“Do the mahi, get the treats” what a perfect way to describe the diving for and collection of kina. Our endearing Maori equivalent of a long walk to the dairy to obtain a bag of boiled lollies. Meet my good friend Mr Sonny Matthews (Ngati Whakahemo), a local lad now, but forever will the lasting impressions of his little feet, wandering the shores of the mighty Bay of Plenty with his respected elders searching for kaimoana, remain.
Strolling beneath shore-lined cliffs of overhanging pohutukawa, bursting flower buds, which mirrored the shiny baubles of a thousand Christmas trees, we made our way to our undisclosed destination for my first kina dive. These Maori boys get quite protective of their kaimoana hot spots (hehe). Walking along and playfully jumping across rock pools, Sonny filled my heart with the innocence of his childhood, his precious stories of gathering the presents from the sea, and today he was going to gift some to me.
Growing up in the Outback has instilled in me a healthy fear of the ocean and all her power, but as I respectfully listened to the advice and guidance from Sonny that had been tenderly passed down through to him by generations of his whanau, I started to feel their leadership, and it made me feel brave. The water was crystal clear as the sun’s rays pieced through it. The gentle ripples of the moving tide echoed the softly unfolding ribbons of a gift, and I was so eager to open it. I paused for a moment on that rock to watch Sonny. I had to. The sight of him so natural in the water gathering his treats stole my breath away; the teachings from his youth so strongly evident in the way he confidently dived and gathered the kina. A personal history lesson was being taught in front of me. I closed my eyes, and I could visualise that excited little boy running along the shores of his ancestral land, a beating proud heart next to his uncles with armfuls of kai to share with waiting whanau.
I slowly guided myself off the rocks and plunged deep down into the crisp water. Now with brimming wide eyes I could finally see the beautiful treats he speaks of sitting silently on the sea floor. The slow waltzing movement of the current sprinkled the grains of shifting sand all around me. Streamers of seaweed gently waffled past swirling all around, and I was now encapsulated within my very own Christmas snow globe.
I was hesitant to dive down and get my very first kina, but through Sonny’s stories I summoned the courage. In that magical moment I slid my hand on top of that little boy’s and into the strong warm grasp of his uncle’s, and I dived to the bottom and grabbed one. Surfacing, I ripped my snorkel off and screamed with all the excitement of my childhood Julie. It was big and prickly, and I swam with it to the rocks where Sonny was sitting with plenty. I knew he could feel my excitement as he had his own all those many years before.
I went to get more, and each time was just as exciting as the one before. Perched on top of the rocks with the afternoon sun slowly massaging the chill from our bodies, we opened our gifts with two spoons, and I slid the parcel of creamy roe down the back of my throat. The taste sensation was foreign to me, and I fear I have lost my words to describe it. Perhaps those words were lost in the translation of beauty that it took to obtain them? Eclipsed only by the lovely undercurrent of tradition and memories that feed Sonny’s cravings for kina that are as strong as the sea. This Christmas, let’s slide commercialism to the back of the tree, grab hold of our whanau and create lasting memories. Enduring gifts tucked inside our hearts, magically opening forevermore. Merry Christmas.