Redneck fears over naming move

By Yvonne Tahana

Geographic Board consulting on plans to assign alternative Maori names to North and South Islands.

The South Island's Maori name Te Waipounamu refers to the greenstone rock found there. Photo / Greg Bowker
The South Island's Maori name Te Waipounamu refers to the greenstone rock found there. Photo / Greg Bowker

Cultural commentators hope for a reasoned debate on a move to recognise alternative names for both the North and South Islands - but one says it's likely to bring out pedants and rednecks.

The Geographic Board is publicly consulting on proposals to assign official alternative names to the two main islands - Te Ika a Maui for the North and Te Waipounamu for the South. The first refers to demi-god Maui's act of fishing up the North Island while the second is a reference to that island's greenstone.

Ngai Tahu's Tahu Potiki said Te Waipounamu was the most commonly used term by Maori in the South although there were other names such as Te Waahipounamu, Arapawa, Mahunui, Te Waka a Aoraki, Te Waka a Maui.

"It'll bring all the pedants out of the bloody provinces is all. It'll probably draw out a few rednecks as well but I think it's a nice idea."

Overall, he thought most Kiwis would be supportive even though every name change debate could be painful.

"Some will feel it's a cultural affront to even raise the issue but how often do you even hear Mt Egmont [for Mt Taranaki] these days. People have moved on."

Labour MP Rino Tirikatene, whose Te Tai Tonga electorate boundaries extends across the South Island, said he hoped the changes would be straightforward, but there was the possibility the debate could degenerate into racism.

"But North and South are pretty bland names when you've got the beauty in the history and the stories behind those [Te Waipounamu and Te Ika a Maui] names.

"So hopefully there will be an opportunity for everyone to have their say ..."

Glenis Philip-Barbara, chief executive of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori, the Maori Language Commission, said she supported the move.

If the changes are made the English or Maori name or both names together could be used officially.

Looking into name history

Christchurch carpenter Keith Darroch, 61, has had stints of learning Samoan, te reo Maori and Mandarin.

The 61-year-old Pakeha New Zealander, who is passionate about history, made the original application to the New Zealand Geographic Board to have Te Waipounamu recognised as an official name for the South Island.

It led to the board widening the issue to include looking at an appropriate Maori alternative for the North Island.

He made the application after researching how the name Aotearoa was used during the 19th century - his evidence suggesting Sir George Grey first applied it to both of the islands. After that, Percy Smith's version of the Kupe discovery of New Zealand, which was published in the School Journal popularised Aotearoa as a name for both, he argues.

But in terms of the written record, Maori newspapers such as Te Hokio, which published in the 1860s, made it clear that Maori used Aotearoa for the North Island while Te Waipounamu was used for the South.

Mr Darroch wanted recognition of that "truth". "Te Waipounamu is not Aotearoa; that's another place."

New Zealanders shouldn't feel threatened by the potential change, he said. "We should just grow up. This is a multicultural country. Some things are appropriately Maori, end of story."

Suggestions

Geographic Board suggests:
North Island - Te Ika a Maui
South Island - Te Waipounamu
Maori have known the islands as:
Alternative place names for Te Waipounamu: Te Waka a Maui, for Te Ika a Maui: Aotearoa
Other names the North Island has been known as:
New Ulster
Other names the South Island has been known as:
New Munster, Middle Island

Source: Basil Keane, Ministry of Culture and Heritage

- NZ Herald

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