Ngai Tahu Association with Te Mimi o Tu Te Rakiwhanoa (The Fiordland Coastal Marine Area)
The fiords of this region represent, in tradition, the raised up sides of Te Waka o Aoraki. The waka (canoe) foundered on a submerged reef and its occupants, Aoraki and his brothers, Raraki, Rakiroa and others, were turned to stone. They stand now as the highest peaks of Ka Tiritiri o te Moana (the Southern Alps). The fiords at the southern end of the Alps were hacked out of the raised side of the wrecked waka by Tu Te Rakiwhanoa, in an effort to make it habitable by humans. The deep gouges and long waterways that make up the fiords were intended to provide safe havens on the rugged coastline, and stocked with fish, forest and birds to sustain travellers.
Particular stretches of the coastline also have their own traditions. The visit of Tamaahua to Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) in search of Poutini, who had absconded with his wife Waitaiki, is linked to the creation of Pounamu further north on Te Tai Poutini (the West Coast). The koko-takiwai which is found in Piopiotahi has its basis in a visit to Piopiotahi by the waka Tairea. A woman, Koko-takiwai, and her children, known as Matakirikiri, were left behind by the Tairea and were turned into varieties of pounamu.
Place names along the coast record Ngai Tahu history and point to the landscape features which were significant to people for a range of reasons. For example, in his voyage around the Sounds in the waka Takitimu Tamatea gave the chiselled terrain the name ``Te Rua-o-te-moko'', likening the deep gouges adorning the impressive cliff faces of the fiords to the tattoos on a chief's face. An area of Doubtful Sound is known as Kahui-te-kakapo, while Dagg Sound had a canoe harbour known as Te Ra. Breaksea Island (within Breaksea Sound — Te Puaitaha) is known as Te Au Moana, referring to the ocean current that sweeps around the inlet. Chalky Sound is known as Taiari and a rock in the Sound is known as Te Kakahu-o-Tamatea, a place where Tamatea had his clothes spread out to dry after being drenched by the salt spray.
The area was visited mainly by Ngati Mamoe and Ngai Tahu, who had various routes and nohoanga for the purpose of gathering koko-takiwai and manu (birds), particularly the kakapo. The area played a significant role in the history of conflict between Ngai Tahu and Ngati Mamoe, with a number of Ngati Mamoe taking refuge in the isolation of the fiords in order to escape the unforgiving attitudes of some sections of Ngai Tahu. The noted rangatira Tarewai from Otago Heads met his end here at the hands of Ngati Mamoe, having pursued them from the Otago Peninsula to Rakituma. Tarewai and his warriors were successfully ambushed by those they were pursuing, with the result that no one ever returned to Otago from this battle. Te Whare Pa in Rakitimu was the scene of one of the last major battles between Ngau Mamoe and Ngai Tahu.
Because of its attractiveness as a place to establish permanent settlements, including pa (fortified settlements), the coastal area was visited and occupied first by Ngati Mamoe and later by Ngai Tahu. Throughconflict and alliance these two iwi have merged in the whakapapa (genealogy) of Ngai Tahu. Battles sites, urupa and landscape features bearing the names of tupuna (ancestors) record this history. Prominent headlands, in particular, were favoured for their defensive qualities and became the headquarters for a succession of rangatira and their followers. Notable pa and nohoanga occurred in many areas on the Fiordland coast including: Milford (Lake Marchant) and Caswell Sounds; Kahui-te-kakapo (Doubtful Sound), known as the gathering place of the kakapo, in reference to the gathering of kakapo meat and feathers which was one of the key reasons that Ngai Tahu Whanui regularly travelled to the fiords; Dagg Sound gets the sun all day, and consequently is well known as a nohoanga site, it also has a good canoe harbour known as Te Ra; Rakituma is the site of several pa or nohoanga including one at Matauira and another at Te Whare Pa.
The mauri of Te Mimi o Tu Te Rakiwhanoa represents the essence that binds the physical and spiritual elements of all things together, generating and upholding all life. All elements of the natural environment possess a life force, and all forms of life are related. Mauri is a critical element of the spiritual relationship of Ngai Tahu Whanui with the area.