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Victoria Square – a cultural revitalisation

Victoria Square – a cultural revitalisation

The revitalised Victoria Square which was officially reopened in central Christchurch today acknowledges the early Ngāi Tūāhuriri/Ngāi Tahu connection to the area, with artworks by renowned Ngāi Tahu artists reflecting the cultural significance of the space to whānau, hapū and iwi.

Visitors walking around the square today will find Ngāi Tūāhuriri/Ngāi Tahu values, narratives and aspirations woven into its fabric. The square, which was once a central meeting place for Ngāi Tūāhuriri and an important mahinga kai site, features such artworks and landmarks as Whāriki (woven mats of welcome), Pepeha (tribal proverbs) and a six-metre-high poupou (tribal pillar) which has been reinstated in the square after being restored post-earthquake. All artworks and structures help to connect and anchor Ngāi Tūāhuriri back to this special place in Ōtautahi, visually embedding their values and traditions into Victoria Square and the wider central city landscape.

The Matapopore Charitable Trust was established by Ngāi Tūāhuriri, the Ngāi Tahu hapū (sub-tribe) that holds mana whenua (traditional rights and responsibilities) over the Christchurch CBD, in 2013 as the vehicle to provide cultural advice to local and government authorities working in the Christchurch rebuild. Matapopore played an important role in the cultural revitalisation of Victoria Square, and General Manager Debbie Tikao says there was a strong desire to retain the shared sense of space and history of the square and its surrounding landscape.

“We also wanted to acknowledge the early Ngāi Tūāhuriri connection to the area and its use for gathering mahinga kai and trading. In its earliest days it was recorded as the site of Puari, a Waitaha pā which stretched along the banks of the Ōtākaro, close to Victoria Square,” Debbie says.

“It’s pleasing to see Ngāi Tūāhuriri/Ngāi Tahu values, traditions and concepts embedded into the Victoria Square landscape – visually represented by artworks, sculptures and structures,” she adds.

Dr Te Maire Tau, Ūpoko of Ngāi Tūāhuriri, says that very early on the rebuild Ngāi Tūāhuriri called on the values of their ancestors to guide them as they worked with local and government authorities to provide cultural advice.

“We selected the principle – Kia atawhai ki te iwi – Be kind to your people – the founding kaupapa, recounted by Pita Te Hori, first Ūpoko Rūnanga of Ngāi Tūāhuriri in 1861, to be at the centre of our contribution to the rebuild,” Dr Tau says.

“Ngāi Tūāhuriri believes that all projects associated with the recovery of Christchurch must demonstrate care for the citizens of the city and encourage warmth and a sense of welcome. Victoria Square now sits alongside other rebuild projects such as Te Omeka – the Justice and Emergency Services Precinct, and Hine-Pāka – the Bus Interchange, in its demonstration of this.”


Ngā Whāriki Manaaki – Woven mats of welcome

Three Whāriki have been laid in Victoria Square, by artists Morehu Flutey-Henare and Reihana Parata – part of a series of 13 weaving patterns that feature within Te Papa Ōtākaro/Avon River Precinct.

Each whāriki is an arrangement of natural stone pavers of varying shades and colours. The whāriki Mahinga Kai illustrates the Ngāi Tahu customary rights of gathering and harvesting natural and cultivated foods and other resources from the land and waterways. The whāriki Tai Waiora depicts waters intermingling and merging, representing the importance of clean waterways for the wellbeing of all living things. The third whāriki, Ngā Pou Riri e Iwa, represents the “nine tall trees” that make up the Ngāi Tahu claim – the unsettled grievances regarding the eight land purchase agreements between Ngāi Tahu and the Crown, and the ninth grievance being the loss of mahinga kai places and resources.

In sequence, the whāriki reference the whakamanuhiri process of welcome and manaakitanga for the people of Christchurch and visitors to the city.


In the square on the corner of Colombo and Armagh Streets there is an extract from Kemps Deed:

Ko ō mātou kāinga nohoanga,

ko ā mātou mahinga kai,

me waiho mārie mō ā mātou tamariki,

mō muri iho i a mātou.

Kemps Deed Ngāi Tahu Signatories - 12th June Akaroa 1848

This translates to:

“Our places of residence, cultivations and food gathering places must still be left to us, for ourselves and our children after us”.

This powerful extract has a strong relationship to the Treaty of Waitangi and is also a reflection of the current whakataukī that is a driver for the work of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

A second literary work commissioned from writer Fiona Farrell called “The Deal” is also part of the featured literary trail in Victoria Square. The words are a direct reference to the origins of the square as a market place, and they reflect the bicultural response that Matapopore was determined to incorporate in the post-earthquake redesign. It reads:

In the Market Place

They traded leaves for a song,

Solid ground for a fistful of water.

(Fiona Farrell 'The Deal', 2015)


A 40-metre long, curved low wall runs behind the Queen Victoria Statue in the Square, incorporating sandblasted illustrations by Ngāi Tahu artist Jennifer Rendall. The wall is faced in basalt and the illustrations reflect the importance of indigenous and introduced flora of the area. The work is titled Parerau, which can be translated as ‘garland of leaves’. Its placement in relation to the statue of Queen Victoria was deliberately chosen to reflect and entwine with the existing features and landscape of the Square. As part of the engrained design, the wall features plant species, leaves and seed pods that appear as if blown by the prevailing winds of Canterbury.

Te Ahi Kaa

Te Ahi Kaa was crafted by master carver Riki Manuel as part of the 1990 commemorations of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The six-metre-high poupou was carved from totara and erected in Victoria Square on the banks of the Ōtākaro in 1994. Post-earthquake the poupou has been restored and brought back to its original location.

Kanakana table

From very early in the design process, Matapopore and Ngāi Tūāhuriri were keen to see whānau have access to Victoria Square for gatherings, reminiscent of the past use of the area. A new table and water tap is now positioned on the lawn close to Tauranga Waka (boat stop). The table features a mythical depiction of a kanakana (southern lamprey), an important yet elusive mahinga kai species. It also integrates a karakia mo te kai, or a blessing for food. The work has been progressed through collaborative development by Matapopore and the Ōtākaro project team.

-- ENDS --

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