Retracing Ancestral Footsteps

  • Kelli Te Maiharoa


In Aotearoa New Zealand, retracing the footsteps of famous Maori tipuna or ancestral trails is not a new phenomena, but the availability of social media has enabled this information more accessible, reaching a wider audience.  Events span from retracing tribal battles, following ancestral mountain trails to the moana and beyond. One such voyage, involved a group of 50 students from Tauranga Moana, who retraced their ancestral connections of the Takitimu waka back to Rarotonga (Te Kanawa, 30 July 2016). The Commemoration of the Battle of Ruapekapeka also followed the footsteps of tipuna, the famous warrior chief Te Ruki Kawiti and his peoples, whose memories were honoured by a 400 strong haka party, dignitaries, politicians and hundreds of people,  (Forbes, 2016).  Following the journey of Tainui rangatira, was a pre-season bonding exercise that Waikato Chiefs rugby coach Dave Rennie identified as beneficial for his players to learn more about their surroundings ‘…an arduous two-day torture test which connected with the past, the land, the people and the sea they will represent this season’ (Napier, 2013).   
Over the last three decades, there has also been an increasing interest in the histories of Māori prophets throughout Aotearoa.  The journey of children from Parihaka Pa was made into a documentary named Tatarakihi: The Children of Parihaka (2012), which followed the ancestral journey of their tipuna Te Whiti ō Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi (and their people), arrested in Parihaka Taranaki for ploughing their land and wrongfully imprisoned in Christchurch and Dunedin without trial (; The Tamakaimoana people also undertook a pilgrimage in December 2013 to retrace the footsteps of their prophet Rua Kenana from Maungapōhatu (Te Karere, April 4 2016).    Several Gisborne iwi recently retraced the route from Gisborne to the Rēkohu Chatham Islands following their prophet Te Kooti Arikirangi (Smith, 2016).  Retracing the footsteps of ancestors is not only a physical undertaking, but for many, also an emotional, cultural and spiritual journey.   The Waitaha People of Te Waipounamu South Island, retraced Te Maihāroa (? – 1885) and Te Heke (The Migration 1877-79) on a contemporary peace walk called Te Heke Omaramataka (2012).  The experiences of these trekkers were captured by filmmaker Bronwyn Judge in a free to view documentary entitled ‘Te Heke 2012 Waitaki Mouth to Omarama’ (Judge, B, 2012, Youtube: Te Heke 2012 Waitaki Mouth to Omarama).   This paper is based on the whanau journals recorded by participants as they trekked from the Waitaki river mouth to Omarama in December 2012.


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How to Cite
Te Maiharoa, K. (2017). Retracing Ancestral Footsteps. Te Kaharoa, 10(1).