For SCAPE Season 2023 Tūī Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield has produced a sculptural installation depicting a personal story from her whānau, highlighting the sacred and highly valued nature of tuna (eel) in Māori culture. She intends for the work to speak to the rich Māori history of the Waitaha area and to find points of connection among the many Māori histories that shape the district.
“I draw on an amazing story that was told to me by my Dad several times over the years, regarding pāwhara tuna and tuna maroke [dried eel] used as a substitute for firewood..
Wood for heating was scarce in Taumutu, but tuna was abundant from Waihora (Lake Ellesmere). And so my people there used this abundant resource. They would catch and dry the middle-sized tuna, which would be stacked as firewood. The fats and oils in the tuna skin and dried flesh meant that it would burn slowly but steadily. Thus it provided fire and heat. Not to mention the aroma of burning smoked tuna wafting everywhere and tongues salivating.
The story: Dad’s poua would wait for the tuna to swim in close to the land from Waihora….they would make their way to the shore and continue travelling up and over the sand dunes then downwards into the tributaries….these were jam packed with tuna….three common sizes, small, middle-sized and large….it was the middle sized tuna that were hand picked out, taken, their heads and tails cut off and eaten, the remainder dried and stacked on verandahs, open sheds, frames and so on.”