People and river share symbiotic connection

By Leah Te Whata
  • North Island: West Coast

Whanganui descendants have completed a two-week pilgrimage on their ancestral river, reaffirming their symbiotic connection with Te Awa o Whanganui, which they say is key to their identity and well-being.

There's been worldwide interest in how a body of water can be a living entity, but for these descendants who've spent the last two weeks traversing the Whanganui River, there is no question.

Ngā Rauru, Te Ātihaunui-ā-Pāpārangi descendant Arapera Tapiata says, "It's not as though it's an easy thing to understand if you don't have that connection with the river."

It's Hinewai Netana Williams's first time on the Tira Hoe Waka, she started her journey in Taumarunui unsure of what to expect but says she's now beginning to understand what it really means to be of the river.

Netana-Williams says, "I'm starting to get what it means not to talk about your river but to talk to your river, to feel your river, from doing that you get to know your river."

Tapiata says, "To me, it's not something you can describe, you have to tell people to come on our river and experience it first hand so they too can learn to love our river.

Kaumātua Moetātua Turoa is preparing ropes to present to Hinewai and the other first-timers. It symbolises the strands that weave the river and it's people together.

"It's the connection between the land and sky, between the upper reaches of Hinengākau, to Tamaūpoko and here to Tūpoho."

Gerrard Albert, Te Awa o Whanganui says, "It's through those binding ties that we're woven by our ancestors, that we retain our connection."

Today complete's the 30th annual Whanganui Tira Hoe Waka, with many already making plans to return next year.