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