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Exploring Pūrākau: Ka makamaka o Makāti

Photo: Marie Dunn

Back home, all the way down in Murihiku, along the winding dirt and gravel road to our house, there stands in the middle of the headlands a lonesome boulder. It’s part of the landscape to me, I’ve been witness to it my entire life. But the more you think about it, the more strange and mysterious it becomes. How on earth did this giant rock get all the way out here, in the middle of this cliff edge? It’s surrounded by green grass, not another pebble in sight save for the road. It’s a curious boulder, seemingly made up of smaller rocks all crushed together.

To our family, this boulder is affectionately called “Makāti’s Rock”, or in Māori, ka makamaka o Makāti. When describing ka makamaka o Makāti, my nana found herself somewhat puzzled. She hesitated to use the word tapu, as it was something you could touch. In fact, it’s tradition in our family to climb on top of the boulder as soon as you’re big enough to stand on your own two feet. But she knew its significance. It wasn’t until I was much older, long after my nana has passed, that my sister and I found a tape recording of an interview given by my nana, where she told the story of ka makamaka o Makāti. It was listening to this story that I first learnt the pūrākau of how ka makamaka o Makāti came to be.

Makāti, the Māori name for Chaslands Mistake, is named for a Kāti Māmoe tipuna Makāti. On the headland lived Maero, hairy giants who would hide in the forest. Every time we walk along the beach to the mouth of the Waipātiki river, I always keep my eye out for the giants footprint in the rock, imagining what he must have done to leave such an impression in the solid rock. According to the pūrākau, Makāti was a bit of a troublemaker, taunting the Maero at any chance he got. The Maero would often throw boulders at Makāti to get him to stop his mischief. It is through this that ka makamaka o Makāti came to be, one of the boulders thrown at Makāti to get him to stop his nonsense.

My nana lived in a small hut at Makāti when she was a little girl with her mother and father. My great grandmother used to tell her the story of the Maero and Makāti, and she used to wonder what it would have been like to live through those stories. Now I imagine what it must have been like to be there hearing those stories with my nana, tucked in bed in the old tin hut, listening to the waves crash on the beach as her mother told the frightening stories. My nana’s granny was known to have supressed her own Māori tuakiri, refusing to pass te reo down to her children, despite being fluent in the te reo Māori dialect spoken in Murihiku. My great grandmother only discussed things Māori when she was at Makāti, passing down these important stories to her daughter. Clearly the landscape at Makāti played an important part in her Māori identity.

My nana left behind a vast collection of writings, detailing the whānau occupation at Makāti and sharing the stories like ka makamaka o Makāti that make up our whakapapa. It is this writing that is forming the basis of my Master’s thesis, exploring the connection between Kāti Māmoe/Kāi Tahu identity and the landscape in Murihiku. When I come back to Makāti, I feel the connection to my tūpuna. Not just to Makāti for whom the landscape is named, but to all those who came before and after him. The landscape of Makāti is directly related to my identity as a Māori woman, as it was for my nana and her mother. These pūrākau help me to further strengthen this connection, and help me understand what this place has seen. The landscape can’t speak to us directly, but I think these pūrākau come pretty close.


Mō te Kaituhi:

Marie Dunn Kāti Māmoe/Kāi Tahu

Studies a Masters of Arts in Archaeology at the University of Otago.


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