«« PreviousIndex »»

Ariana Tikao (Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington)



Ko Te Poho o Tamatea te mauka

You stand above the village, bosom-like. You are a beauty. Your nipple formed from volcanic rock. Lava once flowed like hot mama’s milk. In 2011, when Rūaimoko once again turned in the womb, a rock the size of a small car tumbled down your slope. That kōhatu gathered momentum as it rolled and by the time it reached a dwelling on your lower slopes its force was so great that it split the house in two. After this disaster, families from that side of the kāika had to relocate. Umbilical cut. Our whānau had already moved away half a century before, so we were used to being estranged. Nonetheless, when I see you, I breathe easy. My shoulders relax. I am home.

Our mountain is named after the ancestor, Tamatea-pōkai-whenua, from the Tākitimu waka. He was thus named after his circumnavigation of the motu. When he reached Horomaka (Banks Peninsula), Hinepūnuiotoka’s winds came from the south, and Tamatea was not prepared for the snows and frost that accompanied her. He recited a karakia calling upon the help of the famous tohuka, Ngātoroirangi, who in turn called upon the assistance of his sisters Te Pupu and Te Hoata. They magically turned themselves into ahi tāmou and brought their fire to Te Waipounamu, creating the hot springs at Āmuri and Māruia, before saving our ancestor with their heat. This is an origin story of thermal energy in Te Waipounamu. The paemauka that Te Poho-o-Tamatea is a part of is called Kā Kōhatu Whakarakaraka o Tamatea-Pōkai-Whenua, usually translated as Tamatea’s smouldering rocks – which seems to me to have a sexual tone to it – is it just me? But I’m trying to work out how whakarakaraka means ‘smouldering’. Whenever checking a kupu in our dialect I look at different variations including both the southern and northern dialects which can include the ‘ng’ instead of ‘k’. According to the Williams Dictionary, ‘whakarangaranga’ means ‘extol’ and rangaranga can mean ‘lift up’ or the ‘ridge of a hill’. Another strong contender for meaning is ‘whakaraka’, which can mean to perform a type of karakia. That makes sense in relation to Tamatea sending his tono to Ngātoroirangi. I love how our pūrākau connect us to other rohe and iwi. Nowadays it seems that because of iwi settlements and various economic and political structures we are kept separate, like blinkered horses feeding in our own chaff bags. Historically, iwi had relationships through trade and other means across large distances. The old kōrero emphasise those connections.

One time we were staying at Rāpaki, during my nana’s takihaka, and my older brothers and cousins decided to climb our mauka. I looked up to the shadowy rocks near the top, squinting into the sunlight, and decided to tag along. The dry golden hillside loomed above us. We began the ascent, like Sir Ed and Tenzin but without all the backpacks and tents. I climbed, one arduous footstep followed by another, trying to avoid the sheep poo dotted about like earthbound constellations on the dry grass, breathing harder as the gradient increased. We got as far as the rugged rock shelf near the top. Looking down, the jetty resembled a tiny ladder pointed out into the milky blue-green harbour. I could make out the skeleton-like remnants of the shipwreck, the Wooton , to the right of the jetty. We sat looking down at the houses of the little kāika where my dad had grown up. For a moment, we felt removed from the mourners huddled in the drafty old hall. Then I remembered my beautiful nana lying there in her casket, skin shiny and cold like silver. On the descent, my brothers started to run. I joined in, one foot quickly following the other, gravity-assisted. My foot over foot rotations sped up until I had no control, as if I had wheels beneath me that would not slow down no matter how hard my mind instructed them to. “I CAN’T STOP! I CAN’T STOP!” I yelled, just as I was reeling towards a wire farm fence. My brothers turned around, with shock on their faces. They managed to tackle me before an unceremonious collision. I was never as grateful for their rugby training as in that moment. That was the first and last time I ever climbed Tamatea’s chest.

Ko Whakaraupō te moana

My water ebbs and flows in you. Amniotic fluid. Waikahu.

You are cloudy turquoise. Surrounded by a dry crust – the Port Hills. Nestled. So many times have I bathed in you. As a kid, jumping from the wharf – scraping skin on barnacles growing on the slippery wooden steps. Tiny droplets of blood released. Countless times have I stood with mud squishing through my toes at the main beach, hoping to avoid the nips of crabs. Lying in your saltiness is a cleansing inside and out. A holy communion.

My father’s name was Waitai, meaning salt water. I remember bathing with him at the little beach, which the Rāpaki elders used to call Tikao Beach. Dad stood there chest deep in the water. He beckoned me to stand on his shoulders. I was scared, but he helped me climb up. From there I could see the lightshow of the sun’s rays moving in formation on the water’s surface. I launched off. Skinny limbs splaying like a starfish mid-air, then splashing into the wai. After this feat he told me to jump from the top of his head. Āuē! He reassured me as I held his hand, climbing up his sturdy frame. I wobbled slightly from the top, like the Weeble toy in our budgie’s cage. I screamed and jumped. A rush of adrenaline coursed through my body, and after I plopped into the water again, we both laughed. It never occurred to me at the time, about the tapu nature of his upoko. It speaks to me now of the love he had for me to allow me to clamber all over him like that, although it was the most tapu part of his body. When we are so close to one another, perhaps we put such things to one side. That close whakapapa connection makes us like a single being. No separation. Just as we are connected to the saline waters of Whakaraupō.

At a whānau hui, Dad and my uncles and aunties who were still alive at the time told us about the warm pool at the beach that they bathed themselves in as tamariki. They would dig a hole in the shelly sand at low tide and lower themselves in it. We only half believed it until after the earthquakes, when the thermal water started bubbling up again. A tohu that our kōrero about Ngātoroirangi and his sisters were right. That fire is still in the oneone, that mana of the kōrero remains if we are just willing to believe in it.

Ko Rāpaki te marae

Rāpaki is where my ancestors’ bones crumble into the dry clay earth. Even if that tāua did yell obscenities at my sister that time, telling us to fuck off back to Wainui:


Our bones make us belong. One day my own bones will lie there too, forging us deeper into that belonging. Stabilising. I remember staying at Aunty Missy’s rustic bach built on a mere sliver. Spaghetti on toast for dinner. Sleeping in the old hall, comforted by its creaks and draughts. Old memories clung. Dust and cobwebs whispered in the painted tongue ‘n’ groove walls and ceiling. Generations of tongues wagged within. Karaka, whaikōrero, karakia, waiata, laughter, gossip, curses.

Rāpaki is named after a woven garment worn around the waist. The full name is Te Rāpaki-o-Te-Rakiwhakaputa. The Kāi Tahu rakatira Te Rakiwhakaputa threw down his rāpaki onto the beach, claiming it for his people, after some bloody fighting with the iwi who previously held the mana there, Kāti Māmoe. Imagine what it would be like to have that amount of personal mana, to throw down an item of clothing and declare the land yours, instead of the bureaucratic processes dictated by letting agencies and banks, for the right to occupy.

I loved the old hall, Te Wheke, that our pōua helped to build. It was opened on 30 December 1901. A photograph of the occasion proves it was well attended, by men in dark suits and bowler hats, and by women in high-waisted long black skirts, white blouses done up to their necks, and straw boaters keeping the sun off. In the middle of the photo is a Scottish man in full regalia including kilt and cape. Off to the left of the image, something catches my eye. It is a woman dressed in trousers, wearing a pale round hat with an upturned rim. She appears smiling and relaxed, hands in pockets, talking to a man with his back to the camera. She looks a bit like my dad’s Aunty Fan, and I like to imagine her as a stroppy non-conformist wahine rakatira.

Te Wheke already felt old to me when I was a child in the 70s and 80s. The creamy walls, thick with many layers of paint over the years. The loose rounded brass door handles that rattled when you were discretely trying to get through to the wharepaku at night. The wind whistled through the cracks in the tongue ‘n’ groove walls, like the whispers of tīpuna in the night.

We now have a new whare, also ‘Te Wheke’. This new building has carved pou inside, and delicately painted heke with images of important plants and flowers on a backdrop of white, and stunning tukutuku panels with brightly coloured metallic painted boards beneath. The patterns of poutama and pouhine provide balance. In the lead-up to the planning of the new whare, one of our relations stood and challenged the various whānau to put the money forward for their own pou, in a user-pays kind of model. It felt to me distasteful to propose this method of fundraising, like a marae telethon. Would that mean that richer whānau could afford more bells and whistles on their pou? Gold encircling their eyes instead of pāua shell? I know that our cousin Riki tried to have our pōua Teone Taare Tikao represented in the line-up of pou, but the komiti decided that he was not of the appropriate era. Riki did manage to get Pōua’s grandmother in there, our tāua Hakeke. So whenever we go into our whare we can go and mihi to her, and all of the other tīpuna embodied within her. Hakeke, the swimmer, the survivor.




Ahi tāmou: Fire balls
Kāi Tahu: Tribe in the South Island
Karakia: Incantation
Ko Te Poho o Tamatea te mauka: My mountain is Te Poho o Tamatea
Ko Whakaraupō te moana: Whakaraupō is my sea
Pōua: Grandfather/male ancestor
Rakatira: Leader
Rūaimoko: God of earthquakes
Tāua: Grandmother/female ancestor
Takihaka: Mourning ceremony/funeral
Tīpuna: Ancestors
Wahine: Woman



Ariana Tikao is a singer, composer, writer, and leading player of taonga puoro (Māori instruments). She writes waiata exploring themes relating to her Kāi Tahu identity and mana wahine, often drawing upon ancestral narratives. She was awarded as an Arts Laureate in 2020.

«« PreviousIndex »»