Tainui's Unique Relationship with the Waikato River

The claim of Waikato - Tainui seeks recognition of the unique relationship of Waikato-Tainui with the Waikato River. The relationship of Waikato-Tainui with the River lies at the heart of their spiritual and physical well-being, and their identity.

After the Raupatu

After the Raupatu, it was a source of comfort and hope. The mana of the River is acknowledged in the korero of kaumaatua and kuia: The late kuia Mite Kukutai: Te Wai e rere iho nei –te awa o Waikato- he wai oranga, he wai tinana o Waikato, oranga ngakau, oranga wairua. Koinei to maatou wai kai a Waikato. Kaumaatua ake maatou i te wai o Waikato.

River of Blessings

The late Mere Taka, kuia of Mangatangi marae: To us, the people of Tainui, the River has a very deep significance, to our way of life today. To us, Waikato is the River for cleansing oneself, of blessing, and the River is one of our guardians to us, the generation of today.

Kuia Iti Rawiri of Te Awamaarahi marae:

The Waikato River is a tupuna and looks after us throughout our lives. The River feeds us, nurtures us, and takes care of us, healing our hurts and protecting us from harm. The River’s spiritual powers are as important today as they were in the past.

The power of the River does not change or dwindle with the passing of the year; If people were going on a journey, they would go to the River first before leaving the area.

This is still practised today. When people were sick, we would send them to the River to anoint themselves and be healed. This is still practised today. To us, the most important thing about the River is the waters healing power.

Tikanga relating to the River cannot be separated from Kiingitanga and Pai Maarire, the faith that sustains it. Spiritual and legal protections are embodied in Kiingitanga and Pai Maarire which celebrate all that God has created, uniting families and Kiingitanga communities.

Responsibilities of the River tribes:

As the ancestor of Waikato Tainui, the Waikato River has its own mana. The River protects the people, but it is also the responsibility of the people to protect the River and its wairua (spirit).

Otherwise, in the words of the late Pumi Taituha, if the wairua of the River are violated, the River suffers, becomes sick, and if ignored, will die. To the old people, the changes in water quality in the River and its lakes and streams, the loss of fish, eels and plants, the replacement of golden sand by mud, are all evidence of the sickness of the River.

Kaumatua Hare Puke, speaking for Tainui and the Kiingitanga, has stated: We are the guardians and protectors of the River. We have a duty to try to make people understand that the assault on the River, our ancestor, must stop.

The Korowai

To achieve recognition of the principle of Te Mana o te Awa, Waikato-Tainui promotes the concept of a Korowai, a protective cloak laid over te awa tupuna, to respect and care for the River. The plaited fibres of the Korowai reflect the strands in the whakapapa which unite the iwi with their River and with one another. The whenu (shoulder sash), which tie the korowai are held by the representatives of the Houses of Pootatau and Te Heuheu.

Although it was hoped that Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu would form one of the pillars, this role will now be taken up by Kiingi Tuheitia and Ariki Tumu Te Heuheu. Thus the Korowai concept is tikanga based, giving effect to the tikanga of mana, whanaungatanga (kinship, relationship), kotahitanga (unity), manaakitanga (hospitality, to care for) and mana whakahaere (authority, control) under the leadership of Kiingitanga.

The Win/Win Solution

Within the Korowai other River tribes are thus assured of negotiating their own settlement outcomes with the Crown. For all New Zealanders the Korowai allows the continuation of public access, navigation, recreation and fishing provided there is mutual respect for this concept. The Korowai will ensure that the responsibilities, obligations and preservation of a whole and healthy Waikato River are carried by all.


The Maori Queens tangi (funeral) procession down the Waikato River to her final resting place on the maunga (Mt Taupiri)

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