When Theo was alive we always had kereru in the deep freeze. From a young age, he was taught to shoot them and provide for the old people.

They were for special occasions, such as when the Prime Minister [of the day] and various other ministers of the Crown and dignitaries came to visit his community. I presume these people knew the kereru, our native wood pigeon, was a protected bird. That it was against the law to shoot them, let alone eat them.

When the birds first started appearing at our home, this provoked one of the few times we had a war of the words. They only started to turn up when Theo got into his senior years.

I couldn't understand why he would flout the law by accepting and eating kereru. Surely the law was put in place to protect an endangered species. And what if he had been caught? I wasted my breath.

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Ngapuhi's Sonny Tau was caught in possession of dead kereru as he was about to board a flight.
Ngapuhi's Sonny Tau was caught in possession of dead kereru as he was about to board a flight.

The ban on shooting kereru has been in place for 100 years. Theo's older family members would have known the birds were protected by law. They didn't make a big song and dance about it, just ignored it.

Thought it was a stupid law, most probably, and therefore wouldn't accept it. They were not about to be told that they could no longer shoot and eat kereru.

So Theo kept shooting and dropping the birds off to the old people. Continuing the practice he had been taught. He said their faces would light up when he dropped off the birds. Light up in anticipation of a meal that would evoke loving memories of the times spent with people now long gone.

When Theo's turn came to be one of the old people, those he had taught would come calling. His face would light up too in anticipation. I did try one once but I couldn't tell what it tasted like. Eating something that is outlawed, I was bound to have trouble eating it.

Interestingly, you didn't just go into the bush and pop kereru. Only certain people could shoot kereru. They were only eaten by the old people or on special occasions. And on the special occasions it was women and children first, with the men getting the leftovers. Before going into the bush to shoot kereru, prayers would be said before the men set off, and woe betide anyone who thought they might get away with keeping a few for themselves. After a while, I got used to having kereru in the deep freeze. Theo during his time continued a practice that had been going on for over 100 years.

So I am not surprised if, as Sonny Tau said this week, he was taking a gift of kereru home to his elders. He was apprehended at Invercargill airport in possession of five kereru. I feel sure his elders would have accepted the gift too.

Then again maybe not. Perhaps it was not their custom, not what they are used to. Theo always said the authorities, probably the Department of Conservation, had no idea how to count the number of kereru there are in New Zealand today.

He said if you can't count or measure what you do, how do you know if it's working and making a difference?

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Theo was a hunter and fisherman all his life. Mahi kai.

He never fished out of season and when trout were spawning.

He never shot ducks out of season either. Pig and deer hunting took place most weekends. His greatest joy was sharing what he caught or shot with family and friends. That was his job, trained from boyhood. He loved it and took it seriously. It was passed on and still continues today.

-Merepeka lives in Rotorua. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart the spread of political correctness.