Cultural Mapping

The Ngāi Tahu Cultural Mapping Project is using the latest Geographical Information System (GIS) technology to record, map and transmit traditional Ngāi Tahu knowledge. With the aid of GIS technology the stories and place names that record Ngāi Tahu history in Te Waipounamu are being mapped onto a virtual landscape for future generations.

GIS integrates computer technology for capturing, managing, analysing and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information. It allows the user to view, understand, question, interpret and visualise data in many ways that reveal relationships, patterns and trends in a variety of mediums.

Trevor Howse was one of the key researchers during the Ngāi Tahu Claim period and his work and expertise now help guide the cultural mapping project.
“In the timeframe of the Claim, we didn’t have enough time to use all the information we gathered. We certainly didn’t have the technology that is now available to us,” says Trevor. “It is just wonderful to see the work that we are producing, and I can only imagine what we will be able to do in the future with the way technology is progressing.”

Ngāi Tahu place names, traditional travel routes, Māori reserved land and other areas of cultural significance are examples of the knowledge that is being recorded on the GIS technology. In essence the GIS tool is where relationships can be analysed and then visualised in the form of maps. The system allows layers of information to be laid over the land, bringing the information to life and giving it greater context.

In conjunction with the mapping of cultural values is the development of a reference based system guided by kaumātua and marae representatives to ensure the authenticity and integrity of information.

Although the GIS technology is critical to the project, the heart of the work is carried out in the field, visiting sites and collecting the histories of Ngāi Tahu. Sometimes cultural sites have been incorrectly mapped, but by using mobile GIS devices in the field to record the knowledge of local people, the locations of these cultural sites can often be corrected.

“Ultimately we will be judged by our peers at the marae,” says Trevor. This mahi will empower our people. I have waited a long time to see this happen.”