Kete Kōrero: The History of Kapo Wairua
In appreciation of the Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa weavers and their work over the many years, Saana Murray gifted this kete at the inaugural Kahui Whiritoi Gathering in 2006. Held at Te Puia during Labour Weekend, this first gathering celebrated Saana Murray and six other kūia and kaumatua for their contributions to the survival of Māori weaving. Toi Māori Aotearoa Chair Waana Davis, who would later be appointed to Te Kāhui Whiritoi in 2008, received the kete on behalf of Te Roopu Raranga Whatu.
The presentation of this kete was accompanied with a passionate kōrero about Saana’s continued concern for the survival of indigenous materials and the importance of keeping their habitats sacred. Woven in a takitahi pattern, the use of pīngao and harakeke in this kete is, for this reason, of great significance. She wished for this kete to commemorate the pīngao and harakeke along her coastline, Kapo Wairua, which was contentiously acquired by the Crown in the 1960s.
Waana Davis and Saana Murray with the kete at the inaugural Kāhui Whiritoi Gathering, Rotorua, 2006. Image courtesy of Christina Hurhia Wirihana.
Ngāti Kurī occupied Kapo Wairua for generations. It is the departing place of their tupuna Tohe, who long ago went in search of his daughter and never returned. His last message to his people was: “kapohia taku wairua” (catch my spirit on its journey to Te Rerenga Wairua), and so Kapo Wairua (“catch the spirit”) was named. It is the area where Ngāti Kurī had always collected their harakeke, not only for weaving kete but for many purposes: whāriki, medicinal remedies, bird snares, fishing nets, storing kai, and so on. The harakeke was even used to help navigate quicksand, as it was planted in certain areas to act as a guide.
However, the Crown considered Kapo Wairua to be ‘uneconomic land’ and the area was fenced off by the Department of Conservation to be instead turned into a public campsite. This acquisition of their ancestral land was only the most recent action in a century-long history between Ngāti Kurī and the Crown, which had seen the progressive erosion of Ngāti Kurī’s rohe, resources, and rangatiratanga. Their ability to exercise kaitiakitanga over their taonga was significantly undermined, jeopardising the survival of the surrounding mātauranga Māori.
“We wept, we prayed, we fought hard for our very existence – Acts of Parliament and the Judicial system are no battle grounds for the poor.”
Ngāti Kurī protested this acquisition and sought help from Māori Affairs and the Departments of Trade and Industry as well as with multiple claims to the Waitangi Tribunal. Saana Murray, who worked tirelessly for her people and continually fought for tino rangatiratanga, was always at the frontline of advocacy. Still, it was not until 2014, three years after Saana Murray’s passing and five decades after Kapo Wairua was taken, that the Crown issued a formal apology to Ngāti Kurī.
Written by Lily Kara-Liu (Waikato-Tainui, Ngāpuhi). 10 Feb 2023.