Longfin Eels Ngā taonga tuku iho – te tuna
An ancient gift from the gods. Or so say local Māori. They were once so abundant in the Wairarapa region that they were both the main dietary and economic staple of Rangitāne. They live an extraordinary long life. Their migration path is thousands of kilometres. You will find out all sorts of interesting facts at the daily longfin eel talk at 1.30pm.
For at least 65 million years, longfin eels (Anquilla dieffenbachii), or tuna, have made their homes in New Zealand’s swamps, lakes, streams, and rivers.
Some rivers in the Wairarapa region ran ‘black’ with them. Now, longfin eels are under threat from commercial fishing, habitat loss and pollution.
Long fin eels thrived in pre-European New Zealand. They were big, easy to catch and tasty – a true gift from the gods. Tuna-longfin eels have an important place in Māori culture. Carved images of tuna-longfin eel appear beside tribal ancestors on meeting houses, and stories of tuna are common in tribal histories.
Although longfin eels are known by their generic Māori name, tuna, different Māori iwi (tribes) around New Zealand call them by more than 170 other names.
The names most commonly used by Wairarapa Iwi are kūwharuwharu (New Zealand Longfin eel) and tuna hao or tuna heke (New Zealand Shortfin eel).
The ancestral river, Ruamahanga, was famed for its tuna, and for the hospitality its plentiful supply provided. Rangitāne traded preserved tuna for pounamu in the south, kumara in the northeast, and argillite and obsidion in the north.
Kaumatua (respected Māori elders) tell many stories of tuna that guarded special pools and caves. One of these guardians is a tūpuna (ancestor), who was transformed into a massive eel.