Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bird Tales: The Red-Billed Gull

Unfortunately I haven't been able to establish the precise Maori name for this, the red-billed seagull. I've found at least five different words for seagull - katete, akiaki, karoro, tara, and tarapunga. Maybe they refer to different species of gull? As always, any knowledgeable comments left below greatly appreciated. What I have discovered about the red-billed gull though, is that it was once considered tapu, or sacred around Lake Rotorua. This arose from an incident in 1823 when the northern Ngapuhi tribe attacked the Te Arawa people, who were hiding on Mokoia Island in the middle of Lake Rotorua. Unknown to them, Ngapuhi had brought their canoes in from the coast for the attack. But they were unexpectedly foiled - to a degree - when the colonies of red-billed and black-billed gulls shrieked in alarm when they saw the canoes, alerting the Te Arawa people to enemy presence. After the battle, in which many lost their lives, the Te Arawa tohunga (priest) recited a karakia (prayer) over the gulls, declaring them sacred so they would not be harmed.

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