Back in the day, Matariki was a time when the pātaka/storehouses were well stocked with foods preserved for the winter months. The Māori came up with an ingenious way to make rations last longer using what the land offered in abundance. The Pōhā was born out of Rimurapa (bull kelp), Harakeke (Flax) and the shedding barks of a Totara tree. It was primarily used to preserve tītī, which is a muttonbird commonly found around Stewart island and the Titi islands.
First, bull kelp is collected from the rocks by the shore and its inner cross section contains a honeycomb like structure which can be easily opened to make an air tight inflated kelp bag by blowing into it with the precise amount of pressure. This is hung and left to dry for several days until the elements give the bag its unique shape. The cooked muttonbird is inserted into the hollow bag and submerged with its own fat and juices to help preserve it for up to a couple of years.
Next up, flax is used to make a Kete, which forms a base container to hold the kelp bag. Flax is dunked into boiling water to remove any impurities and to soften it so it becomes easier to work with. The parts of the kelp bag exposed are then covered with the barks of the Totara tree to encase and protect it. The Māori made it a point to only use barks that were willingly shed by the tree.
Finally the pōhā is secured and tied together with the help of strong blades of flax and dexterous hands into a contraption that can survive a rugby pass as it was often thrown into a boat or waka.
Even today, purveyors of this tradition living in Southland make a fantastic attempt at keeping the mahi alive.
Matariki is a time for looking back at the good fortunes along with the struggles over the past year and to be thankful to the gods of the land, forest and sea for its gifts while preserving them through the harsh southern winter months.
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Words and illustration by our Kaitaki Collective - Priyanka Jayarajan. @dwellsinthepast - Photographer / Illustration.
I am a marketing professional turned photographer and illustrator. Born and bred in Mumbai, Christchurch is now home. My creative impulses are sparked by nature, travel and the love for food, peppered with healthy doses of nostalgia. I have always believed food is the most intimate way of being able to interact with a community and understand its culture and as a part of the Kaitaki my aim is to reunite ourselves with this ideology.