Fishing for Generations

The traditional coastal takiwā (territory) of Ngāi Tahu is all the land below the northernmost eastern boundary Pari-nui-o-Whiti (White Cliffs, just south of Blenheim) around the whole Te Waipounamu coast to the northernmost western boundary at Kahurangi. The tribal takiwā of Ngāi Tahu also includes Rakiura (Stewart Island) and extends to the sub-Antarctic islands.

Ngāi Tahu communities and whānau (families) have been active in fishing for generations.

Fishing in lagoons, harbours, river mouths, estuaries and at sea, formed an essential part of the early Ngāi Tahu economy and sustained whole communities. The use of marine resources is still today, a fundamental feature of Ngāi Tahu mahinga kai (traditional food gathering), and plays a key role in the tribal economy, social and cultural life and daily diet.

"... the kai which we got in this way formed the basis of our diet. It was not a case of catching food to supplement what we could buy, rather it was the other way round; we bought food to supplement what we caught. This practice was unquestioned among my family, it was the way that my parents and their grandparents had always lived."
Henare Rakiihia Tau, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tūāhuriri.

Very early on, Ngāi Tahu developed sophisticated fishing technology, adapted to the various marine environments of Te Waipounamu and to particular species. These included lures, harpoons, composite hooks and a variety of small nets. European contact allowed Ngāi Tahu to adopt technological advances such as iron barbed hooks, oars and rowlocks and whaleboats.

Ngāi Tahu traded fish amongst each other and with other iwi. They also preserved fish for their own consumption and for trade. By the late 1830s, Ngāi Tahu traded fish with visiting European vessels and with whaling shore stations, and exported fish to Australia.

Background photograph courtesy of Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Permission of Canterbury Museum must be obtained before any re-use of this image.