With the burial sites of many tupuna no longer known, a group of Northlanders have digitally recorded the names and burial places of 750 people who have died so whanau will always know where they lie.
Delaraine Armstrong, Betty Cherrington, Matiu Prime, Alan Campion and Kris Clark of Te Orewai, a hapu of Ngati Hine in Pipiwai and Kaikou, have been using GIS (geographical information system) mapping to digitally mark the burial sites of tupuna (ancestors) buried at three of the largest wahi tapu (cemeteries) and a number of smaller ones within their tribal area.
Ms Armstrong said the project kicked off in November last year and so far they had recorded about 750 names. But there are many graves which are no longer visible and remain unknown - for situations like this the group rely on whanau to come forward with information.
"While we have some maps on rolls of wall paper which were created and maintained by whanau over the past 30 to 40 years, there are earlier graves in our wahi tapu which are now unknown. For this reason, we wanted to have a permanent, accessible record for whanau now and in the future to know exactly who and where loved ones are buried."
Their solution was to digitise the records by creating a database of names, dates of birth and death as they are written on the grave and a photo of the grave marker if possible.
The group decided to use the GIS Cloud application after they won second prize in a competition run by the company last year and as a result were given enough licences for the application for all five data collectors. Ms Armstrong said usually a licence is about $500.
Ms Armstrong said in the past recording the names, dates and mapping the wahi tapu was assigned to particular people in the hapu.
"However, with the movement of whanau from the 'kainga' in Pipiwai and Kaikou to town, or Auckland, Hamilton or further afield to Australia and elsewhere, that job has not been picked up by anyone else. The records are sometimes lost in the move away from Te Orewai. It is important that we maintain the records."
Ms Armstrong said she hopes whanau would contribute information so that data collectors can add whakapapa (genealogy) to a marker.
She said this was not the first time GIS mapping has been married with cultural tikanga.
She said she was first introduced to it through Nga Tirairaka o Ngati Hine, the environmental body for Ngati Hine, where it was used to map and monitor tribal waterways and in other environmental applications. It has also been used to map Treaty claims.