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An example of hīnaki. Part of the Te Awamutu Museum collection.
The Waipā district has always housed waterways rich in food resources for local hapū.
The hapū of the Lake Ngāroto and Te Kawa wetland areas were well-known for their organisation and for their distribution of eel rights. The wetlands housed thousands of tuna (the Māori word for freshwater eels) that would be caught seasonally during their migration towards the ocean.
When the star system of Matariki (also known as the Pleiades) appeared in the east, it was time to prepare for the eel harvest. Eels were not only a key food source, but also used for trading for other items from other groups. This time was known as moana tuna heke. Once the spring rains had arrived, people from all over the island would gather to harvest eels, meet other family members and even arrange marriages.
The main method of catching tuna was to use hīnaki. Hīnaki were traps woven from plant fibre with bait inside. Tuna could enter the hīnaki but could not escape because of the sticks pointing inwards at the entrance to the trap.
Hīnaki were usually used with rauwiri (eel weirs) which were fences within the river that forced the tuna towards the hīnaki.
At low water levels, the remnants of a rauwiri can still be seen today in the Mangaohoi Stream in Te Awamutu.