Theories on Māori moa hunting methods, based on practices and words
June 18, 2019 7:25 AM   Subscribe

As early humans spread across the earth, they persistently hunted down the largest beasts around. Along with climate changes and human-caused ecosystem change, many researchers implicate hunting as a death knell for creatures from the giant ground sloth (Inverse; full paper) to the wooly mammoth and other megafauna (Geology Page; full paper in PDF). From this perspective, humanity’s late arrival to New Zealand simply delayed the moa’s execution date. When the Māori First Settled New Zealand, They Hunted Flightless, 500-Pound Birds (Atlas Obscura) -- but how did Māori best these beasts?

More from Atlas Obscura:
For researchers, piecing together how moa were hunted has been an equally creative process, combining archeological and anthropological findings. To avoid contact with the larger moa, some researchers believe the Māori used snares to tangle up their prey, which was considered the traditional "Māori fowling method." (Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand) One prehistorian points to the Māori dog's "strong neck, forequarters, and jaw" to conjecture they were bred to seize large game, including moa (Google books preview). Another historian, skeptical that dogs could handle these massive birds, has speculated that dogs helped drive moa to inescapable locations where they could be cornered and killed (Google books preview).
In a recent study, three New Zealand scholars examined Māori sayings, or whakataukī, for clues about their relationship to moa, including cooking techniques (Human Ecology via Springer, full paper). One, He koromiko te wahie i taona ai te moa, or "Koromiko is the wood with which the moa was cooked," likely meant that koromiko branches were used to cover moa meat cooking in underground ovens. Researchers and scholars, who can only contemplate the moa's formidable skeletons, have long speculated on how the bird tasted—their fattiness and their flavor. Most recently, researchers have conjectured that moa tasted similar to their closest relatives, the flightless tinamous of South America. Ironically, many species are over hunted because of their tasty meat.
A final note: there are a number of specific species of moa (Wikipedia), and not all giants.
posted by filthy light thief (5 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Primates are very good hunters in packs. Being able to use wood or stone in any capacity means that you can hurt an animal from a distance with much less chance of being injured yourself. A pack of 18 year old baseball pitchers throwing rocks at 70 mph is a non-trivial thing for any large animal to escape.
posted by benzenedream at 10:05 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]

We are certainly very good at exterminating things. I wonder how much the Polynesians' introduction of pigs to the Pacific impacted the local island biomes.
posted by bouvin at 10:55 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]

Huh, koromiko's (Hebe) probably the plant I use the most in native planting schemes; it does have some useful nutritional properties itself mainly for feeding to stock. I ordered 300 only yesterday. Great post

Re moa, some moa footprints were found here recently in a riverbed, my wife did the best roundup of info on it Moa Footprints Discovery use link inside for more on moa.

Studies of Maori 'myths' are becoming more common including looking at climate and tsunamis, Hostile Shores is a good place to start "Essential reading for ... anyone living within 300 metres of the shoreline of NZ". Scholar shows me it's still getting cited a lot.

re pigs we call them Captain Cooker's which he released here in 1773 and they're monsters, altho' it is possible a smaller form the kunekune was brought to NZ earlier by Maori.
posted by unearthed at 3:30 PM on June 18 [8 favorites]

My favourite moa fact is that in Cook Island Maori, the closest relative to NZ Maori, the word "moa" means chicken.

Can you imagine the naming process on arrival in NZ? "Whoa, dude, look at those chickens!"

(The modern name for chicken in NZ Maori is heihei. My mother was texting me about fried chicken the other day in Maori, as one does, and I had to look it up, because my Maori was mainly learned from Cook Islanders and I didn't know the NZ word. So I used Google translate, which weirdly, translated "heihei parai" (literally "chicken fry") as "chicken chicken". I don't even.)
posted by lollusc at 6:34 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

Moa vs. Superman
posted by Kiwi at 3:37 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]

« Older The Saturday Night Live queer canon   |   “When you're accustomed to privilege, equality... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments