Graham “Tiny” Metzger was first taken on to his whānau tītī (mutton bird) island, Pikomamakunui as a baby strapped to his uncle’s back.
Eighty years on he still returns there to carry out the practice of his tīpuna and harvest the migratory seabirds, also known as Sooty Shearwater.
Tiny was always involved in the months of preparation that would lead up to tītī season. Whānau can spend up to two months on the isolated southern hunting grounds that surround Rakiura (Stewart Island), so everything needed to survive had to be readied for shipping to the islands.
Growing up Tiny learnt the traditional method of storing and preserving tītī in large bags made of rimurapa (bull kelp) called pōhā. Everything would be harvested and prepared on the mainland.
The kelp would be split open to form a large pouch, cured and then rolled and dried for transporting. The soft bark of the totara tree would be collected to wrap the pōhā and flax baskets were made to help carry and protect them.
Nowadays, the pōhā has mostly been replaced by plastic buckets, but Tiny has kept alive the knowledge he learnt from his Pākehā grandmother and today all his children and grandchildren are proficient at preparing and using pōhā. It is with the assistance of the Ngāi Tahu Fund that Tiny has also been able to share his skills with other whānau through funded wānanga.
“The majority of my birds still go in kelp,” says Tiny. “I made a promise to keep pōhā alive. It goes with our island, it’s part of my culture.”