Weaving together people, culture and heritage

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

The largest tukutuku panels in the world are being constructed for a new Māori design that will stand at the Cook Landing Site National Reserve in Gisborne, known by Māori as Puhi Kai Iti. Ngāti Oneone artist Nick Tupara says the project aims to balance out the way Māori and Pākehā history is presented.

Leading the project, Tupara says, “It comes out of a response from our nation, I guess, through our Tūranga Tairāwhiti community to say 'are we telling the history the way we'd like it to be told?'”

Tukutuku was used by Māori to bind materials for houses, the same technology used to bind waka that Māori navigated to Aotearoa.

“You get to exchange with another person with a barrier between you and together you offer materials through that barrier and create something quite beautiful at the end,” says Tupara.

Weaver Adrienne Stewart from Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti says, “You learn how to communicate without having to speak to each other, you learn to how weave tukutuku panels on a larger scale.”

Ngāti Oneone are collaborating with the Department of Conservation and the Gisborne District Council with the aim of balancing out the historical narratives of the region.  The panels will stand as a monument for the next generation.

“Hopefully something for my mokopuna to look at later on in the future knowing that their nanny has been involved in something really important for Tūranganui-a-Kiwa," says Stewart. 

Department of Conservation officer Jamie Quirk says, “It's a story that's overdue in telling and it'll be items like this wall that will encourage people to go down there, look at the site, enjoy the site and understand what's happened over there over a long long period of time.”

Tupara says, “There has never been a reference to our iwi, our local Māori people and this is our opportunity to bring some balance into our storytelling and to the way we pass on our history to others.”

Weavers from Te Tairāwhiti East Coast and around the country are participating in the process.

“From Ngāti Tāmanuhiri all the way up the coast and when you do that you always get a few extras, you get ones from Tainui, Whakatōhea, Whānau-a-Apanui, everyone who wants to come and share in a unique experience, even Ngāti Tauiwi, Pākehā weavers as well," says Tupara.

Weaver Jo-Vanna Ropiha from Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki and Ngapuhi says, “It's amazing to be able to be part of the mahi that we do here in Tairāwhiti, absolutely amazing.”

The new structure will honour the Māori esoteric school of learning called Puhi Kai Iti, and stand where navigator Maia and his waka Te Ikaroa-a-Rauru landed centuries ago.

“To bind a sharing of stories, history, heritage, to bring together our shared differences, but also at the end of the day to create a space that's safe for us to have these discussions on our history and how we can use those to benefit our people,” says Tupara.

The tukutuku panels are expected to be installed in the next few weeks.