WORD Christchuch 2018: Kā Huru Manu

My WORD Christchurch 2018 got off to a fascinating start with a session on Kā Huru Manu, the Ngāi Tahu cultural mapping project. Ngāi Tahu leaders and archivists David Higgins, Helen Brown, and Takerei Norton spoke together about how this project has developed.

Over the past ten years, the team has mapped over six thousand traditional Māori place names over the Ngāi Tahu rohe. You can see a lot of the results online at http://www.kahurumanu.co.nz/. The loading screen says ‘Preparing your journey…’, which is very apt: the digital atlas contains a wealth of information about Māori place names, ara tawhito (traditional travel routes), mahinga kai (food-gathering places), pā, kāinga, urupā (burial grounds), and much more. Norton, with justifiable pride, says Kā Huru Manu is the most detailed indigenous place-name project anywhere in the world.

Kā Huru Manu also contains information about native reserves: tiny parcels of land that were set aside for Māori as part of the land sales. There were ten major land purchases in the mid-nineteenth century. Brown says that although there were no land confiscations, there was duress, coercion, and forced sales. She says that when your history and identity is embedded in the landscape, losing land means losing your culture. She showed us the map of the native reserves and noted how tiny they were when you consider that Ngāi Tahu people used to have the run of about 80% of the South Island. Kā Huru Manu is a reassertion of that mana.

Key kaupapa of this project are acknowledging sources, and creating a resource by and for Ngāi Tahu people. The team have travelled around Te Waipounamu having hui at marae up and down the island. Brown said this project is about building relationships on a foundation of trust, and it is clear that the team are held in very high regard. People are sharing important information, and trusting the archivists with long-held family papers and histories. The atlas contains not just place names but detailed information about where the information came from, stories associated with that place, and information such as what foods were traditionally gathered there. The history of the project is recorded at http://www.kahurumanu.co.nz/cultural-mapping-story.

One of the challenges has been unpicking historical truth from sources that are not entirely reliable. For example, Herries Beattie was an early twentieth-century Pākehā ethnologist who published extensively on Ngāi Tahu history. He relied heavily on a map created by Māori, but did not have access to the accompanying notebooks that contained important contextual information. And so misspellings, shortenings of words and misinterpretations entered the official histories. Norton said it is their job to correct Beattie’s mistakes, just as it will be the job of future generations to correct any mistakes they are making now.

Higgins is a member of Te Pae Kōrako, which oversees the work of the Ngāi Tahu Archive. They want to make the materials they have available to their young people, in line with the whakataukī of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu: Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei (for us and our children after us). And now the technology is available to do just that. Brown says their people need to time reabsorb this learning: ‘We want to give this material back to our own people so they can own it first. There is widespread pride in and love of this project’. At the end of the session some people in the audience sang a waiata to acknowledge the importance of this work. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

WORD Christchuch 2018: Kā Huru Manu
check out the maps and find out more here: http://www.kahurumanu.co.nz/.