Taranaki Maunga, and the women behind Matariki

Aotearoa New Zealand continues to move towards greater official recognition of the unique status of Māori culture as the original culture of this land. Two recent examples of this trend relate to matters I’ve previously discussed here.

On Friday last week, the Treaty of Waitangi settlement relating to Taranaki Maunga was initialled by representatives of the iwi of Taranaki and of the Crown. If ratified by iwi members and then enacted through legislation, the settlement will recognise Taranaki Maunga and the surrounding peaks and national park as a legal person, Te Kāhui Tupua, whose interests will be represented by an entity made up of iwi and Crown representatives.

As lead iwi negotiator Jamie Tuuta and Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Andrew Little both noted, the settlement will see the name Egmont finally disappear from the map. Egmont will no longer be an official name for the maunga (mountain), which will be known solely as Taranaki Maunga, nor will it be the name of the national park, whose name will change to Te Papakura o Taranaki.

In a speech outlining aspects of the settlement, Andrew Little drew attention to the history behind the restoration of the name of Taranaki Maunga:

It was people in Taranaki who drove the effort to officially add the name Taranaki alongside Egmont [in 1986].

Those efforts generated enormous controversy. It seems that at different points in time all of us have worried about what changing our mountain’s name could mean for us, our heritage, our region and our country.

I discussed that controversy and the successful campaign to have Taranaki recognised as the name of the maunga in a recent journal article. Restoration of the name of the maunga is only part, though an important part, of the long struggle of the iwi of Taranaki to undo the harms caused by the Crown’s confiscation of the maunga.

At the moment, the official name of the maunga is still that recognised in 1986: ‘Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont‘. More than one person has told me that the name of the maunga has already been changed to Taranaki Maunga, perhaps because of news reporting in late 2019 that suggested the name change would happen the following year. Official place names can only be changed in two ways: through a decision of the New Zealand Geographic Board or the Minister for Land Information under the New Zealand Geographic Board (Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa) Act 2008, or by legislation (most commonly, legislation implementing a Treaty settlement). Neither of these two avenues have yet been used to change the official name of the maunga to Taranaki Maunga.

When the name of the maunga is finally changed by legislation, the name will break new ground by being completely in Māori: ‘Taranaki Maunga’, not ‘Mount Taranaki’. This will be another significant step forward for the recognition of te reo Māori and of Māori connection with place.

Another important recent development has been the decision to celebrate Matariki, the Māori new year, with a new national holiday. The second annual Matariki holiday will be coming up in a few months, and just last week Professor Rangi Matamua, a key figure in the modern revival of Matariki, was named New Zealander of the Year. Professor Matamua has done an enormous amount, through his research and his book Matariki: The Star of the Year, to better inform Aotearoa about Matariki and Māori astronomical knowledge.

The media inevitably likes to focus on particular individuals when telling stories about developments like the revival of Matariki, and Professor Matamua has been described in the media as ‘the man behind Matariki’. This, of course, is not Professor Matamua’s description of himself, and it take nothing away from his achievements to note that the growing public recognition of Matariki has been a collective achievement of many people, starting around the mid-1990s. I discussed some of this history here. It’s only right to celebrate some of the wāhine Māori behind Matariki as well, such as:

  • the artist Diane Prince, who was a key figure in starting the modern celebration of Matariki in Wellington in 1995
  • the broadcaster and film-maker Libby Hakaraia, who published Matariki: The Māori New Year in 2004
  • Māori Party MP Rāhui Kātene, whose Te Rā o Matariki/Matariki Day Bill in 2009 was an earlier, unsuccessful attempt to create a Matariki public holiday.

This is a very partial and somewhat Wellington-centric list. A revival of Matariki seems to have happened in Hawke’s Bay independently of that in Wellington, for example, and there will have been women and men throughout Aotearoa who contributed to the increasing public presence of Matariki. It’s worth remembering that any campaign, whether for restoration of the name of a maunga or recognition of an indigenous seasonal festival, is the work of many individuals.