Tāngata Ngāi Tahu, volume 2 – “We must own our own memories”

Tāngata Ngāi Tahu: People of Ngāi Tahu 2
The Philip Carter Family Auditorium, The Piano
Sunday 4 September 3 to 4pm

Tāngata Ngāi Tahu: People of Ngāi Tahu is a biographical series which recalls and celebrates the lives of those who have contributed to and helped shape their iwi, hapū and whānau. A collection of approximately fifty biographies spanning several generations, these books are the tribes way of ensuring the story of their people are not lost to future generations.

As I walked into the Philip Carter Auditorium, I recalled the words of a song Hana O’Regan wrote in 2007 to commemorate the hundreds of elders who worked tirelessly in the fight for Te Kerēme - the Ngāi Tahu Claim; And remind to future Ngāi Tahu generations that the resources they have today are from the efforts of those who have now passed on.

Mā wai e hua nei te haumāuiui o te tini, inā kurehu ake te tōtā ki te rae ki tua o mahara e?

Who will speak of the accomplishments of the many when the sweat on the brow dims to but a distant memory?

Tāngata Ngāi Tahu: People of Ngāi Tahu is in part a response to that question. Building on the success of Volume One, Volume Two has a special emphasis given to mana wāhine, with more than half of the short biographical essays relating to the lives of Ngāi Tahu women.

Produced by the Ngāi Tahu Archive Team, Tāngata Ngāi Tahu is edited by Helen Brown (Kāi Te Ruahikihiki) and Dr Michael Stevens (Kāi Te Rakiāmoa, Kāi Te Ruahikihiki). As with the first volume, the forward is written by Tā | Sir Tīpene O’Regan, Chair of Te Pae Korako – The Ngāi Tahu Advisory Committee. It is in part due to O’Regan that this biographical series has been brought to life. O’Regan, concerned that many of the staff of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu were unfamiliar with who the people were in the portraits that hung on their office walls, raised the issue with Te Pae Korako. But this series was not created just for the staff, more importantly they are produced by present Ngāi Tahu, for future Ngāi Tahu about past Ngāi Tahu.

Dr Michael Stevens is one of the editors of this Volume. A young Kāi Tahu historian born and bred in Awarua/Bluff, he understands the importance of preserving our history for future generations. Tracing his lineage from Te Ruahikihiki and Te Rakiāmoa, he is a member of the Metzger whānau who have kept alive the intergenerational use of pōhā to preserve Tītī. Stevens is the mokopuna of Graham ‘Tiny’ Metzger who is renowned for his pōhā skills ensuring that each generation of his whānau are entrusted with this knowledge and skill. Basically they are living history. That being said Stevens, supported by the Marsden Fund, is currently writing A World History of Bluff which he describes as a long-running archive-based project.

Tā Tīpene O'Regan, Helen Brown, Dr Michael Stevens and Jeanette King
Tā Tīpene O'Regan, Helen Brown, Dr Michael Stevens and Professor Jeanette King on stage at The Piano, Sunday 4 September 2022.

Stevens notes the importance of these biographical essays in preserving the memory of those who had no children yet contributed to the shaping of their iwi, hapū and whānau. Brown, Senior Researcher for Ngāi Tahu Archives and co-editor has lead the project for the two volumes. She has worked alongside whānau, supporting them to give their stories a unique voice. Brown acknowledges the photos shared by whānau personalise these volumes giving them a feel like a tribal family album. Perhaps the biggest surprise to Te Pae Korako was how popular the books have been, not only to Ngāi Tahu in general but to the wider community including schools. This is expected to increase with the inclusion of Māori history into school curriculum.

The afternoon conversation was facilitated by Professor Jeanette King, Head of School – Te Aotahi, University of Canterbury. King has contributed to a number of Ngāi Tahu historians' projects and is a strong supporter of the tribes te Reo Māori rejuvenation projects. She seamlessly wove the discussion together taking those gathered on a journey of image, reflection and celebration. 

Within the audience were whānau members of those represented in the book, who told me that they are grateful to Ngāi Tahu Archives for not only producing these biographical volumes but more importantly, for the respectful manner in which they collected the information.

The final word, as always, was left to O’Regan who reminded us of the importance of this work and that it be undertaken by those whose stories they are, put quite simply “we must own our own memories.”  This is legacy work which has come from the Ngāi Tahu Settlement and belongs to a future generations in the words of the tribal whakataukī ‘mō tātou, a, mō kā uri a muri ake nei – for us [but more importantly] for our future generations.

As I headed into the early evening the words of Hana’s song came back to me ‘Mā wai e hua nei te haumāuiui o te tini– who will tell of the accomplishments of the many…’ and I smiled knowing that their stories are in safe hands for future generations to read and learn about those that helped provide the foundation upon the tribe now stands.

My thanks to Nic Low and WORD for providing this opportunity to attend this wonderful presentation. Thank you to Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu for their manaaki tāngata, manaaki kaupapa. Thank you also to Tā Tīpene for his leadership, while the eyesight may be fading, the whit is as sharp as ever. Acknowledgement and thanks to Helen, Mike and Jeanette for sharing your wonderful insights and memories.

Tāngata Ngāi Tahu: People of Ngāi Tahu, Volume 2 Panel consisted of:

  • Tā Tīpene O’Regan ONZ, (Kāti Rakiāmoa) 2022 New Zealander of the historian, storyteller and academic;
  • Helen Brown, (Kāi Te Ruahikihiki) Senior Researcher, Ngāi Tahu Archives
  • Dr Michael Stevens, (Kāi Te Ruahikihiki, Kāti Rakiāmoa) Historian, mahinga kai exponent,
  • Professor Jeanette King, (Pākehā) Head of School – Aotahi University of Canterbury, Leader of Bilingualism

Sincere thanks is extended to Takerei Norton, Manager, Ngāi Tahu Archives, whose commitment and dedication to preserving Ngāi Tahu tribal history has resulted in the not only the production of these biographical series but also Kā Huru Manu: The Ngāi Tahu Atlas. E kore e mimiti te puna whakamihi mōhou e te whatukura, thanks for all that you do Takz.

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