Olympic athletes to wear precious taonga

Ngāi Tahu leaders have highlighted the significance of a gifting ceremony to be held at Te Tauraka Waka a Māui Marae at Bruce Bay on the West Coast today.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu Kaiwhakahaere, Mark Solomon, says it will be the first time that the truly beautiful tahutahi/snowflake pounamu has been legally used and appropriately gifted to New Zealand’s Olympic Committee in order for athletes to wear the taonga close to their hearts during their time in London.

“It is an honour for Ngāi Tahu that the country’s Olympic athletes will be the first to legitimately wear tahutahi/snowflake on the world stage,” says Mark Solomon. “This taonga is one of the greatest taonga that Ngāi Tahu can give. Never before has it been legally carved and for our Papatipu Rūnanga, Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio, and for the wider iwi, this is an occasion of enormous significance.”

Three-hundred-and-fifty tahutahi/snowflake pendants will be gifted over to the New Zealand Olympic Committee during the pōwhiri.

Tahutahi (snowflake) pounamu comes from the Cascade Plateau in South Westland, and has a significant history for the iwi, including a recent history involving enormous efforts to protect the pounamu to ensure it is only ever harvested under strict controls to protect both its mana and its long-term viability as a precious resource.

Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio chairman Paul Madgwick says he believed the athletes would understand the mana of the pounamu and appreciate its beauty and significance. “It will be a special moment for us to see our taonga on the world stage, and to know it is in the care of such fine young New Zealand athletes.”

“Each individually carved piece has been authenticated, photographed and loaded on to the Ngāi Tahu pounamu database, so we will always have a record of each taonga and the athlete will know that their taonga has a legitimate whakapapa.”

He praised registered carver Jeff Mahuika (Makaawhio, Ngāi Tahu) for his winning design and dedication to the project.

Jeff Mahuika says it is a special day for him. “The design I selected is linked with chiefs and has enormous mana, and is considered to be tapu meaning sacred. Each one is an heirloom piece.” He says the pounamu is highly prized because of its hardness, its durability and its beauty. “As our Kaiwhakahaere always says, it is one of the greatest gifts and it is also one of the greatest taonga that can be received.”

Jeff’s whānau also helped to plait the cords and he says today’s pōwhiri will be a significant occasion for them also. He says the specifics of the carved design were linked to the journey of an athlete. “One side is flat and unpolished to show the natural potential of an athlete and the other side is rounded and polished to reflect muscle, power and strength – the point at which the athlete has reached his or her potential.”