Māwhera Pā to tell stories of Poutini Ngāi Tahu

13 December 2023


The new centre named Māwhera Pā is the first of four hubs telling the stories of Poutini Ngāi Tahu on the South Island's West Coast.

The Pounamu Pathway was created in partnership between Poutini Ngāi Tahu and Wētā Workshop and follows the history of the explorers, traders, guardians, and pioneers who made their homes on the West Coast/Te Tai o Poutini.

Pounamu Pathway chief executive Toko Kapea said it had been a special privilege to bring the stories - which many people on the West Coast may not have heard - to life.

"From a Poutini Ngāi Tahu perspective it's just giving them a platform and another opportunity to share their stories, share their voice," Kapea said.

The most important part of the process was making sure the facts were tika, or correct he said. To that end Pounamu Pathway have been meeting with writers from Wētā Workshop for more than a year and a half.

Kapea said the centres would give tourists a reason to stay a little longer and visit other attractions on the coast.

"We just want to be part of the community. One of the small things we made a call on was not to have a cafe in the exhibition because there are coffee places within a hundred meters of the whare, so we said we're not here to compete, we're here to bring people in so they come and visit other businesses."

Alongside the stories of Poutini Ngāi Tahu tīpuna, visitors to Māwhera Pā will also learn about Ngāi Tahu's treaty settlement, fishermen navigating the hazardous bar, Chinese gold miners, signing the Arahura Deed, British whalers, and kawakawa pounamu.

"They're actually going to be transported into another world for a good 45 [minutes] to an hour and a half, it's so exciting. [At the launch] we had people coming out and they were just sort of standing there looking going 'I think I'll come back next week to see it again'," Kapea said.

"One person didn't come out for like an hour and a half - two hours and we said 'Jeez we thought we'd lost you in there'."

A hyper-realistic figure of Tūhuru.

A hyper-realistic figure of Tūhuru. Photo: Supplied / Atawhai Creative

Māwhera Pā is divided into five 'whare' each of which explores a different theme of the Pounamu Pathway.

One whare showcases the hyper-realistic figure of Tūhuru, a warrior chief of Poutini Ngāi Tahu.

Wētā Workshop creative director Andrew Thomas said even Tūhuru's kahukiwi, his cloak, was 2 by 3 metres in size.

"Everything is big, larger then life. In fact Tūhuru was said [to be] 7 foot tall anyway so then with our large scale figures that really helped enhance and sort of anchor his presence, his mana physically and spiritually in the space."

Thomas said it was a challenge to bring Tūhuru to life without photographs so they used photos of his descendants as a basis for his physical features.

Someone at Māwhera Pā.

Photo: Supplied / Atawhai Creative

Another 'whare' at the Greymouth centre features a soundscape of the battles fought across Te Tai o Poutini.

"The [battle whare] is a pretty kick-ass space. Very visceral and dramatic, it's a big audio immersive storytelling experience, like the coolest most dramatic podcast or radio play you could ever experience," Thomas said.

Wētā Workshop creative lead Rehua Wilson said it was a big draw to work on a local project in Aotearoa.

"It's a different scale, so we've got various scales of projects as well, like the Dubai expo overseas but this is a bit more intimate in a way," she said.

It was rewarding to feel peoples responses and reactions to seeing their tīpuna once the project was completed, she said.

"One of the most rewarding things is being able to unveil what we've been working on for so long and see those reactions and the connections that they're making with the installations that we've designed."

The next Pounamu Pathway hub at the Museum of Kawatiri in Westport, is set to open late January 2024. With a primary focus on coal, gold, and pounamu, and cultural significance of these precious resources.

It will be followed by two more hubs in Haast and Hokitika which will be opened in the middle of next year and in 2025 respectively.

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