Ngāi Tahu carver James York (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Māmoe, Waitaha, Rapuwai) is carving pou to be erected on Whenua Hou to honour the unique connection of Ngāi Tahu with the island.
Nā Kahu Te Whaiti.
Whenua Hou, an island north-west of Rakiura, was an important stopping point for muttonbirders travelling to the Tītī islands.
In the 18th century the island was designated by Ngāi Tahu rangatira Honekai as a place where sealers could live with their Ngāi Tahu wives.
The island was deemed Crown land in 1864, and since that time it has been difficult for Ngāi Tahu whānau to visit Whenua Hou.
However, Ngāi Tahu involvement in the management and use of the land has been enhanced by the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998. This created the pathway for Ngāi Tahu to be involved through representation on the Whenua Hou committee.
This committee was set up to provide advice to the Conservation Board and the Minister on the island’s management, which includes visitation to the island.
Today the island is used as a nature reserve for endangered species, and it is difficult for people to gain access.
James York and Tane Davis (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Māmoe, Waitaha – Te Atawhiua) were granted special permission to source windblown tōtara logs from Whenua Hou. During their hīkoi they noticed that many of the tōtara trees had been ringbarked
to make pōhā – bags made of tōtara strips and kelp, used to store preserved birds.
It was a reminder that Ngāi Tahu tīpuna had been there and a clue as to what they were doing. The sighting inspired the shape of the pou.
Three of the logs found on the island will be carved by James into the shape of pōhā.
One will represent the ancient people who used the island pre-European contact. Another represents the period when the island was used as a settlement by sealers and their Ngāi Tahu wives. The final pou will represent mātauranga (knowledge) acknowledging how the island is being used today.