According to Māori legend, Māui mua (brother of Hina) was also known as Rupe – a name widely used throughout Polynesia for the kererū (wood pigeon). When his younger brother, the demigod Māui pōtiki descended to the underworld in search of his parents, he assumed the form of a kererū. He also carried with him the apron and belt of his mother, Taranga. It is said that the white breast of the kererū represents her apron and the dark plumage around its neck her belt.
The kererū, kūkū, or kukupā – as it was known to Māori – feasted on the berries of many trees, such as miro, kahikatea, mataī, rimu, taraire, maire, hīnau , and other species that included houhou, patatē, mako, kareao, rimu, and kohe. Kererū also ate kōwhai leaves in July and August when food was scarce, although this made their flesh taste bitter.
The tūī (parson bird) and the kererū were often snared after feeding on the berries of the maire, uwha, houhou, miro, and mako trees. They would become thirsty and head for the nearest water, where a wai tuhi, wai taeke, or waka kererū (various kinds of pigeon snare) was waiting.
Waka kererū were made out of blocks of wood, usually tōtara, which were carved out. A pair of mānuka sticks was placed at each end of the wood blocks, and harakeke (flax) snares suspended between the sticks. The snares were then placed in the trees, ready for a thirsty kererū. The kererū would go to the waka kererū to drink, place his head through one of the flax loops, and, as he lowered his head, the noose would tighten, ensnaring the bird. Kererū would then be cooked and preserved in their own fat in taha huahua (gourds).
During snaring season, fowlers would go out at dawn, check the snares, remove any captured birds, and reset the snares again. If kererū were plentiful, this would be done twice a day.