Terry Ryan M.B.E., J.P.
Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu
Tī Kōuka, a symbol for our city
Imagine a distant past where the mist and fog shrouded flatlands, spreading out towards the sea, rich with bird and water life.
There were few landmarks emerging from the mists of what was then essentially swampland. If the hills were obscured by weather there was no way of knowing where you were. That is if it were not for the tī kōuka (cabbage trees) that were carefully planted in significant places to mark out routes across the land like green spiky beacons.
Tī kōuka were prized trees for the Māori of Te Wai Pounamu. Aside from their use as navigational markers, they provided the favoured fibre for fishing due to superior strength and the kōuru or new shoots were an important source of protein in a land where kūmara was difficult if not impossible to grow.
The site of the ancient Waitaha pā, Puari on the banks of Ōtākaro (Avon River) is home to a very old stand of cabbage trees that cluster together in an enduring circle. These trees are the mokopuna (grandchildren) of a great tī kōuka who grew in their place before them. These mokopuna today mark out the circumference of the ancient tree from which they sprung. They are a living memorial to their ancestor.
The growth pattern of the tī kōuka mirrors the concept of whakapapa and the connectedness of tribal and local history. Our ancestors are closer to us than we may think. The land around us is imbued with their histories. While we cannot go back, we can learn from those who were here before us. Our present is formed out of our past. In turn, our future is born of our present.
A greater understanding of the important places of our past will nurture us and our futures.
In the depths of winter in the low lying areas of Christchurch it is not hard to recall that our city was originally a swamp.
That was its attraction to Māori, for the sprawl of wetlands that linked Kaiapoi to Christchurch and extended out to Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) provided abundant food sources and defensive positions.
Christchurch and the wider Canterbury region has a vibrant past of which few people are aware. There are only minimal visual reminders of any history prior to colonial settlement. However as this website will enable you to discover, we have a rich and intriguing past that extends back many hundreds of years before 1850.
Increasing awareness and knowledge of this past is the primary aim of this website. We hope that it will enrich your understanding of your surroundings and enhance your current perceptions of the city in which we live.
There are many sites of significance found throughout Ōtautahi (Christchurch City), Horomaka (Banks Peninsula) and the wider Canterbury region. This website will provide some insights into a selection of these places.
Using Tī Kōuka Whenua
A number of pages have sound files where you can listen to excerpts of interviews with people with special knowledge of the places. There are two options:
- mp3 which has the advantage of being able to be played by a wide range of players / devices.
- Real Audio which has the advantage of being significantly smaller (faster to download) but requires the free RealPlayer.
While all information has been carefully sourced, we understand that there may be areas of difference in people's knowledge or understanding of some of the sites documented.
We welcome feedback, contributions, corrections and additions to the information we currently hold.
Respect Our Cultural Heritage
Many places in Ōtautahi have a spiritual and historical significance.
Treat these places with consideration and respect.
Toitū te whenua ~ Leave the land undisturbed.