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Iwi Perspective
Kakapo track

The predominant Maori tribe of New Zealand's South Island, Ngai Tahu, has strong cultural, spiritual and traditional associations with the kakapo.

Here Ngai Tahu recounts its history of the bird - which is illustrative of the relationship that Maori throughout New Zealand once had with the kakapo.

Kakapo - A taonga (treasured species) of Ngai Tahu

Every year, family groups of Ngai Tahu spent time inland gathering and hunting seasonal food resources. On these journeys they followed a network of trails that linked places for gathering food. These places were called mahinga kai, and they stretched from the mountain haunts of the kakapo to the sea. The seasonal journeys to mahinga kai became pivotal to the way of life in Te Waipounamu (South Island).

Each trail was memorised as a sequence of named landmarks, river systems, and resting places, each with stories that connected them to ancestors and tribal history.

On these journeys, Maori took advantage of the mating behaviour of the kakapo by hunting them during the summer months.

Ngai Tahu generally hunted the birds with dogs and, once caught, the kakapo were usually plucked or skinned before eating.

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Others were preserved in their own fat in wooden baskets made out of the inner bark of the totara tree or delicate containers made out of kelp. Bunches of kakapo tail feathers were attached to the containers to identify the contents and provide attractive decoration.

The kakapo skins, with feathers intact, were used to make beautiful green dress-capes and cloaks. Sometimes the feathers were individually woven into the cloaks, and the skins were softened and used to fashion chiefly garments for the wives and daughters of the leading chiefs. A very high value was placed on these garments.

Today some of these beautiful capes and cloaks still exist and Ngai Tahu refer to them as taonga, or treasures, that have been handed down through the generations and thereby link them to their ancestors of the past. Even today when someone complains about being cold they will often be given the response;

"Me kauhi Ranei koe ki te huruhuru Kakapo, pu mai o te taonga?"

"Shall I cover you with the feathers of the Kakapo, heaped up here from the south?"

The New Zealand Government, through the Department of Conservation, acknowledges the association of Ngai Tahu with the kakapo by consulting them when making policy decisions concerning the protection, management, or conservation of the kakapo.

Through the Ngai Tahu Deed of Settlement, Ngai Tahu also has a representative on the Department's Kakapo Recovery Programme.


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