All images and text by rangihīroa unless otherwise indicated. Copyright: PIHIRAU Productions Ltd 2018
This post is dedicated to our NZ Native insects, fauna and natural species. New Zealand is reputed to have a pure natural environment. I gave a kōrero on this at NYU in 2004 in relation to the '100 % Pure' Tourism NZ's campaign (begun 1999) that traded heavily on this international perception of Aotearoa as clean and green. My argument was that it resonated a long term crown desire to determine, support and perpetuate cultural authenticity in Māori visual artforms in New Zealand as well. You can read about that centrist vision in my book MAORI ART: History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory (Batemans, 2015).
In the natural world, many of our species are suffering from the environmental impacts of long-term exploitation by New Zealanders, and others, of our land, our forestry and our sea and water resources. I have a passion for Te Ao Tūroa, the natural world of Aotearoa, spent 15 years growing natives on a small lifestyle block in the Kaipara (North Auckland) and would like to return to create a home and a new natural environment somewhere in Te Tai Tokerau 'the North' soon. My connections and my environmental interests are in sync with the hapū to whom I belong. Te Uriroroi\Te Parawhau (Ngāpuhi\Ngāti Whātua), west of Whāngārei, have been involved in a lengthy struggle with local government and with local business for the protection and rangatiratanga 'sovereignty' over their taonga, the Whatitiri Springs, once renowned in the North for their purity and for their abundance. So when I chose to focus on the kōkopu 'the native fish' in a 2016 exhibition it was to highlight the same struggle with systems and industries that pollute and over-exploit the waterways and threaten not only their health but (in some cases in Aotearoa) their very existence. I hope my love of the land is not just kōrero pāpaku, shallow like the descending levels of our precious aquifers, and of our puna and awa like the Waipao. My hope is that some of this focus which can be found in my book my exhibitions and my art will encourage others to also become active in loving te ao tūroa and speaking up for and on behalf of Papa. It is the American poet Gary Snyder's belief that humans have an obligation to speak up for those, '...without a voice - the trees, rocks, rivers, bears - in the political process.'
River they are standing around pelting your face with roses They are kissing you with kind words I listened to the stories...
Much of my thinking about precious water and matapuna ‘parent springs’ comes from my affiliation with Te Uriroroi and their role as kaitiaki whenua over the Whatitiri Springs at Porotī, outside Whāngārei in Te Tai Tokerau. I find their campaigning for the protection of this special resource inspirational. Their concerns have always been connected with the mauri of the water and its health. It is the constant and overwhelming demands that farming, horticulture and commercial interests are making on what is a limited resource that have brought their grievances out into the public arena. The Māori concept of describing the land and waterways as a relationship is not unusual for indigenous peoples who have inhabited their lands for lengthy periods of time. The Japanese concept of satoyama where people attempt to live in harmony with their native environment is in keeping with a more sustainable Māori concept of whakapapa where one is a relative of all the natural elements with which one lives. What one does to the environment one does to oneself. We are children of both the domains of Tangaroa (the seas) and Tāne (the land) as Te Roroa kaumatua Hare Paniora has explained,
Na ko ēnei ki au ka kite atu te hononga ki te moana me te ngahere o Tangaroa ki a Tāne. Na te mea moku ake ko mātou i roto i te ao tūroa ko matou a tamariki, o te moana, o te onepū, o ngā roto, o ngā awa, ngā ngahere ngā moana. Ko mātou i haere tonu ana te Rangi nei ko matou ke ngā tamariki. Hare Paniora, The History of the Kauri, Waka Huia, TVNZ, 2010: 1.41
The role of kaitiakitanga ‘guardianship’ of resources makes a lot of sense when thinks about it from the point of view of child/parent relationship. Parents nurture the children through their provision of life and resources and children are respectful and are in awe of the power of the parents, their wisdom and of their power and of their beauty.
Mark Adams, Kawanui, Whatitiri Springs, 26 October 1998. From Panoho, MAORI ART, History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory, and the chapter Rarararu ki te Puna ‘Trouble at the Spring’, 2015: 139.
When I think about other special sites, outside Whatitiri, that still possess the possibility of protecting their wai Māori, pure water, Waikoropupū in Te Wai Pounamu is the puna that comes to my mind. As with all the precious aquifer fed waters in Aotearoa it is now a site for conflict over ownership, usage and issues of protection. The broad areas of surrounding land that the springs draws on for its headwaters is in contention as commercial and farming interests are looking to draw on the same sources feeding the puna.
Currently there is an application for a water conservation order for Te Waikoropupū Springs which has been lodged with the Minister for the Environment. Check this link to see the progress being made on helping save this important New Zealand cultural and ecological wāhi tapū: https://www.epa.govt.nz/public-consultations/in-progress/te-waikoropupu-springs/
rangihīroa, rau aka manawatawhi, 2017
Pihirau, meaning ‘hundreds of shoots’, was given by our ancestor Kōwhai Tito as a name for the whare kai on the Tirarau mārae at Tangiterōria (halfway between Whāngārei and Dargaville) on the west coast of the North Island of Aotearoa. A deeper discussion is provided regarding the background to this nomeclature in an upcoming blog for Pihirau Productions Ltd.
The tī is a special tree and a resonant metaphor for my Te Uriroroi affiliation at Porotī. It was there (west of Whāngārei on the way to Kaikohe) that a special ceremony was held to marry our ancestors with Waikato women. The cutting of the tī was the sign of the tomo ‘marriage negotiations’. As always there are different versions of wānanga. I note here the inversion of the syllables tī poro: the verb meaning, ‘to cut short, abbreviate, shorten‘
The possible ancestral play with words is a fitting pun making sense of the cessation of whawhai in the rohe. The raids of southern tribes on Whāngārei (Ōparakau, Parihaka, 1828) in retaliation for the raupatu conducted by Hika and our ancestral leaders on Tāmaki, Waikato and the Hauraki peoples was being brought to a more diplomatic conclusion. To cut the tī makes both symbolic and literal sense of the cutting of the strife between the various hapū involved.
rangihīroa, tī, Purerua peninsula, Taumarere, 2017, (still from video clip) available on Instagram
A tī image singled out, from a recent walk along the Te Atatū waterfront, for a short dialogue. For those sceptical regarding nature speaking. It’s not so much that nature talks perhaps more that we listen.
Conversation with Mr Tī 10 June 2018
I was told that toetoe was the proud one spurning the love of pingao as she wistfully sought his plumes across hot ancestral sand. But that wānanga is wrong isn’t it Mr Tī?
Te Atatū is where the light reaches over Ōwairaka and Maungawhau casting shadows that stand. But you demanded I document you early afternoon. There was a rustle in your bright green leaves. Knowing the conditions you casually explained, ‘the light is more flattering’. Heroic you said. ‘I want frontal, central, imposing and if the shoot doesn’t give it, use photoshop. More than the North-Western motorway I am Te Atatū.
Oh please. ‘Don’t worry Mr Tī, there will be no rivals.’
I followed your client brief to the t…and harakeke is at your feet and proud kākaho (toetoe stem) has been banished to the edge of Waitematā’s cloak. Oh and one more thing: a small detail I feel compelled to confide.
There was silence for quite a while. Impatient, I squinted looking up at the raspy, textured pale brown trunk that led the eye towards the sun. The cabbage tree murmured a single ‘ae’ but softly this time, so softly one could barely hear it above the high pitched chirp of the mātātā ‘fern birds’ amongst the wīwī. I looked up and realised his head was beginning to shake again. His leaves were clattering in the nor-wester that coerced the marshland grasses. I cleared my throat, perhaps a little self-consciously now, ‘If you look closely at the photo there are karoro (gull) moving around your crown. They were squawking and laughing at me trying to get a good shot, I said. Coyly he whispered with what sounded strangely like a smoker’s cough, no, they are admirers and they were singling me out.
Toetoe is a large coastal tussock grass that ostentatiously features beautiful creamy white plumes on long stems. Toetoe is also the name of an ancestral settlement connected with Te Uriroroi, Te Parawhau and Te Uri o Hau of Ngāti Whātua on the Whāngārei inner harbour. The nomenclature celebrates the grass that straddles the domains of Tāne and the nearby realm of Tangaroa.
The flowering of Toetoe continues from spring to late summer so by the time I documented this group the plumes were well past their prime. Regardless, they do give one a sense of the distinctive vertical showiness that lent itself to the plant being imbued by ancestors with a quality of vanity and self-preoccupation. In the story of pingao and kakaho ngā tūpuna create a story of lovers where the golden sedge grass must crawl over hot sand to get close to kakaho. The showy coastal grass plant is too focused on his own beauty to notice these advances. The profound and delightful conclusion to this wānanga is that the children of Papatuānuku intervene in this unsuccessful stand-off. Reconciling the two pingao and kakaho are brought together as binding and upright panels in the ancient Polynesian technique of tukutuku ‘latticework’ found within the historical whare tupuna.
'A Rangitane version of the story tells of pingao living among the seaweed children on the fringes of the sea. From her home she looked up to the land and saw the handsome kakaho dancing on the sand dunes. Each time the kakaho made his appearance pingao became more and more enamoured. Finally she asked permission from Tangaroa to leave the sea and meet her lover. Tangaroa granted permission with words of warning that she would never make it. However, driven by blind love, she left the seaweed and crawled across the hot sand. As she struggled up she began to call to the kakaho - but he was only interested in himself. He was in love with his own shape and form and he did not answer pingao's calls. In desperation she called back to Tangaroa, who could do nothing but shower her with spray. And there on the sand dunes, the pingao remains to this day.' Pingao: The Golden Sedge, compiled by Averil Herbert and Jenny Oliphant for Ngā Puna Waihanga, 1991: 5
Note: this plant is not to be confused with the introduced pampas grass (a noxious weed) which is a major problem throughout Aotearoa. The strongest distinguishing feature with pampas is the purple tinge to its flower head.
The whau is a special coastal shrub in the history of the Ngāpuhi/Ngāti Whātuā hapū Te Parawhau in Te Tai Tokerau. The short lived shrub has a large bright green heart shaped heavily veined, serrated edge leaf and gorgeous creamy flowers followed by a spiky seed capsule. The body of a tupuna Te Tirarau was covered with this leaf to preserve the tinana on its return from a duel with a Ngāti Wai ancestor and a water drowning. When he arrived back in our rohe the leaves were peeled off (with the epidermis) leaving the imprint of their veins across the underskin (possibly the dermis) of the tupuna. This precipitated the renaming of the people para ‘skin’ whau ‘Entelea arborescens’.
rangihīroa, kōura and fern, 2016
It is your spreading habit. You just seem to get everywhere. Picking up gossip like the aerial roots that hang landless absorbing the faintest whiff of moisture. Cast in on the roughest surf and carried salt laden through the air. A Chinese whisper. A secret carried all the way from Hawaiki. I want your shade. I long for your dappled light and the laughter of the bees in summer that hum news over your blood red blooms. But I can’t bring myself to rest under your canopy. I can’t get a straight answer out of you. You always seem to be throwing out directions and recanting. You are the ultimate no one story is the right story.
If you are interested in other sites that have more conventional records of Ngā tipu o Aotearoa (i.e. native flora and fauna) try their web site which has comprehensive databases where you can do detailed searches: