Waitaki: Water of Tears, River of Mana

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Kelli Te Maihāroa


This paper illuminates the significance of the braided mighty Waitaki River and how it sustains the people that shelter within her valley. This article begins acknowledging Rākaihautū as the first person to occupy and consecrate the land of Te Waipounamu, the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. It is Rākaihautū that journeyed through this island as he carved out and named the great southern mountains and lakes, thus establishing ahi kā (occupation rights) of the Waitaha tribe. These ancient names anoint and link these sacred waterways and bountiful pools to the ancestral Pacific homelands of Te Patu Nui o Aio. The naming and formation of the land and cascading waterways that flow from her is further explored in a pūrākau (narrative) about the Māori atua (deity) of Tane and his brothers, which includes the positioning of his tallest brother Aoraki, whose tears symbolically represent the Waitaki River.
The second half of this article then turns to focus on several Waitaha sociocultural and political events based around the Waitaki River and valley over the last one hundred and fifty years. One of the major founding political and cultural events within the Waitaki Valley includes the passive resistance march of Te Heke (1877-79), led by Te Maihāroa, in protest against settler land encroachment and Māori grievances against the Crown.

Article Details

Author Biography

Kelli Te Maihāroa, Waitaha, Ngāti Rārua Ātiawa Te Kura Matatini ki Otago/Otago Polytechnic

Kelli Te Maihāroa (Waitaha, Ngāti Rārua Ātiawa).
Dr Kelli Te Maihāroa has an extensive background in education and social services, with a focus on bi-cultural responsiveness and kaupapa Māori initiatives. She sees education as the number one lever to address equity issues and the potential to transform peoples’ lives. At Otago Polytechnic Kelli holds two leadership roles as Tumuaki: Rakahau Māori | Director: Māori Research and Kaihautū: Te Kāhui Whetū: Capable Māori, working with Iwi Māori throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. She is an active member within her whānau, hapū, Iwi and local Māori community. Kelli is a mokopuna of Te Maihāroa, the last southern Māori prophet and tohuka (expert tribal specialist). Her area of research interest is Indigenous peace traditions, Indigenous research, cultural revitalisation and Māori educational initiatives. Kelli was a co-editor for an edited collection: H. Devere, K. Te Maihāroa, & J.P. Synott (eds.) Peacebuilding and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Experiences and Strategies for the 21st Century, (Springer: Cham, Switzerland, 2016).