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Waitangi New Zealand’s first Wāhi Tupuna

28 September 2015

Waitangi New Zealand’s first Wāhi Tupuna

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga – the country’s lead heritage organisation – has listed Waitangi as its first wāhi tupuna.

“Wāhi tupuna identify places that are important to Maori for their ancestral significance and their associated cultural and traditional values,” says Heritage New Zealand’s Kaihautu Te Kenehi Teira.

“Although Waitangi has clear cultural and historical significance for all New Zealanders, it is also a place of strong traditional associations with many tupuna significant to Maori – and Ngapuhi in particular.”

Under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, wāhi tupuna differ from wāhi tapu in that they do not necessarily adhere to the ‘tapu’ or sacredness to Maori in the traditional, spiritual, religious, ritual or mythological sense.

“Wāhi tupuna still have great significance to Maori however – but for values that may be different from those associated with wāhi tapu, and that are connected to tupuna.”

Ancestral associations through Waitangi begin with Maikuku – a puhi [virgin of high rank] whose tapu was so profound that she was confined in a Waitangi shoreline cave and guarded by a taniwha. Many Ngapuhi today claim descent from Maikuku and her husband Hua through their offspring.

In the first half of the 19th Century, many Ngapuhi rangatira were in the vanguard of change as they welcomed Pakeha missionaries and traders. Significantly, rangatira suggested Waitangi as a place for James Busby to be based when he was appointed British Resident in 1833.

“Waitangi had always been what Ngapuhi described as ‘tau rangatira’ – a place where inter-hapu relationships and alliances for common purposes were discussed,” says Mr Teira.

“Not surprisingly, Waitangi attracted two other significant gatherings of tupuna that had a profound impact on our history. The first was in 1835 when Northern rangatira gathered to sign He Whakaputanga [Declaration of Independence], which was essentially a declaration of their collective sovereignty. The second event was the signing of Te Tiriti itself – the founding document of our nation.”

Waitangi National Trust Chief Executive Greg McManus is delighted that Waitangi is New Zealand’s first wāhi tupuna.

“The Trust is hugely honoured that Waitangi has been given this recognition. As the most important historic site in the nation it is appropriate to also recognise the special significance of the place to Maori and in particular Ngapuhi.”

Waitangi is important as the place where the modern bicultural state of New Zealand was born according to Mr Teira.

“Parallel to this runs a stream of Maori history, tradition and culture – shaped by the lives, actions and decisions of many tupuna – that spans many generations. The wāhi tupuna formally identifies and acknowledges these ancestral connections and values that make Waitangi so special. It also allows these connections to be shared and celebrated.”


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