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The Moa : Back From Extinction On Maori Television

The Moa : Back From Extinction On Maori Television

Primeval New Zealand was a pristine wilderness ruled by the biggest bird in the world – the moa. Today, only the great bird’s bones remain. Witness an incredible re-enactment through cutting-edge computer technology to bring these mythical beasts back to life and unravel their mysterious disappearance from Aotearoa on THE MIGHTY MOA, screening on Maori Television on Thursday February 17 at 8.30 PM.

Through intensive interviews with a bevy of scientists specialising in ornithology, archaeology, New Zealand history and other relevant studies, THE MIGHTY MOA is a fascinating insight into the endless fascination New Zealanders share with the nation’s great relics. And, the enduring imprint these creatures have left on the New Zealand landscape is astonishing.

For instance, even though there are 11 official species of moa – from three metre tall to turkey height – the more giant birds have left an indelible mark on the evolution of the New Zealand bush. “Trees like the matai start off a tangled mess, but suddenly change when they hit about three metres. Here, the succulent leaves would be beyond the reach of the browsing moa.”

Remains of bones and other fossilised body parts have also enabled scientists to put aside their objectivity and stretch their imaginations to create a likely physical environment that these creatures would have been accustomed to prior to human habitation.

Says Te Papa curator of birds Sandy Bartle : “It’s like detective work. You find bones in a cave or in a swamp and you search very carefully in the mud alongside those specimens to see if you can find pollen from plants that might have grown around there. And, then you try and reconstruct what the forest was like.”

However, the relationship between the birds and the first Maori inhabitants of Aotearoa remains a mystery clouded by assumptions. Archaeologist Beverley McCulloch explains that she has never been able to trace a genuine recorded Maori oral tradition relating to moa, while Ngai Tahu spokesperson Te Maire Tau backs up the non-inclusion of moa in the tribe’s oral histories, despite the fact that one of the most significant areas of moa bone excavation is found on the West Coast of the South Island.

“It’s just a word that sits by itself in Maori language and not in the traditions. And, if it sits by itself and it’s not connected to anything significant, then you’ve got to be suspicious of it. Nothing sits by itself in Maori tradition. If you’ve got a moa, you’ve got to have a genealogy of the moa. You’ve got to have songs, chants and a mythology on how the moa was created. Where is the genealogy for the moa? It’s not there because I suspect we didn’t recognise a bird called the moa.”

The plot thickens as the documentary then comes to one of the greatest days for archaeology in New Zealand – the day that archaeologist Jim Eyles uncovered a human skeleton and the remains of a moa egg at the Wairau Bar at the top of the South Island. Scientific proof that man and moa lived together was undeniable and the next question was obvious. Was one species the death of another?

The answers may or may not be conclusive, but the food for thought is abundant with THE MIGHTY MOA, screening on Maori Television on Thursday February 17 at 8.30PM.

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