History & Legend
Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae
The History of our People
The history of the region is both dynamic and dramatic – and it’s one irrevocably linked with the guardianship of Pounamu.
Tuhuru Kokare was a chief of Ngāti Waewae, a hapu (sub-tribe) of Canterbury’s Ngāi Tahu iwi. He reached adulthood in the eighteenth century – a turbulent period in the Māori history of the South Island.
During this time Ngāi Tahu went to the source of greenstone in the Arahura and Mawhera (Grey) regions of the West Coast and fought with the local people, Ngāti Wairangi. Tuhuru led this campaign, starting at Karamea in the north and gradually working his way down the coast. The final defeat of Ngāti Wairangi took place in the Paparoa Range, after which a meeting of Tuhuru and his party was held at Rūnanga.
Tuhuru and his people then established a new pa at Mawhera and settled there. They were known as Poutini Ngāi Tahu, the Ngāi Tahu people of the West Coast. The trade in greenstone was becoming more valuable and, with it, the threat from outsiders. Tuhuru defended his land and it’s Pounamu against the Ngati Tumatakokiri, a tribe from the north, and later, the Ngati Rarua from Paturau near the Whanganui Inlet.
The local Maori community is still directed by Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae, the council based a short distance from the township of Hokitika in Arahura.
The Legend - Poutini Waitaiki
The oral tradition of Māori legend has contributed a range of Pounamu creation myths and many different regions have their own, unique interpretations of how the stone first came into this world. One such myth tells of a Taniwha named Poutini, a mystical being who guards the mauri (the life force) within the treasured stone.
The story starts with Poutini discovering a beautiful woman, Waitaki, bathing in the sea off Tuhau. Consumed by desire, he snatched Waitaki up, claimed her as his wife and fled to the South Island. Waitaki already had a husband however – a powerful chief named Tamaahua. Distressed at the loss of his wife Tamaahua threw a magic dart into the air. The dart pointed in the direction Poutini went, and the vengeful chief took up his pursuit of the Taniwha.
The chase continued down Aotearoa until Poutini took sanctuary on the West Coast of the South Island. Fearing the power of his pursuer, and realising that the mighty chief would never rest until he found his wife, Poutini decided on a dramatic course of action – one he hoped would forever keep his love close to him.
With Tamaahua camped close by, the Taniwha transformed Waitaki into his essence and slipped her lifeless body into the river. He then snuck past the sleeping chief and made his escape into the night.
When Tamaahua awoke the next morning he found his wife turned to cold green stone in the riverbed. He let out a powerful tangi – a mighty song of grief. Legend has it that travellers in the region still hear the echo of this tangi through the mountains to this day.