Nau mai haere mai ki ngā taoka o te tangata whenua...

The Tāngata Whenua Gallery, designed with the help and guidance of representatives of Kāi Tahu in Otago, tells the story of Southern Māori life and mythology.

Southern Māori taoka on display in the gallery include finely worked objects in wood, whale ivory and pounamu (greenstone), some of them heirlooms on loan from Kāi Tahu families.

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Within the last millennium, the Polynesian ancestors of the Māori people migrated to Aotearoa (New Zealand) in double-hulled ocean-going canoes, from their ancestral homeland of Hawaiiki in east Polynesia.

Their survival in this colder climate, with very different resources from those in their tropical homeland, required creative adaptation to the new landscape.

In the centre of the gallery is a 17-metre waka. Its hull was created from two native totara trees in about 1840. It was given the name Te Paranihi after it was used to transport John Ballance – then the New Zealand Premier – up the Whanganui River.

After it was purchased by the Otago Museum in 1931, side strake carvings were added. Elaborate prow and stern carvings, dating from before 1842 and thought to be from a waka taua (war canoe) from the Kapiti Coast, were also attached.

Waitaha is the general name used to refer to various groups who inhabited the South Island after the arrival of Rakaihautu. He sailed to Aotearoa on the Uruao waka and is credited with carving out the South Island lakes with his digging stick.

Kāti Mamoe from the east coast of the North Island migrated south; some groups crossed Cook Strait and settled amongst Waitaha.

Kāi Tahu are the descendants of Tahu Potiki. Over a period of time, they also migrated to the South Island from the east coast of the North Island. Their traditional territory was established through warfare, tribal alliances and strategic marriages with Kāti Mamoe and Waitaha. Inter-iwi conflicts were largely resolved by the late 18th century.

Today the term Kāi Tahu whānui embraces those who trace their ancestry to all three groups: Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe and Kāi Tahu.

A modern carved gateway depicts Kāi Tahu ancestors Aoraki, Tamatea, Rakaihautu and Rokoitua, and the ancestral waka (canoes) Uruao, Takitimu and Araiteuru.

The carving was made for the Otago Museum by the manawhenua of the Otago region in 1990, under the guidance of artist Cliff Whiting.

Please avoid taking food and drink into this gallery. The taoka (treasured objects) within carry a tapu or spiritual restriction which can be lessened by the presence of food and drink items.