Book Reviews » Te Matau a Māui

April 2nd 2017

Fish-hooks, fishing and fisheries in New Zealand

Chris Paulin with Mark Fenwick

Published by fishHook Publications

RRP $50

Reviewed by Te Matau a MauiDaryl Crimp

From the outset this book is first class, with stunning cover design and high production values throughout. More than that, it is a compelling and absorbing read.
Whether interested in fishing or social anthropology, Te Matau a Māui is going to provide fascinating reading and challenge many’ assumptions’ and urban myths we live with today. Those believing the circle or recurve hook is a recent invention may well be surprised to learn that it was the preferred design of Maori a millennium ago. The ubiquitous and clichéd carved bone fish hooks we see adorning people today have given rise to the misconception that many design were ceremonial only and lacked any real function or efficacy. However, as Chris Paulin adeptly reveals through extensive research and informative text, the early Maori fishhook represented a masterpiece of design that was unsurpassed anywhere in the world and remarkably efficient – the equal of an modern steel hook. In fact, it took historians almost a quarter of a millennia to realise that early hooks operated to ‘trap’ the fish rather than ‘hook’ it.
To assume that Maori fishing was a primitive affair is also incorrect: it was, in fact, an intrinsic part of the culture, very complex, organised, and highly skilled. For example, Maori fisheries were not localised and limited to inshore as many believe, but also encompassed quite distant offshore fishing grounds. If you have watched YouTube clips of fish leaping into boats and think its a modern marvel, consider this: it was a common technique by which Maori caught grey mullet over a century ago. From hooks to trolling lures, fish gorges to mile long Maori seine nets, ceremonies to intricate fishing rights, Te Matau a Māui is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of fishing treasures. Illustrated throughout with plenty of colour and B&W photos, this book is a tremendous resource as well as being a great read. A must have.