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Wairau rich in histories that confirm connections between Māori and Pacific tupuna

Media release: 27 November 2019

Wairau rich in histories that confirm connections between Māori and Pacific tupuna

Crews from vessels in the Tuia 250 Voyage, while in Marlborough, will honour the home to one of Aotearoa’s most significant sites from an historical and cultural perspective, say the co-chairs of the Tuia 250 National Coordinating Committee, Dame Jenny Shipley and Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr.

“Te Pokohiwi-o-Kupe/Wairau Bar, at Cloudy Bay in Marlborough, is one of the oldest known settlement sites in Aotearoa,” says Dame Jenny.

“Archaeological evidence from the site confirms that it was settled around 1300AD, similar to Mangahawea Bay in Pēwhairangi/Bay of Islands, which was acknowledged two weeks ago during Tuia 250 commemorations there.

“The evidence uncovered at Te Pokohiwi-o-Kupe/Wairau Bar includes artefacts bearing the same design prevalent in Polynesia during the corresponding time period, providing irrefutable proof that the first inhabitants here had crossed the ocean from the Pacific Islands.”

Hoturoa says that like Mangahawea Bay, Te Pokohiwi-o-Kupe/Wairau Bar is a site where science and cultural history come together and reinforce each other.

“The scientific research has confirmed what our oral histories have always told us, that the tangata whenua of Aotearoa voyaged here from our homeland of Hawaiki.

“This is testament to the tremendous navigational and sailing skills that were being employed on the Pacific highway, many centuries before James Cook first ventured to this part of the world.

“One of the many educational aspects of Tuia 250 is that more New Zealanders are coming to understand the great tradition of oceanic navigation that predates Cook. They are learning about how we use the stars, the currents and other natural signs to travel with great accuracy across the sea.”

Janis de Thierry, from local iwi Rangitāne o Wairau, says members of her iwi were excited to take part in a project led by the University of Otago, which shows that Rangitāne o Wairau are direct descendants of the first settlers at Te Pokohiwi-o-Kupe/Wairau Bar.

“DNA samples collected from present-day members of our iwi were compared with DNA taken from skeletal remains uncovered at Te Pokohiwi-o-Kupe/Wairau Bar, and prove that those ancient bones are those of our tupuna (ancestors).

“For us, this is a very special site. There is a sense of connection here that extends deep into the past, to the dawn of the settlement of Aotearoa and even further back, to the Pacific home land from which our tupuna migrated.”

As part of Tuia 250, Rangitāne o Wairau has organised events at the Ūkaipō Cultural Centre in Blenheim, exploring scientific and cultural aspects of the connection to Te Pokohiwi-o-Kupe/Wairau Bar (tonight) and the story of the Tahitian tohunga and navigator Tupaia, who acted as liaison between the Endeavour and local Māori during James Cook’s first voyage to Aotearoa (Thursday evening).

Both co-chairs of the Tuia 250 National Coordinating Committee say they are pleased that Tuia 250 has helped bring the name Tupaia into the collective consciousness of New Zealanders, where it belongs.

“All of us, Māori and Pākehā New Zealanders alike, owe much to this man, who was so instrumental in helping our two cultures come together positively,” says Dame Jenny.

“In many of the communities we have visited as part of Tuia 250, we have heard local stories about the pivotal role that Tupaia played, and we have witnessed the huge respect with which he is remembered,” says Hoturoa.

“It is fitting to see him being honoured and celebrated 250 years after he came to these shores, particularly in the presence of the Tahitian crew from the flotilla vessel Fa’afaite, who have also been learning and sharing a lot about their famous ancestor over the past two months.”

Updated on 15th January 2020