whereon were some of the huts of the natives. Of these rats he wrote: "Our fellow-voyagers likewise found immense numbers of rats upon the Hippah rock, so that they were obliged to put some large jars in the ground, level with the surface, into which these vermin fell during the night, and a great number of them were caught in this manner. It is therefore very probable that rats are indigenous in New Zealand, or at least that their arrival there is prior to its discovery by European navigators." The above does not look like the habit of the old Maori rat, the swarming about huts, and it is just possible that they were the progeny of European rats escaped from Cook's vessel while lying at Queen Charlotte Sound in 1770. On this isle where rats were so numerous Cook's people found page 382the huts swarming with fleas, which are supposed to have been unknown here in pre-European times; if that was so then the 'swarms' seen on the isle must have been bred there in three years.

As to the cooking of rats, they were usually cooked in the umu or steam oven of daily use when required for ordinary consumption, but they were often potted as huahua in their own fat, as already described in the case of birds. Occasionally they seem to have been roasted, but that would be when required for immediate use; and I have heard the expression: I tunua huruhurutia te kiore (rats were roasted in the hair); and in such a case the hair would be burned off in the process of cooking; it seems probable that this method was not often employed, as in the case of birds. Many old men of different tribes have assured me that it was a common practice to pluck the Maori rat ere it was cooked, and the word hutihuti is employed to denote the plucking of feathers or hair. A brief note in the White Mss. at the Turnbull Library runs as follows: "Rats were plucked and singed as we treat birds, and were sometimes cooked in the following manner. A frond of the nikau palm (Rhopalostylis sapida) was torn from the trunk, and the lower part thereof, which is in the form of a hollow cylinder, was cut off and used as a vessel in which to cook a number of rats. These were placed in the vegetable vessel together with a number of hot stones, and the heat caused the fat of the rats to melt, which fat was carefully preserved. As this task was proceeding the cooks would repeat the following charm in order to render the process effective:—

"Te puna i Pukekohe te utuhia, te puna i Pukekoukou te utuhia; maringi toto, maringi tata kei wai kiki, kei wai kaka, kei wai puhakehake."

The collector did not explain how the melted fat was retained in the hollow cylinder; it must have been plugged up in some way, or the fat, so highly prized by the Maori, would certainly have been lost. Hori Ropiha of Waipawa stated that rats were plucked, cooked, and potted in fat as birds were, and that such potted rats were highly esteemed as a superior delicacy, indeed that rats and koko (the tui bird) were two of the very best kinds of huahua.

A Ngai Tahu contributor of the South Island informed me that when rats were taken from the traps they were taken to the village or camp and there plucked, after which they were cooked and perserved in fat in seaweed vessels (poha). Whanganui natives have also stated that the rat was plucked prior to being cooked. A present of food sent by Tamaiwaho of Hawkes Bay to Te Rehunga consisted of five bark-vessels containing potted birds, three baskets of plucked page 383rats (kiore huhuti), and three mātā tuna or packages of eels. A Waiapu native of many summers told me that his people ate the European rat when it first appeared, and that it was plucked as is a bird ere being cooked. These people apply the name muritai to Mus rattus. By the way, Polack, a resident in the far north in the 'thirties of last century, tells us that the European rat (species not stated) and cat, when introduced, were both eaten by the natives. Mr. P. Thompson tells us in his paper on "Work for Field Naturalists" {Trans. N.Z. Inst., p. 140) that the gold-diggers of early days in the South Island sometimes ate the native rats, which they termed "Maori rabbits." It is pretty certain that these rats were of the species Mus rattus.

Colenso the veteran has placed on record some notes on the native rat; that it was sometimes dressed by denuding it of hair by singeing, after which the bones were broken and removed and the rats cooked in a steam-oven; being a vegetarian the native rat was not cleaned prior to cooking. In the Matatua district the rats were first plucked, thus exposing a skin 'like a white man's skin,' as my informant put it, and then the bones were pulled out, not cut out as in the makiri method by means of which birds are boned; natives have told me that to kounu or pull out the bones of a native rat was a simple matter. The entrails of these native rats were looked upon as titbits; they were sometimes extracted and placed in a gourd vessel, to be eaten later with steamed greens of the puwha kind. The kopaki method was sometimes employed, in which each rat was enveloped in leaves of the pororua plant (Sonchus oleraceus) and the whole batch then consigned to the steaming-pit; when partaken of the wrapper was eaten together with its contents. Leaves of petipeti (Blechnum discolor) were used in the same way. Old Te Puia of the Tohue tribe explained that, in plucking the native rat, the fur or hair came away readily. When a take of rats was collected the head, tail, and feet were removed; baskets of a very close plait, termed poutaka, were carefully lined with petipeti fronds, then again with the large leaves of the rangiora (Brachyglottis Rangiora) so as to exclude water, or to make it as near water-tight as possible. In these baskets the rats were carefully and closely packed, and then the baskets were submerged in water until the contents were wanted, when the rats were placed in a gourd-bowl with hot stones, and so cooked, or steamed in an umu (=hangi) pit. Depositing the baskets in water enabled the family cook to keep such a food supply fresh for some time.

When rats were to be potted they were, according to my Matatua notes, put in a large wooden bowl or trough (kumete), and allowed page 384to remain there for a while; if in good condition, as they generally were when taken, the fat would soon commence to exude from them, and when a quantity had so collected, then hot stones were put in it, and renewed occasionally. This caused more fat to collect in the vessel, while it also cooked the fat and rats together, or at least sufficiently so to please the Maori taste, never in itself any too fastidious. The rats were then packed in gourd or wooden vessels, and the melted fat was poured over them, this being the preserving agent. The filled vessels were then carefully covered at the orifice and stowed away in a storehouse.

Williams gives kohu, kohupara, and tukohu as meaning to cook in a vessel placed in a steam oven, as the Maori used to put certain foods in a gourd bowl, which bowl was then placed in a steam-oven, and so its contents were cooked. Kohupara I have heard so used, but I have also heard natives apply it to the kopaki method of cooking rats, wrapping them in leaves and cooking them in the steam oven (hāngi, umu).

Mr. Downes describes a very singular method of cooking rats formerly practised by the Whanganui natives, and which they know by the name of kohu. A small pit was used, such as is utilized in making a steam-oven, but no fire was kindled in it; the pit was lined with the plucked hairs of the rats about to be cooked, and then the rats, not drawn, were closely packed in layers therein; the whole was then covered with leaves, leafy branchlets, over which earth was packed thickly, as in the ordinary way of steam-cooking. On the surface of the earth a fire was kindled and kept burning 'for two nights,' as the Maori puts it. The heat of the fire is said to have melted the fat of the upper layers of rats, which fat trickled down to the lower layers, and, as the heat extended downward, assisted the process of cooking. These rats were then preserved as huahua in vessels. The account seems to need further explanation. Would a lining of hair confine the melted fat? As that melted fat was needed to be poured over the cooked rats when packed in gourd vessels, etc, how was it transferred thereto from a hair-lined pit? Surely the rats must have been placed in some form of vessel.

Some peculiar statements have been made concerning the Maori rat of yore, such as have been disproved in later days; one writer on the Maori and his food-supplies told us that these rats 'were kept in rat-runs or preserves,' but no one keeps rats within bounds until they are dead; no man may say them nay when they go aroving.

page 385

It has been observed that barbaric man ever turns to Nature when in search of similes and what we may term mythopoetical expressions; many such are found among his proverbs, maxims, aphorisms, etc, as will be seen by scanning the foliowing list of whakatauki, as such sayings are called. When we evince admiration of the figurative expressions beloved of the Maori we should bear in mind that they had no written records, no literature, of that nature wherefrom to acquire such graceful idioms, hence they borrowed them direct from Nature. They saw and heard the flowing streams, and so, when listening to a fluent, agreeable speaker, they would remark: Me te wai e rere ana—it is like unto flowing water. To describe a smooth surface he would say: Me te tapa harakeke—like a flax leaf, alluding to the smooth surface of the leaf of Phormium tenax. White teeth were described by the remark: Me he pipi taiari—like Dentalium shells, and large, bright eyes by: Me he Otoru—like the full moon. When a Maori wished to emphasize the beauty of a woman he would say: Me he mea ko Kopu e rere ana i te pae—Like the planet Venus as it appears above the horizon.

When intertribal fighting had desolated a certain area of the Whanganui valley, men said: Tangi kau ana te hau ki roto o Whanganui—nought save the wailing of the wind is heard in (the vale of) Whanganui. An expression equivalent to the above is: Ko te wai anake e rere ana—nought remains save the flowing waters. Here follows some well known sayings of old containing references to natural phenomena, etc.:—

  • He ao rere ka kitea, he huatau e kore e kitea: Drifting clouds are seen, but thoughts cannot be seen.
  • He ta kakaho ka kitea, he ta ngakau e kore e kitea: A crooked reed is easily detected, not so a crooked mind.
  • Moku ano enei ra, mo te ra e to ana, mo te rakau hinga: For me these (few remaining) days, for the sun that is setting, for the falling tree.
  • Mou te tai ata, moku te tai po: For you the morning tide, for me the evening tide; a farewell to a dead or dying friend.
  • Ka rere koe ki hea i nga toetoe tahae a Mihi-ki-te-hapua: How can you escape the 'cutting grass' of Mihi-ki-te-kapua? i.e., Vengeance is mine. Mihi's stalwart sons avenged her husband's death; they were as dangerous to handle as the lacerating 'cutting-grass.'
  • Me kawe ki te ururua i Wharekura: Refer the matter to the many notable men at Wharekura. Wharekura, a large fortified village at Ohiwa; ururua, a thicket, and so applied to a populace village.
  • Me te uru ngahere tera: They are like a clump of bush. Said of a large assembly of people; a grove contains many trees.page 386
  • Kaua e whakateka te pae tahi ki te pae wha: Let not the single fathom cast discredit on the four fathom. Pae=mārō= fathom, the span of extended arms, used in measuring trees. Pae tahi=small. tree; pae wha= big tree. Inferiors should not belittle superior men.
  • Rurea taitea, kia tu ko taikaka anake: Reject the sapwood, that heartwood alone may stand. Often applied to men. A certain loquacious old native friend of mine once spoke as folio wing concerning this saying: "Now let me explain about the taitea, it means the turbulent and disturbing elements of a land, such folk are like the bark and sapwood of a tree; they soon decay; but not so the heart-wood, which decays not but endures and endures.."
  • He puriri mingimingi: A cross-grained puriri tree. Applied also to cross-grained persons.
  • Ko tini o tepekeha ki temoana, ko Ngati Ira ki uta: The multitudes of the pekehā (birds) on the ocean, the Ngati Ira (tribe) on land; the one as numerous as the other.
  • I hea koe i te hurihanga o te rau o te kotukutuku?: Where were you when the fuchsia changed its leaves; i.e., when land was being prepared and crops being planted.
  • Me tangi, kāpā ko te mate i te marama: Let us lament (the dead), it is not a case of moon-like (temporary) death.
  • Na wai te kokomuka tu tara whare i kiia kia haere: Who said that the house-wall-growing veronica should move abroad? Of an old man whose active life is over. The veronica mentioned is a species that often grew on the earth-covered huts.
  • Ehara i te ti e wana ake: (Man) is not a Cordyline palm to grow up again (when cut down).
  • He kuku ki te kainga, he kākā ki te haere: A pigeon at home, a parrot abroad. Said of a person who cries no welcome to travellers when at home, but when travelling talks much of fancied slights, etc.

The forest-clothed land of Aotearoa, discovered and settled by courageous brown-skinned sea-rovers of long past centuries, is no longer the home of the offspring of Tane and of Punaweko; the far-spread forest has been destroyed by other breeds of rovers on the sea-roads, while the feathered progeny of the sons of the Sky-Parent have passed away even as Hine-makohu, the Mist Maid, fades away when Hine-ata, the Morning Maid, reappears from the realm of Whiro the Dark-One. The laws of change are as immutable as the grey hills, and yet man, ever conservative, mourns when well known scenes and conditions become but memories of the past. How often page 387have I heard a past generation of the Maori folk regret the passing of the forest and its teeming bird-life, of the old customs, industries, and social life. These were the men who related to me the quaint myths and superstitions pertaining to the forest, who spoke of gods and demons as they spoke of men, who mingled mythopoetic personifications with animated inanimate objects and the common things of the earth, who claimed a common origin with trees and birds, who yet clung to the mental outlook of twenty centuries agone.

The lore of the whare mata is no longer taught by old forest-wise experts, and the cunning devices evolved for the taking of game are now seen only in museums. No longer do active brown-skinned bushmen clamber up lofty forest trees to gather the fruit tbereof, or to set a web of snares to capture the teeming birds of far-spread woodlands; the weird charms that rendered such appliances effective are forgotten, the peculiar restrictions that represented a form of discipline, and preceded our game laws, are no longer known to man. Never more will the Maori walk the woods with his old-time mental outlook, never again look upon the wheeling myriads of birds during their aerial counter-marchings between feeding-times, or listen to the melodious clamour of the māra o Tane as Hine-ata the Morning Maid appears on the eastern horizon.

* For illustrations of these twined rupe see Best, The Maori, 2 vols. (1924), vol. 2, pages 495, 497.