Whales: Tuia Mātauranga Curiosity Card

A DigitalNZ Story by National Library Services to Schools

Māori removing the jawbones from a dead sperm whale stranded at Paekakariki, Kapiti Coast in 1996.

 WHAKATAUKĪ

"He rei nga niho, he paraoa nga kauae" 
"A whale's tooth in a whale's jaw" 

One must have the right qualities for great undertakings.

Wasekaseka (sperm whale tooth necklace)

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Rei niho paraoa – whale-tooth pendant

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Wahaika parāoa (short edged weapon)

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

BACKGROUND

In Māori traditions, whales guided the canoes on their great journeys to New Zealand. They carried people to safety, and were called on for protection. Whales were a source of food, and the jawbone was carved into weapons, combs, walking sticks and jewellery.
Whales are known to Māori as te whanau puha – the family of animals that expel air. Some of the names for whales are: tohorā – southern right whale, paikea – southern humpback whale, parāoa – sperm whale, ūpokohue – pilot whale.

Guides

It is said that whales guided the canoes that brought the first people to New Zealand. In one story, the Tākitimu canoe travelled behind a pod of whales during a storm. In another, a water spirit, thought to be a whale, calmed the waves for the canoe of the Tainui tribes.
Priests who navigated called on sea animals to guide the canoes and protect them from storms.

Whale riders

In traditions, there are many Māori who rode whales. Paikea was on a fishing trip with his brother Ruatapu, who tried to drown him. Paikea called to the sea guardians to help him, and a whale carried him to New Zealand.
Te Tahi-o-te-rangi rode a whale from White Island to the Whakatāne River. And the priest Tūnui rode his pet whale at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke’s Bay.

Beached whales

Whales were important to Māori for food and tools. Whales that stranded or that Māori forced to beach were eaten. They used the oil for polish and perfume and made whales’ teeth into pendants. The jawbone was made into weapons, combs, walking sticks and jewellery.
In one story, a leader ordered his warriors to wear black cloaks and lie on the beach near an enemy tribe. The people thought they saw stranded whales, which were very valuable. They rushed out, and were killed.

Whaling

Many Māori were whalers in the later 1700s and 1800s, working in the shore stations or commanding the whaleboats. Some families caught whales until the 1920s.

Tourism

In the late 1900s and early 2000s the Ngāi Tahu tribe set up tourism trips called Whale Watch. They take people to see the whales off the Kaikōura coast.

'Te whānau puha – whales', URL: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/te-whanau-puha-whales, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), (published 12-June-2006)

tooth, whale

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Te whānau puha

I ngā wā ō mua ka arataki ngā tohorā i ngā waka ki Aotearoa. Ka ekengia anō te tohorā kia tae ki uta. He kaitiaki te tohorā. Atu i tērā ka kainga te tohorā, ka whakairotia hoki ngā kōiwi mō te mahi patu, heru, tokotoko, me ētahi atu puiaki whakahirahira.
E karangatia ana ngā momo tohorā e te Māori ko te ‘whānau puha’ – te kāhui kararehe ka puha whakarunga i tōna hā. Ko ētahi ingoa mō te whānau puha: he tohorā – southern right whale, he paikea – southern humpback whale, he parāoa – sperm whale, he ūpokohue – pilot whale.
Kaiārahi
E kī ana te kōrero nā ngā kauika tohorā i arataki ngā iwi tuatahi ki Aotearoa. I te putanga mai o Tākitimu i te āwhā ka aratakina te waka e ōna tohorā kaitiaki. Arā anō ngā kōrero mō tētahi taniwha ka whakapapa pounamu i ngā ngaru nui mō te waka a Tainui.
I ngā tohunga ō mua te mana ki te whakamaranga ake i ngā atua kaitiaki o te moana hei arataki i ngā waka mai ngā marangai.
Ngā kaiwhakatere tohorā
He maha ngā Māori eke tohorā i mua. Ka puta a Ruatapu rātou ko Paikea mā ki te hī. Nō te putanga atu ki te moana ka taupokina e Ruatapu te waka, ka parekura te katoa o ana teina. Ko Paikea anake i ora i tōna karakia ki ngā atua o te moana hei āwhina i a ia. Ko te paikea ka tonoa hei kawe i a ia ki Aotearoa.
Ka tere mai te tupuna a Te Tahioterangi i Whakaari ki te au o Whakatāne mā runga i te tohorā. Ko te Tūnui tērā i eke i tana mōkai tohorā ki Te Kauae-a-Māui.
Pūkenga pakakē
Ka whai Māori i te tohorā mō te kai me te hanga whao. Ka kainga ngā tohorā i pae ki te tātahi, i āia rānei ki uta. Ka whakamahia te hinu hei miri, hei kakara hoki. He taonga anō ngā rei. Ko ngā taonga ka auahatia i te kauae he patu, he heru, he tokotoko, he kahurangi kāmehameha, aha atu.
Tērā te wā, ka karanga atu tētahi rangatira ki ōna toa kia tāpapa me o rātou kahu pango ki runga i te tātahi ki waho te pā o te hoariri. Ka whakatata mai te hoariri, ka pōhēhē he kauika tohorā kua pae ki uta. Nō te putanga o te iwi rā ki te titiro, ka patua rātou.
Te mahi tohorā
Tokomaha ngā Māori i whai tohorā i ngā rau tau 1700 me 1800. Ko ētahi ka mahi ki ngā teihana o uta, ko ētahi he kaihautu waka. Ahu noa ki te tekau tau 1920, e haere tonu ana te mahi hopu tohorā.
Ngā mahi tāpoi
Atu i te paunga o te rau tau 1900 ki ngā tau tōmua o te mano tau 2000, ka whakawhanake a Ngāi Tahu i tā rātou kaupapa wae tāpoi e karangatia ana ko Whale Watch.

'Te whānau puha', URL: http://www.teara.govt.nz/mi/te-whanau-puha, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), (published 12-June-2006)

Tabua (Ceremonial whale tooth)

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Vuasagale (sperm whale tooth necklace)

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Whales were hunted for their oil, baleen and ambergris. The oil was used in lamps and machinery. Baleen hangs inside the whale's mouth to catch krill and other food, and was used to make corsets and whips. Ambergris forms in the whale’s belly and was an ingredient in expensive perfumes. Māori probably did not hunt whales before Europeans arrived. But if they found one washed up on a beach they would cut it up for food and use the bone for implements, adornment and weapons. The first whaling ship, from America, came to New Zealand waters in 1791. Over the next 10 years, the seas around New Zealand became a popular place to catch whales. There were plenty of them, and New Zealand provided safe waters and a place to stock up on food and wood. A lot of American and French whalers arrived in the 1830s Whalers were a tough group of men – they had to be, because the work was difficult. In New Zealand, many of the whalers were Māori. Hunting whales in New Zealand waters was made illegal in 1978. Today, people enjoy watching whales, rather than catching them.

Whaling

'Whaling', URL: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/whaling, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), (published 12-June-2006)

Hoeroa (throwing weapon)

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Bone carving

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Heru Iwi

Puke Ariki

Tinirau and his whale

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Paikea, the whale rider

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Whales in Māori art

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

QUICK FACTS

  • It was only 20 or so years after Captain Cook’ first navigated New Zealand that the first whaling ships appeared in New Zealand waters to hunt whales.
  • It was said that Tommy Evans shore whaling station on Tokomapuna Island off Kapiti Island was one of the best-run in New Zealand. When working his whalers wore a uniform of white trimmed red or blue shirts combined with white trousers.
  • Shore whaling around New Zealand connected Māori and Europeans through mahi and marriage arrangements.
  • Right whales were first named by early whalers because they were the ‘right’ whale to kill due in-part to the high amount of blubber they contained. 
  • Whales were hunted for their blubber. The blubber was boiled down into oil by the whalers and then sold.
  • Māori whaling crews in New Zealand and the Pacific were often noted for their strength, courage and ocean-going skills.
  • Southern right whales were once common around New Zealand. In fact settlers around Wellington harbour once complained they were kept awake at night due to the noise the whales made.
  • The world’s largest toothed predator is the sperm whale.
  • Wellington’s Human Dynamo Workshop makes amazing and unusual things. One unusual product they specialise in is replica whale hearts for exhibitions and displays around the world.
  • In 2011 South Wairarapa Māori found a large piece of whale ambergris, worth $400,000 while burying a dead sperm whale. The money was used to renovate their marae and its kitchens.

Tripot

Puke Ariki

Whales in Kaikōura: mural

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Whaleboat 'Maori Girl'

Toitū Otago Settlers Museum

Stranded pilot whales

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

This story was curated and compiled by Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa | National Library of New Zealand, Services to Schools staff, 2019.

Sperm whales

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

CORSET

Whanganui Regional Museum

OTHER RESOURCES

Iwi revives ancient whaling traditions — He pūrongo kōrero kei te pae tukutuku o whakaata Māori.

Maori and Whaling — Ancient archaeological finds in Te Tau Ihu include whale tooth pendants, and whalebone amulets.

NZ Whale & Dolphin Trust — is a world-class, research-driven organisation committed to the conservation of New Zealand's whales and dolphins.

Project Jonah New Zealand — our vision is to create a world where marine mammals are respected and protected.

Sealers and whalers — in the closing decade of the 18th-century sealers and whalers arrived in New Zealand waters in their hundreds. Kei te pae tukutuku ‘Ngā kōrero ā ipurangi o Aotearoa’ te kōrero nei.

Te whānau puha – whales — Māori have a long association with whales. While whales provided food and utensils, they also feature in tribal traditions.

The connection of Māori to whales — Māori consider whales a taonga species.

Whaling — whaling was a dangerous occupation. Harpooned whales often thrashed and rolled, damaging boats or pulling them under.

Whaling — today New Zealand plays a leading role in the management and protection of the world's whales.

Whaling antiques — images of tools and implements all made from whalebone and ivory.

Whale hunting — Fifty years ago New Zealand whalers used to sit high above the entrance to Tory Channel, as they scanned Cook Strait for humpback whales.

Whaling history in New Zealand's Cook Strait — the southern right species was nearly hunted to extinction but the population is, thankfully, slowly but surely growing. 

Whaling, then and now — Māori and other South Pacific people harvested food and materials from whales that occasionally stranded on their shores. This changed in the early 1800s.

Whale rider — set in Whāngārā, Whale Rider tells the tale of a young Māori girl, Pai, who challenges tradition and embraces the past.

South seas whaling painting, 1820s

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Jillett's whaling station

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Whaling

Auckland Libraries

Whaling launch in Far North

Auckland Libraries

Whangamumu whalers

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

 FERTILE QUESTIONS 

  • Why are whales important in the history of Aotearoa New Zealand?
  • Why are some animals held in such high regard?
  • He aha te hononga o Ngāi Māori ki ngā tohorā?
  • He aha te pānga o te tangata ki te moana?
  • When and why could groups of people have different rights?
  • What is your question?

Maori Whaling, Te Kaha

Auckland Libraries

Pouring whale oil

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Whalers and their families on Te Awaiti beach

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS

  • What can we learn from how whales have been treated that can contribute to a better world?