I am a serial collector of bits and bobs from the foreshore.
If I lived in the UK some might call me a mudlark but here in New Zealand I cannot lay claim to such a title. Generally speaking I pick up shells, stones and bits of seaglass that catch my eye, these end up either in my garden or in a bowl on the bookshelf – (at which my husband spends an inordinate amount of time tutting at…). However, I also have an eye for ceramics and it these which are the subject of this particular article.
If you are a regular reader of this blog you may have read two previous articles regarding the area around Fitzpatrick’s Bay on the Inner Waitemata (read here). As I have previously mentioned it is one of my favourite places to walk to even more so because of the untold history of the area. The ceramics that I have picked up from the beach have all been found below the tide line and I believe they provide further evidence for the range of occupation of the beach and area above it.
The following is a summary of these ceramic pieces.
There is a total of 1.7 kilograms of ceramic sherds in the collection which equates to two hundred and twenty-three sherds. For ease of assessment I divided the collection into four groups; whiteware, blue and white, stoneware and others.
This group is so named not because of the fabric type but simply because it consists of plain and generally undecorated sherds of a white and in some cases yellowy colour. Of the seventy individual sherds twelve represent vessel bases and fifteen vessel rims. Two rim sherds had molded decoration as did two body sherds. There was a single large handle, most likely from a teapot, in addition there was body sherd with the base of a fine handle indicating it came from tea cup. Two further sherds had a wide banded molded decoration. One of the more interesting pieces in this group was the molded foot of a vessel (see picture).
Several pieces appear to be yellow ware – a type of pottery so named as a result of the clay used which turns yellow as a result of impurities in the clay. This particular ceramic type is mostly American in origin and had its peak of production between 1860 and 1870.
The vessels represented are mostly from plates, cups/saucers and bowls.
The date range based on fabric type for this group appears to be from the mid nineteenth to the mid twentieth century.
Stoneware refers to a type of pottery fired at high temperatures (1200degrees Celsius) which then becomes non-porous through vitrification and therefore any glazing is purely decorative. Generally, this type of ceramic is used to bottles (ie ginger beer), jugs and large containers.
In the group found at Fitzpatrick’s four were bottle rims (two of which are of a type found on ginger beer bottles), three represent the shoulders of large containers and two are bases, the remaining eighteen are body sherds. There are approximately sixteen vessels represented.
Fabric types range in colour from a creamy brown to medium grey; the sherds range in thickness from 3.5mm – 13mm.
Only one has part of name stamped on the exterior – ‘…FIELD’
Blue and White
As the name would suggest this group consists of sherds which have blue and white decoration. Of the seventy-two sherds, twenty-two are rims pieces and eleven are bases. The majority of the sherds are transfer print, with the ubiquitous Willow Pattern being well represented (twenty-four sherds). Flow ware, a blurred transfer printing technique (1820-1900) is also represented (ten sherds) as is edge molded ware – feather/shell pattern (1830 – 1860).
Two sherds are possibly pearlware – indicated by a bluish concentration of glaze in vessel crevices. Pearlware was developed by Josiah Wedgewood in 1779 but was in decline by 1820. If these pieces are indeed pearlware it is possible they represent heirloom pieces and not an early date for settlement in the area.
Several pieces are heavily discoloured with much paler decoration suggesting an older date to the newer shinier looking sherds. In addition, there are several sherds with blue annular decoration most likely dating to the early 1900s.
This group is in essence all the other sherds that did not fit into the other three categories. There are fifty-four sherds in total of which almost half are of a type with yellow/green glaze, several with a white annular slip.
Of the remaining sherds; three are red earthenware with a yellow tin glaze, probably one vessel and most likely to be from a large mixing bowl; two, possibly three have mulberry coloured transfer print; six are green transfer print; three are brown transfer print; three have a black flow transfer print and the remainder have a single colour glaze suggest a mid-20th century date. The different coloured transfer prints were popular in the mid to late nineteenth century.
The study of nineteenth and twentieth century ceramic types is hampered by the huge variety present. Dating of the ceramics depends largely on fabric type and glaze. Generally speaking creamwares are earliest (1762-1800), followed by pearlwares (1775-1840) and then whitewares (1820 – ). For more information on the differences of these fabric/glaze types the following article is useful starting point – https://cartarchaeology.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/creamware_to_whiteware/
In a previous blog post I suggested that the earliest occupation of the bay was by a James Fitzpatrick and his family who settled and lived here from around 1840/50 – James tried his hand at anything and was at various times a farmer, a gumdigger and had a small brickworks on the edge of the beach. The earliest parts of the assemblage would corroborate an early occupation, such as the pearlware, the early transfer print and the shell-edge moulded ware. When the Fitzpatricks’ left the area is not known.
Following this time, the bay was rarely occupied until the late 1800s and early 1900s when the grassy area was utilised as a campsite during the summer months for Aucklanders wishing to get away from it all. There was at this time a caretaker’s house on the hill above the beach. Once again, the assemblage follows in these footsteps, with many of the sherds being of a type to be expected for the time and usage.
The small handful of mid twentieth century sherds goes some way to corroborate the local story of American soldiers being temporarily stationed in the area during WWII.
The vast quantity of sherds (note I have also perused the beach at nearby Kendall’s Bay, which was also used as a campsite in the late 1800s and early 1900s and have found only a fraction of the Fitzpatrick’s assemblage) and as only a small number are quite worn from being tumbled about in the sea it is fair to say the majority come from an unknown dump site, situated not far from the beach. There are two possible contenders for the dump site; the first is situated at the northern end of the beach and is heavily eroded away, a number of the sherds were found on the beach below this point. The second is at the southern end of the bay where there is a modern drainage ditch which may have cut through the dump serving to wash many of the sherds down onto the beach.
The likelihood is that both were in use at various times, the first one was perhaps in use by the campers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries whilst the second which would be situated at the bottom of short sharp drop (typical of very early dump sites) dates to when there was a farmhouse on the hill above the beach as well as the later caretaker’s house.
I wanted to title this blog ‘How to Bluff Your Way in Archaeology’ but that would almost be plagiarism, but I am happy to admit to being inspired by the small and very funny book by Paul Bahn ‘Bluff Your Way in Archaeology’. As you read you may well think I have lost the plot in my little lockdown world, this is not the case (well, not entirely). The following is a tongue-in-cheek consideration (I am basically taking the mick) of the archaeological profession and it is not intended to offend. After all, if you can’t laugh at yourself then who can you laugh at. If you do get offended easily and do take your profession seriously then I would suggest stop here and read no more…
Lets begin at the outset in saying that to be an archaeologist is to be an accomplished bluffer. I can already hear the sharp intakes of breath as archaeologists around the world start formulating their arguments, some will even be nicely presented with bullet points and the occasional funny quote (only ever occasional because it is a serious subject, after all…) and which won’t necessarily be funny to the average person but instead will demonstrate how clever the speaker is.
Now let me qualify that first statement with my own presentation duly littered with funny quotes and memes, (I do this because I can, this is my blog…).
In the majority of cases every archaeologist begins their career as a student and it is here where our life long pattern of bluffing is established. A student must effectively bluff his or her way through numerous years of study, convincing lecturers, Professors and supervisors that they have read the book list, they thoroughly understand what theoretical archaeology is and they can be trusted with a trowel at the next training dig. The universities are themselves places where the student can learn from the best bluffers in the profession.
Lecturers and other academic staff are so good at bluffing that it is almost impossible to tell they are doing it, in fact I am sure they’re not even aware of doing it. On a daily basis they manage to convince students and those not of their pay grade that they actually know stuff when in fact they had only just read up on the subject the night before (I speak from personal experience here…). The senior members of staff are the best bluffers as having already laid the foundations of a good bluff they merely need rest on their laurels watching with glee as others attempt to climb that mountain.
Beyond the university walls there are generally speaking three types of archaeologists. The professional archaeologist (white collar, slightly better paid, tied to the spreadsheet type) who can also lay claim to be a professional bluffer. The need in this day and age to tender for jobs, apply for grants and funds means that in order to make some form of career out of that university degree one’s projects are always ‘crucial to our understanding’ or ‘vital in furthering our knowledge’. Classic bluffer language meant to impress those with the cheque books.
The second type heavily rely on the first for their job, they are the field archaeologists. Their unique take on the bluff begins the moment they start working, whether it is bluffing their way around a piece of equipment they’ve never actually used before or bluffing the boss that it’s not a fresh break/they haven’t been slacking its just a very complicated site or simply bluffing friends and family about how interesting their job is…
Field archaeologists do precisely what it says on the tin, they work in the field digging or surveying archaeological sites. When seen in public they may be mistaken for the local homeless, excavation is not conducive to cleanliness and they wear their dirt with pride. A good bluffer on excavation will always comment on how straight (or not) other diggers trench walls (known as sections) are, or quite literally lose their tempers when someone walks on their newly cleaned surface. The latter is a big no-no and an experienced bluffer will know to ask first if it is okay to enter a trench – earning them much needed brownie points.
The third group are the theoretical archaeologists (they are also sometimes attached to universities mainly so the university can bluff everyone into thinking how academic and clever THEY are). This type has taken the role of devil’s advocate and run with it so far that even the devil has lost sight of the objective. In essence they do not or will not obtain their own material/data so in order to cover up their own inadequacies they question the validity of everyone else’s work. So they ask questions such as how well was the site excavated? Is the sample representative? They publish large quantities of material usually collating and condensing everyone else’s hard won data. This type can be recognised by the excessive use of jargon and large words that mean very little; a heavy reliance on mathematical equations and complicated diagrams. All of which are smoke and mirrors designed to hide their own inadequacies.
All of this is fine and dandy but what are the practical aspects of bluffing your way in archaeology? Well in truth this can be boiled down into two points – the way you look and your attitude…get these right and no one will know you don’t have that degree.
What does an archaeologist look like? This will depend slightly on gender and age – beards are common as are spectacles; a field archaeologist will generally have a very basic wardrobe with sturdy footwear; a ruddy complexion with a touch of sun/wind burn adds to the authenticity. When on a dig be sure to wear the same t-shirt for at least three days in row. Newbies are easily spotted (and derided) based on their cleanliness and the size of their trowel – a good bluffer would have ensured that their trowel was suitably worn down prior to arriving at the dig. The more academic archaeologists are usually the bespectacled type in clothing that wasn’t even trendy in their grandparents day. They often looked confused when approached by the enthusiastic student and will be carrying a collection of papers with hastily scribbled notes that mean nothing to anyone who glances that way. This type of bluffer will always be in an immense hurry and when asked to do something will always forget citing how busy they are and they’re so sorry they’ll get onto it straight away – they don’t…
If at anytime you are asked to contribute to a conversation here are a few things to remember –
*When talking to anyone who knows nothing about archaeology and excavation it is important to emphasise that it is the processing and analysing of the data collected which takes the longest amount of time – the digging is but a small part of a larger picture.
*Desirory comments about the latest Daily Mail or BBC archaeology headline is acceptable in all circumstances. As is wondering out loud who their source of information was and why do they not employ a journo with some archaeological knowledge.
*In any conversation that focuses on individual treasures (particularly when questions of monetary value arise) it is important to let everyone know that you do not approve – a loud sigh usually works well – before launching into a lecture on how archaeologists dig not to find things but to find things out. At which point it is also acceptable to walk away muttering about context…
*When asked why you do archaeology be sure to smile and then tell a story about how as young child you found an interesting flint arrowhead (or whatever is appropriate to you) and so begun your life long passion for the subject. A really good bluffer will be able to produce said arrowhead from their pocket with a whimsical smile. Apart form this good bluffers can talk endlessly about their passion for the subject (don’t forget to get really animated) and how they long to contribute to our understanding of the past. Because lets not forget no one does archaeology to get rich.
*You must at all times pour unadulterated scorn on any who ask about the monetary value of an object and show absolute contempt for ‘treasure hunters’ and the History Channel – I may have repeated myself here…
*Finally, a really good bluffer will be found at the pub – if you’re in the UK – otherwise anywhere there is a plentiful supply of alcohol, preferably cheap…
There is so much more I could wax lyrical about regarding bluffing your way in archaeology (thank you Mr Bahn) but I won’t (phew!) Please do remember that this is my own feeble attempt to get a laugh and if I have failed and you do find yourself a little bit offended perhaps a pint at the pub might help – after lockdown that is…stay safe.
In this the
second part of my small study of land use and settlement in the Upper Waitemata
we are staying within the area defined in part one – from Island Bay to
Kendall’s Bay, keeping within the coastal strip. This part will take a look at the early colonial/settler
history of the area, with the emphasis being on the early or pre-WWII. After this point in time there is plenty of
written records and several good books written on the history of Birkenhead and
I have no desire to rehash already well-known information.
Captain James Cook sailed through the Hauraki Gulf past Waiheke Island and made
a note that there might be sheltered harbours to the west. The only other Europeans around at the end of
the eighteenth century were whalers and as of yet no records have been found of
any exploration into the upper Waitemata.
It appears that it is not until 1820 that Europeans began to show an
interest in this sheltered inland harbour.
Samuel Marsden is often credited with being the first to explore the area, in
his diaries he states that he left the HMS Coromandel at Waiheke and was guided
by Te Morenga to Riverhead where he then travelled overland to the Kaipara
River – a route travelled by Maori for centuries.
next twenty years there were undoubtedly forays by other Europeans into the
Waitemata, perhaps looking for timber and other such opportunities however
their stories are as yet unknown. In
1840 the HMS Herald was the next major ship to visit the Waitemata, onboard was
the Lieutenant Governor of NZ Hobson and the Surveyor General Felton
Matthew. They spent the next two weeks
exploring the harbour – Herald Island is named after the ship and of course
Hobsonville after the Governor who had initially favoured the place as the capital
of New Zealand.
further afield from our area of study there are records from around this time
which make a note of sailors rowing up Hellyers Creek to a place called The
Lagoon to restock their freshwater supplies, however, “it has also been recorded that in 1841 a Mr Hellyer, lived on the bank
of the creek which now bears his name.
He brewed beer which no doubt was a great incentive to those earlier
seamen who rowed up the harbour…”
In 1841 our
area of study was part of a large land purchase called the Mahurangi Block, it
extended from Takapuna/Devonport to Te Arai and encompassed the majority of the
present-day North Shore. The first parcels of land to be auctioned in 1844 were
between Northcote and Lake Pupuke. Much of the early purchases in the
Birkenhead area were part of a land speculation trend without the land being
settled or farmed. Significant chunks of
land sold were the area from Rangitira Rd/Beach Rd to Soldiers Bay which was
sold to William Brown in 1845 and the area from Balmain and Domain Rds to the
shore encompassing one hundred and ten acres being sold to a James Woolly also
in 1845. However, it does not seem that
either of them actually lived here. It
was common practice for land to bought speculatively and sold on in smaller
parcels to settlers fresh off the boat so to speak, such as the ‘Tramway
Company’ a land development company who bought large tracts of land in what is
settlers of the Birkenhead area who are known were Henry Hawkins, Hugh McCrum,
John Creamer, Joseph Hill, James Fitzpatrick and William Bradney. All of whom appeared to have had a go at
farming but little else is known about them.
those early settlers who chose the Birkenhead area were in for a hard time, as
mentioned in part one the soil was not conducive to farming in the traditional
sense. Settlement was a rather slow
process particularly when compared to other parts of the North Shore and
Auckland. Not surprising when faced with
the prospect of clearing the bush before they could even build themselves a
dwelling. Many of the early dwellings
were simple one room nikau whares, constructed of sod walls with a raupo or
nikau thatched roof. As they cleared the
bush often deposits of kauri gum would be found and sold ensuring a source of
most of these early farmers only managed a subsistence living, there were the
occasional success story. Birkenhead
became quite well known for its fruit orchards, the first of which was
established by Henry Hawkins. There are
two differing accounts as to where Hawkins had his orchard, some maintain it
was near Soldiers Bay and others say it was on the ridge where Birkenhead Ave
now runs. It is of course possible that
both are correct, one of the earliest estates to be subdivided and sold was the
Balmain Estate (also known as the Balmain Township) which extended over a much
wider area than just the Balmain Rd of today.
The steep sided valley of Soldiers Bay would appear to not be conducive
to a fruit orchard, the thick kauri groves would have been quite a hindrance to
say the least. However, an advertisement
in the local paper for 1855 has H J Hawkins selling 700 fruit trees from his
farm at The Glen, Soldiers Bay. Later in 1870-71 Hawkins is recorded as owning
allotment two and three in Birkenhead – this is situated on the ridge which is
now Birkenhead Ave.
early settler is mentioned in relation to a dwelling on a map dated to 1849,
the house was owned by a John Crisp and was situated close to what is now
Fitzpatrick Bay. Unfortunately, I have been unable to corroborate this.
a local history study of Island Bay and surroundings (Island Bay. A Brief History) there is an 1844 map which shows a
dwelling occupied by a Mr George Skey. The bottom part of the block was
developed into a small farm and sold as a going concern around 1849. It had its own jetty and a farm boundary
ditch, unfortunately I have been unable to track down this map to verify this
information and the area where the farm is said to be (and relatively well
preserved) is part of the Muriel Fisher Reserve which is currently closed due
to kauri dieback. Having said that, it
is definitely something to consider and requires further investigation.
1880-81 electoral roll lists a small block (allotment 148 – a trapezoidal block
which ran from what is now Rangitira Rd to the western edge of Soldiers Bay) of
twenty-three acres owned by a Mr Clement Partridge who is described as a
settler. The area of Island Bay was one
of those places where early land sales were of the speculative kind. It wasn’t until the “Tramway Company”, a land
development company, bought large tracts of land in the Birkenhead area
including Island Bay, that small dwellings began to appear. Like many of the
bays in the area, Island Bay was a summer place with the majority of dwellings
being bach’s and only a handful were occupied all year round. The road began as a dirt track mostly used by
gumdiggers and was previously known as Victoria Rd West prior to 1913.
What’s in a Name?
often hold clues as to the early settlement of an area and its changing
history. In part one we already looked
at some of the Maori names for places and how they relate to not only how the
landscape was used but also how the people saw themselves within their
world. For Europeans the naming of
places can be a lot more prosaic and, in some cases, the reason for the name is
obvious such as Island Bay, so named for the small island at the end of the
road which was once separated from the mainland and only accessed at low tide
via stepping stones.
however, are much more difficult to ascertain – Kendall Bay is obviously a
European name but at this point in time there are no records of anyone with the
name of Kendall after whom the bay was so named. One possibility is that Kendall may be the
name of gumdigger or gum buyer situated at the bay – gumdigger camps were often
situated at the head of sheltered gullies near fresh water and near to the
coast. Kendall Bay satisfies all of
these requirements. Interestingly, the
bay is also known locally as Shark Bay, undoubtedly because of the shark
fishing grounds exploited by Maori and later Europeans.
Kauri Point is the one placename not to change and to be consistently included
in the majority of maps dating back to 1842 and up to the present day. It would be a fair guess to say the name came
about as a result of the large kauri stands which would have been easily
visible to the first people to sail up the harbour.
also changed through time or have been forgotten. The Upper Waitemata was once called Sandy Bay
on a nautical chart from 1841; another early map refers to Pt Shortland (1842),
the headland where the Naval Base currently is; on other maps the bay we know
today as Onetaunga Bay was once called Quarryman’s Bay.
Quarryman’s Bay, like Brick Bay further up the harbour, refer to the early industrial endeavours of the area’s inhabitants. Both quarrying and brickmaking were popular industries in a land where traditional farming was problematic. One of the occupations of a potential early settler in the area was brickmaker (see below).
is an interesting case of a name that has been around for a long time but its
origins are hazy. The earliest mention that
I have been able to track down is dated to a map of 1863. Today the stream that runs down from the high
ground and empties into Soldiers Bay would have been a lot less silted up and
most likely navigable by waka or rowboat as far as the present-day
carpark. Today there is a causeway which
joins the bottom of Balmain Rd to the reserve which would not have been there
in the early days. This causeway was
most likely constructed in the early twentieth century when a caretakes lived
at the end of the reserve above Fitzpatrick’s Bay.
which gives us any clue as to why Soldier’s Bay is so named…it has been
suggested that the bay gained its name as a result of an encampment of militia
during the unsettled times of the mid-1800s.
At the time, Hone Heke was ‘making life unpleasant’ for settlers in the
north, particularly the Hokianga, and many had moved south to take up land in
Birkenhead. To allay the fears of the
settlers a contingent of soldiers may have been positioned in various
places…hence Soldiers Bay. As mentioned
before the stream would have been navigable to the bottom of present-day
Balmain Rd, just before that though there is a flat spur which would have
provided a good position for an encampment, with a clear view of the harbour
and a fresh water supply.
placename to consider is that of Fitzpatrick’s Bay, this small sandy bay is
today part of the Kauri Point Domain and is a popular recreational reserve for
the local area. There are two possible
people responsible for naming of the Bay – Charles Fitzpatrick or James
examination of Jury Lists and Electoral Rolls shows that a James Fitzpatrick
arrived on the Jane Gifford in 1842 with his wife and daughter. The Jury List of 1842-57 lists James as
living on the North Shore as a brickmaker; in the 1850s and 1860s he was still
living on the North Shore but was now a farmer and a freeholder. Whether or not he was actually living in the
Birkenhead area is difficult to say; Birkenhead itself was not so named until
1863 and up until that point there was very little distinction between
areas. In the 1870-71 electoral roll
James was listed as residing in Takapuna, allotment 15 – a survey of the
cadastral maps of 1868 shows that allotment 15 is in fact in Northcote
(Takapuna refers to Takapuna Parish of which included todays Takapuna,
Birkenhead, Northcote, Hillcrest, Birkdale, Beachhaven and so on). In 1890, James was still in the Takapuna
Parish but was now listed as a gumdigger.
Fitzpatrick only appears twice in the lists; first in 1867 and as having a
freehold land and house at Kauri Point however by 1890 he had moved to
Morrinsville. Whilst only Charles is
listed specifically as living in our area of study and he would appear to be
the best option for the naming of Fitzpatrick Bay it is still not possible to
rule out James.
Fun in the Sun
area today is made up of three different zones – residential (Island Bay),
defence (Onetaunga Bay) and recreational (Fitzpatrick Bay, Soldiers Bay and
Kendall Bay). In 1888 Governor William
Jervois permanently reserved for the purpose of recreation 133 acres of land
(allotment 162 and 163) in the Parish of Takapuna. It had been his hope that the area was turned
into a national park, a place of tranquillity for Aucklanders. This was the
area from Kendall Bay to the eastern end of Fitzpatrick Bay. In 1913 the Harbour Board acquired a further
forty-two acres which included Kauri Point (allotment 164) which had previously
been owned by Sir John Logan Campbell until his death in 1912. Further to this the area around Fitzpatrick
and Soldiers Bay were then added to the park in 1916. An article in the New Zeland Herald in 1916
stated that the reserve had a fine waterfront and had in the past had been much
used as a camping and picnic ground. It
also mentions a ‘good five roomed house’, our first mention of what was to be
known as the caretakers’ house.
An article from 1900 also in the New Zealand
Herald also mentions how the Kauri Point Domain board had agreed to allow
campers for a small fee. Interestingly
they also denied a request for funds for a wharf. Reading through multiple articles the request
for a wharf in the area is one which is constantly brought up, eventually a
wharf was constructed but not at Fitzpatrick’s or Soldiers Bay but at Onetaunga
Bay and it was paid for and built without the help of the board or their funds.
a new era for this inner harbour landscape; each of the small bays were
transformed in the summer months as families from the city side would spend the
warmer days living under canvas. In the 1920s and 1930s there were seven or
eight families holidaying at Kendall Bay, their camp was at the western end of
the bay where there is a level space and a freshwater stream. At Fitzpatrick’s the camp site was at the
northern end of the bay on the grassy area above the beach. Unlike elsewhere this part of the reserve was
owned by the Birkenhead Borough Council from 1929 who improved it and put in
place a caretaker.
recorded caretaker was a William Henry Rickwood who lived in small house with
his family on the hill above Fitzpatricks.
Oral histories record how Williams’ wife would keep a small store
selling sweets, soft drinks and other useful supplies. There was also a ‘ponga-house’ where Mrs
Rickwood would provide hot water and often sold tea and scones to the visitors. There is very little that remains of this
house today, just a level area with an overgrown collection of European garden
plants such as figs and a rambling rose.
However, there is evidence of both the campers and the caretakers in
form of the rubbish they were throwing away.
Often along the bay sherds of old ceramics dating from the late 1800s to
the mid-1930s can be found, undoubtedly there is a European midden that has
eroded onto the beach.
As well as the tent sites at Kendall
Bay, there were other camping places, near the wharf at Onetaunga Bay and at
Fitzpatricks bay which is the beach at the present Kauri Point Domain. Pre-World War Two and back through the
Depression years, tents appeared each summer for a back-to-nature holiday by
bush and sea. Much of the housework was
left behind at home and there was no problem keeping the children amused. There
were good sandy beaches and the harbour water was clear and clean in those days
before the march of suburbia. (From a pamphlet of remembrances celebrating twenty years of
Kauri Point Centennial Park, available in the Birkenhead Library).
whilst listed as residential today was up until the construction of the Harbour
Bridge mainly a summer town, full of bachs occupied only in the summer by
families from across the water in the city. Unlike the other bays the land
around Island Bay was owned by a land development company, being subsequently
subdivided and sold off. However,
because of issues of transport and roads only a few of the blocks were
permanently occupied. Newspapers from
the early 1900s often have articles describing summer outings by the Ponsonby
Yacht Club to Soldiers Bay and area.
chapter in the history of land use in our area is that of defence. Just prior to the Second World War in 1935
ninety acres of the Kauri Point Domain was taken for defence purposes. The area of Onetaunga Bay (once Quarryman’s
Bay) was developed for a storage facility for naval armaments. This unfortunately put paid to those carefree
summer campers who no longer came in the large numbers, the caretaker at Fitzpatrick’s
was still Mr Rickwood in 1938, as listed in the Wises Directory, but with the
outbreak of WWII everything changed.
In 1942 the
Americans had arrived in response to the Japanese threat in the South Pacific.
Kauri Point Domain, Fitzpatrick’s bay included, were given over to the Americans
and a large number of powder magazines were built. There are several unusual features on the
beach at Fitzpatrick’s Bay, which may relate to these days.
After the war the Domain reverted to being parkland but never again were campers allowed back to any of the bays. Today the Naval depot forms a large wedge between Kauri Point Domain and Kauri Point Centennial Park.
For the last
five years or so I have been walking the ever-faithful Brad the Dog to a small
but perfectly formed bay known locally as Fitzpatrick’s. During this time, I
have found a variety of interesting objects on the beach, some have obviously
been washed in and others have eroded out of the beach head and sand. I also
noticed a few interesting humps and bumps and well that was it, my curiosity
was well and truly piqued.
kept my mind occupied, such as, who was Fitzpatrick? Who lived in the house on
the hill of which only humps, bumps and a rambling rose remained? Why do I keep
finding ceramics on the beach? And what about the pre-colonial settlement of
the area? As I began to research it became necessary to expand the overall area
of interest to include the bays east of Fitzpatrick’s – Onetaunga Bay and
Kendall’s Bay – and the bays west – Soldiers Bay and Island Bay – in order to
get a fuller picture.
For the purpose of this article there are two distinct early phases of settlement and use of the area – the Maori pre-colonial and the early colonial up to 1900 – which will be the focus of this article and the next (part two). Later occupation of the area can be divided by the World Wars particularly the second World War and the construction of the Harbour Bridge which indelibly changed the face of the North Shore. But first let’s consider the bare essence of the area, without the human factor muddying the waters.
The Geology and all that Natural Stuff…
The area with
Fitzpatrick’s Bay at its centre is situated on the north side of the Waitemata
Harbour in the suburb of Birkenhead. Geologically speaking the Waitemata
Harbour is a drowned late Pleistocene valley whose natural rock type is
sandstone and mudstone. It is highly susceptible to coastal erosion, often
resulting in steep sided promontories that continue to crumble particularly
after heavy rain.
The current environment is one of invasive pine trees and impenetrable scrub bush although originally the hills behind the beaches were once thick with kauri, pohutakawa and other natives (small stands still survive in places). The presence of kauri caused the soil to be nutrient poor and therefore not the best for horticulture, unlike the landscapes on the opposite side of the harbour with its rich volcanic soils ideal for horticulture and therefore human settlement. However, the rich waters of the Waitemata made up for this deficiency particularly for the early inhabitants. On the southern edges of the Waitemata Harbour and opposite Kendall’s Bay is Meola Reef, also known as Te Tokaroa Reef – the area is well known to marine biologists as a shark spawning ground, here female sharks leave their young to fend for themselves in the relative safety of the inland harbour.
In addition to
shark there are many other species of fish which frequent the harbour, such
snapper, flounder and yellow-eyed mullet. The foreshore also provides an
abundance of shell fish, predominately in the form of pipis, cockles and rock
The Maori story of this part of Auckland differs considerably from other parts. The central area of Tamaki Makarau with its fertile volcanic cones was ideally suited to horticulture and thus heavily settled. The northern side of the inner Waitemata Harbour was not so suited to horticulture, the vast kauri forests having depleted the already thin soils of nutrients. So how was this part of Tamaki Makarau utilised by the Maori?
Our understanding of the settlement and subsistence patterns of this pre-Treaty of Waitangi time is restricted to the several defended promontories (pa) and the many shell middens which can be found around the shoreline.
The term pa is taken to mean any settlement that consists of defensive earthworks such as banks and ditches. The pa in our area are mainly confined to the steep sided promontories that are usually adjacent to a protected beach where waka were able to land safely. The most well-known is Kauri Point or Te Matarae A Mana, named for Manaoterangi a chief of the Ngati Kawerau who flourished in this area from around 1720-1790. It is also the only pa to have any archaeological excavations undertaken (in response to the possible threat of the construction of a second harbour crossing, the first having completely destroyed Onewa Pa on Stokes Point in Northcote).
These excavations were undertaken by Janet Davidson in 1971 and consisted of a total of seven test pits in four areas. In the 1990 report of the excavation Davidson emphasises the strategic importance of the headland describing the approach from the landward side as being along a narrow and winding ridge which widens to become a flat-topped headland. The site has natural defences in the form of a steep scarp to the southern side which is enhanced by two incomplete ditches. The excavations and subsequent finds revealed that even given its impressive position the site was only used for a limited time. The middens found in three of the four areas produced well-preserved fish bone – but not much in terms of quantity; a single dog bone; pipi and cockle shell – the principal species, which was to be expected; as well as mussel and oyster shells. Interestingly, there were a large number of slipper shells whose flesh may have used as bait for fishing. The middens themselves were quite small and corresponded with the lack of structures found on the headland.
“In view of the apparently strategic
location, this lack of evidence of prolonged or repeated occupation was
surprising” (Davidson J 1990 ‘Test Excavations on the Headland Pa at Kauri
Point, Birkenhead, Auckland in 1971’)
This was very different from other pa sites in Auckland and Davidson concluded that the headland had been constructed by people who visited the adjacent bay for seasonal fishing and that most of the activities happened in the bay below. The pa therefore may have had a more esoteric function such as the proclamation of the Kawerau Chiefs’ mana, an assertion of the group’s rights to the area and ultimately as a ‘just in case’ need for defence.
The photos below are a selection from Te Matarae – the first shows the overgrown nature of the eastern ditch; the second is of the interior which is flat to sloping; the third whilst not very clear is the remains of midden; the fourth is the view from the top out towards Auckland City and finally the last looks down onto Kendall’s Bay below.
According to the “Cultural Heritage Inventory” published by North Shore City Council in June 1994 there are two further pa in the vicinity of Kauri Point. One was presumed to be located within the grounds of the Naval Base which sits in the middle of our research area and is inaccessible for security reasons. In 1899 a Colonel Boscawen did a rough drawing of the area to accompanying six photos he took. On the map he noted this particular pa which appears to be a major headland pa, was far greater in size than Te Matarae A Mana (Kauri Point). However, on closer inspection of Col Boscawen’s photos and map, it may be possible that this larger pa with its large ditches may not be in the Navy compound but further to the west and near to Soldiers Bay. Over a two-day period I attempted to prove or disprove this idea but the dense bush in the area was a significant issue. In addition, aerial photos have shown that even if the site was in the Naval base much of it would have been destroyed during the development of the land for the base. So as of now the issue is still unresolved…
Below are Col Boscawen photos of the various sites – 1. Te Matarae form landward – the ditches are faintly visible across the neck of the promontory. 2. Te Matarae from up on the hill which is now part of the Naval Base and assumed to be the pa site of Maunganui. 3. On Boscawen’s map this is labelled photo 5 and could be either Fitzpatrick Bay or Onetaunga Bay. 4. A view of the headland labelled photo 4 on the Boscawen’s map which is labelled as a Maori pa site and has two ditches drawn in. Once again this may be either at the eastern end of Fitzpatrick Bay or the headland on the Naval Base. 5. This headland at the western end of the beach as seen in number 3.
The second pa
recorded is named as Maunganui and according to the “Inventory” Janet Davidson
is thought to have identified ‘part of the Pa ditch in scrub just south and
east of the trig at the corner of Onetaunga Road and the road to the Naval
Base’. The general assumption is that it is situated on the ridge on which the
Onetaunga trig is located, but there is still some doubt as later developments
may have caused the landscape to take on forms which deceive the eye. It is interesting to note that Col Boscawen
did not include this pa on his map of 1899, a site he would have been aware of,
unless of course the large pa mentioned above was in fact Maunganui and this has
become a case of mistaken identity.
Beyond Kauri Point and past Fitzpatrick’s are two further pa, one south of Island Bay and the second at Island Bay. The first is situated on top of a cliff about half way between Soldiers Bay and Island Bay. It has been recorded as consisting of a ten-metre square flat area with a small terrace forming the internal area of the Pa. There is ditch on the landward side whilst the other sides are formed by steep cliff faces or slopes.
The photos below are of Island Bay – here a small promontory pa is joined today by a modern carpark which is reclaimed land. The pa itself has been extremely modified with the addition of concrete paths, a wharf and toilet block. The last photo shows the promontory in profile looking west.
The pa at Island Bay is situated on top of the island itself and it is approximately 15 metres by 20 metres in size; middens can be discerned on the northern and western sides. The middens appear to dominated by cockle shell, pipi and oyster. When last surveyed, charcoal, hangi stones and obsidian were also noted. It has been noted that the top of the island consists of some terracing which are not obvious until seen in profile.
mentioned above is the Island Bay Pa midden, and in addition there are recorded
middens at Kauri Point Domain and Soldiers Bay. The Kauri Point midden is
regarded as the largest in the area and situated at the southern end of the
Domain and is noticeable as a result of a stormwater drain cutting through it. Today
grass has almost obliterated the view of the midden and it does appear to have
eroded away quite a bit. However, previous surveys have found it to be three
metres long and one metre high; three layers of shell have been discerned each
separated by layers of sand and clay mix. Apart from cockle, pipi and scallop
shells, hangi stones and charcoal are also present. Waterworn hangi stones are
often to be seen on the beach, giving further emphasis to the issues of coastal
The midden at
Soldiers Bay is situated on the small beach beyond the current mangroves. It
has suffered much from erosion and when last surveyed was two metres long and
spread over a height of three and half metres. Opposite and nearby are a
further two smaller middens. In 1899 Colonel Boscawen drew a map to accompany
half a dozen photos he took of the area. On this map he mentions the presence
of ‘pipi shell mounds’ at the edge of a bay he called Quarryman’s Bay, which
appears to be the combined bays of Soldiers Bay and Fitzpatrick’s Bay, and
correspond with what can be seen today.
“The majority of the middens revisited are
located in bays sheltered from the southerly winds…As for the pa, they are
located on low cliff tips and are close to the deeper waters of the Upper
Waitemata Harbour. They also have strategic views along prime fishing waters
and are located along a major access route to the Kaipara Harbour located on
the west coast.” (‘Archaeological Sites of Birkenhead’ by Richard Jennings in
“Cultural Heritage Inventory” North Shore City Council June 1994)
Other archaeological features which may be indicative of the Maori use of the area include a range of pits and terraces recorded at various places. Unfortunately, the later expansive development of the area means that much of the evidence has been destroyed, or what is being recorded may instead be the result of such development. The previously mentioned Colonel Boscawen also mentioned on his hand drawn map the presence of ‘fairly good soil, has appearance of old Maori cultivation’ in the area near to Quarryman’s Bay. A closer inspection of the beach area below Te Matarae revealed two possible house platforms above the high tide line and close to the cliff edge, these are hidden today by extensive regrowth and are not obvious from the beach. Each platform is roughly 5m x 12m.
In addition to
the actual archaeological sites there are two other sources of information
which may serve to fill in a few of the gaps – beach finds (random artefacts
found on the beaches of the area concerned) and oral tradition.
Below are selection of beach finds dating from this period – these were found mostly on Fitzpatrick’s Bay, Onetaunga Bay and Soldiers Bay. Please note that at no time did I or anyone else from whom I received information on these artefacts dig them up; they were found simply by eye on the foreshore below the tide line. What they can tell us though is that Maori were active in the area and had wide ranging contacts (the obsidian); the sinkers are indicative of a community taking advantage of the marine resources; the adze (and the pieces of adze) are suggestive of woodworking; and already mentioned are the hangi stones found in the tidal area as a result of erosion.
The last five photos are of artefacts found by a fellow dog walker who has kindly allowed me to photograph his finds. It should also be noted that he has found a broken adze head (used in wood working) and several other stone flakes. These items have been donated to the Auckland Museum and are undergoing processing as new acquisitions.
Our knowledge of
Maori history prior to the arrival of the Europeans is based upon the rich oral
histories passed down through the generations and here on the Waitemata this is
no different. The name Waitemata can be translated as ‘the waters of the Te
Mata’ – the reason for the name can be found in the oral history of the region.
Some traditions tell of the canoe Te Arawa which arrived in Tamaki under Tamate
Kapua. It was he who gave Tamaki its mauri or soul by placing a sacred rock
from Hawaiki on the island called Te Mata (known today as Boat Rock which is just
above the harbour bridge). It was the mauri was called Te Mata – hence the
name, Waitemata. Often before a fishing expedition was undertaken, a carved
sinker would be taken to Te Mata and a karakia said then the sinker was hung on
the front of the waka. In Nagti Whatua tradition the first fish caught in the
season would be used as an offering and placed on the rock called Te Mata.
The first hapu
to live on the North Shore were the Kawerau with their main centres being in
the Takapuna/Devonport area where land was easier to cultivate. The coastal
area of the Waitemata appear to be less well populated but that is not to say
no less important. Perhaps the site most well known in our area of concern is
Te Matarae a Mana or Kauri Point. In the late 1700s the Waiohua and the Ngati
Whatua were at war for the occupation of Tamaki. A great number of battles were
fought with many chiefs being killed including Tamaki Kiwi. According to Maori
history, the site was spared by the Nagti Whatua during their conquest of
Tamaki because the chief Te Mana asked for protection from Tuperiri, one of the
leaders of the conquest. Te Mana eventually died an old man in 1790, passing on
the custodianship of Te Matarae and his people to Tuperiri.
was not the end of the story – the son of Te Mana, Takarau, joined a large war party
heading north against the Nga Puhi. The raid was successful and many Nga Puhi
chiefs were killed. But in 1821 when Hongi Hika (Nga Puhi) returned from
England he brought with him muskets and invaded Tamaki with devastating effect.
Takarau was away at the time and so was spared; his people fared less well and
those that could escaped into the hinterland, hiding in the bush until the
1830s, when a small contingent reoccupied Te Matarae. On the 13th of
April 1841 all of the land in our area and beyond was sold as part of huge
parcel of land, referred to as the Mahurangi Block.
Beyond the stories of battles and conquest, our understanding of how sites such as Te Matarae were utilised can also be gleaned from the oral traditions. George Graham recorded how the beach and village below Te Matarae became busier with many waka using the beach during the shark fishing season. Some fleets were said to come from as far away as Hauraki. This may account for the terraces above the beach which could be interpreted as house platforms.
also an interesting source of information – all of the places we are looking at
as part of this article have European names but of course once upon a time they
had Maori names – so for example the bay west of Kauri Point was called
Ngutuwera (translated as ‘burnt lips’). The bay below Kauri Point was called
Rongohau or ‘nook sheltered from the wind’; here waka would take shelter during
bad weather. The deep wooded gully which leads to Soldiers Bay was once called
Tawhiwhi Kareao and its translation is interesting as it refers to the plant
called supplejack which was used in lashing for the wakas. Island Bay was once
called Te Waitioroa (‘the area of Toroa’) and was apparently named so because
Toroa rested there on his way to Paremoremo. But it is not only landscape
features which had names; actual parts of the harbour were given names such as
Wairoria or ‘the swirling waters’ – a place west of Kauri Point where a strong
tidal rip is always found.
archaeological, historical and oral traditions we can say that the use of the
area by Maori was extensive. Settlement in many parts may not have been permanent
in the European sense, but it was no less important.
“Ahi ka did not mean that occupation at each place had to be maintained all year round. However, reqular visiting and use of the camps or temporary settlement affirmed authority in the region.” (M. Kawharu 2004).
Davidson J (1990) ‘Test excavations on the headland Pa at Kauri Point, Birkenhead, Auckland in 1971’ Records of the Auckland Institute and Museum 27:1-18
Jennings R (1994) ‘Archaeological Sites of Birkenhead’ in “Cultural Heritage Inventory” North Shore City Council.
Kawharu M. (2004) ‘Tamaki Foreshore and Harbour Report’ Auckland City Council.
McClure M (1987) ‘The Story of Birkenhead’ Birkenhead City Council.
Simmons D (2013) ‘Greater Maori Auckland. Including Maori Placenames of Auckland’ Bush Press of New Zealand.
This article was originally written several years ago for the ‘Mythology Magazine’ which is now defunct. My intention when writing this was to look at some of the myths and legends associated with the colonisation of the Pacific so please do bear in mind this is not an academic treatise on this subject (that is a far too large a subject for a simple blog…).
The islands of the
Pacific Ocean were one of the last places in the world to be colonised by
people. The how, when and why has
occupied archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists and historian for decades. For the European scientist these questions
need to be answered with solid evidence backing them. For the indigenous populations tradition told
them all they needed to know, the myths and legends providing all that was
needed by the way of explanation.
New Zealand, Hawaii and
Easter Island were the last landmasses to be colonised in the Pacific. These first peoples were at the end of a long
line of ancestors whose collective knowledge fuelled their ability and desire
to travel across vast tracts of ocean.
The Pacific region is made up of three distinct areas – Melanesia,
Micronesia and Polynesia. The first area
to have been settled by people was Melanesia; it consists of Vanuatu, Papua New
Guinea, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, the Bismarck Archipelago and New Caledonia. Dates for the first colonisation range
between some 50-30,000 years ago their ancestors originating from South East
Asia. Micronesia is situated north of
the Melanesian group and is made up of groups of islands including Kiribati,
Nauru, Marshall Islands (to name a few) and the US territories of Guam,
Northern Mariana Island and Wake Island.
Evidence for the settlement of this region is difficult to pin down; the
earliest archaeological evidence comes from the island of Saipan and is dated
to around 3500 years ago. The third
group of islands is Polynesia which covers a wide part of the Pacific. Generally speaking New Zealand, Hawaii and
Easter Island form the corners of a triangle within which all other islands sit
and are referred to as Polynesia.
The ancestors of the Polynesians
migrated from South East Asia a little later than the settlers of Micronesia,
passing through some parts of Micronesia and Melanesia, but rarely settling for
long. Fiji is an interesting case, as in
many ways it straddles the line between Melanesia and Polynesia. When the ancestors of the Polynesians arrived
in Fiji there was already a decent sized population and had been for
millennia. Yet today the visitor to Fiji
will see a multitude of faces, some are distinctly Melanesian looking (mainly
in the eastern islands) and others look more Polynesian. Fiji in many ways was a jumping off point for
the exploration further west, the next islands to be settled were Samoa and
Tonga, both of which are not a great distance from Fiji. These early explorers are known as Lapita
people based on a distinctive type of pottery found on the archaeological sites.
“All island groups in island Melanesia and West Polynesia that lie in a south-east direction have Lapita settlements. None of these settlements have been found on other islands.” (G. Irwin. Pacific Migrations – ancient voyaging in Near Oceania. Te Ara: The Encylcopedia of New Zealand.)
These people were
exploring the region from as early as 3500 years ago (evidence found at the
Bismarcks) and by 3000 years ago were already as far as Samoa and Tonga. The archaeology tells us these were small
groups who travelled fast and light, they established only a few permanent
villages on each major island group and then they moved on. At this time the distinctive Polynesian
culture began to emerge in the west and by 2000 years ago people had begun to
move into the eastern part of the region.
By 700AD the majority of Polynesia had been settled with the last
migrations being to New Zealand, Hawaii, Easter Island and South America (the
only evidence for South America is the presence of the ‘kumara’ or sweet
potato, radiocarbon dates from kumara found in the Cook Islands indicate that
Polynesians had reached South America and returned by 1000AD at the latest).
All well and good you
might say, but what has this to do with the mythology of the region? To study the past of this region it is
important to not only use all those scientific tools we have at our disposal
but also use the traditional knowledge, stories and myths to provide a greater
depth of understanding. In Polynesia
there are many stories which have a commonality suggesting a shared ancestry.
In much of eastern Polynesia Hawaiki (the Maori name) does not refer to the islands we know as Hawaii but to a mythical land where the ancestors journeyed from – an ancient homeland. In New Zealand nearly all the Maori have traditions of such a voyage, in the Marquesas it called Havai’i, in the Tuamotus it is Havaiki and in the Cook Islands the ancient homeland is referred to as Avaiki. Not only is Hawaiki the ancient homeland but it is also a place where a persons spirit would go after death. The main island of the Hawaii group is so named because it is the site of two volcanoes which were regarded as a place of great supernatural importance and the home of the gods. Similarly the island of Ra’iatea in the Society Islands was previously known as Havai’i and it too has a volcano on it (albeit a extinct one) believed to be the entrance to the underworld and the home of the gods.
In Maori myth Hawaiki is in the east – the direction of the rising sun and the stars which bring the changing seasons. Thus it is not surprising that Hawaiki was associated with life, fertility and success. It is said that the first human life was created from the soil of Hawaiki by Tane (or sometimes Tiki). It is the place of highly valued resources such as the kumara which is said to grow wild there – this is interesting in itself because if you travel directly eastwards from New Zealand you will (eventually) land in South America, the homeland of the sweet potato.
“When the ancestors arrived in their waka, they brought with them many treasured plants and birds, also important atua and ritual objects such as mauri. In one way and another, Hawaiki was the ultimate source of the mana of all these. The crops flourished, the gods exerted their powers, the mauri ensured continuing fertility of the resources they protected, because of their origin in Hawaiki.” (M.Orbell 1995 Maori Myth and Legend)
The veneration of the east – many rituals are conducted facing east – is unusual for Polynesia and has led some to make the dubious suggestion that New Zealand was settled by people from South America. More recent studies have demonstrated that the first voyagers would have taken a south-west trajectory from either the Cook Islands or the Society Islands in order to land on the east coast of New Zealand. Over time it would seem this navigational knowledge was amalgamated with the traditions of an ancient homeland.
In other parts of eastern
Polynesia Hawaiki is in the west or sometimes even in the sky and in western
Polynesia it is called by another name – Pulotu, a word that can be
linguistically traced into Micronesia.
It is interesting to note that the largest island that forms part of
Samoa (western Polynesia) is called Savai’i and is a land associated in
tradition with many supernatural goings on.
Hawaiki was not only the land where the ancestors came from but also a
place of spirits, a place where the myths came into being.
As time went on many of these stories would become absorb into local tradition with familiar places becoming the setting to the story. Thus the story of Maui who fished up the islands can be found everywhere in Polynesia. In New Zealand it is said that the North Island was a giant stingray fished up out of the sea by Maui using his magic hook (the hills and valleys of the land are a result of his brothers greed when they hacked at the fish). On the tiny atolls of Manikihi and Rakahanga it is believed that these islands are all that remains of a single land which broke apart when Maui leapt from it into the heavens. In Hawaii tradition tells of the islands being a shoal of fish and how Maui enlists the help of Hina-the-bailer to bring the shoal together with his magic hook to form one mass. Maui hauled on the line, instructing his brothers to row without looking back, which of course they did, this resulted in the line breaking and the islands become separated for all time. In the Tuamotaus Maui and his brothers are once more fishing far from land, once more he has a magic hook and once more he pulls up an island but because his brothers did not listen to Maui the giant fish/island broke apart and became the land the Tuamotua people refer to as Havaiki, where Maui and his family reside.
Maui is one of the most
well known of Polynesian deities, found in the stories throughout the region he
is often known as a trickster, part god and part human. He was of a time when the world was still new
and there much to do to make it bearable for people. Maui is said to be responsible for raising
the skies, snaring the sun, fishing up lands, stealing fire, controlling the
winds and arranging the stars. On the
island of Yap in Micronesia a demi-god figure called Mathikethik went fishing
with his two elder brothers, he also had a magic hook and on his first cast
brought up all sorts of crops, in particular taro, an island staple. On his second cast he brought up the island
of Fais. The similarities here with
Polynesian Maui are obvious and once again we can get a tantalising glimpse of
past movements of people.
Other characters common
to the stories of the Polynesia from Samoa in the west to Hawaii in the east
include Hina, said to be both the first woman and a goddess who is the guardian
of the land of the dead; Tinirau whose pet whale was murdered by Kae; Tawhaki
who visited the sky and Rata whose canoe was built by the little people of the
forest and was a great voyager and Whakatau the great warrior.
“…on every island the poets, priests and narrators drew from the same deep well of mythological past which the Polynesians themselves call the The Night of Tradition. For when their ancestors moved out from the Polynesian nucleus they carried with them the the knowledge of the same great mythological events, the names of their gods and of their many demi-gods and heroes. As time passed the Polynesian imagination elaborated and adapted old themes to suit fresh settings, and new characters and events were absorbed into the mythological system.” (R. Poignant 1985 Oceanic and Australasian Mythology).
Of course none of this
addresses the question of why. Why did
the first people leave their homelands and explore into the vast ocean,
particularly to places like New Zealand, South America, Easter Island and
Hawaii? What motivated them? The myths do in some way suggest possible
reasons, these are stories people would have heard over and over again as they
grew into adulthood. Stories of great
adventurers, of those who dared to do the impossible and it does seem that much
of the early migration was a result of simple human curiosity. Prestige and mana could be gained by person
willing to find new lands. In the places
they originally came from there was no food shortage and in some instances even
once they had discovered a new island, they would move on leaving but only a
small population behind. In the
traditions there are also stories told of people being banished and having to
find new places to live, in addition there are stories of battles lost and
people fleeing retribution. These too
could well be another window into the motivation behind Oceanic migration.
On their own the mythologies
of the Pacific cannot provide us with more than a unique insight into the mindset
of the peoples considered to be some of the greatest explorers of the past but when
combined with genetics, linguistics and archaeology it gives us the ability to
answer those questions of how, when and why.
Irwin G (2012) ‘Pacific
Migrations – Ancient Voyaging in Near Oceania’ Te Ara: The Enclyclopedia of New Zealand.
Ratzel F & Butler A J
(1869) History of Mankind
Poignant R (1985) Oceanic and Australasian Mythology
have always been interested in the past, as far back as Nabonidus who ruled
Babylon from 555 – 539BC who had a keen interest in antiquities to such an
extent he even excavated down into a temple to recover the foundation stone
which had been laid some 2200 years prior.
Nabonidus also had a museum of sorts where he stored his
collection. During the Renaissance those
with the wealth to travel and collect began to keep cabinets of curios. In these you would find ancient artefacts
displayed alongside minerals and natural history pieces.
“…the Renaissance attitude to the examination of the
past…involved travel, the study of buildings and the collection of works of
art and manuscripts.” (K. Greene
it was classical antiquity which grabbed the attention of the well-to-do but
after awhile eyes began to turn towards relics of their own past. The great
stone monuments of North-western Europe became the immediate focus, places such
as Carnac in Brittany and Stonehenge in Britain. Some of these gentlemen scholars would make
systematic and accurate surveys of the monuments, which are still useful today,
even if there were the less scrupulous who dressed up treasure hunting as
scholarly research. These antiquarians
were in essence the first archaeologists and their contributions can still be
Britain several antiquarians stood out between the 16th and 18th
centuries. John Leland (1503-1552) held
the post of Keeper of the Kings Library and such travelled extensively
throughout Britain. Even though his main
interest was in genealogy and historical documents he also recorded
non-literary evidence as part of his wider researches, one of the first to do
Camden (1551-1623) learnt not only Latin but also Welsh and Anglo-Saxon in
order to study place-names. At the age
of 35 he published ‘Britannia’ a
general guide to the antiquities of Britain.
His descriptions of the ancient monuments are very detailed and he was
one of the first to make a note of cropmarks and their possible links to sites
no longer visible – an important part of aerial photography today. Camden was also interested in other forms of
material culture such as pottery as a source of information on the past, a
concept regarded eccentric at the time.
the mid 17th century John Aubrey was one of the earliest writers to
assign a pre-Roman date to sites such as Stonehenge, Avebury and Silbury
Hill. His belief that such places were
built and used by the Celts and Druids was so revolutionary there are still
some who won’t let it go. Following in
Aubrey’s footsteps was William Stukeley (1687-1765) who although trained as a physician
spent a great deal of time conducting extensive fieldwork in Wessex during the
1720s. His highly accurate and detailed
surveys of Avebury, Stonehenge and Silbury Hill are still used today. Stukeley’s recording of the avenue of stones
(now destroyed) leading from Stonehenge to the Avon aided present day
archaeologists in their search for them.
However, in 1729 he was ordained and then attempted to use his fieldwork
to establish a theological connection between the Druids and Christianity.
“Just as Dr Stukeley may be said to be the patron
saint of fieldwork in archaeology, so can the Rev. William be held to be the
evil genius who presides over all crack-brained amateurs whose excess of
enthusiasm is only balanced by their ignorance of method.” (K. Greene 1983)
the same time, across Britain, lesser well known antiquarians were busy
studying and recording their own local areas.
In the county of Cornwall this was no different. The earliest known antiquarian was Richard
Carew (1555-1620) of East Antony, he was a member of the “The Elizabethan Society of Antiquaries” and in 1602 published his
county history, “Survey of Cornwall”. Perhaps the most well known and often cited
antiquarian was William Borlase (1695-1772) who like so many began collecting
natural rocks and fossils found in the local copper works in Ludgvan where he
was the local pastor. In 1750 he was
admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Society and by 1754 he had published “Antiquities of Cornwall” which he then
followed with “Observations on the
Ancient and Present State of the Islands of Scilly and their importance to the
Trade of Great Britain” in 1756.
great great grandson – William Copeland Borlase (1848-1899) – continued with
the tradition of antiquarianism conducting some of the first excavations in
Cornwall at Carn Euny in 1863. Copeland
Borlase published many articles and books on the antiquities of Cornwall, including
a two volume book titled “Ancient
Cornwall” in 1871 and a year later “Naenia
Cornubiae: a decscriptive essay, illustrative of the sepulchres and funereal
customs of the early inhabitants of the county of Cornwall”. There were also a lecture on the tin trade
and a monography on the Saints of Cornwall, not to mention a piece on the
dolmens of Ireland and one on the mythologies of the Japanese.
Copeland Borlase also spent a great deal of time getting his hands dirty
excavating large numbers of barrows in Cornwall. He has been criticised for poor
archaeological practice in only writing up a small percentage of those he
excavated. Nothing makes an
archaeologist bury their face in their hands then the lack of a written record
for an excavation. Copeland Borlase
often employed the services of John Thomas Blight (1835-1911) as an
archaeological illustrator, although Blight was a well known antiquarian in his
own right. He published two books
regarding the crosses and antiquities of Cornwall, one for the west and the
other for the east of the county.
drawings of Carwynnen Quoit were recently rediscovered by the lead
archaeologist, Jacky Nowakowski, during her researches prior to the excavation
and restoration of the quoit. In
particular, the pencil drawing which had actual measurements was very useful in
the interpretation of a stone pavement discovered during the excavation when
combined with modern techniques. The
archaeologists were able to get a better understanding of the positioning of
the quoit within the Neolithic landscape.
the country there have been numerous societies which promoted the work of
antiquarians beginning with the prestigious Royal Society. Even Cornwall had its own Royal Institute of
Cornwall which is still operating today and currently manages the Royal
Cornwall Museum as well as the Courtney Library which holds all manner of
documents dating back into the 1700s.
These early scholarly societies however, did not focus on one aspect of
research, natural history, geology, botany and other gentlemanly pursuits were
all encouraged. This attitude of open
discourse across a variety of disciplines is one of the hallmarks of good
archaeological research today.
Archaeology is defined as the “study of the past through the systematic recovery and analysis of material culture” (The Penguin Archaeology Guide). It is the recovery, description and analyse of material culture with the purpose of understanding the behaviour of past societies. Material culture is defined as anything which has been altered or used by humans – it can be as small as shark tooth with a hole drilled into it for a pendant or as large as a European cathedral. To study archaeology in general is to be a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’ – as a subject it borrows from history, anthropology, geology, chemistry, physics, biology, environmental sciences, ethnography to name but a few. Archaeologists have never been afraid of pilfering theories, methodologies and techniques from other disciplines.
value of the early antiquarians does not necessarily lie in the outdated
interpretations but in the production of often accurate and highly descriptive
illustrations, field surveys and texts that are the basis of many
manuscripts. Some of these ancient sites
are now lost and/or destroyed, and the antiquarian illustrations are all we
have as a record. Fieldwork will always
be a fundamental part of archaeological work and the antiquarians of the past
where the very first fieldworkers and the societies they belonged to provided
the basis for the discipline of archaeology.
K. (1985) Archaeology – an Introduction. Routledge.
The Terracotta Warriors are famed throughout the world and have been on my bucket list for quite some time. So imagine my excitement when I heard that a handful were to visit New Zealand. The following is just a few photos of the exhibition on at Te Papa, Wellington until April
But first some background
Like many of the great archeoloagical discoveries the terracotta army and the mausoleum of the first emperor Qin was really quite accidental. It was in the spring of 1974 that the local villagers decided to sink a new well a good couple of kilometres from the already well known mausoleum of Emperor Qin. After digging down for about five metres through numerous archaeological layers they eventually began to bring up bronze objects and parts of the warriors themselves.
The importance of the villagers finds was eventually realised and it was this discovery which was to form a catalyst for further extensive research and excavation in the area. The First Emperor’s Mausoleum refers to the complex of funerary remains which pertain to the burial of the First Emperor, it is a massive area with a vast complex of structures.
“…the most important remains of the tomb complex include the cemetary’s architectural structures, tomb tunnels, tomb burial chambers, the gate watchtowers, walls, roads and coffins, as well as accompanying tombs, pits and mausoleum villages. The mausoleum is also the product of supreme engineering and architectural efforts, including the construction of massive dykes and channels to prevent flooding, underground sluice walls, drainage channels, man-made lakes and ponds and so on. There are also a large number of facilities that are protective of, and associated with, these mausoleum structures, such as the remains of factories and workplaces, kilns and the tombs of those working on the mausoleum. There would o be fording places, wharfs and the like.” (Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality – edited by Rebecca Rice)
With that one paragraph we realise that there is so much more to a site, a place than just the sensational. A fact which is important to remember when dealing with any archaeological site…
Whilst the terracotta warriors are the main attraction for this travelling exhibition there are also a wide range of artefacts on display from many burial sites and dated over a wide period of time. Please excuse the poor quality of some of the photos, flash photography was not allowed, (all photos are my own).
As soon as the First Emperor became King of Qin excavations and building started at Mt Li (the location of the tomb), while after he won the empire more than 700,000 consripts from all parts of the country worked there…they dug through three subterrnean streams and poured molten copper nd bronze to make the outer coffin, and the tomb was file with models of palaces, pavilions and offices as well as fine vessels, precious tones and rarities. Artisans were ordered to fix up crossbows so that any theif breaking in would be shot. All the country’s rivers, the Yellow River and the yangtze were reproduced in quicksilver and by some mechanical means made to flow into a miniature ocean. The heavenly constellations were shown above and the regions of the Earth below. The candles were made of whale oil to ensure their burning forever.
(Sima Qian – Records of the Grand Historian)
At this stage in time the First Emperor’s actual tomb has yet to be excavate but the high levels of mercury recorded might suggest that the above quote was not an exageration…Sima did not mention the terracotta army in his description of the Emperor’s burial. The army occupies four large pits and it is estimated there are 8000 soldiers with only 3000 excavated. On average each soldier stands 180cm tall and weigh around 100-300 kilograms. There are foot soldiers, archers, armoured officers, wooden carriages and horses. All face east and it has been suggested that they are there to protect the Emperor in the spirit world from those he killed during his conquest of China…
After the Qin Dynasty the Han Dynasty rose to prominence and whilst their style of rule was quite different from the the First Emperor they did continue with the tradition of large scale mausoleums. The following photos are from the tomb of Emperor Jing of Han (157-141BCE); a Han general’s tomb at Yangjiawan (also of the Western Han – 206BCE-9C).
The above are the remains of a tomb gate from the Eastern Han dynasty. These were regarded as doorways between Heaven and Earth, the iconography suggests a celestial journey needed to reach Heaven after death. The battle scenes on the horizontal lintel hint at possible challenges on that journey.
Going to Saveock is a bit like travelling back in time, seeing a peep of a thatched roundhouse roof only adds to the impression that you are somewhere else. Originally you would have had to wait on the other side of the train tracks, call the main station to see if any trains were coming and if they gave the all clear, open both sides of the gate then speed across – they had been known on the rare occasion to get it wrong. Today though there is a much safer way of getting into Saveock, a suitably narrow hedge lined drive leads down to the small holding and even though it is only a fifteen minute drive from Cornwall’s main city of Truro, it feels remote and tranquil – timeless.
So,where is Saveock? Well, it is a small holding situated in a tranquil river valley near Truro in Cornwall. On arrival at Saveock you are met with the ever smiling Jacqui Wood who is not only a well known and respected experimental archaeologist (did I mention the roundhouse?) and author of several books including Cliff Dreamer: The Goddess Returns, a new fictional story set in the turbulent times of our very distant ancestors. She also runs the Saveock Water Archaeology Centre where students of archaeology (age and experience no barrier) are instructed in the art of excavation, here they find their minds being opened to the endless possibilities that the study of the past can present to those willing to listen.
A reconstruction drawing of how a courtyard house such as those found at Chysauster might have been roofed.
I met Jacqui some fifteen years ago when during a chance conversation she told me about some curious stake holes, a green clay floor and associated flint tools which she happened upon whilst digging a flue to conduct an experiment in tin extraction. At the time I was teaching A level Archaeology and we thought it would be a good chance for the students to learn some excavation techniques in the field, after all in archaeology practical experience is far more useful way to learn. It was the beginning of many seasons of excavation, intriguing finds, the remodelling of cow shed to comfy quarters for the diggers and much more. My eldest spent the first few months of his life sleeping safely at the edge of a trench.
The site at Saveock covers a wide range of time as you would expect of a small river valley in the heart of Cornwall with fertile soils, natural springs and near a well known source of tin and possibly gold. The earliest phase belongs to the Mesolithic, the evidence for which comes firmly from those aforementioned stake holes, green clay floor and the associated flints.
“In the Mesolithic the main site trench was over a south facing peat bank on the bend of a river that was between two shallow lakes. This entire site has been purposely covered with various different coloured clays in an attempt to make the river bank a suitable place for dwellings. In the area A/2 the first phase of the site, is what we believe to be a Mesolithic dwelling platform covered with dense green clay surrounded by stony yellow clay in which the stakes to support the dwelling were driven.” (Jacqui Wood).
The second phase was and still is a bit confusing but it does seem entirely possible that it belongs in the Neolithic. When excavating it had been our intention to extend the trench to get a better picture of the Mesolithic features, so imagine our surprise when we came across a stone lined and capped drain covered in thick green clay that lead in one direction towards the river and in the other to another feature, rectangular in shape and lined with white quartz stones and spring fed. Several seasons later in 2005 Jacqui and her team uncovered another similar feature adjacent to the first original ‘pool’.
Dating the pool feature was problematic as it seemed to have been used over a long period of time.
The only other similar feature we have found was the platform around the Neolithic monument of Maeshowe in Orkney. This platform was made up of thick clay and when a trench was put through it a stone lined and capped drain was discovered which was almost identical to the one at Saveock. The presence of the quartz stone too would suggest a very early date, the use of quartz in Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual sites is well attested to. The pool itself became known as the ‘moon pool’ as the white quartz glows in the bright moonlight.
As for its function, well ritual seems a good an answer as any other but only because there appears to be no other alternative and believe me we considered a wide range of alternatives. Jacqui herself was always of the opinion that the word ‘ritual’ was used far too loosely in archaeological circles to explain seemingly unexplainable objects or sites. Later post excavation work on the mud we scooped up from the bottom of the pool (it couldn’t be excavated in the traditional manner as it kept filling with water) revealed some small finds which told a story of long usage and deposition. These included human hair, fingernails, Medieval straight pins, 128 small pieces of textile, parts of shoes, heather branches and perhaps most interesting was the broken half of iron pot or cauldron.
Many of these finds seemed to date to the last phase of usage at a time just before the pool was filled in and covered, a deliberate act to erase a pagan site. The lack of any finds earlier than the late Medieval may suggest that intervals the pool was clean out – thousands of years of deposition, not to mention silt, would have filled the pool considerably if it was not cleaned out regularly. Interestingly, in the layer just above the infill layer a broken glass bottle and a few sherds of pottery dated the closure of the pool to around the time of the English Civil War. Cornwall was at the time and even today a place where the rituals of time past were an important part of local society often overlooked by the Church. Cromwell’s puritan army would not have been so kind to Royalist (and pagan) Cornwall.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing episodes in the sites history comes from once more as a result of an extension of the trench with the Mesolithic features this time along the edge towards the marsh by the river. Whilst following the expected green clay floor and associated stake holes we encountered shallow pits with unusual contents cut into the clay floor. Because this area is essentially a waterlogged part of the site organic remains survived particularly well.
“When we excavated the first one we were surprised to find white feathers in it and thought it might have been perhaps a bird plucking pit, which was a common farming practice at the turn of the century. This turned out not to be the case when we found that the feathers were not plucked, but had been laid skin side out with white feathers inside. We took samples of the feathers to the bird expert at the local zoo and found them to be swan feathers.” (Jacqui Wood).
In addition a small amount of tiny stones were found surrounded by some sort of organic matter. Initially the assumption was that this was the crop of the swan but the stones were too pristine and it was concluded that the stones had been wrapped in leaves and deposited on purpose alongside claws from a range of other birds. The stones themselves were of an interest as they appeared to be brought to the site as they contained tiny nodules of beach flint an unusual feature given how far inland Saveock is. A suggestion from a local had us mounting an expedition to Swan Pool, some fifteen miles away on the coast and sure enough the stones at Swan Pool were identical to our small sample. Radiocarbon dates from the swan skin dated the pit to the 1640s, once again it seems dangerous ritual activities are occurring at a time when to be called a witch would mean certain death.
A further eight pits were excavated that season, only two of them were intact the other six had had their contents removed in antiquity leaving just a few feathers and stones to show what their previous fill was. Excavation of this area was tough going, a thick layer of reeds impeded the work and as time went on more pits would be found, all with their contents removed that was until 2005 (two years after the first pit had been discovered).
Three pits were found in a row, two rectangular and one round in the middle. Of the three it was decided to excavate the middle round one, here the dig crew found the pit to be lined once again with swan feathers but also on either side the bodies of two magpies. In the midst of this were the remains of over fifty-five eggs and although the shells had rotted away the membranes were remaining. The eggs themselves appear to have come from a variety of birds, some even had full formed chicks ready to hatch inside them still.
Further pits revealed the remains of a cat and dog skull. Perhaps the most astounding part of this whole story is the radiocarbon dates for the cat pit which was dated to around the mid 18th century and the dog pit which had a date of circa 1950s.
But as archaeologists we need to ask why? What was the purpose of the pits? There is the suggestion that these are the result of witchcraft based rituals and conversations with many experts in the field of witchcraft have yielded very little to enlighten us. If these pits are connected in some way to witchcraft or even pagan rituals of a different kind it is not one commonly known. This is not too surprising given that so much knowledge about traditions and rituals has faded away. Jacqui though has her own theory as to who and why; “My own theory (and it is only a theory) is that maybe if you got married and did not get pregnant in the first year, you might make an offering to St. Bride of a feather pit. If you finally got pregnant you had to go back to the pit and take out the contents and burn them and set the spirit of the swan free. If you never got pregnant then the pit remained untouched.”
Saint Bride or Brigit has many similarities to the Celtic deity of Brigid. The first of February is St Brigids feast day but also Imbolc where the goddess Brigid is remembered as one who brings the spring. Both are associated with healing, poetry and other domestic tasks. There is also a connection with the sacred wells. Today well dressing is done in the name of the Saint. Wells have long been a place of veneration, our modern wishing wells merely a continuation of a ritual act of deposition that begun in the Bronze Age if not earlier. The connection with the goddess and the saint at Saveock is slight but as we all know it is a place to start.
On a personal note I should like to mention that when the quartz lined pool was excavated it was myself and a friend who did the digging (we were the only ones willing to get so mucky). We spent the good part of a week in the mud and spring water. In late November of that same year I discovered I was pregnant with my eldest (who incidentally was born at midsummer) and a few days later my friend who had been digging too told me she too was pregnant – our children were born just a week apart.
More recent excavations have been looking in a completely different area of the farm and this time they have uncovered a hearth edged with smoky quartz crystals. Dating was provided by the large quantities of Bronze Age pottery found in association with the hearth. Work at Saveock is never dull but it is ongoing, so if you fancy have a holiday with a difference then check out the link below.
This post was first written as an article for the ‘Celtic Guide’ some years ago and is now posted here for your enjoyment – for more articles and information about the ‘Celtic Guide’ follow the link.
According to the Oxford Dictionary superstition can be defined as a “belief in the existence or power of the supernatural; fear of the unknown and mysterious; a religion or practice or opinion based on such tendencies.”
Certain animals are often at the trench face of superstition – cats are the first to spring to mind- the following article is a brief overview of a few of the many British superstitions surrounding our furry and feathered friends.
The range of superstitions surrounding cats varies widely depending on where you are and what type of cat you have. Black cats in Britain are believed to be good luck and white cats are unlucky however in any many other parts of the world the reverse is true, whilst tortoiseshell cats are said to be particularly lucky. Even within the Britain there is some variation on the aforementioned luck. Generally speaking it is believed that if a black cat enters your home uninvited this is very lucky but you must not shoo it away or disaster will befall the house. But in East Yorkshire, the opposite is held to be true.
For some occupations cats can either be a hazard or blessing. Both miners and sailors avoid using the word ‘cat’ but for sailors it is lucky to have a ships cat (preferably completely black). In contrast, in Cornwall if a cat wonders into a mine all work would stop and it would have to be killed before work would continue. In the world of theatre it is considered very fortunate to have a resident cat, so long as it did not wander onto the stage during a performance.
There are also some strange tales of the healing power of a cat tail. For example, a cat’s tail drawn across an eye will cure a sty and in a variation of this the tail of a tortoiseshell could cure warts when stroked but oddly only in the month of May…
Cats do not need to be alive to provide protection either. The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall has several displays of dried, mummified cats which have been found in the roof spaces of old buildings. It is thought they were placed there after death as protection against not only rats and mice but also other misfortunes and evil spirits. At the Church of England school in Chelmsford (built 1887) ‘cat paws bricks’ were used in the walls as protection against witches. These bricks had imprints of cat paws on them.
In Celtic myth there is a fairy creature called the Cat Sith or Cat Sidhe. This creature is a large black cat with a white spot on his chest and is a common feature of Scottish folklore and occasionally Irish folklore. It is said that the Cat Sith will steal a persons’ soul before it was claimed by God by passing over the corpse before burial. Thus the corpse would be watched day and night to keep him away. But like so much in folklore and myth the Cat Sith is not all bad. At Samhain he would bless a house if a saucer of milk was left out but woe and betide those who did not – the house would be cursed and their cows’ milk would run dry.
Unlike cats there are not as many superstitions surrounding dogs, perhaps as a result of the unique friendship humans have had with dogs unlike cats which are far more contrary creatures. A dog howling at midnight is seen as a foretelling of a death, in fact it seems howling of any kind would appear to a prediction of a death. Other superstitions associated with dogs include a dog to running between bride and groom on their wedding day was a bad omen or a completely black dog crossing a traveller’s path, but this may well be associated with the stories about supernatural hounds such as Black Shuck, Barguest and others which were always black, ferocious and terrified travellers.
Horses and Sheep
The horse was a vital part of the economy for thousands of years and much of the superstitions which arose did so to protect them. There are a variety of charms to protect your horse from evil ranging from plants such as birch to amulets worn by the horse (these later became horse brasses). Different counties would have different superstitions although in general it was considered bad luck to see a white horse, to offset the bad luck you need to cross your fingers and not uncross them until you see a dog. In Devon white markings above all four hoofs was considered ill but one white stocking was okay.
Superstitions associated with sheep involve cures for various ailments. Whooping cough was in the past a common childhood ailment and one of the cures involved breathing in the breath of a sheep and if that didn’t work you could find a piebald pony and do the same. Consumption was also common and relief could be found by walking around a sheepfold or inhaling the breath of a horse, any colour or type would do.
One of the many remedies for pneumonia was to attach the lungs of a slaughtered sheep to the feet of the person taken ill – the idea was that the infection would be drawn down and into the sheep lungs. Offal was also useful in removing a witches curse – first take the heart of a sheep, stick pins in it, then roast it at midnight and the curse is gone.
Hares and Rabbits
Many of the superstitions associated with the hare seem to be some form of Christian propaganda against the pagan symbolism of the hare. Most are concerned with bad stuff happening – to dream of a hare was either a warning of enemies or a foretelling of a death in the family. Should a pregnant women see a hare then her child would be born with a hare-lip or similarly to the dog if a hare was to cross in front of a wedding procession…well, who knows what would happen (all references to this particular superstition were strangely silent on what exactly would happen).
In Cornwall white hares were believed to be maidens who had died of grief over ‘fickle lovers’ who then haunted the very same men. Witchcraft and hares are closely connected as it was believed that witches were able to transform themselves into hares.
Rabbits on the other hand were more kindly treated, the most obvious is the use of rabbit foot for good luck (not so for the unfortunate rabbit), originally it was a hares foot which provided the charm though. For the traveller it was considered good luck if a rabbit crossed in front of you but not so much if they crossed behind you. If you would like your month ahead to go well say the word ‘rabbit’ three times on the first of the month before you say any other word. However, do not say it when visiting Portland Bill in Dorset, to utter the word ‘rabbit’ is to invite misfortune.
Rabbits in the medieval period seemed to get a fairly bad rap given the way they were often illustrated in some texts. Although this is more to do with allegory than superstition (I do like the drawings though).
Not all birds have superstitions attached to them, only a select few can make that claim, mainly crows, owls, robins and magpies.
Crows in particular have got a very bad rap over the centuries; their appearance is enough to put a superstitious mind into gear. Basically it is unlucky to see or hear a crow, so for example a crow on his own is very bad and to hear a crow cry from the left in the morning is also bad. Crows flying around your house is not good for the inhabitants either…They even have their own rhyme which would suggest not all was doom and despair.
“One for sorrow, two for joy,
Three for a letter, four for a boy,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.”
Magpies also have their own predictive rhyme:
“One’s for sorrow, two’s for mirth,
Three’s a wedding, four’s a birth,
Five’s a christening, six a death,
Seven’s heaven, eight is hell,
And nine’s the devil his own sel’”
Generally speaking the magpie is regarded as a bird of bad luck and to avert the bad luck the sign of the cross would be made. As with crows many such superstitions involved death and dying, having said that, in some places it was believed to be good luck to see two magpies provided you acknowledged them by bowing.
Owls don’t get off lightly either, firstly it is unlucky to see an owl in the day and they are often regarded as harbingers of death (even here in New Zealand the cry of the Morepork, our native owl is regarded as a portent of a death in the neighbourhood). Interestingly, the hooting of an owl in Welsh villages is said to indicate a girl was about to lose her virginity.
Robins on the other hand are seen as an auspicious bird as a result of the tradition of how the robin got its red breast. Christian folklore tells of how the robin pulled a thorn from the Crown of Thorns and in doing so was stained by the holy blood. Later traditions also have the robin covering those who have died in the open with leaves. To kill or hurt a robin was considered very bad luck and to break a robins’ egg meant something of value of yours would also be broken beyond repair. Unfortunately, the robin could also predict death, by either tapping at the window of sick person or entering a church and singing.
It would be easy to say many of the superstitions surrounding our animal and bird friends are connected to past Christian distrust of that which was not Christian. Cats, owls, crows, hares, horses and dogs all have deep roots in our pagan Celtic past but the degree of bad luck versus good luck seems to come down to how useful the aforementioned animals were.
Witchcraft and the fear of it often results in certain animals having a greater number of superstitions such as the hare and the cat (dogs were also known as familiars but there role is played down). Cats are a difficult case, as their use in controlling the rat and mice population were often overlooked in the zeal behind witch hunts. In the mid fourteenth century a mass culling of cats has often been cited as one of the reasons for the explosion in rat population and thus the onset of the Black Death.
Horses are rarely bad luck and even though stories of devil dogs abound in tradition, making it into popular culture, such as, Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Their usefulness as hunting companions and guardians of the home ensure that dogs never get any truly bad press. Both horses and dogs are easily trainable, their loyalty a given. Animals such as cats, hares and birds can be tamed to a degree but will always have that aura of wildness and unpredictability. It doesn’t require a great deal of an effort for a superstition to take root, no matter how illogical it may seem.
Flash Fiction – a super short story based loosely on one night not so long ago…
I’m tired. I’m tired because I had a shitty nights’ sleep. I had a shitty nights’ sleep because I was awoken at sparrow’s fart by a sore shoulder which turned out to be only the beginning of my first world problems…
You see it begins with the fact I’m not one of those people who toss and turn and who appears to forget that they share the bed with another person, but I will get to that in a moment. I on the other hand, fall asleep in one position and then for several hours do not move. Now it is my assumption – it is only an assumption because usually I am asleep, so therefore not awake and aware – that once I begin to feel uncomfortable I move position into a somewhat more comfortable position and do not wake – or if I do, I do not remember doing so. Last night though was a whole different ballgame.
Last night I woke with a stabbing pain in my shoulder and with my eyes firmly shut and my brain in denial at being awake, I attempted to move to alleviate the pain. It was then I realised why I had not automatically moved in my sleep…I was penned into a small sliver of the bed by the one we shall henceforth call ‘the large hairy starfish’. The immovable large hairy starfish had me cornered and my movability (is that a word…?) was hampered by a leg to the south and heavy breathing to the north. Now I don’t know about you but personally I have trouble coping with the hot humid breath of another person, particularly when it’s aimed directly at my face. After a few moments of quietly fuming over my predicament I found I was able to move just a fraction to relieve the pain in my shoulder, my eyes still shut, brain still in denial and refusing to look at the bedside clock, which we all know would simply be the end of any potential sleep. But then another issue soon became apparent.
Please let me be clear, I have had two children, I know, only two, but in all fairness, they were two large babies with very large heads. Since then I have become that person who before embarking on some great adventure has to make sure there is adequate toilet facilities. No loos, no adventure. The starfish will say, ‘go in the bush’ to which I reply ‘two large babies…’ Yep you guessed it my rebellious bladder had also awoken and was making itself known, painfully. I could have just gone to the loo. No, instead I tried to ignore the impending loss of dignity because if I had given in it would have required me to physically get out of bed, walk to the toilet, turn on a light, sit on a cold toilet seat and then that would be that. I would be awake. So I lay there pretending my shoulder was fine, my bladder was happy and that any minute now the hairy starfish would move. How wrong was I?
After what seemed like hours but was probably only seconds, with a sigh and a huff – the latter aimed at the large hairy starfish for being insensible to my predicament – I gently slid out of bed, (like a fat wobbly sea cucumber, keeping with the seaside theme). Tottered cross legged to the loo and with a clatter of the toilet lid, because some plonker had left the seat up, made it just in time. The relief was sublime. I also took the moment to work out the kink in the shoulder (multi-tasking is my game) with a groan or two.
Just as I was exiting the toilet I came face to face with one of the aforementioned children, now a fully-grown man-child. Who squinted at me and smiled that adorable half smile so reminiscent of the hairy starfish.
“What’s going on,” he asked.
“Needed the loo,” I said, thinking it was rather obvious.
There was a pause as his grin grew wider, “I’m sorry mum for breaking your vagina.” He gave me a half hug as we went our separate ways, him chuckling and heading to the fridge and me for once at a loss for words…and really rather awake.
I have had the privilege of being involved in archaeology in both the UK and to a lesser extent here in New Zealand. If you have read my bio you would know that I taught archaeology to University students and adult education students in Cornwall and here in NZ I am a volunteer with the archaeology department at the Auckland Museum.
Recently as part of the latter I was involved in a Bioblitz event on the Coromandel Peninsula. Over this three-day event first the local schools and then on the Saturday the community were invited to participate in a range of activities, mostly to do with the natural environment. Members of the Auckland Museum, DoC Rangers and prominent locals encouraged the children and adults alike to look deeply at the world around them.
For the first time the archaeologists were also involved and for our part we conducted a mock excavation on the beach for the school children as a way of engaging them in what it is that archaeologists do – it was an interesting experiment and it certainly brought to light an issue that is prevalent within the average New Zealanders mindset.
At the beginning of each session the curator, Louise Furey, would ask each group what they thought archaeology was, ‘what do archaeologists do?’ And yes, you guessed it each and every group came back with, ‘digging for dinosaurs/fossils/treasure’. They can of course be forgiven after all they were just children and the forty-five minutes we had them with us was probably not enough time to get across the complexity that is archaeology.
However, what it did do was get me thinking – why is archaeology in New Zealand so invisible?
Even as a university student here in Auckland when people asked me what I was studying and told them archaeology/anthropology they either did not what they were or once again I would get the old, ‘so you dig up dinosaurs?’ It was frustrating in the least…
Moving to the UK, studying and teaching archaeology there was a completely different game. Archaeology in the UK does not need to explained, only the occasional person who thought they were being funny would mention dinosaurs and thanks to numerous tv shows (Time Team, Meet the Ancestors and others) it was much more main stream. As a teacher of adult education there was no end to those who were keen to learn about archaeology and when I came back to NZ I attempted to start adult education classes in archaeology locally but the uptake was so small (3 or 4 at the most) that it was not viable. So why might this be?
I believe ultimately it comes down to people’s perception of the past and perhaps comparing NZ to the UK is not fair, the two countries have vastly different histories but I do think we can learn something from the UK on how to promote the past as being a place everyone can visit and learn from.
I have on several occasions had people ask me if there was any archaeology in New Zealand – they are surprised to learn that not only is the answer is ’YES!’ but that is somewhere around 70,000 archaeological sites in the country, not bad for some 800 years of human occupation. Here is the problem, in comparing ourselves with other countries which have a much longer history we do ourselves a disservice, convinced that our past is not as exciting or as interesting as others we disregard it; archaeology, heritage, history take a back seat and in the case of archaeology become virtually invisible.
Archaeology in NZ has for many years been the domain of professionals and academics which has in effect built a wall between themselves and the general public that was almost impossible to climb over. Changing perceptions takes time and this process has already begun with events such as Bioblitz and New Zealand Archaeology Week which actively involve and educate the public, the enthusiastic amateur. But there is still work to be done, education is vitally important and whilst we do not want people digging up sites (please do not do this, not only is it highly illegal and get you into a whole lot of trouble – about $50,000 worth of trouble – it is ethically wrong), we do want to encourage awareness, understanding and respect.
“Archaeology is one of the most questioned aspects of heritage. The questions are often negative and many highlight a significant misunderstanding on the important role archaeology plays in Aotearoa New Zealand.”
Why is archaeology important in New Zealand? In essence, because our oldest heritage can only be found beneath the ground and reading the evidence in a careful and controlled way is the domain of the archaeologist. Andrew Coleman titled his column ‘Archaeology – the unsung hero of history and heritage’ and he is right it is the unsung hero. Without it our picture of the past would be incomplete, there is only so much standing buildings, documents, oral histories and the humps and bumps of the landscape can tell us. Each are important individually but together with the archaeological knowledge a much more complete picture can be had.
It is the kiwi way not to blow our own trumpet but instead we wait for someone else to notice what we are doing and then tell the world – are we as archaeologists too shy to say ‘hey look at us, we’re important too!’ Perhaps we are just tired of the dinosaur jokes and the Indiana Jones references…Maybe it is here we could look to the UK and the way in which archaeology has connected to the media (Daily Mail headlines not included). Television in particular has played a significant role in awakening the public archaeological interest but it does require the archaeologists to join in. There have been several interesting albeit short lived tv shows here in NZ that have attempted to follow in these footsteps and had the potential to show the masses our unique and fascinating past.
In my own rather humble opinion awareness of archaeology in this country begins with education, not just at university level but at primary and high school. Archaeology is after all one of those subjects which encompasses all aspects of the school curriculum regardless of level. Maths, English, geography, biology, chemistry, physics, geology, environmental science, economics, statistics, computer studies, art, history, technical drawing, photography and more are all subject’s archaeology includes in its parameters. So why isn’t it being taught as a part of the school curriculum, to our children who are the future custodians of our heritage? More specifically why isn’t New Zealand archaeology being taught to our youngsters?
We often encourage our children to be themselves, to not compare themselves with others, to accept their unique points, to celebrate that which makes them different. Perhaps it is time we started doing the same to our past, to celebrate not just the parts that are visible but that which is unseen and underground, to say cheers to the archaeology!
Addendum – I am sure there are some who might read this article and say why would I care, after all I did leave New Zealand to study and work in the UK and that would be fair to ask. At the time of finishing my BA at Auckland University in the mid-90s, I could see that opportunities for me would be limited, this combined with a desire to travel (it’s a kiwi thing) and a long-standing interest in British archaeology it was only natural for me to head overseas. But I have been back now for almost fifteen years watching from the side lines and my enthusiasm and love of the subject has not waned. It does not matter where I am, for myself it is the understanding of the past that matters and archaeology is central to this.
Originally written for the now defunct Mythology Magazine I am unsure if it was ever published…anywho…let this be the first in an A-Z of Maori legends, stories and myths.
A is for Aoraki
At 3,724 metres* Aoraki is New Zealand’s highest mountain. It sits amongst the Southern Alps which in turn form the backbone of the South Island of New Zealand. Regardless of where you travel in the world there will not be a landscape feature without a story and Aoraki is no different, even if there are a couple of different versions of the story.
The myth of Aoraki is connected to a vast array of creation myths the Maori have to explain the land they found themselves in. In most cases the myths and stories of creation have the same essentials but it is often the details which differ depending on whom you talk to and where in New Zealand they are from. This can make the study of Maori mythology a little complicated.
In the beginning Aoraki was not a mountain, he was a man, the son of Raki* the sky. In creating the world Raki married Papa, the earth, and they had many children, which is a tale for another time. Now as it happened Raki had children from another earlier union and as we all know children from previous relationships can make life difficult for the new partner. Some of these children came down from the sky in a giant waka (canoe) known as Te Waka-a-Aoraki. Their names were Aoraki, Rakiroa, Rakirua and Rarakiroa and they wished to inspect their father’s new bride.
When they arrived they found Papa lying in the ocean, a huge landmass, they sailed around her, poking and prodding until they got bored and then off they went exploring into the vast ocean hoping to find more land but all they found was more ocean. Feeling somewhat disappointed they decided to return to the sky. However, the ritual chant which was needed to send them home was performed wrong* and their waka began to sink, turning to stone and earth. As it sank it heeled over leaving the western side much higher than the eastern side. The four sons of Raki climbed onto the highest side and turned into mountains with Aoraki the eldest becoming the tallest mountain with his brothers by his side. The European names for these mountains are Mt Cook (Aoraki), Mt Dampier (Rakiora), Mt Teichelmann (Rakirua) and the Silberhorn (Rarakiroa). For the local iwi (tribe) of Nga Tahu Aoraki is the most sacred of the ancestors, its physical form provides a link between the supernatural and nature.
A long time passed with the mountains watching and waiting, eventually a man came to the land, his name was Tu-te-raki-whanoa and his task was to prepare the land for human habitation. In the north-east where the prow of the canoe had fallen and broken into many pieces forming the inlets and islands we now know as the Marlborough Sounds, he left alone. But on the east coast he built up the land at Banks Peninsula and his assistant formed the Kaikora Peninsula. He also planted the land with vegetation.
In much later times it was believed he would visit the east coast on occasion usually in the company of Takaroa. They would appear as whales in the estuaries and river mouths and their presence was considered to be an important omen.
There is an alternative to this story, in which it is Maui – he who fished up Te Ika a Maui (the North Island) – who was not only a descendent of Aoraki but it was his task to sail around the waka that Aoraki had left and make it safe for people to live on. Some even say that the whole of the South Island is Maui’s waka and not Aoraki’s. Some even go so far as to dispute the whole myth of Aoraki by saying he was a part of the crew of the Araiteuru which was wrecked and he was turned to stone along with his companions. These alternative storylines do not originate with the Nga Tahu and it could be suggested are a case of Chinese whispers where the story has become distorted as it travels further away from the source.
*Aoraki was previously measured as being 3,754m but a landslide triggered by the movement of the Pacific and Indo-Australian plates knocked off a few metres from the top.
One eye slowly opened and gazed out onto a
world barely recognisable.
Soon, whispered the wind.
word rolled around in his awakening mind.
Soon, whispered the wind.
morning bell jangled across the playground, children scattered to their
classrooms, some with an enthusiasm that can only come with being new to
school. Others saunter slowly; after
all, what’s the rush, school sucks…
Eventually, Tapuhi Primary settles into its morning routine. In room six Mrs Foster calls the role, ten
eager faces, arms and legs crossed, fighting the urge to fidget on the rough carpet
today we have some special visitors. As
you know all week we have been learning about the stories and traditions of Aotearoa.
Today we are going to learn about taniwha. Who can tell
me what a taniwha is?”
eager hands shot into the air.
Samantha?” Mrs Foster smiles.
“ A taniwha
is…a taniwha is a kinda’ monster, like a really big lizard that lives in
rivers and lakes and is really scary and likes to eat people!” The words came out in a rush, nine heads nod
knowingly in agreement.
you could say that, Samantha. But there
is much more to taniwha then just eating people and being scary. After morning tea we will be having a visit
from The Aunties,” ten little hearts leapt into ten little mouths – The
had heard of The Aunties, most were related to them in some way; everyone
listened when they spoke and did as they were told. Except old Dave who ran the only garage for
miles around, but then he was scarier than The Aunties. The arguments between old Dave and The
Aunties were the stuff legends in themselves.
Never mind the taniwha!
morning flew by quickly. Morning tea
came and went in a flurry of biscuit crumbs and half eaten fruit. As the children rushed back into class The
Aunties were already there greeting each child by name. The result was instantaneous, the children
silently taking their places on the story mat and Mrs Foster briefly wondered
if there was any way of bottling that effect…
please welcome The Aunties to room six.”
Ora Aunties,” said room six in a sing song unison.
Ora children, thank you for having us here today. Mrs Foster has asked to come and tell you
about taniwha and we are happy to do this but first you need to tell us what
you know about taniwha,” said the Auntie in the middle.
uncomfortable silence ensued as the children looked everywhere except at the
Aunties. Speak to the Aunties? Who were they kidding? The slow tick-tock of the clock could be
heard as the Aunties sat watching the children, waiting patiently, still as
stone, their eyes missing nothing and just as Mrs Foster was just about to fill
the silence a tentative hand reached up.
you Wiremu, what can you tell The Aunties about taniwha,” said a very relieved
Mrs Foster. There had been some raised
eyebrows in the staffroom when she had talked about asking The Aunties to
taniwha were creatures that lived near water and ate people?” said Wiremu
hesitantly remembering what Samantha had said earlier in the day, “and my dad
said they’re not real, just stories to scare people,” Wiremu finished quickly.
Aunties exchanged a quiet look, once more the middle Auntie spoke, “yes, sometimes
that is correct, the stories do sometimes tell of taniwha that eat people but
they also tell of taniwha who protected people too. Like the taniwha Tuhirangi who was Kupe’s
guardian and protected the canoes that crossed the Cook Strait or the taniwha
Pane-iraira who took the form of a whale and swam with the Tainui canoe from
they don’t eat people?” piped up Wiremu, his curiosity getting the better of
yes some do. The taniwha Tutaeporoporo he
would travel up and down the river eating people, in revenge for being badly
treated by the chief of that time.”
still eating people?”
the great warrior and taniwha slayer Ao-kehu killed him.”
hid inside a hollow log…” Wiremu who was now thoroughly entranced began to
speak again, stopping abruptly when the Auntie held up her hand…“He hid
inside a hollow log, the taniwha smelt him and ate the log whole. But, Ao-kehu was clever and had taken with
him an axe which he used to chop first through the log and then through the
taniwha eventually killing him. Inside
the stomach of the taniwha they found two hundred of his victims”.
went a collective noise from room six as they settled in for more.
hour and half between morning tea and lunch sped by as the children were held
enthralled by stories of taniwha, the good and the bad. There were taniwha who could shape shift,
there were taniwha who were sharks, whales, dolphins and giant reptiles and
even some who were enchanted logs or rakau tipua. There was some disbelief at the last but the
Aunties told the story of Humuhumu the guardian of the Ngati Whatua in the
Kaipara, he was a totara log drifting in a lagoon near the harbour.
how do you know it’s a taniwha and not just some rotten old log?” Nine pairs of
eyes widened in alarm – questioning the Aunties knowledge? Unheard of!
three ageless women exchanged glances, “because Wiremu Collins, the log moved
against the current and if it was not a taniwha how could it do that?” Faced
with three pairs of eyebrows raised in a silent challenge, a red faced Wiremu
had no answer.
sitting on the hard asphalt of the playground eating warm sandwiches Wiremu’s
mind began to wander, thoughts of taniwha filling his young head.
go hunting for taniwha for real!” Wiremu’s words came out of the blue, as soon
as he said it he knew it to be a good idea.
His mates looked at him, shook their heads and carried on eating their
“After school, we head down to the bush and
follow the track along the river. I bet
there is a taniwha down there somewhere.
We can pretend we are like the brave warriors from the olden days, it’ll
Wiremu, what if we actually find one?” piped up one of the group.
smiled, “It’ll be ok, remember what the Aunties said, not all taniwha are bad eh?
And anyway Dad said they’re not real, just stories, come on…it’ll be awesome!” Wiremu’s enthusiasm was infectious and soon
there was mass showing of hands.
decision made there was no going back and Wiremu felt his insides clench, part
of him wanted to know what he was going to do if he actually found a taniwha
and another part of him told him not to be stupid they were never going to find
a taniwha because they were just stories – not real just like his dad said.
afternoon as the going home bell jangled across the school, messages were sent
home via brothers, sisters and cousins. Walking
out the school gates several curious adult eyes followed them, some smiled to
see the kids off on an adventure, better then wasting time playing video games
or watching the box.
sun filtered through the canopy, a bossy fantail followed them along the path
flitting from tree to tree, grumpy at being disturbed. The gurgle of the river calling them down the
track to their destination.
You’re the boss which way do we go? Up or down?” Asked one of the would-be taniwha hunters once
they arrived at the river.
looked up the river and then down, he had no idea. He closed his eyes. At first all he could hear was the rush of
the river, the wind in the tree tops and the calls of a tui, but then slowly he
heard it, thump, thump. A quiet heartbeat, he turned his head one way
and then another – thump, thump. Wiremu’s eyes flew open and walked off up
river, the others scrambling to keep up.
wait!” yelled one of the others, but Wiremu had heard something and without
stopping to think his feet followed the sound that resonated up through his
little legs began to ache and puku’s rumbled as Wiremu’s relentless pace
continued. When the path became little
more than a goat track, the merry band of would be warriors mutinied. Wiremu however, was deaf to their pleas, his
head filled with the stories of brave and clever warriors, the thump, thump, beneath his feet calling
“Wiremu! Stop!” they shouted, to no avail. This adventure was no longer fun.
on lets go back, Wiremu will be fine, it’s not like he’ll actually find a
taniwha,” one of the others spoke up.
bush fringing the creek was dense and yet Wiremu carried on, unable to stop no
matter how hard the bush tried to stop him.
Somewhere along the way he lost a shoe, kicking the other off when he
realised. The sharp stones on his bare
feet not slowing him. He knew he was
Thump, thump, thump…
the bush stopped getting in his way and a smooth path opened up before
him. Wiremu’s feet stopped moving forward,
his mind cleared and looking around for the first time he was suddenly very
aware. He was alone in the middle of the
bush, probably miles from anywhere. Where did everyone go? His brothers had always said he was a dick. Wiremu’s heart leapt in panic.
behind him he saw the dense bush and wondered how he had gotten through in the
first place. In front of him lay an easy
path, smooth, wide and gentle on young feet.
wasn’t long before the path came to an end at the edge of a deep dark pool, the
perfect place to find a taniwha. Wiremu
shivered. The bush eerily silent,
waiting, expecting. Wiremu stood at the
edge of the pool, his toes touching the cool water. Looking at his reflection, he saw himself, a
small scared boy, his chest heaving.
It is time.
Do taniwha eat people? Some do, some don’t
words of the Aunties echoed around Wiremu’s head. How
wrong was my dad, he thought as he watched mesmerised as the still pool began
to churn. The ground beneath his feet
shook slightly, belatedly he realised that his brothers were right, he was a
dick. I am a dick for thinking I could hunt taniwha, I am a dick for not
taking the stories of my whanau seriously and now I am a dick because I am
about to be eaten by one of those stories.
rancid breath of the taniwha tickled the back of Wiremu’s neck, inviting him to
turn around. Wiremu stood still as a
stone gazing in terror at his reflection churning at his feet.
Turn, would be warrior, turn and gaze upon
me, it is time.
heart almost stopped. Time for what?
iridescent blue of a kingfisher fluttered past settling on a branch hanging over
the pool. The kingfisher and Wiremu looked at each other, wisdom and knowledge
in its small beady eyes, hope. Words
filled Wiremu’s mind.
Ina te rua taniwha!
Pute ona karu
Murara te ohi!
Tau mai te po
Takina te whakaihi
Ki Rarohenga rawa iho
Moe ate Po
Te Po riro atu ai e!
Wiremu stumbled over the words, nothing happened, the
pool still churned, he could almost feel the lick of a tongue. The kingfisher
looked at him head cocked to one side, try
again Wiremu, you can do better.
Deep breath, his eyes fixed on the bright blue bird, he repeated the
words again, stronger, louder. As he
finished, the churning pool subsided, the warmth at his back eased. Wiremu began to breathe once more.
The kingfisher flew to another branch, Wiremu’s eyes
followed. There, below the kingfisher a
stepping stone path to the other side of the pool. He didn’t need to be told twice, crossing
quickly with wings on his feet he scrambled up the bank on the far side of the
pool. As he reached the top, he glanced
over his shoulder amazed that all was still and quiet again. It could have been a dream, but it
wasn’t. With a shudder he turned his
back on the dark pool – time to go home.
Three ageless ladies stood watching, silent witnesses. The words of the karakia still echoed around
the pool. Today had been a close
call. They had seen it in his face at
the school. He was the one. But not on this day.
Regardless of where you go in the world and what culture you
study, stories of dragons are a recurring theme within the stories of any given
people. Dragons abound everywhere and every time, even in our modern and
increasingly sceptical world the desire to believe is still strong. Take the stories of the Loch Ness monster or
the giant serpents of the Hudson River and other similar creatures that
periodically pop up all over the world. The Maori are no different, they too
have their myths and traditions involving dragons, of a sort, called taniwha,
who are intimately connected with the natural world.
Taniwha are in essence supernatural creatures which can
appear in different forms, one of which is dragon-like giant lizard, but they
can also resemble sharks, dolphins, whales or even in some instances enchanted
logs. They can be the agents of good or
evil and sometimes neither. Every region
of New Zealand has a host of stories about their local taniwha, many of whom
came with the first explorers acting as guardians and protectors. Some are special people who have been turned
into taniwha upon their death and others are of unknown origin.
The Maori are descended from the first Polynesian explorers
who arrived in the land we now know of as New Zealand approximately eight
hundred years ago (give or take a few hundred years…) and there are often
similarities in the myths from certain parts of the Pacific, such as the Cook
Islands and Society Islands. However, the taniwha of Maori tradition have
evolved as a result of the unique environment these early explorers found
themselves in. New Zealand’s environment is very different from the island
worlds they would have come from. It is after all a much larger world of
mountains, deep forests with giant trees, fast flowing rivers and wild
coasts. Even today a person walking in
the bush can come across areas, secret places where you feel it would not pay
In Maori tradition the first people to arrive came on large
seagoing waka and many of the early stories relate to these ancestors and how
they adjusted to their new land. In the traditions the waka would be
accompanied by a taniwha who would be its protector, such as, Kupe’s taniwha,
Tuhirangi or the female taniwha Araiteuru who came with the waka Mamari. Though there are some traditions which say
she travelled with the waka Takitimu and another taniwha called Ruamono.
Araiteuru gave birth to eleven sons on arrival in New
Zealand, who all went digging trenches along the way, thus creating the
numerous branches of the Hokianga Harbour.
It is said that Lake Omapere was created when one of her sons burrowed
inland and thrashed his tail around. As
guardian of the Hokianga Harbour Araiteuru dwells in a cave at the south head
of the harbour, whilst her companion, Niua, lives in the north head of the
The taniwha Tuhirangi is said to dwell in the Cook Strait
where Kupe left him to guide and protect waka as they crossed between the two
islands. Between 1888 and 1912 a Rissos
dolphin named Pelorus Jack accompanied ships travelling between the North and
South Islands. At the time, local Maori
believed this was the taniwha Tuhirangi in the form of a dolphin, guiding and
protecting ships in this dangerous stretch of water. A number of years later in the summer of 1955/56
another friendly dolphin appeared, but this time at Opononi in the far north of
the North Island. Nicknamed Opo, the
dolphin would play and interact with visitors and many Maori believed Opo to be
a guardian taniwha.
Tuhirangi and Araiteuru were part of a trio of important
taniwha, the third member of this group was a female called Huriawa. Her home is Te Waikoropupr Springs, Golden
Bay. She is regarded as brave and wise, travelling through the earth to clear blocked
waterways. The springs which are her
home are regarded as the purest form of water which both the spiritual and
physical source of life. The water is
often used for healing and in blessing ceremonies.
Another taniwha which accompanied the ancestral waka of the
Tainui from Hawaikii was the whale Paneiraira.
His name means ‘spotted head’ referring to his appearance. He was last seen in 1863 just before the war
broke out between the Maori and the newly arrived Europeans. It is said he came to warn his people of
In the story of Pania and Karitoki, their son (Moremore)
became a taniwha when his father attempted a ritual to keep his mother form
returning to the sea people and failed.
Moremore is a guardian, or Kaitiaki, of the harbour at Te Whanga-nui-a-Orutu. He appears in different forms, as a shark, an
octopus and sometimes a log. Patrolling
the harbour, he would protect the people from danger while they gathered
seafood and fished.
An important aspect of the people’s relationship with
taniwha was acknowledgement by making the necessary offerings or appropriate
chants. The local tohunga might off the
first kumara to be harvested or the first birds to be caught in the
season. Travellers when passing by a
known lair might make an offering of a green twig whilst reciting a chant. In 2002, the Ngati Nohu (a hapu of the
Waikato area) objected to the construction of part of a highway on the basis it
would destroy the lair of their taniwha, Karutahi. After much discussion and to the satisfaction
of the elders, the transport agency agreed to reroute the highway to avoid the
One of the more unusual forms a taniwha can take it that of
a log. In order to identify the taniwha
you would be looking for a log that did behave in the manner of regular log,
known as Rakau tipua. On Lake Rotoiti
the taniwha Mataura would appear on the water as a huge tree trunk with
numerous branches and covered in water weed, particularly on the death of a
high-ranking person. When visiting the Kaipara Harbour watch out for a log
moving against the current. It is
believed to be the taniwha Humuhumu, the guardian of the Ngati Whatua.
Other taniwha can take a myriad of forms, some can be a
strange conglomeration of creatures – native lizards such as the gecko or
tuatara feature strongly as do bat wings, shark teeth and octopus tentacles.
So far, we have only looked at those taniwha who are
kaitiaki, but not all have good intentions.
Some may have begun this way, as guardians of the people, but it only
takes one mistake and the taniwha can turn on the people.
“Because of their role
as guardians they watched vigilantly to ensure that the people respected the
tapu restrictions imposed upon them, and any violation of tapu was sure to be
punished. They were usually held responsible for deaths by drowning; the person
must have insulted the taniwha by breaking tapu in some way” (Orbell M. 1995)
In December 1876, a
news article in a Maori language paper told of four young girls who went
swimming in a waterhole at Waipapa.
Local tradition knew this place to be the lair of the taniwha
Taminamina. One of the girls swam to the
far side of the waterhole where she climbed up onto a rock and started to drink
the nectar of the red flowers of the sacred Rata tree. Without warning, the
girl slipped into the water, one of the other girls tried to save her but
failed. The water began to froth and
swirl and the girls believed it was the taniwha. The elders were of the firm belief that the
girl was punished for breaking tapu and drinking the nectar of the sacred Rata.
In 1955, a photograph was taken on the Whanganui River. It depicts a swirling mass in the middle of
the river and the inscription on the back of the photo reads:
“On many occasions a large flow of water gushes up from the
head of the Wanganui river below the bluff of Buckthaughts Redoubt, just past
the village of Upokongaro. This phenomenon is accompanied by a loud bubbling
noise and small pieces of waterlogged wood and debris are brought to the
surface. Few people have ever seen this occurrence and this photograph was
taken in 1955 by one of a party of Wellington visitors camping at Mosquito
In another story the guardian (Takere-piripiri) of
Otautahonga Pa, a hillfort of the Ngati Raukawa would have offerings of food
left below his cave. One day a gift of
eels was mostly eaten by the people who had brought it. This angered the taniwha and he ate the
people instead, unfortunately this gave him a taste for human flesh and he left
the pa and went to the mountains where he would prey upon travellers.
There were though taniwha who were just plain nasty, such as
Ngarara Huarau from the Hawkes Bay who just liked to eat people and then there
were the taniwha who liked to kidnap beautiful young women to keep as wives.
However, not all is lost because where there is a threat to
the people there will always be heroes.
In this case warriors who used their strength and cunning to defeat the
taniwha and protect the people. Pitaka, Tamure, Potoru and Ao-Kehu were all
famous warriors known for their prowess in defeating taniwha. Tamure had a
special mere (greenstone club) which had the power to defeat taniwha. He is well known for defeating the taniwha at
Piha who had a taste for people.
Interestingly, he did not kill this taniwha but wounded it enough that
it could not eat people. The warrior
Ao-Kehu hid himself in a hollow log with a shark tooth club and when the
taniwha smelt him he swallowed the log whole. Ao-Kehu then hacked his way out
of the log and out of the taniwha killing it in the process.
The earliest stories are those connected with the arrival of
the first waka. These stories or
traditions are in the style of creation myths adapted to the local
landscape. Hence, many taniwha are responsible
for the sinuous rivers, the many inlets in a harbour or in the case of the Porirua
taniwha, Awaru, the flat appearance of Mana Island which she crashed into as
she was learning to fly.
Others are stories which serve to identify valuable resources
and offer a means of protection of those resources. Then there are those which all societies have;
sagas that glorify desirable human qualities.
For the Maori, the great warriors used both their minds and their
strength to defeat the undesirable taniwha.
The traditions of taniwha are often complex narratives which serve to enforce what was considered acceptable behaviour within an iwi/hapu (tribe/subtribe), whilst at the same time providing reassurance to the people – reasons for why certain events happened. If a group of travellers went missing in the mountains, the most likely reason was that they did not make the right offerings and were eaten by the taniwha. Even today the New Zealand bush is not a place for an inexperienced hiker, accidents can and do happen. Rivers and lakes are deep and full of hazards, drownings are a far too common event, landslides and earthquakes are a regular occurrence. We are all familiar with the sense of helplessness, the feelings of not being in control. Attributing such events to the taniwha, a creature you can placate with offerings, or in some cases can hunt and kill, helps to explain such events and at the same time offers a way to take control once more of their world.
The silence was constant,
the darkness absolute but at least it was comfortable. Of course, that was not completely true. Sometimes there would be noise and light but
only on rare occasions. This was one of
those occasions. At first it was only a
muffled clipping noise could be heard, plastic heels on a hard linoleum
floor. As the minutes ticked by the
noise got louder until it stopped, so close.
They had heard the noise before, anticipation hung in the still air or
perhaps it was just the dust motes waiting for something to disturb the
stillness so that they at least could continue to be what they were, to do what
they were meant to do – float lazily around finding surfaces to decorate.
Now a loud clicking as
the tumblers in the old lock turned, a breath then a snap, crackle and
pop. The ancient and rarely used fluorescent
lights shuddered on, illuminating row after row of metal shelves filled to the
ceiling with anonymous brown boxes. Each
box was numbered and some of the older ones even had labels, browning around
the edges, peeling, faded but labels all the same. Testimony, that someone had once cared.
From its cushioned
interior the broken pot waited, perhaps this time it would be chosen. Broken it may be but it still had a story to
At first a lump of cold,
dull clay, providing inspiration for a human mind. Worked and moulded by human hands, its
exterior carefully smoothed and decorated.
Then from the hot fire like a phoenix it came. The incised decorations had meaning, told
their own story of the people who made it.
Its beauty admired, given as a gift from an aunt to a niece and filled
with grain. Beautiful and practical,
that was its story. It was valued
passing from mother to daughter until a day of violence, rough voices and
screaming. In the aftermath the pot lay
broken on the hard-earthen floor, broken into many pieces, its precious
contents spilt out. The crackle and spit
of the burning building heralding the end of an era but not the end of the story.
Buried, for what seemed
like an eternity. The only company the ever-present
earthworms and the occasional mole. Scratching and burrowing, moving away parts
of the whole so that even now safe in the brown box, it was not complete. Then came the day when the light returned,
once more human hands held it, reverently, exclaiming over its beauty. Carefully washing away the dirt that had
accumulated over the centuries, it was drawn, measured and photographed. Then carefully, oh so carefully, a new home was
made for all its broken parts.
At first many hands held
it, admired it, there were more drawings and more photographs but gradually the
visits into the light became fewer and fewer as the next best thing came
along. It had been a long time since it had
felt the warmth of human hands gently caressing the incised decoration that had
its own story. Perhaps today would be
the day. If it had a voice it would have
cried out “pick me, pick me” not unlike so many of the other artefacts sitting
comfortably in their specially cut foam in their anonymous brown boxes. Each had story to tell of a time when they
were useful and valued, even broken and buried over centuries their stories had
“Pick me, pick me” said
Standing still at the
doorway to the storeroom the woman took a deep breath. Smiling she wondered where best to start. Her boss had simply said “choose the ones
with the best stories”. But how do you
choose a good story? What is a good
story? With a small satisfied sigh, she looked
at her tablet with its inventory, deciding to simply start with the artefacts
that appealed to her personally. Hoping
on some instinctive level she would choose the ones with the ‘best stories.
Although there was a
certain amount of pressure to pick the right artefacts this was a job she had
been looking forward to for quite some time.
Finally, a legitimate opportunity for a good rummage in one of the
museums oldest storerooms and a chance to prove she was good at her job. A job she loved. If she were a person of a certain disposition
she would have done a little jig, as it was she simply contented herself with
humming her favourite tune.
Running her fingers
lightly along the brown boxes she did a slow circuit of the room, soaking up
the slightly musty atmosphere. There was
no real order to the space except in a numerical fashion. Each box numbered according to when it
arrived in the room, so that Mesolithic flints sat happily beside early medieval
pottery sherds. She did briefly wonder
if there was analogy for the modern world there. Either way, here she felt at home, to her
each and every one of these artefacts had a good story to tell. Put them together and their story would be…mind
blowing? No, wrong word, it would
be…enlightening. Smiling and humming
she went in search of a trolley.
After an hour she had half
a dozen boxes on the trolley, so far so good she thought as she sat on the desk
at the end of the room. There were a few errant boxes that for reasons known
only to themselves had moved to other locations in the room other than their
designated spot. Perseverance had paid
off in those cases. It had been a risk coming
here, her choices were risky too. This
was not the only storeroom there were others with brighter, better and more well-known
artefacts stored in them, safer choices, but better stories?
Perusing the inventory,
the woman waited for something to jump out at her. What she needed for this part of the
exhibition was an object that grabbed people’s attention, an item to stop and
wonder at, what else is hidden away in the bowels of their museum? Page after page she flicks through, finally
at the bottom of the very last page a hastily added note. The last few boxes to come into the room, containing
artefacts from a small, local society training dig. The enthusiastic amateurs had come across an
ancient settlement but a lack of funding had kept the dig to a single trench, two
metres wide and five metres long. Even
so, several of the finds had been remarkable, telling a story of settlement in
use for many generations and its eventual but violent demise.
Feeling her heart beat
quicken the woman began to count boxes searching, hoping that no one had moved
them. The sound of her heels clicking a
beat along the rows, up, down, pause, up, down, pause. Damn!
They weren’t there. Hands on her
hips, frowning, her eyes focussing on the boxes that were not the boxes she was
looking for. Taking a step back she
scans around, sometimes they were simply a little bit in the wrong place, but
no not this time. If she were of a
particular disposition she would have stamped her foot in frustration not once
but twice, instead though she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
Logic dictated that she
should check who had last looked at the boxes, there might be some indication
as to where were now. Walking back to
the desk where she had left the tablet with its inventory she spied a row of
four brown boxes sitting innocently on the desk she had only moments before been
sitting on. Her pace quickened, please
let it be them she prayed to no one god in particular. If she were of a particular disposition she
would have ran and slid to a halt at the table, but she was not and she still
got there in good time. A quick glance
at the numbers on the outside of the box confirmed it, yes it was them.
As she lifted the lids on
each of the boxes, once more she said a silent prayer of thanks. The contents of all four boxes would be her
centrepiece, they told a real story, a story to resonate through the ages. The woman placed the boxes on the trolley,
satisfied. Her heels once more clicking
sedately on the linoleum floor, a creak of the door, snap as the fluorescents
flicker off, bang, the door shuts once more on darkness. The dust motes swirled about in the air
eddies left by the woman’s presence. A
comfortable constant silence reigns – until next time.
Slam, went the car
door. Two bodies wrapped up against the
weather, one tall, one small make a mad dash for cover under the museum’s
portico. Stopping to catch their breath
the small one links hands with the tall one. There were a lot of people milling
under the portico and mum had said very clearly, ‘do not lose your dad, after
all, he can’t even find his way out of a paper bag’. The boy wasn’t really sure what his dad would
have been doing in a paper bag. He
shrugs to himself, grown-ups!
Rain and school holidays,
not a good time to come to the museum but today was his only day off work and he
had promised his son that he would bring him.
He had no idea why he actually agreed, he would have much rather chewed
off his own leg than come to the museum.
But there was something about the look the boy’s mother had given him
and then there was the boy…equal portions of guilt and love tumbled through
his consciousness and he found himself agreeing. She had pulled him aside, “he loves the
museum, and it’s soothing…when he is there he almost like any other kid, stay
as long as you can”.
As they walked through
the doors, father and son turned and looked at each other.
“Well, you know it best,
where to first?”
The boy smiled, twirling
around eyes closed, mentally communicating with the museum, where to
first? He stopped, opened his eyes and
pointed. Following the pointed finger,
he spies the new exhibition hall and yes as luck would have it there was a new
exhibition. A display of previously
unseen objects from the museum’s storerooms, well fair enough at least it
wouldn’t be the same old things although he did fear that was yet to come. There was a tugging at the end of his arm;
the boy was itching to go. His mother
was right he did almost seem like any other kid here.
Kids, no one tells you no
matter what you think will happen, no matter how prepared you are, it is
nothing like what actually happens. He
had been so excited knowing he was to have a son, he had imagined footy games,
cricket on the beach, surfing, building tree houses and boisterous games of
tag. What he had got was an entirely
different kettle of fish. It wasn’t that
he didn’t love him his heart had almost burst when he first held him in his
arms. It was just that things had not
quite turned out as expected and in the beginning the readjustment had taken
awhile, it had taken too long for his wife, the boy’s mother.
The boy tugged again on
his dad’s hand, come on, imagine the treasures in here he tried to say. He looked up at his dad, his lopsided grin
bigger than ever. He loved the museum,
he loved the way it smelled, the way it sounded, the way the objects would
speak to him, tell him their stories. He
could spend hours with his nose pressed up against the glass cases just staring
and imagining. His mum always told him
that no matter what he would always have his imagination, the endless stories
he wrote were testimony to that. She had
packed his journal and brand-new pack of pencils in his backpack, “just in case
the mood takes you”, she had said with a wink.
As they wandered around
the new exhibition they saw stuffed animals in scary poses, shiny beetles and
beautiful butterflies pinned very carefully to a board, everything was named
(common and Latin), everything creatively displayed. Each display had an information board with
their stories. Many of the stories were
about where the animal had come from, who had found it and the hardships that
were undertaken in the name of science.
The boy wasn’t that impressed, again he decided it must be a grown-up
thing, killing something in the name of science, it was not a part of the
museum he liked much. But although just
a kid he understood that you didn’t need to like everything about something or
someone in order to love it – no one was perfect.
He tugged on his dad’s
hand again, something was calling him forward.
It was the archaeology section, now this was more like it. His soul sang for this was his nirvana. Here artefacts spoke of human lives, told
their stories, here he could lose himself totally. He moved quickly from case to case his dad
trailing dutifully behind him.
“Slow down kiddo, we have
all the time in the world.”
The boy came to a
complete halt in front of a case displaying a beautiful blackened pot, its
swirly incised decoration speaking to him.
There were other artefacts, bronze clothes pins, other pieces of pottery,
part of an iron skillet and an iron knife blade, both rusted but still
identifiable, jet beads lovingly set into a shape of necklace. The board said that they all came from the
same excavation, not far from where the boy lived with his mother. It was exciting to know that under his feet
as he walked around his town there could be more stories waiting to be
discovered. He looked at his dad, who
was just smiling at him in a funny kind of way.
“Go on, your mum said she
had packed your journal, it’s okay. I
like to watch you write your stories, I’ll just be over here keeping an eye on
The boys grin said it
She had drawn the short
straw, the volunteer who was rostered on to look after this section answering
the public’s questions had called in sick, a migraine or something. So here she was, she didn’t really mind, she
liked to see people interact with the artefacts. The boy and his father had intrigued
They were in a world of
their own, the boy strangely silent. The
father seemed a little uncomfortable, he looked like he’d much rather be out
tackling the elements than in here. The
boy had sat down on the floor with his back leaning against the plinth, on his
lap was a book and in his hand a pencil, he leaned back eyes closed, obviously
deep in thought. Suddenly as if someone
had fired a starting gun his eyes flicked open and the pencil flew across the
page. Her eyes glanced at the father, he
was smiling, he had seen this before.
Father and son settled in, one watching the other, just being.
An hour later, the pencil
was put away. She was intrigued, her
feet moving of their own volition she walked over to the boy.
“Hello, I’m the curator
who put this section together. Do you
The boy nodded smiling
his lopsided smile. His dad hurried over
“he doesn’t speak but he does understand everything, just doesn’t talk” he
“But you like to write,
don’t you?” she asked, not fazed by his father’s explanation.
boy nodded again, a moment of silence stretched out and then he handed her the
journal. Taking the journal, she moved
to the bench the father had previously occupied, sat down and started to
read. Both father and son sat quietly
she had finished, she turned to look at the boy, “you have a rare talent, you
can see the story behind each artefact, I honestly can say I felt like I was
transported back in time. Thank you. You are a very clever young man.” It was a truth, not words to bolster a child’s
would love you to come back another day, so I can show you some of the other
artefacts in storerooms and you can write more stories. Perhaps we can convince the museum to publish
some of them. People need to hear your
the boy was of a particular disposition he did do a jig, his joy obvious to all. His father felt a lump in his throat and not
trusting himself to speak just smiled and nodded his thanks. She handed over her card and got his details
too – she knew a good story when she saw one.
It’s all about the story, we all have them tucked away inside, sometimes we tell ourselves, sometimes we tell others. They are in everything and everyone we touch. Some are short lived and some will resonate through time but in the end, it is our story and how it ends is up to us.