Ikawai: a revelation

lamphrey
A lamprey or pirahau. Photo by Stephen Moore, Department of Conservation

I came to the world of Ikawai rather late. I had dipped into the hefty 800 page volume some time back. What I read was very interesting, but thinking that it was basically an encyclopedia about fish, I had not ventured much further than the introductory chapters.

Recently, my interest in the impact of acclimatisation on Maori led me back to the book. What a revelation! Well actually a series of them. Continue reading

Eels and eeling in our environmental (and cultural) history

Eels (or more broadly, tuna) have long been important in the culture of the our islands. For Māori, not only were they an extremely important food source – particularly for those who lived inland, but they were also of great cultural value. For the European New Zealander, eels were perhaps less vital as a food source, but for much of the 20th century eeling represented what was valued about the New Zealand lifestyle – the accessibility of our outdoors for both recreation and supplementary sources of food and income. However, as the health of our environment has become eroded, so too has this ability to hunt, fish, or recreate as freely as we used to. The eel, though less charismatic or cuddly than many of its land-based counterparts, is nevertheless a powerful symbol of the impact we have had on our environment as well as traditional values.

One indication of the eel’s importance in Māori culture is the number of words that were used to describe different varieties and conditions of eel (like Inuit terms for snow): as noted by  David Young in Woven by Water – histories from the Whanganui River, ethnographer Eldson Best recorded at least 166 such words. Continue reading