Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pounamu, Pounamu, Where For Art Thou Pounamu?

Block of pounamu found in the Arahura River a few years ago. It's about the size of a tire. I don't think I would be able to lift it. Pounamu is extremely heavy!

When I went to the Te Papa Museum in Wellington, there was an exhibit there about the main Iwi of the South Island, the Ngai Tahu. The exhibit was very interesting and what caught my eye most of all was the pounamu or greenstone, which is only found in the South Island. The South Island is called in Maori - Te Wai Pounamu, which means The Land of Greenstone Water. Wai, meaning water and Te meaning the. I would directly translate it as the The Water Pounamu, or the Pounamu water (land of).

I found the name of the river which pounamu comes from, the Arahura River. I decided that I would try to find my way there and see if anyone would be willing to show me how to find pounamu.

I knew that the river was privately owned and was to find out that it was owned by Mawhera Incorporation, a Maori landowners trust. I went to the iSite in Westport to find out how to contact people to visit the Arahura. I was given the number to the company and was warned that I might not have much luck. I called regardless and was questioned by Mika Mason, a prominent character in the Maori community in the South Island. When I explained my reasons for wanting to visit the river, I was given the name of a woman, Jo Tootle, who would take me to the river bed and show me around.

I was really excited and recognized how blessed I was to be able to visit the Arahura.

The Arahura River Bed

Mountains above the Arahura

So on Tuesday I was picked up by Jo and we joined up with her cousin, Nathalie and another friend Marge, to go on a girls' outing up the Arahura. We had a great day!

To give you a little bit of background, I'd like to paraphrase the legend of Poutini. This tells us the story of why pounamu is found in this river.

Poutini is a protective spirit who swims up and down the West Coast of the South Island, protecting people and the essence of pounamu. One day, while hiding from his enemy Whatipu (the god of sandstone), he came upon a beautiful woman who was bathing in the sea. Her name was Waitaiki. He kidnapped her and took her from the North Island down to the Arahura River (west coast of the South Island). Along the way, he stopped in different regions, lighting fires to keep her warm (these sites are now known to have valuable stones such as obsidian, flint,basalt, argillite, bowenite jade (in the South Island) and "floater" stones...most of these stones were used as tools in Pre-European history in New Zealand).

In the meantime, Waitaiki's husband, Tamaahua discovered that she was missing and went in pursuit of them to get her back. When he got to the Arahura, the water was warm and he knew he was in the right place. Poutini, knowing that he could not beat Tamaahua in a battle, turned Waitaiki into his own essence, pounamu, at the top of the Arahura River. He figured, if he couldn't have her, no one would. He himself slipped downstream, past Tamaahua and out into the sea. Ever since Poutini resides along the coast, the guardian spirit of the land and its pounamu.

When Tamaahua found Waitaiki, she was a gray-green smooth greenstone (this type of greenstone is called inanga). He wept for her and named the mountains around her after his island home Tuhua and after himself, Tamaahua, so that she would know where she came from. He returned home, remarried and had lots of kids.

Since that time, every spring, pieces of pounamu break off from Waitaiki and flow down the river. These are her children, or uri. (This story I got from Jo, it was narrated by Tipene O'Regan; I have paraphrased it and written it up here)

So we went on the lookout for her children. I thought every green stone I found was pounamu, but I was wrong! Jo and Nathalie are very knowledgeable and could tell pounamu apart from other green stones. Below, our outing!
(I made a mistake while filming and said the river was owned by the Ngai Tahu, when in fact it's owned by Mawhera Incorporation).

Nathalie found a piece of pounamu

Below: The tikanga, or correct way of doing things

Below: On the hunt

Can you spot the pounamu?

In the summertime people actually walk in the water, it's easier to find pounamu when it's wet because the green is brighter. It was too cold to do that here, though my boots did get wet!

Below: Bed of...

Below: Say hello to the Weka!

After our outing, Jo invited me back to her place for dinner. We had smoked eel for dinner! (this was one of the dishes on my list of things to eat while in the South Island). As it was being cooked, the smell was very strong. I wondered whether I would like it. But when we sat down to eat, it was delicious! The only time time I had had eel before was in a sushi restaurant, but they always cooked it in a sweet sauce which I didn't like. This was yummy!

Smoked eel, or tuna, in Maori (pronounced Tuh-na)

Before dinner, I met Jo's husband, Bob, whom I found out is a pounamu carver! The day just got better and better! Didn't expect that bit of luck! Bob took me out to his workshop and showed me how pounamu is carved. Hope you enjoy the tour!

Below: a tour of the workshop

Below, some of the carvings Bob has made. Aren't they beautiful?!

Light passing through the pounamu

I was given the middle necklace as a gift. I love it! Now I have two necklaces, one from Shani for my birthday and one from Jo and Bob. I'm truly blessed. (In New Zealand it's considered bad luck to buy pounamu for yourself. You can only buy it for others or have it given to you)

In conclusion, I'd like to thank Mawhera Incorporation, Mika Mason, Jo, Marge, Nathalie and Bob for this very cool day. I learned a lot!


Anonymous said...

I like this entry the most. You have so much knowledge in this one. MEAN AKi. I love most of it from the especially obvious to the watercress. The whole thing rocks. Runga noa atu!!

L said...

Thanks!It was fun posting it. That seed of interest started the day we went to Te Papa and I'm glad I got a chance to make it a reality!

Anonymous said...

Lucky you man. Everyone seems like they are truly so hospitable.
Tell her that it is NOT would have never found that rock.
Loved the pesky little bird...reminds me of some people I know..LOL
And like the whitebait...please bring me some smoked eel! Everyone's feeding you and other than that darn tequila worm, so far it's been nothing but DELICIOUS STUFF i keep missing out on.

L said...

So true, it was not obvious! I'm glad I have some support in that arena. I'll see if it's possible to travel with smoked eel. If so, I'm bringing some! Whitebait, I'm afraid, is out of the question. You'll have to come here with me in the future and we can eat all these delicious things together!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for one more awesome post. Keep rocking.

Unknown said...

Hi Leita,

Great post. Do you have an email I could contact you on privately?

Cheers, Hayden