1. Home
  2. Media
  3. Story Library
  4. Ngāi Tahu revitalises indigenous culture through digital technology

Ngāi Tahu revitalises indigenous culture through digital technology

7 August 2018

South Island iwi Ngāi Tahu has created an innovative Māori atlas as a way of bringing indigenous place names to life.

The digital resource, Kā Huru Manu, uses geographical information system technology to provide an iwi perspective on Te Waipounamu (the South Island) through an online interactive map.

It acknowledges the traditional place names of Ngāi Tahu, who made their home in Te Waipounamu over 800 years ago.

Staff at Ngāi Tahu’s tribal organisation, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, spent more than ten years working with Ngāi Tahu marae communities throughout the South Island researching and mapping more than 5,000 indigenous Māori place names.

More than 1000 of these place names have been uploaded to the publicly available Kā Huru Manu website, as well as a selection of traditional travel routes and the original Māori reserves within the Ngāi Tahu rohe.

Kā Huru Manu project leader Takerei Norton says a huge amount of work went into researching each place name as it had to be referenced and then validated by the local marae.

Information came from whānau manuscripts, published books, 19th century maps, newspaper articles and a vast range of unpublished material including oral histories from kaumatua.

“It was a very thorough process of working through a variety of information sources. We held numerous hui at different marae where we spent several days mapping place names. I don’t think people understand the amount of effort that goes into recording just one place name,” Norton says.

Having worked on the project since the beginning, he says the biggest surprise was the amount of “hidden history” the project unearthed.

“The whole Canterbury region is full of Māori place names. The density of our traditional Māori place names throughout the island is quite astounding.”

Norton says Ngāi Tahu started using geographical information system technology to record sites of significance in 2007, and then in 2012 the iwi put forward the idea of creating a digital atlas.

He and his team then went about building a unique place names database that was linked to the iwi mapping system.

Norton says Kā Huru Manu will become the “authoritative source” on Ngāi Tahu place names and history in the South Island, and over time these place names will become “normalised” throughout New Zealand society.

“We have built the foundation for future generations to build on. This work will only get stronger as technology evolves.”

Kā Huru Manu has already become an important educational tool for iwi members and the public. Schools, museums, libraries, and domestic and overseas visitors have also taken an interest. So far over 20,000 people have accessed Kā Huru Manu to improve their understanding of Ngāi Tahu history.

Kā Huru Manu was not modelled on any other systems but “it is a template that could be applied throughout the world”, Norton says.

“We have had amazing feedback from everyone, and a lot of interest from other iwi. We have built a model that could be altered to suit the needs and aspirations for other indigenous people.

“To keep our culture alive, we’ve got to keep adapting and using new technologies.

“This is ultimately about making Ngāi Tahu knowledge much more accessible for Ngāi Tahu people, but that doesn’t mean to say we can’t share it with others as well.”

  • Media newsletter

    Sign up to our newsletter for regular updates on what's new in Christchurch and Canterbury.

    Email: Joy Sajamark

  • Visit Us

    We encourage New Zealand and international travel and lifestyle media to visit and experience our wonderful region year-round.