Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On the Edge of a Stream

I drive by these poupou (poles) several times a week and have been doing so for years. I finally stopped recently to take photographs and then set about the marathon task of trying to find out who had created them and why. Thanks to the helpful team in the Transport and Greenspace Unit of Christchurch City Council, I now have the details. Firstly, the location – a small clearing beside the Otakaro (Avon) River, near the Barbadoes Cemetery where Barbadoes and Salisbury Streets meet Cambridge Terrace. Now called Cambridge Green, the area was created to highlight an area of cultural and historical significance, which, like other areas along Otakaro, has great importance to the local iwi and hapu, Ngai Tahu and Te Ngai Tuahuriri. Of particular interest is Saint Mary’s Stream, which flows into the Otakaro at this point.
The junction of St Mary’s Stream and the Otakaro was once the site of Puari Pa, home to the chief, Tautahi after whom, Otautahi/Christchurch is named. According to library records too, it is thought that this spot is where Tautahi married Waitaha princess, Te Auru in the 18th century, consolidating bonds between the Maori families of Kaiapoi and Koukourarata (Port Levy, Banks Peninsular); and between Ngai Tahu and Waitaha. The sacred waters of the stream were said to have been used to bless this union - Maori believed the wairua (spirit) of the water had healing powers and it was often used by tohunga.
The Otakaro was also an important source of food for the people of the Puari Pa. They gathered tuna (eels), inaka/inanga (whitebait), Kokopu (native trout), koukoupara (cocabullies), parera (grey duck) and putakitaki (Paradise shelducks) from its waters and banks; and harakeke (flax), which grew well along its banks, was used for weaving clothing and mats and making ropes. It’s interesting to stand on this quiet site today and contemplate what life might have been like in that busy pa. The waters of the stream now form a pool on one side of the small green before flowing into the Otakaro.
The three large poupou have been erected here as an acknowledgement of the historical importance of the site. They were originally commissioned by Di Menzes and purchased by the Hagley/Ferrymead Community Board. They were created by tohuka whakairo (master carver) George Edwards, (Ngai Tahu) of Wairewa, who has created a number of handsome works for many organisations, including the impressive Pouhake at Nga Hau e Wha National Marae, here in Christchurch. On consultation with Reverend Maurice Manawaroa Gray, Upoko (Chairman) of Te Runaka ki Otautahi, Ngai Tahu, it was decided the poupou needed plinths to tie them to the ground. These were subsequently designed and created by the City Council City Solutions team and the Maori designs on them were created by Paula Rigby, Maori Arts Advisor, Christchurch City Council. The three poupou represent the three waves of migration to Christchurch and were installed on site in August 2005. The site has a Wahi Tapu registration with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and has received a Christchurch Star Heritage Award. Which all sets me to thinking just how much more enriched our knowledge of ‘our place’ can and ought to be. There’s something special and intangible about standing on a spot that once teemed with a different history, with a vibrant life now layered over by time.

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