Prolific Waaka family heritage

04:01, Nov 08 2011
Reunion: Members of the Waaka family reunited for the first time in 15 years at Arowhenua on Labour Weekend.
Meeting: Delegates at a gathering at the Arowhenua Pa in 1907.


Arowhenua Marae has recently been the venue for a big family reunion where 150 Waakas met for the first time in 15 years. The family can be traced through several generations to Temuka.

Al Williams chats with Joe Waaka about centuries of settlement in Arowhenua.

Joe Waaka recounts history through spoken word.

It's up a long driveway along Hopkinson Rd, in Temuka, where I find him in the Waaka homestead.

I'd phoned him earlier in the day to express my interest in chatting with the view to something for the Past Times page.


After numerous calls, I headed out and banged on his door, entering the home to be greeted by him.

"It's been you that's been calling has it?" he replies.

Without a second thought, I launch into a spiel and get seated with him to discuss family matters.

Waaka is revered by some and perhaps misunderstood by others, but he doesn't mince words when it comes to his heritage.

He says Arowhenua was the last settlement of his people, naming Orakipaoa near Milford as the original pa site.

"It was fortified; it had natural moats around it I think."

Waaka thinks it was about the 17th century when Maori first settled in the area.

"Up until then they were mostly nomadic people; they were hunter gatherers, they had seasonal movement."

Waaka names Lake Pukaki as a place where Maori would source food.

"Everything was engineered for food gathering; they lived on fish and poultry."

So where did he get his information from?

"It's something they did orally," he says of the relatives he has listened to and questioned over the years.

"You've got to have a good memory."

Waaka produces scrolls with the family trees of his mother and father.

They appear to go back at least seven generations.

"I just listened to the old people; they took me in and they told me things."

Waaka names his grandfather and father's "clan" as Hui Rata.

"My great grandfather had three wives; a lot of families around here are connected through one of the wives."

Waaka was one of nine boys and nine girls.

He says he started gathering ancestral notes about 50 years ago, "when I was young".

"This is my ancestral line, my personal whakapapa," he says of his family tree.

Te Hapa O Niu Tireni Arowhenua celebrated its centennial in 2005.

An accompanying catalogue named Arowhenua as the principal pa of Kati Huirapa from the Rakaia River south to the Waitaki River.

It was originally the bush and garden site for Waia Te Ruati, the original pa site.

The Arowhenua Runanga whare, Te Hapa O Niu Tireni was built in the early 1870s and was situated across the road from the present hall.

Waaka recalls meeting Waimate author Herries Beattie who wrote Our Southernmost Maoris in 1954.

He says he remembers when Beattie spent time at Arowhenua researching and talking with the community.

From Our Southernmost Maoris came some Temuka information.

A valued informant narrated: "The three first people to settle in this district were called Arowhenua, Awarua and another I forget.

"They were related and their names were applied to places here.

"The old creek beyond the Arowhenua church is called Whariki and at the east end of the kaik we have Waitarutu.

"The old name of a place in the Temuka Park was Te Wairuia but through a happening in the last fight there it was re-named Tutae-koropiko.

"The creek at the park is Te Taumata-o-kahu.

"The dead were sometimes given whakaheke [water burial] and sometimes the process whakatamiro [embalming] or the process ka-whaka-pakoko [drying] were carried out before the bodies were finally deposited in deep holes or lagoons.

"The piece of bush where the bodies were put in the trees was called Whaka-pakoko and it was in a lagoon of the same name.

"The old inland Maori track avoided the coastal villages and was for war parties, people in haste or those who did not wish to call at villages with all the formality and ceremony.

"The track swerved inland above Ashburton and kept near the hills to the Rakitata, and then went into the Mackenzie.

"Some murderers sheltered in a big clump of big manuka known as Te Manuka-nui-a-tane, and slew parties and solitary travellers after robbing them. The spot is perhaps 10 miles from here.

"The track at this part was named Hikai-iti which I think means `small falling down'.

"A Kaiapoi [party] came down, cut down the clump on the track, took the village on the site of the Temuka Park, and slew those murderers at the fight known as Tutae-koropito."

The Timaru Herald