Friday, February 20, 2009

Paua - The Treasure

Kaka Point, South Otago. Jan 2009. Ajr
Meet Haliotis iris, the Blackfoot paua (abalone). I saw this great little mailbox when I travelled south of Dunedin to write about the new Puna Wai Toriki mataitai (customary fisheries legislation) at Kaka Point recently. It’s a magnificent coastline – unspoiled and rugged – and paua are one of the main kaimoana (seafood) harvested in the area. A mataitai of course, restricts commercial harvest of any designated species (for Maori and Pakeha alike) to help create a sustainable resource; and as there has long been ‘over-fishing’ and an extensive global black market in the collection and export of abalone meat (with illegal paua poaching just as rife in New Zealand), it is hoped the new legislation will help return the dwindling paua resource in the area to former healthy levels. But that’s another whole complex subject……which you can read about in the four-part series on Mataitai legislation in Ngai Tahu’s TE KARAKA magazine…… for now let’s focus on the paua itself – a taonga (treasure) to Maori for both its value as food and as a source of shell for both traditional and contemporary arts and crafts.

Arts Centre Market, Christchurch 2007. Ajr

In its raw state fresh from the sea, the paua shell is ‘nothing to write home about.’ It’s usually a dull, crusty grey and it’s not until it has been cleaned and polished that its iridescent beauty comes to light. Both inside and out, the paua shell presents a swirling kaleidoscope of blue, green, pink, black and purple. Paua shell was – and still is – frequently used to form the eyes in Maori carvings and to decorate kete. It is now synonymous with the New Zealand tourism industry – you see paua in some form in almost every souvenir shop in the country; and it has a recognised place as a valid material in contemporary Maori and Pakeha jewellery and sculpture.

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