The second taonga in this series is a tekoteko that stood above the whare tupuna (ancestral house) at Tawhitinui, opposite and upstream from Rānana on the Whanganui River.
Carved in the 1880s by Whanganui tohunga whakairo (carving experts) Hōri Pukehika and Te Ture Poutama, it contains a feature that indicates that this particular tupuna (ancestor) is from Whanganui.
The tupuna has knees bent and pointed distinctively inward, a common practice adopted by Whanganui Māori when standing on a waka. This stance helps to steady the person and the waka when poling or paddling up and down the awa, especially through rapids or if carrying a heavy load.
Māori regard the awa (river) as a tupuna. She cares for the people and the wider region, and her wellbeing is precious to people.
The awa is an important feature of the region, providing food and water, travel, inspiration, spiritual grounding, medicine, education and recreation. Whanganui Māori are well known for their skill on the river, including the manufacture of intricate systems of eel weirs and fish traps.
However it was their strong mastery of waka that it reflected when carving someone of the area.
It is believed that Kupe, the legendary Polynesian explorer, came to Aotearoa sometime between 700 and 925 AD.
During his exploration of the islands he stopped at Whanganui and left some mōkai (pets) near the Whanganui River mouth while he ventured upriver, seeking to lay claim to this bountiful area. He saw, however, home fires burning on the banks and turned back, realising the land was already settled.
Some say the awa was named Whanganui, because the mōkai that Kupe left at the river mouth almost died waiting for him to return. Others say that the name was given by Haunui-a-Nanaia of the waka Kurahaupō, who, pursuing his adulterous partner and her new love, had to cross a "great harbour". Both versions are plausible: whanga can mean "wait" or "harbour" and nui means "big" or "great".
There are a number of notable tūpuna who helped to settle the area. They descend from tūpuna such as Ruatipua, Paerangi and Rauru.
Turi sailed his waka, the Aotea, to Pātea and his children's explorations discovered the earlier inhabitants. Pāpārangi arrived aboard the Aotea, gave his name to the iwi of the river, and his children also settled with the earlier inhabitants.
Hinengākau, Tamaūpoko and Tūpoho are the children of Tamakehu and his first wife Ruaka, and they settled on the upper, middle, and lower stretches of the river respectively and are the connecting tūpuna of most of the people of the awa.
Another important tupuna was Tamatea-pōkai-whenua, a famous explorer and grandson of Tamatea Arikinui, captain of the waka Tākitimu.
When Tamatea-pōkai-whenua arrived at the river mouth, he sent one of his men ashore to find harakeke (NZ flax) to bind his topknot, his pūtiki.
The harakeke broke three times, a significant omen, causing the area to become known as Te Pūtiki-wharanui-a-Tamatea-pōkai-whenua, more widely known as Pūtiki.
The river stretches from the central plateau to the coast and has been home to some 80 pā and kainga (village) sites, so was a popular travel route for many iwi.
The genealogical history of the awa peoples also include Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Ihingārangi of Tainui waka, Ngāti Tūwharetoa of Te Arawa waka, Ngāti Apa of Kurahaupō waka and Ngā Rauru of Te Kāhui Rere.
The river played a vital role in the Māori settlement of the area and was pivotal to the people's way of life, so much so, it influenced their carvings as seen here. The well-known pepeha (saying) of the awa encapsulates the importance of the awa to the people:
E rere kau mai te awa nui mai i te Kāhui Maunga ki Tangaroa,
Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au.
The mighty river flows from the mountains to the sea,
I am the river and the river is me.
Āwhina Twomey is Kaitiaki Taonga Māori and Kaiwhakaako Māori at Whanganui Regional Museum.