Exploring Otautahi

Imagine a distant past where the mist and fog shrouded flatlands, spreading out towards the sea, rich with bird and water life …


A description of Ōtautahi/Christchurch from well before my great-grandparents arrived.  The earthquakes have reminded us of the swampy start the city had, but what else do we know about those early times and lives of Ōtautahi?

To find out, visit Tī Kōuka Whenua, a website within our website, packed full with knowledge of local Māori history.

Navigate using the maps or index, and let yourself wander and learn about another time in the life of our city and surrounds. Places, people and their joint histories are explained here.

Rapanui, or Shag Rock was once a pointer to The Estuary/Te Wahapū and the wetlands beyond. The pre-earthquake image is of course more elegant than the untidy pile it has become. The estuary was not only an abundant source of food, but created opportunities to trade and connect among the hundreds of  people who resided here.

There are some scary snippets of Māori history in this little treasure too, like the spine-chilling story attached to Ō Kete Upoko. It’s not hard to build a picture of thriving and vibrant communities all around Canterbury and Banks Peninsula./Horomaka.  Such as the stories of Kawatea/Okains Bay. I will definitely visit the museum there this summer!


Did you know that Mt Bossu/Tuhiraki, a peak in Akaroa harbour is said to have been formed when the Ngāi Tahu explorer Rākaihautū thrust his kō (digging stick) into Horomaka after using it to dig out all the principal lakes of Te Wai Pounamu  including nearby Te Roto o Wairewa and Te Waihora? Reading about the recent bloody history of Kaiapoi I learnt the meaning of the name comes from the fact that  kai/food for the Pa at that site needed to be brought in from elsewhere/swung in or ‘poi’ to feed the inhabitants.

Tī Kōuka Whenua gives us a glimpse of a way of life in Te Ao Māori and allows us to gain more than just a picture of events.  Ngā Kohatu Whakarakaraka o Tamatea Pōkai Whenua, which is the Māori name for the Port Hills is an example, where reading about Te Poho o Tamatea leaves us searching for more and more…

At the bottom of each page the sources used are named, and many of these are available through the library catalogue.

If you’re hungry for more information about Te Ao Māori, look through our resources on the Māori Tab of our website. Not to be missed is Te Whata Raki, where waiata and pictures together teach us some traditional stories.

The message included on the introduction page still applies:

Toitū te whenua ~ Leave the land undisturbed.

Schoolhouse at Rapaki

Mana wahine: Dr Patricia Te Arapo Wallace

Cover of Pūawaitanga o te Ringa - Fruits of our busy hands Dr Patricia Te Arapo Wallace was involved in one of Christchurch City Libraries’ most significant cultural taonga Pūawaitanga o te Ringa – Fruits of our busy hands, a series of tukutuku panels that were specially woven as a community project for the Ngā Pounamu Māori Centre.

She is widely respected for her knowledge of Māori material culture:

When Dr Patricia Wallace wanted to piece together the mysteries of traditional Maori dress,  she found inspiration in an unconventional form – modern-day plastic Ken dolls. With the help of ‘Barbie boyfriends’ she was able to reconstruct how early Maori traditionally wore large kaitaka (cloaks) wrapped around their bodies.

Cover of Looking flashLast month Dr Wallace became the first Ngata Centenary Doctoral Scholar to graduate from Canterbury with a PhD in Maori. While the department has previously awarded four doctorates, Dr Wallace is the first Maori person to do her doctoral study solely in the Maori department. Her achievements are even more remarkable for the fact that she only embarked on a university education in her fifties. Research throws new light on traditional Maori dress.

from the article Research throws new light on traditional Maori dress (2003)

She wrote an impressive  Introduction to Māori Dress feature in the  Berg Fashion Library,  in 2010.

Dr Wallace also wrote the chapter ‘He whatu ariki- he kura, he waero: chiefly threads – red and white’ in the book Looking Flash: Clothing in Aotearoa New Zealand by Labrum, McKergow and Gibson (2007).

She is one of six contributors to Whatu Kākahu-Māori Cloaks (2011) which will be launched at the 2011 National Weavers’ Hui.

Read Patricia’s Researcher profile from the University of Canterbury.

Mana wahine – Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan

Cover of Whetu Tirikatene-SullivanWhetu Marama Tirikātene-Sullivan passed away in July. She is renowned as the first Māori woman cabinet minister. But she also had a major influence in the world of fashion and design, as this article Snapshot: A Māori Fashion Designer in the Berg Fashion Library reveals:

She commissioned a large number of garments incorporating Māori motifs by contemporary Māori artists, such as Sandy Adsett, Para Matchitt, Cliff Whiting, and Frank Davis. She wore these at her many public engagements, and they were generally regarded as her signature style. For many New Zealanders this was the first time they had seen such traditional elements in a new context.

Mrs Tirikatene-Sullivan (M.P.) at art exhibition (image on Kete Horowhenua from Horowhenua Historical Society Inc.)

Matariki parade one not to miss

book coverUnique and stunningly beautiful. This is my lasting impression of the Parade of Cloaks at South Learning Centre last Saturday. The variety of this small collection exposes the depth of skill and artistry needed to create such items.  The weavers  are of local and national repute:  Ranui Ngarimu, who explained to us the physical attributes and cultural context of each garment, and Paula Rigby. Read our interview with Paula here.

Awed as I was by the elegance of the show, I couldn’t seem to watch and listen at the same time,  so I’m going to see it again at New Brighton Library at 1.00pm this Saturday, and learn a bit more.  Too precious to photograph, the garments must be seen in person, so you’ll have to come too!

Waiata for NZ Music Month

PhotoThis was so much fun! Adrenalin, but not the earthquake variety. And the best way to learn a little Te Reo Māori.

To celebrate NZ Music Month 2011, The Christchurch City Council waiata group – Ngā Manu Tioriori  – entertained customers and colleagues on a tour around libraries.

You can listen to waiata at home, just check out some CDs and enjoy. Learn about traditional Māori music on our website or enjoy a book about the history of Māori music.

Ngā Manu Tioriori tour

coverDuring New Zealand Music Month Ngā Manu Tioriori, the Christchurch City Council waiata group, are touring around some of our libraries to entertain you.

On Thursday the group will visit  South, Spreydon, Bishopdale, Redwood, Parklands, and New Brighton libraries.  If you are in these libraries between 9.30 and 1.oo we hope to see you!  Join in or just enjoy.

Want to read about Māori performing arts or listen to waiata? Try some music from the library, or check our books and online resources.