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Bird snares among taonga in MTG's care

5 September 2020 bird snare 1650 x 1650

Tomorrow, 6 September, marks the start of Tongan language week, so from all of us at MTG Hawke’s Bay we wish you a warm mālō ‘etau lava, hello, and heartfelt ma’u ha aho lelei, have a nice day.

In the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection are bird snares, once commonly used amongst Māori. Like many peoples before the advent of the gun, Māori were reliant on tools such as bird traps for survival. Today, hunting in the supermarket for hot chickens is as close as we get to the practice of hunting and gathering. This supermarket culture has replaced many practices such as the cultural practice of tapu associated with hunting birds. Tapu translates as lore and, since the arrival of Christianity, also as sacred.

For example Tāne Mahuta, pre-Christian and born of Rangi and Papa, is god of the forest and all who dwell in the tapu of Te Wao Tapu Nui o Tāne, The Sacred World of Tāne. Tāne mated with many female deities to produce all the different bird species. As such, in the order of world creation, birds are created on a higher plane before and above people. Therefore karakia were spoken to appease the god Tāne for taking his children. Hunters did not eat until the end of day when hunting birds, as the consumption of food would cut across the tapu of karakia in regard to taking Tāne’s children.

In today’s modern society, to stand outside any supermarket saying karakia to Tāne Mahuta before entering to harness a hot chicken may well be viewed with indifference, rather than as best cultural practice. Through these bird snares such cultural practices, with the associated knowledge, are discussed and brought into the day of light.

It is with this sense of archiving and protecting, educating and sharing, that MTG holds these bird snares in its care. It is so these precious taonga are not lost to the world. These bird snares are a repository of knowledge, of creation and whakapapa, created and fashioned specifically for use with kawa, tikanga and tapu associated with snaring the children of Tāne Mahuta. These bird snares, along with other taonga, are the last physical hard links to glimpse a world that is pre-Pākehā. It is a personal experience that you don’t get anywhere else in Hawke’s Bay, unique to MTG.

These bird snares, fashioned from the Māori world view, incorporated the practicality of everyday living alongside living with gods such as Tāne Mahuta and his siblings, who are the departmental gods of the Māori world. The whakairo art on these bird snares often appeased the practical cultural workings of living in this old world.

These bird snares are more than just objects, they are a link to a pre-Pākehā world not so long gone. MTG have many taonga Māori in its care of this calibre. Some purchased, many donated by families, both Pākehā and Māori, for long term preservation - to be cared for and to be shared with everyone.

In late 2019 when I started at MTG I was introduced to an object. It was a flat circular piece of greenstone with a hole in the middle of it much like an old coin. Highly decorated it looked like a neck pendant, which is often what they were used for eventually. It is called a kākā pōria. It is tied to the leg of a kākā bird and causes the kākā bird to call other birds in to be trapped. Often the tethered kākā bird became a loved pet and when it died the kākā pōria would often be worn as a neck adornment in memory of the pet kākā.

Another bird snare is the mutu kākā. A wooden perch used to ensnare a bird, using a plaited cord to trap the bird’s feet against the wooden perch. With elaborate whakairo, usually a carved head of a deity, upon completion the snare would be named and the tohi, baptismal rights, performed over it to make it fit for purpose.

To view these bird snares in the MTG collection is an experience that always leaves me in wonder and awe. The collection team, managed by Sara Perrett, are all Pākehā. They have physically held, separately wrapped and cared for each 6500 taonga Māori objects held in MTG with reverence and aroha. In their handling more taonga Māori than many Māori would ever touch or see in their life time, these Pākehā have made me realise my native superstitions. I am yet to get over myself.   




Image: Kākā pōria, Ebbett Collection, Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 207 [183]

6 September 2020

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