John Phillip Puketapu, a kaumātua (elder) from Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika, made this tāruke (crayfish pot) for Te Papa. John is 83 years old and still lives on his papakāinga (tribal land) by Waiwhetu marae in the Hutt Valley.
When John was a teenager during the Depression (1929–1939), there were only about fifteen houses and no marae (meeting house) at Waiwhetu. However, there was plenty of land on which to grow food. As they had so little money, John’s parents and extended family went back to traditional Māori ways of gathering food. People hunted pigs and caught fish, which were shared with everyone. There was also an abundance of natural material for making tāruke, hīnaki (eel traps), and kupenga (fishing nets). John remembers learning to make his first traditional tāruke. He says tāruke were used to catch many varieties of seafood, such as conga eels and fish, as well as crayfish.
This tāruke is made from the pakiaka (ariel root) of the kiekie (tree epiphyte), which is found growing in trees in the bush, and aka pirita (supplejack). John went to the Rimutaka Forest Park in Wainuiomata five times to gather the natural material he needed to make the tāruke. Once he had enough pakiaka, it was boiled in an oil drum for an hour to loosen its thick bark. The bark was then easily removed by being pulled through a forked stick. The pakiaka was mostly used for the bindings of the tāruke and needed to be kept in water to keep it flexible. However, the aka pirita was kept dry.
John says he would like to teach the younger generation how to make tāruke and kupenga. However, he understands that there are many distractions today that make it hard for young people to take the time to learn traditional methods.