Learning to make stone tools changed my life. It added a dimension to pre colonial maori I never thought about before and more importantly made me respect how good primitive technology really is. The way your eyes and hands become trained to see tools waiting to be shaped in seemingly worthless stones is like a super power (makers vision I called it).
I have been to a single stone tool workshop where we made basic toki (stone blades for cutting wood) and I am hungry for more. There is a gathering for maori tool makers at a marae in Plimmerton and I am so excited I flutter around trying to take an many mental snapshots as I can. I had only seen these things in books, I take in as many details as I can, unsure of what I should make under expert supervision.
There are many things being created around me, fish hooks made from shells, cloaks from flax and many forms of cutting tools from stone. Stone tooling is tedious work, there is a feeling of easy going conversation to make up for how boring it is. Sitting with everyone as they weave flax and knap stone, you could almost imagine this was how our ancestors were, making jokes, singing songs as they worked. I never got into kapa haka, but this I totally love.
Wanting to start small I take a stone from the pile and attempt to shape out a basic knife thinking it would be simple enough. Hefting my hammer stone I tapped at my piece of stone carefully only to have it break right down the middle. I try again and again but eventually the stone was too small to be much use and I have to look for a new one.
Eventually one of the older stone toolers takes me aside. “It’s easy” he says. “You don’t need to waste time making a knife shaped rock. Just take a piece of flint or obsidian and knap off a flake that you can use then throw away when you are done. This stone will give you many razor sharp blades with no effort. Just make sure you knap along the ridge you can’t go wrong”. He hands me a piece of obsidian as a gift and walks away.
Afterwards I am convinced I could totally shave with stone. I get rid of my straight razor the next day and am in the bathroom with the black volcanic obsidian in one hand and my trusty hammer stone in the other. Carefully taking aim I strike at the stone hoping to get a larger chunk to shave with. Only to have the whole stone break into cubes with no sharp edges on them what so ever. “Easy he said” I mutter to myself as I pick the pieces out of the sink.
The ultra light hiker
It has been a long day marching through the Pureora forest and I am tired when I reach the hut. Bog Inn hut is a rat infested tin shed that sits in the middle of the a dark goblin forest. I have pushed hard to make track times, but no matter how hard I press the trail notes alway seem to say I am slow. I tell myself its because my temperamental gear and barefooted I still can’t help but feel a blow to my ego.
At the hut a german hiker is there pouring over his gps muttering to himself. As we chat about how we are finding the trail, he informs me of how inaccurate the trail notes are in regard to timing and distance. This makes me feel a little better about my progress so far as I felt some of the places I couldn’t have made the distance if I was running. He had not had a good time so far
“This hut is surrounded by trees! I was hoping to take a beautiful picture of the sun set”
The conversation from all hikers usually moves from where you are from to food and hiking gear. With the way I have chosen to hike, sometimes I encounter strong opinions.
“What are you eating?”
“Whatever I can get my hands on. You?”
“I put carrot in my pasta. Do you have a map of the next area?” I pull my gear a part handing him the map.
“This is a very heavy map!” he weighs it up in his hand.
“I don’t mind really” I say.
“Every ounce counts you know” he explains sagely.
“Seriously its fine” I reaffirm.
“I even cut the handle off my tooth brush” he continues having not heard me.
“If you think my paper is heavy you are going to hate my ax”
“You are carrying an ax?!”
“Yeah I made it from a really nice river stone I found a few days back”
“It’s MADE OF STONE!?”
The rest of the evening he sits there in disbelief as I pull out an assortment of sticks and stones of various shapes and sizes from my dry bag. With every item he tells I am crazy repeatedly, we both laugh when I agree with him. The rats scurry around the old tin hut are the only background noise as we settle in for the night.