TE AHI KĀ - The Fires of Occupations

Martin Toft

1996 - 2018

New Zealand’s Whanganui River is the lifeblood of the Māori. The tribes of Whanganui take their name, their spirit and their strength from this great river, which flows from the mountains of central North Island through to the Tasman Sea. In 1996 I spent 6 months in the middle and upper reaches of the Whanganui River in an area known as the King Country. Here I met Māori who were in the process of reversing the colonisation of their people and returning home to their ancestral land, Mangapapapa on the steep banks of the river inside Whanganui National Park. At the end of my journey I was given a Māori name Pouma Pokai-Whenua. Returning 20 years later to rekindle our spiritual kinship Te Ahi Kā explores the physical and metaphysical relationship between a river and its ancestors, between Māori and myself. Published as a book in November 2018 the narrative is situated within the context of the current Whanganui River Deed of Settlement, Ruruku Whakatupua and the projects led by local iwi to settle historical grievances with the government dating back to the 1870s. At the heart of all this is the Whanganui iwi claim to the river, which is seen as both an ancestor and a source of material and spiritual sustenance. The settlement recognises Te Awa Tupua, Ancestral River as a living being – a person with its own legal rights. It is the first waterway in the world to gain this status.

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  • Gift to Tane. Once an animal is killed the heart is cut out and given back to the forest with a blessing.

  • Cosmology. The creation of the Whanganui River painted as mural on the school in Jerusalem (in Māori, Hiruhārama), a small settlement in the middle reaches of the Whanganui River.

  • Rapids. The Whanganui River has 239 named rapids that are entwined with Māori myth, legend and incantation.

  • Hunting #1. Kapi Topine hunting for deer at night in the steep hills and forests surrounding the Whanganui River.

  • Fern #2. The silver-fern, or in Maori ponga is a common tree in New Zealand. For Whangnui Maori the fern is used by women as symbol of prayer, purification and protection.

  • The Great Ngatimaniapoto Chief Rewi (Manga). Photograph by Alfred Henry Burton, The Maori at Home (1885). Ref: MA_I062710. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington.

  • Pou. A carved wooden post on the marae ground of Parakino settlement in the Whanganui River representing ancestor marking places of significance and acknowledge the association between the people and the land.

  • Fern #1. Portrait made on the river banks of Mangapapapa kāinga. Travelling the Whanganui River Māori women uses the fern as a way of purification, protection and prayer.

  • Wairua. Spirit of a person or a thing that exists beyond death.

  • Fireworks. Celebrating Christmas at the home of Te Tawhero Haitana and whanau in Raetihi.

  • Te Rangi Põhika (Ngati Pamoana) distributing tuna catch at Koriniti. Photographs by James Ingram McDonald, Dominion Whanganui River Expedition. MA_I.025081. (1921). Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington.

  • The Sisters of Compassion. Catholic missionaries in the mid-19th century converted many Māori settlements along the Whanganui River and Jerusalem (in Māori, Hiruhārama) is still home to the religious order, The Sisters of Compassion and their historical convent and church.

  • Kuia. Rangimarie Anastacia Katene Waetford daughter of Te Utamate Tauri, also known as Mrs Waetford in Jerusalem (in Māori, Hiruhārama.)

  • Te Utamate Tauri, also known as Mrs Waetford. A Chieftainess from Jerusalem (in Māori, Hiruhārama) who was prominently involved in advancing the livelihood, Māori cultural activities and politics of her people throughout the river’s reaches. Photograph by Frank J. Denton (1900).
    Ref: 1/1-021019-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

  • Taumarunui – King Country. Alfred Henry Burton, The Maori at Home (1885). Ref: MA_I.306402. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington.

  • Hunting #2. Hunting for deer at night in the steep hills and forests surrounding the Whanganui River.

  • Kapi. Kapi Topine in his room at his home in Taumarunui (1996).

  • White Church. In the early 19th century, many Māori embraced Christianity and its concepts. Often Christian prayer is the expected way to begin and end Māori public gatherings.

  • Mātāpuna. The source of the Whanganui River on Mount Tongariro from where its flow of water runs through and nourishes both physically and spiritually the ancestral lands of Māori.

  • Hāngī. A hāngi is a traditional Māori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven. It is still used for large groups on special occasions such as this tangihanga at Ngāpuwaiwaha Marare in Taumarunui.