9000 sharks…11,000 baskets of potatoes…4000 conversations (and counting)…
9000 ngā mango…11,000 ngā kete riwai…4000 ngā kōrerorero (ka piki ake) …
In exhibition development we trim the text to give visitors enough information, but not an excess. This sounds simple, but sometimes there is so much to say it’s hard to know where to make the cut. Luckily the digital medium knows no such bounds. So on behalf of our team, I’m returning to the raw detail of the Maori feast at Remuera in May 1844, a key story in Kai to Pie, to launch a longer conversation about an extraordinary event of which there are many stories.
“Maori Feast at Remuera” – a lithograph by Star Steam of Auckland (based on the watercolour by Joseph Jenner Merrett) presented with Brett’s Auckland Almanac for 1890. Auckland Museum Pictorial Collections (Print M296)
The feast (hākari) was recorded in a watercolour painted by Joseph Merrett; lithographs based on this watercolour; newspaper articles; and eyewitness accounts of those who were actually there – though their details differ, all record an immense amount of food (kai). Governor Robert FitzRoy visited Remuera on the morning of Saturday 11 May. He described a 500 metre long line of small dried sharks (mangō) suspended above baskets of potatoes (ngā kete riwai). Each basket (kete), FitzRoy wrote, was a “fair load for a man to carry to market”. If you zoom into the detail beneath Remuwera (Mt Hobson) you can see this spectacular spread.
Exactly how much food was there?
In the exhibition we say that 9000 sharks and 11,000 baskets of potatoes were presented to 4000 people. You might wonder how we landed on these figures. They are printed in the caption beneath the lithograph made in 1890. The person who wrote the caption might have drawn the numbers from an article in the Daily Southern Cross of 27 April 1844 which reported the preparation of “11,000 baskets of potatoes… 9000 sharks… and 100 full grown and well fattened pigs…”
So, what might have begun as an estimate – perhaps one journalist’s rounding-up, was published in a newspaper, later beneath a lithograph and then in more than one book. This tally has become legendary, and you can understand why – exact numbers are explicit; they’re easy to hold onto and to pass onto someone else; and they stir the imagination.
Still, we don’t know for sure that these neat numbers are correct. Similarly, we don’t know for sure that there were 4000 people in attendance – this was FitzRoy’s summing up, but others estimated there were near to 6000.
Most importantly, researching the feast, we’ve found that people have different views as to why it was held and the reasons for attending it. FitzRoy declared unequivocally the feast was given by the principal chiefs of Waikato (Te Wherowhero and Wetere) to reciprocate one given to them a year earlier and “to show the extent of… their influences and alliances” in the Auckland area to Maori and Pakeha alike (a view supported by many secondary sources since). This may well have been the main motivation, but amongst a crowd of 4000, representing at least 17 iwi, there were bound to be other reasons for attending and numerous conversations to be had.
Do you have knowledge of this feast? We are keen to hear it.