Taonga from Takahe Valley

For those of us working with the taonga Māori collections at Te Papa our work can sometimes also be a personal experience as we connect with taonga associated with the activities of our own ancestors and with places of cultural significance to our own people. It has been a little while but I had one such experience recently as I looked through some boxes of mainly bird-hunting material collected from Takahe Valley (a.k.a. Notornis Valley), located on the western side of Lake Te Anau.

My tupuna, Aperahama Hutoitoi, is amongst those known to have hunted takahē (alternatively takahea) in the Lake Te Anau vicinity in the mid-19th century. Hutoitoi and others would periodically travel between Ōraka ‘Colac Bay’ in Western Southland and Whakatipu Waitai ‘Martins Bay’, a remote destination on today’s Hollyford Track. On the way to and from visiting the kaika at Martins Bay they would hunt birds, including visiting a valley “at the back of” Lake Te Anau, which was said to be the only place they found and hunted the takahē. Analysis of Takahe Valley bird bones showing signs of having been processed or eaten, has identified a range of bird species which appear to have been hunted there. These include kiwi, kākāpō, and in earlier times moa (dated to the mid-14th century; O’Regan 2007:102), but interestingly no takahē. Whether or not Takahe Valley was the actual valley where the ancestors hunted takahē, I believe they would have roamed throughout the whole area and visited this valley too. Takahē were evidently still plentiful in the area in Hutoitoi’s time as he is recorded as describing how as very inquisitive birds takahē were attracted to a fire, and if one was caught and cried out, it would then bring the rest of their group of perhaps 12 to 20 takahē within close reach where they could be easily caught too (Beattie 1949:78).

While there were a number of unconfirmed early-20th century sightings (Reid 1974), the takahē was generally presumed to be extinct when, in 1948, Dr Geoffery Orbell made national and world headlines by ‘rediscovering’ their existence in Takahe Valley. Following quickly upon this discovery, Dominion Museum director and ornithologist, Dr RA Falla, led an Expedition into the Valley in 1949. Most of the contents of the boxes I looked at were collected on Dr Falla’s 1949 expedition. Canterbury Museum hold the other main Takahe Valley assemblage. The taonga are remarkably well preserved having been found in two limestone rock shelters. Check out Falla’s re-enactment of the finding of a paraerae ‘woven sandal’ at one of the rock shelters in the film.  Here is a selection of a few of the taonga:

 

Length of harakeke with bird snare slip knot on end, ME006611. This would probably have been attached to the end of a long stick when in use

Length of harakeke with bird snare slip knot on end, ME006611. This would probably have been attached to the end of a long stick when in use

 

Bunch of weka feathers, ME006592, possibly used as a lure for attracting inquisitive birds, such as takahē and weka

Bunch of weka feathers, ME006592, possibly used as a lure for attracting inquisitive birds, such as takahē and weka

 

Waniwani (fire making stick) from Takahe Valley, ME006596

Waniwani (fire making stick) from Takahe Valley, ME006596

 

Knotted ‘artwork’, possibly made from a bird snare

Knotted ‘artwork’, possibly made from a bird snare

 

I must sincerely thank fellow Ōraka-Aparima Rūnaka member Kyle Davis for his research inquiry into Te Papa’s holdings of Takahe Valley material. Without Kyle’s inquiry it probably would have been quite some time before I looked into those boxes again. And would you know it? After about an hour of carefully examining and listing all the contents of the boxes I got to the last one, opened it, and found an inventory inside listing everything. Never mind, the opportunity to reconnect with these taonga was well worth the effort, and it gave me the idea of doing this blog to give others a look too.

Whakapapa:

Aperahama Hutoitoi [referred to by Pākehā as Abraham; d. circa 1870]
|
Kopare Wikitoria Hutoitoi
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Nani Tura
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Albert Waipapa ‘Sonny’ Austin (toku poua / grandfather)

 

References:

Beattie, H., 1949, The Maoris and Fiordland, Dunedin, Otago Daily Times and Witness Newspapers Co.

Duff, R., 1952, Recent Maori Occupation of Notornis Valley, Te Anau, Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol.61.

O’Regan, G., 2007, “Bird Remains from Takahe Valley (D42/1), Fiordland, New Zealand: A New Appreciation of the Site.” New Zealand Journal of Archaeology 28: 83-108.

Reid, B., 1974, Sightings And Records Of The Takahe (Noternis mantelli) Prior To Its “Official Rediscovery”, In Notornis, Journal of the Ornithological society of New Zealand, Vol.21, Part 4.

4 Responses

  1. Gerry Findlay

    Hello,I used to work for NZ Wildlife Service . I collected field data for the Takahe field research program through out the Murcheson Mts Fiordland during the 1970s.
    Regards the Takahe valley, I once passed the rock shelter and remember noticing the then remaining faint outline of rock drawings. One such has always remained in memory;..It depicted the ‘winged birdman’ amongst others. I have since learnt more about the meaning of this art work, and would be intrigued to see earlier photos taken of it.?
    I worked for Dr Jim Mills (The lead Takahe field program scientist based in Wellington for NZWS) .
    When first science visits investigated Takahe valley rock shelter site eg; (Dr RA Falla party visits ..late 1940s-early 1950s) did they photograph/record such rock drawings? Would really like to view them as they should depict best definition/art condition.
    Any assistance to my enquirie would be most appreciated please
    Mr Gerry Findlay mobile;022 0655087

    Reply
    • Dougal Austin; Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu; Curator, Tāonga Tūturu 19-20th Century

      Kia ora Gerry,

      I don’t know if Fella recorded the rock art on their visit into Takahe Valley, however it’s possible. I think the best person to assist you would be Amanda Symon, Rock Art Curator, for the Ngai Tahu Rock Art Trust: Amanda Symon

      Nga mihi
      Dougal

  2. Alistair Fraser

    Thanks for this story and information. Many years ago I kayaked to Takahe Valley and was blown away by its natural beauty. Now Im keen to return!

    Reply
    • Dougal Austin; Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu; Curator, Tāonga Tūturu 19-20th Century

      I would love to make it there myself one day. Kyle Davis led a hikoi into Takahe Valley earlier this year for runanga members to reconnect with this special area and to check rock art in some of the rock shelters. Unfortunately I was unable to make it on that occasion.

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