Connecting with the past by planting for the future

News News & events

08 Jul 2019

Gumboots on and armed with 90 rākau (trees) ready for a new home, a group of Ara staff visited Kaiapoi pā site last week and eagerly dug into restoring the habitat with some native foliage.

This trip was a key event on Ara’s Matariki calendar- symbolic for celebrating Māori history and connecting staff with the Canterbury environment through sustainable action.

Kaiapoi pā was founded in about 1700 by Ngāi Tahu and was once the tribe’s chief stronghold and a busy site of food gathering and trade. In 1831, the pā was attacked by the Ngāti Toa iwi resulting in a three-month long siege, which ended when a fire destroyed the defences and allowed the attackers to access the pā.

Now all that remains visible of Ngāi Tahu’s traditional cultural centre is a grassy field and a monument erected in 1898 to commemorate those lives lost.

Reimana Tūtengaehe, a Te Puna Wānaka tutor at Ara spoke about the pā’s history to staff before beginning planting so that they had a better understanding of the site’s significance for Māori in Canterbury.

“This is the pā known as Kaiapoi, which the township received it’s name from. Before that it was known as Te Kōhaka o Te Kaikai a Waro and it was one of the first pā that Ngāi Tahu erected after they came through the South Island. As we’re very aware Canterbury was a very different plain at that time, being largely swamp land. The stories say they used to have whales come quite near to this pā so when Tu-Rakautahi, the architect, designed it he did so in the shape of a whale, which is why it has a larger end and then becomes narrower at the other end.”

Tūtengaehe said the tree planting event ties in well with the themes of Matariki at Ara this year, as well as the historical meaning of Matariki for Māori.

“The five big themes for Ara this Matariki are connect, reflect, celebrate, plan and act and so today we’re planting about 90 rākau in an effort for restoration, but also this is a process we’re using to celebrate Matariki this year. One of the biggest themes in Matariki since a long time ago has been about new life. So when you’re talking about the ritual around the new year for Matariki the first thing we do is actually mourn those that have passed away and then we start to celebrate life itself and the coming of the new year.”

David Irwin, Manager - Sustainability and Outdoor Education said, “We’ve been bringing students here to the pā for a little while now. We’re trying to build that relationship between Ara, Tuahiwi and the local people here, as well as the site itself. It’s a huge privilege for Pākehā to be able to come to a site like this which is of such huge cultural significance to iwi and to Ngāi Tahu. Not many people get the opportunity to do that and so for staff at Ara involved in today’s experience it’s a wonderful opportunity.”

As a sustainability advocate, with a huge passion for the outdoors, Irwin was also pleased to help reintroduce New Zealand natives to the environment. “Habitat restoration is a really important activity to bring biological diversity back into our landscapes, but planting is also a way to form a relationship with a piece of land, so by coming out here and engaging in planting activity we’re actually investing in this special place.”