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Ki te Titia Tāku Raukura: Should My Plume of Peace be Witnessed Quivering

Stuart Foster (Tangata Tiriti), Kura Puke (Te Āti Awa, Taranaki)



Collective knowledge passed down through ceremony, genealogy, narrative,
oral, visual, and performative expressions, continues as a critical Indigenous
mode of knowledge and memory for Māori. It may be contrasted to, or even
negated by, colonial knowledge systems and historical archives. From 1860 to
1881, the colonial government waged war against Taranaki tribes and the central
Parihaka settlement. The Parihaka men were made prisoners of war to enable
mass land confiscation with devastating impacts that continue to permeate the
intergenerational layers of Parihaka consciousness.

Artists, Inahaa Te Urutahi Waikerepuru and Kura Puke are both descendants
of the prisoners, and with spatial designer, Stuart Foster, work together to create
aural-visual experiences. We travelled to Dunedin to two small unassuming cave
frontages, where Taranaki prisoners worked, and – it is contested – were at times,
held captive. While this incarceration is disputed by many mainstream historians,
and generally unacknowledged by the people of Dunedin, through an Indigenous
lens the extraordinary ‘hidden in plain sight’ presence of the caves is revealed.
In order to undertake this research, we engaged with Indigenous knowledge
modes particularly that of T. A. C. Royal’s concept; thus encountering the
world through the Three-Dimensional and Spherical Conscious Awareness
that is ‘aroaro.’

Keywords: aroaro, atua, Dunedin caves, Māori knowledge, Parihaka prisoners,
Taranaki land wars

Ki te titia tāku raukura,
He tohu ora, he tohu mana!
Should my plume of peace be witnessed quivering,
It is a sign of life, an emblem of love and dignity!¹

We travelled to Dunedin, one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s early colonial cities, for
our first physical encounter with two handmade cave sites of deep significance for
the people of Parihaka. Outside of Parihaka and the Taranaki tribes, these sites
are largely unseen and the events associated with them either forgotten or denied
within mainstream New Zealand. For the descendants of the Taranaki-Parihaka
prisoners, their incarcerations, and these sites, continue to be commemorated
through longstanding, ceremonial events and knowledge transmission, remaining
central to tribal life, memory, and identity.

While much colonial violence took place before and after, the Taranaki land
wars from 1860 to 1869 were specific campaigns waged by the colonial government
against Taranaki Māori, to forcibly seize ownership or control of their land.²
By 1863 the government suspended the rule of law, civil, and political rights for
Māori, and introduced legislation for the confiscation of Māori land. In 1869, 96
men, mainly of Pakakohi and Tangahoe people, were arrested on order of the
government, imprisoned without trial, and sentenced to hard labour in Dunedin
until 1872. With severe overcrowding within poor conditions the health of these
prisoners plummeted³ and 30 or more died in their “Southern exile.”⁴

The year 1869 also marks the end of armed conflict for Taranaki Māori, who
committed to non-violent, peaceful protest through the teachings of the prophetic
leaders Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi of Parihaka. Parihaka operated as a
Māori autonomy and the village’s lands were the key economic base to support a
population which swelled to over 2,500 by November 1881.

Through the 1870s, land confiscations by the government continued; the
impact of these was compounded by the government’s failure to provide land
reserves promised for the people of Parihaka. The Parihaka response was
peaceful protest, whereby groups selected for their strict commitment to
pacifism, ploughed the confiscated land until they were arrested, resulting in
420 ploughmen imprisoned by 1879 in South Island jails in Hokitika, Lyttleton,
and Dunedin. From 1879 to the late 1880s, peaceful protest action by groups
of remaining inhabitants or returned prisoners to reconstruct Parihaka fences
dismantled by the army led to over 216 men arrested and jailed without trial.
The death rates among the imprisoned again were high in number. These strategic
protests continued until the November 1881 invasion of Parihaka lands by
government forces, the subsequent plunder and destruction of the village, and
the house arrest of the two prophets who were exiled to the South Island.

While the story of the peaceful protest movements of Parihaka is well known,⁵
the internal, tribal oral narratives remain as knowledge held within Parihaka
families. The aforementioned two caves are situated where the Parihaka prisoners
worked on the construction of the Anderson’s Bay Causeway and the extensive
seawall along the edge of Otago harbour. While official documentation records
the caves as utilitarian spaces for roadwork equipment storage, it is understood
by the descendants of the Taranaki Māori prisoners that one or both had also
been used, when required, to incarcerate some of the prisoners, and, at other
times, as a prisoner night shelter.⁶ The haunting narratives of how the prisoners
took turns to breathe through reeds near the doors because of the suffocating
conditions, are passed down in kōrero, waiata, and visual culture.⁷ These accounts
are disputed by Dunedin-based historians as inaccurate, mainly on the basis of
lack of written evidence within colonial documentation to support those oral
accounts.⁸ The Western, text-based knowledge system remains a key mechanism
in maintaining power and authority to subjugate Māori people and traditional
Māori, oral-based knowledge.

Our initial visit to the first cave site begins by standing and observing them from
across the busy road. It is a nice weekend mid-morning, with cyclists and dog
walkers moving past. The incoming tide laps loudly against the rock-walled bank,
the sounds of the sea water seem to echo in the spaces between the noise of
passing vehicles. The footpath and road form a narrow ribbon between the water
and the cliff face. With little space to move any closer, we stand attentive to our
safety and the tension of this new encounter. We notice passers-by and faces in
cars staring at us curiously. Time passes as we increasingly lean into the presence
of the cave frontage. Then a profound moment of connection occurs, our greatgrandfathers
and great-great-grandfathers were here, and, perhaps on some level,
are still present. Our perceptions shift. All distractions melt away, apart from the
appearance of a small feather flicking in the breeze in a recess just above the cave
doors.⁹ We are transfixed.

A strong sense of emerging awareness or significance is felt by us in our different
ways; what we see and feel from the outside and wondering what may be similar
from the inside looking out.

The material presence of the cliff-face with the cave entrance, the heavy
iron door, and the stone blocks, feels strongly physically enigmatic, and also
enfolds the Māori understanding that “the density of stone was regarded as being
capable of ‘holding’ spiritual energy.”¹⁰ This and the quivering feather as signs of
intangible presence or illumination, indicates to us that our ways of experiencing
and noticing might reveal or deepen our perceptions.

Hiding in plain sight

Encountering these sites evoked an extraordinary feeling of presence and potency.
The concept of hiding in plain sight, assumes that these sites are essentially
historic, belonging to the past, whereas paradoxically, the intense feelings we
experienced were of the present; of discovery and grief. These feelings were
heightened by a sense of alienation resulting from the binary condition of a
Parihaka culture of remembering and a colonial-settler amnesia or denial.
This article does not seek to prove the caves held our ancestors, but to explore
Indigenous perspectives or ways of knowing and memory that might offer insight
or illumination through embodied conscious awareness.

Indigenous perception, modes of knowledge and memory

A year later we returned and commenced a ceremony that observed protocols for
acknowledging our ancestral connections and allowed us to safely “step beyond
the everyday and to accept a raised state of consciousness.”¹¹ This occurred at
dawn, during an almost-full moon, reflecting in the harbour waters, illuminating
the cliff-faces, and the stone of the cave entrance. The stone as a “holographic
fragment of Papatūānuku,”¹² of solid matter, and also personified as Earth Mother,
begins to unfold for us the framework of Māori knowledge based on atua¹³ or
physical/ancestral domains. All these physical and elemental qualities, such as the
moon to shifting light aspects, the crisp air currents, and the slowly evaporating
dew are also ancestors, whose qualities speak of their particular characters and
relational networks. As we settle to our initial thoughts and feelings, via our
senses we also take a further step in connecting to our atua-genealogical-based

In considering Indigenous oral culture as a framework for Māori perception
and knowledge, Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal proposes that engaging “the
aroaro concept challenges us to think about how the whole body encounters
the world and how this might influence our ideas about knowledge,
memory and experience.”¹⁴

Royal explains the term ‘aroaro’ as differing fields of perception, and titles
this concept as “Three-Dimensional and Spherical Conscious Awareness.”¹⁵
In applying our sense of sight only, the aroaro is considered as “the area located
immediately in front of the person. What is captured, usually by the eyes,
prescribes the physical dimension of the aroaro.”¹⁶ Therefore, according to
Royal, the “first or primary form of the aroaro is that prescribed by sight.¹⁷
When applying our hearing only, the hearing prescribes the size and form of
the aroaro as it becomes “three-dimensional and stretches out in a spherical
fashion and in a 360 degree radius.”¹⁸

Royal describes how “we can imagine a kind of invisible sphere about the body.
Those things that come within the sphere are said to be in our aroaro and
those that are not in the sphere are outside the aroaro.”¹⁹ If our aroaro is informed
by our senses then this sphere includes our other internal elements such as
thought, emotion, and memory. This state offers the potential conditions to
create integrated and sensitized whole body encounters in the world.

Our cultures, communities, land; our bodies, minds and emotions shape how
we see, observe and understand our visual information. Within the scope of an
Indigenous lens, the basis of indigenous perception and understanding is formed
through whakapapa and ancestral frameworks. We consider the concept of the
aroaro sphere may extend knowledge and understanding further, prescribed by
perhaps the idea of ancestral consciousness or towards higher consciousness.²⁰

Royal contrasts Indigenous or oral cultures with those of literate, or text and
screen cultures, identifying text and screen as externalised knowledge that is
explained or captured within narrower, more focused and limited parameters.²¹

In this investigation we consider our work or our aroaro as a method to
combine Indigenous-oral processes with screen-based, aural-visual approaches.
This approach enables us to encompass the cave site within our aroaro prescribed
by multi-dimensional, knowledge embodiment towards responding to the past,
present and future, to consider our ancestors who reside with us and within us.

1. Quote from Morvin T. Simon, Te Kohanga Reo He Ahurewa Mana – A Language
Nursery Seedbed of Dignity (Wanganui, NZ: Hanton & Andersen, 1990), 30.
The raukura is a symbol specific to followers of the Parihaka leaders Tohu
and Te Whiti for their philosophies of peaceful resilience in times of great
adversity. The raukura is symbolised as a white feather or a plume of white
feathers, which represents the toroa or albatross feather that fell to the ground
at the feet of the prophets, as confirmation of ancestral approval and guidance,
as the place to establish Parihaka Village in the 1860s. The three albatross
feathers as a symbol may have represented the influence of the scriptures
through the values of honour, peace, and goodwill to all people. It may have
also been a symbol of Rongo, the atua of peace and an Indigenous, protocolled,
non-violent political protest, and passive resistance. Karena, Tonga.
“Reclaiming the Role of Rongo: The Pacifist Traditions of Parihaka.” Accessed
July 25, 2023.
2. Jane Reeves, “Māori Prisoners in Dunedin 1869-1872 and 1879-1881 Exiled
for a Cause” (BA Hons diss., University of Otago, 1989), http://hdl.handle.
3. Reeves, Māori Prisoners, 14-16 and 58.
4. Hazel Riseborough, Days of Darkness (Auckland: Penguin Press, 2022), 104.
Citation from Edward Ellison, “Sacred Stone Links Taranaki and Otago,” Historic
Places New Zealand 19, (1987): 7–11.
5. “Parihaka – Past, Present and Future,” accessed August 10, 2023,
6. Riseborough, Days of Darkness, 104.
7. Reeves, “Māori Prisoners,” 14.
8. Joel MacManus, “The Parihaka Prisoners and the legend of the caves,”
The Spinoff, November 4, 2018,
9. Birds are of important significance and considered to have the potential to act
as a intercessional beings, and, along with feathers, as messengers or relational
connectors between the spiritual and physical realms (Robert Jahnke, oral
communication, Toioho ki Āpiti, 1998). For many Māori, the appearance of a
bird, or a feather maybe a sign or symbol of ancestral guidance, or affirmation of
10. Georgina Tuari Stewart, Māori Philosophy: Indigenous thinking from Aotearoa
(London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021), 84.
11. Shawn Wilson, Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods
(Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2008), 69.
12. Stewart, Māori Philosophy, 132.
13. A Māori understanding of an atua is a “manifestation of the environment and
of the people of the land” (Kura Moeahu, oral communication, Te Runanganui
o Te Āti Awa, August 8, 2023). Atua are regarded as founding or cosmological
ancestors with influence over particular environmental domains. One example
is the ancestral atua Papatūānuku or Earth Mother. The atua are identified
within a vast genealogical tapestry, existing within both a spiritual or energetic
realm and as matter in this physical reality. Māori cultural values of identity and
belonging are inseparable to the environment, and are contextualised through
the atua, in place and space, that Kura Moeahu explained as local knowledge
which is developed through the deep observation and understanding of the
environment related to the atua.
14. Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 2005, “Exploring Indigenous Knowledge,” 16.
15. Royal, 15.
Meanings of aroaro may include the adjectives; to face, turn towards, the front,
to front, comportment, take heed, take notice, pay attention to, consider.
Nouns include, the state of being present, current existence.
16. Ibid., 15.
17. Ibid., 15.
18. Ibid., 15.
19. Ibid., 15.
20. T.H. Waikerepuru, used the term ‘māramatanga’ and ‘māramatanga hou’
to articulate the basis of a new consciousness and higher consciousness,
in ‘Te Māramatanga- A New Consciousness’, 2011. Unpublished paper.
21. Royal, 15.

Harold, Denis. Māori Prisoners of War in Dunedin 1869–1872: Deaths and Burials
and Survivors. Dunedin: Hexagon, 2000.
Karena, Tonga. “Reclaiming the Role of Rongo: The Pacifist Traditions of
Parihaka.” Accessed July 25, 2023.
Reeves, Jane. “Māori Prisoners in Dunedin, 1869–1872 and 1879–1881:
Exiled for a cause.” BA Hons diss., University of Otago, 1989.
Riseborough, Hazel. Days of Darkness: Taranaki, 1878-1884.
Auckland: Penguin Press, 2002.
Royal, Te Ahukaramū Charles, 2005. “Exploring Indigenous Knowledge.” Accessed
April 10, 2022.
Stewart, Georgina Tuari. Māori Philosophy: Indigenous Thinking from Aotearoa.
London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021.
Wilson, Shawn. Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods. Halifax:
Fernwood Publishing, 2008.

Biographical note
Kura Puke, Stuart Foster, and Inahaa Waikerepuru have worked together,
often within their wider research group Te Matahiapo. These collaborations
bring together mātauranga Māori, ceremony, and innovative use of accessible
technologies to create installations that connect land, the environment,
people, and taonga. Art works include Te Ara Wairua: Pathways of the Intangible,
by S. Foster, H. Geismar, & K. Puke with Te Matahiapo, at The Gatehouse,
UCL University, London, UK, 17-29 June 2014. Te Matahiapo collective were
members of the cultural, art, and design group Te Kahui Toi, for the creation
of Te Rau Karamu Marae at Massey University, Wellington, July 2015-March 2021.
Recent collaborative work includes Ahi kā! E noho koniahi! Ko ngā taringa i kite!,
two outdoor installations for ‘Te Hui Ahurei Reo Māori o Te Whanganui-a-Tara,’
the Waterfront, Wellington, September 14-29, 2022.
In recent individual works, Kura Puke curated “Puehu te One, Pakini te One”
a waterscreen projection for Mana Moana 2023, Wellington waterfront and the
Steamer Basin, Dunedin Harbour, July 1-16, 2023. In June 2023, Stuart Foster
was commissioner for Aotearoa, New Zealand’s representation, ‘Ka Emiemi’ at
PQ23 Praque Quadriennial, Czechia, June 8-18, 2023.