Pouwhenua

Well we are now safely back in the still (dis) United Kingdom after almost four weeks in New Zealand a land of great beauty and one that prides itself on the protection of the environment and conservation.

What struck me when talking to people in New Zealand about conservation is just how many there as across the world think it is something that suddenly came to the fore in the latter stages of the 20th Century to combat the impact of industrialisation.

Well the Māori nation may well differ.

During a visit to the brilliant museum in the Auckland Domain I came across what was a carved marker called a pouwhenua or pou for short with the meaning being pou whenua (land post).

Pouwhenua are carved, usually very elaborately, wooden posts that the

Māori peoples used to mark the territorial boundaries of places considered to be very significant.

Which brings me back to the issue of conservation.

In the Māori culture a rāhui was used to try to ensure the conservation of an important resource which restricted access to or the use of a resource by those who were not authorised to use it.

And this isn’t something that was the practice of the Māori people of long ago because in passing the New Zealand Fisheries Act of 1996 a rāhui can now be imposed by the Ministry of Fisheries to protect and prevent over fishing of a resource.

The pou that is in the Domain was presented to the museum in 1929 by Wiremu Ngawati of the Uritaniwha iwi and was connected historically with the conservation of the eel fishing.

Now you may well be thinking “yes but even though this is interesting and the pou is beautifully carved isn’t that simply it, a reminder of past days”?

And you would be right except as with (as I have discovered to my delight) all things associated with the Māori people every object has a story attached to it that has an almost mythical fable content.

The story associated with this particular pou is that it is a reminder of a long standing feud between Pu Totara and Pora Harakeke who with his tribe refused to accept and ignored the the rāhui that was placed on the Tai Kirau Creek (which incidentally is still a preserve situated near to the present Ōtiria Railway Station.)

The upshot of the feud was that one day Pu caught and captured Pora poaching eels and was to enraged that he held him under the water until Pora sank to the bottom of the creek and was left to drown.

Pu however realising what he had done felt compassion and rescued the drowned Pora and brought him back to life by making a small fire and holding him over the smoke.

Ok I agree smoke inhalation may not be the greatest of revival techniques but it worked in the story.

As a result of this act the feud was brought to an end and the post was carved as proof that Pu Totara had the fishing rights to this rāhui and Pora Harakeke agreed.

And so the conservation and management of the fishing stock was maintained for generations.

Fable or myth?

Whatever it is the basis of conservation and management of our fishing stock to ensure that it is available in the future is one that perhaps mankind could and should take notice of and if ignored will be at a cost to us all.