Story: Te mahi kai – food production economics

Page 3. Types of food production

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Loss of big game

The loss of seals, moa and other large birds through over-exploitation led to a new paradigm in food production. The protein boom was over, and it became vital to extend and intensify production and develop better methods of preservation. As James Belich notes, ‘An all-year-round living could be wrested from New Zealand nature ... but it took immense effort and organisation, aimed at a wide range of targets.’ 1

Kurī and kiore

After the loss of large birds and sea mammals, kurī (dogs) and kiore (Pacific rats) became more important. Kurī were a delicacy, although they were not present in large numbers.

Kiore were caught by setting traps along their pathways and near their food sources. They were often trapped while eating kiekie fruit (tāwhara), and were particularly numerous during beech mast years (when there are large numbers of flowers and seeds). Kiore were cooked and stored in their own fat in tahā, containers made from hue (bottle gourds).

Cabbage tree cuisine

In the South Island, the tī kōuka (cabbage tree) was particularly important as a source of carbohydrate. Para kāuru (tī kōuka groves) were often deliberately planted. The leaf buds were cooked as a vegetable with fatty foods. The stem and rhizome of young plants were cooked in large, circular pits called umu tī to extract the kāuru (sugar).

Te ngahere – the forest

Numerous foods were gathered from the forest, including fruits and berries from hīnau, tawa and miro; greens such as pūhā or sowthistle; the hearts of nīkau palms; the roots of perei (potato orchids); and the bracts of kiekie. Nectar was taken from flax, cakes were made from raupō (bulrush) pollen, and a drink was made from tutu berries. Karaka, mamaku (tree ferns) and tī kōuka (cabbage trees) were all used.

Te tāhere manu – catching birds

After the large birds became extinct, Māori turned to smaller birds. Forest birds like kererū (New Zealand pigeons), kākāriki (parakeets), tūī and kākā (parrots) were taken, as were ground birds such as kiwi, weka and kākāpō. Ducks were also taken, particularly when moulting. So were seabirds, especially tītī (muttonbirds) in the south.

Numerous methods were developed for catching birds, including snaring, using decoys, spearing and catching with nooses. Birds were cooked and stored in their own fat in tahā (gourds) and sometimes in pōhā (containers made from bull kelp).

Mātaitai – shellfish gathering

Various shellfish such as pāua, pipi, cockles, tuatua, kūtai (sea mussels), kākahi (freshwater mussels), tio (oysters), toheroa, pūpū, and whetiko were taken. Karengo seaweed was preserved and gifted to inland tribes. Kōura (crayfish) and kina (sea urchins) were also eaten.

Te hī ika – fishing

Marine fishing focused on snapper in the north and barracouta in the south, but shark, kahawai, tarakihi and cod were also important. Different fish were important in different areas. Seals were still taken occasionally. Dolphins and pilot whales were sometimes harpooned at sea or driven ashore, and stranded whales were used for food. Fish were dried and preserved.

Te hopu tuna – eeling

Māori caught tuna (eels, and some other fish which resemble eels). These included shortfin and longfin eels, ngōiro (conger eels), tuere (hagfish), para (frostfish) and piharau (lamprey). Eels were mainly caught in tuna (eel weirs) as they migrated. Piharau were caught in utu piharau (lamprey weirs) when returning upstream. Eels were preserved by smoking and drying.

  1. James Belich, Making peoples: a history of the New Zealanders: from Polynesian settlement to the end of the nineteenth century. Auckland: Penguin, 2001, p. 68. › Back
How to cite this page:

Manuka Henare, 'Te mahi kai – food production economics - Types of food production', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by Manuka Henare, published 24 Nov 2008