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The Māori Fish Hook: Traditional Materials, Innovative Design

Chris Paulin


Traditional Māori fish hooks made using wood, bone, stone, and shell were discarded after the introduction of metals to New Zealand by Europeans, and the knowledge surrounding their design and use was lost. By using current understanding of the ecology and feeding strategies of New Zealand fishes, the knowledge held within the objects themselves can be used to determine how original or traditional Māori hooks (matau) functioned, identify those made for fishing, and distinguish them from hooks that may be replicas or forgeries made for sale to tourists and collectors by both entrepreneurial Māori and European forgers. It is ironic that present-day fishers consider metal ‘circle hooks’ an advance in hook design, when it is rather a re-discovery of a much older technology. Many hooks (and other traditional tools) have been incorrectly interpreted as decorative, ceremonial, or even magico-religious objects, which has influenced the design of many present-day pendants (hei matau) worn as symbols of Māori cultural revival.