A historically logical starting point for studying art in Aotearoa New Zealand is the rock art of the South Island. Maori came to Aotearoa New Zealand sometime around 900 A.D (Keith, 2007) though the majority of rock drawings found is thought to date about 500 years ago (Thompson, 1989). The carved rock art of the North Island is thought to have been made at a latter date, and does not have the stylistic unity of the South Island drawings (Dunn, 1972). There were a few fanciful theories advanced for their origin, from human sacrifice rituals to shipwrecked Tamil sailors (Keith, 2007), but there is little doubt now that these drawings were done by Maori tribes. Though tempting, it has been pointed out that comparisons with the rock art of Australia, Africa and Europe are unhelpful, unless done within the context of each particular culture (McCulloch).
1. 2Tone. (2007). InForm: New Zealand Graffiti Artists Discuss Their Work. (E. O'Donnell, Interviewer)
2. Dunn, M. (1972). Mori Rock Art. A.H.&A.W.Reed.
3. Keith, H. (2007). The Big Picture: A history of New Zealand art from 1642. Godwit.
4. McCulloch, B. (n.d.). Maori Rock Drawings: A matter of Intepretation. Maori Rock Drawings-The Theo Schoon Intepretations . Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Christchurch City Council.
5. Randerson, J. (1995). When Rock Art met the Placemat. The Modern World Conference (p. 2). Wellington: UNITEC School of Design.
6. Thompson, P. (1989). Maori Rock Art-An Ink That Will Stand Forever. GP Books.
7. Zemke-White, D. K. (2007). Inform: New Aealand Graffiti Artists Discuss their Work. Reed.
10. http://www.teara.govt.nz/TheBush/UnderstandingTheNaturalWorld/Taniwha/en for the Taniwha picture
11. http://www.flickr.com/photos/pickard/14668113/ for the Banksy picture
Four months in Aotearoa New Zealand, and I am yet to see a kiwi. The feathered kind, I mean, not the beer-wine chugging kind. Not even at the local zoo, where we saw giraffes, bison, even a Sumatran tiger. But no kiwi! And it’s not as if they were missing birds either-we saw paradise shelducks, yellow-bibbed lorys, brolgas, even a cape barren goose or two. But no kiwi. What I have seen in plenty, though, is another fascinating bird that is also missing from the zoo list but seemed to quite make itself at home-the pukeko.
The pukeko is a gorgeous bird that is abundantly found in Aotearoa New Zealand and parts of the Pacific, and Australia where it is called a purple swamp hen. There seems to be some evidence for its spread far beyond, and some links to Roman and Egyptian civilizations. East coast Maori believe the Pukeko was introduced to Aotearoa New Zealand by their ancestors on the Harouta canoe, while the west coast Maoris say it came with them on a canoe called Aotea. Pukeko seem to have been around for about a 1000 years, and either claim may well be correct.
The pukeko is a clumsy flier, and seems to prefer running from danger. In Maori myth, the pukeko used to live in the trees, but was cursed to live in swamps because it refused to get its feet wet when needed. Even today, the gait of a pukeko does remind one of a person daintily trying to step over and around puddles. In the same story, the kiwi was the ‘good guy’, and chose to lose its ability to fly. Ironic then, that the kiwi today is endangered while pukeko are plentiful enough to be considered pests by gardeners! The 'pest'status has been theirs for a while, though. Pukeko are associated in Maori myth with Punga, diety of all hateful and hideous things! For all this, they have been remarkably resilient, surviving the introduction of cats, dogs and other animals that so threaten the kiwi. These birds are possibly aided by their legendary cunning, acknowledged in Maori sayings.
The news is not all bad, though. While treated mostly with disdain, there does seem to be some honour for the pukeko-it appears on the crest of the Hamilton city council. I presume it is partly because this is dairy country-I cannot imagine a gardening town allowing that!
Pukeko are protected, but can be hunted with a license in duck hunting season. Sadly though, they are mostly left to rot, and rarely eaten. While I can understand hunting for food, I simply cannot understand hunting for sport. Pukeko meat is known to be tough, and I have found only two recipes for cooking it, one of which I reproduce here:
Step 1: Boil a large pot of water
Step 2: Add the pukeko and a medium sized rock
Step 3: Boil for several hours
Step 4: Remove pot from heat
Step 5: Remove the pukeko
Step 6: Eat the rock
Go here for the other. Maori seem to have eaten them by boiling them or roasting at the fire, though again, their meat was considered too stringy to be good. These handsome birds are quite entrenched in Aotearoa NZ culture, as can be seen from this kiwi (the beer-wine chugging kind) folksong, sung to the tune of ’12 days of Christmas’. Here is the tune (Indian version), if anybody needs it.
The kiwi has always been honoured in myth and custom, and its feathers are prized for beautiful Maori ceremonial cloaks. Even today, natives of this island are called ‘kiwis’. For all that, the kiwi that has so graciously given itself is endangered, and close to extinction. The pukeko, however, cursed in myth and sworn at now-still happily walks the countryside. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have less honour and life, than more honour and extinction. I think. Maybe. I guess it depends, ey!
9. M. Riley, 2001. Pukeko, in Maori Bird Lore. pp.155-159. Viking Sevenseas NZ Ltd.
10. M. Orbell, 2003. Pukeko, in Birds of Aotearoa, A Natural and Cultural History. pp.118-120. Reed.