Te Whānau a Hunaara on the East Cape at their recent cultural mapping wānanga (Photo: Supplied; additional design The Spinoff)
Te Whānau a Hunaara on the East Cape at their recent cultural mapping wānanga (Photo: Supplied; additional design The Spinoff)

ĀteaMarch 17, 2022

Preserving old pā sites with new technology on the East Cape

Te Whānau a Hunaara on the East Cape at their recent cultural mapping wānanga (Photo: Supplied; additional design The Spinoff)
Te Whānau a Hunaara on the East Cape at their recent cultural mapping wānanga (Photo: Supplied; additional design The Spinoff)

An East Cape hapū is using intergenerational knowledge, coupled with laser sensor technology, to preserve sites of significance.

The physical remnants of many wāhi tapu across the motu don’t tell the story of what that land once was. To the unknowing eye, these sites of significance can look like any other mound, hollow or ditch. 

It is the oral history connected to these places that tells the full story. Te Whānau a Hunaara, a hapū on the East Cape, is keeping that history alive by culturally mapping its whenua. They are not only documenting these places of significance digitally but sharing the oral history through the project Ngā Tapuwae. 

Orchestrated by hapū members Michelle Wanoa and Hal Hovell, with support from Pouhere Taonga archaeologists Pam Bain and Danielle Trilford, the project is aimed at ensuring local mātauranga, kōrero, whakapapa, tikanga and kawa are preserved. The hapū received funding earlier this year from the Pouhere Taonga Heritage New Zealand fund, Mātauranga – Ngā Riu o Ngā Tīpuna, designed to support whānau to capture local cultural history. 

The project includes a series of wānanga with whānau, exploring and mapping sites of significance, with the second wānanga held this past weekend. These wānanga are an opportunity for whānau to access and experience the whenua, while hearing kōrero tuku iho from pakeke and knowledge holders.

Te Whānau a Hunaara project co-ordinator Latasha Wanoa says the goal is intergenerational knowledge transmission. 

 “We acknowledge that our pakeke hold deeper knowledge and connection with our whenua and our tīpuna, so we are on a mission to ensure that this knowledge is captured, digitised and available to our mokopuna.”

The project draws on the te whare tapa whā health model, nourishing all aspects of health through connection to land.

“A firm sense of belonging contributes to the holistic wellbeing and nurturing of an individual, or even the mauri of a whānau,” Wanoa says. 

The hapū is engaging in practices of karakia to ensure spiritual and physical safety, and learning new karakia related to the mahi they’re carrying out. These practices ensure the taha wairua, one of the cornerstones of the te whare tapa whā model, is being looked after.

“Walking the land and learning those historical narratives facilitates a deeper spiritual connection,” Wanoa says. 

In terms of taha hinengaro and taha whānau, two of the other cornerstones of te whare tapa whā, Wanoa says learning about the ways in which their ancestors lived on the land through the mapping techniques and sharing of history contributes to the wellbeing of the hapū. 

“We are able to get a vivid picture of who they were and how they walked the land. When we walk in their footsteps, it reaffirms our identity and our deep spiritual connection, it boosts our own mauri knowing our whakapapa.” 

Project lead Michelle Wanoa says having the right tikanga in place can change the way people experience the whenua, and interact with it.

“One of our archaeologists spoke about a previous experience they had, where they had visited wāhi tapu and the hairs on their neck stood up, saying they would never return to those sites. 

“We make sure that they feel comfortable, and use tikanga such as karakia in a way where they are welcomed onto the whenua,” she says. 

Intersection of mātauranga Māori and western technology

Light detection and ranging, or LiDAR technology, is a technology using laser sensors mounted on aircraft, such as drones, to capture a 3D view of the land. The remote sensing method uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure variable distances to the Earth. It can also be used to make digital 3D representations of areas on the Earth’s surface and ocean bottom.

Baseline mapping and LiDAR technology, combined with traditional knowledge of pakeke, have been used to map two pā sites so far, with more sites of significance planned for the future. 

And through this, Te Whānau a Hunaara is already getting a better understanding of features particular to its traditional pā sites, and those of Ngāti Porou whānui. 

Traditionally, many hapū of Ngāti Porou used raised kūmara beds to protect kai and pātaka kai from heavy rainfall. The pits featured raised outer edges and drainage systems that funnelled water away from where kūmara was being stored. This was a method particular to Ngāti Porou, where in other areas it was more common for iwi to use sheltered kūmara beds.

The 3D views of these wāhi tapu help visualise these traditional techniques of Ngāti Porou, supplementing the living oral history held by pakeke. 

Of course, whenever you bring western technology into the picture, there’s the question of who then owns that data. For Ngā Tapuwae, some of the sites are on privately owned Māori land. The raw footage for those particular sites is returned to the land owners or trust, who retain the intellectual property. 

“They will be the kaitiaki of that raw footage. If anyone wants to know about that site, they can go back to that particular whānau, and it’s up to them,” Michelle Wanoa says. 

For sites that sit within the marae, that information will be held by the marae.  In addition to LiDAR technology, high-resolution photographs and drone footage of the sites and their setting in the landscape are being captured. 

The pā sites

The first pā site to be mapped was Rangitāne Pā, located behind Mātahi o te Tau Marae. It is the traditional pā site of the rangatira Hunaara, who was known for being a tohunga in cultivation and a deadly warrior, and from whom the hapū ,Te Whānau a Hunaara, derives its name.

The second workshop held recently mapped Matarēhua Pā, located at Rangiata in the Te Whānau a Tarahauiti rohe. Matarēhua Pā was the pā site of Tarahauiti, the youngest son of Hunaara.

“History doesn’t stop with the Māori land court minute books. Fifty years from now we have to continue that history. This cultural mapping becomes part of that history,” Wanoa says. 

“For so long it’s been oral, but now we can document, like the Māori land courts [and] our mokopuna will have those records.”

Te Whānau a Hunaara and Te Whānau a Tarahauiti first started their mapping journey with both pā in 2009, through weekend wānanga at Mātahi o te Tau Marae. Sadly, since then, many of those knowledge holders who generously shared their kōrero with whānau have passed away.

“These people led the way and allowed us to follow in their footsteps through their passion and love for the knowledge and wellbeing of our hapū,” Wanoa says.

Building rangatahi capacity to hold this knowledge

Not limited to the East Cape alone, there is potential for both cultural storytelling and archaeological mapping practices to be implanted in the education system throughout Te Tairāwhiti. 

“We’re aware that localised curricula have now become a large part of the internal learning structures of the kura, specifically kura here on the East Coast. We want this to be part of that,” Wanoa says. 

There are three rangatahi, aged 14 to 20, who are being supported through the project. 

After graduating with a degree in Māori and Indigenous Studies from Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato, Hinemaia Dewes is considering graduate research in archaeology. 

“This opportunity has allowed me to work alongside some of the coolest archaeologists in the motu, who have taught me much about mapping and identifying archeological features in our whenua that we would normally dismiss as a ditch, a deep hole or a weird rock,” she says. 

“They have also taught me a lot about the importance of weaving together the archaeological knowledge and mātauranga Māori, to create a rich tapestry of history.”

Te Whānau a Hunaara hope that in time, the framework and methodology initiated and refined during the Ngā Tapuwae project will be utilised throughout Aotearoa.


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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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