Rights: Waikato-Tainui College for Research and Development. Published 19 March 2014 Download

Wiremu Puke likens the relationship to the river as a bond between a mother and child. The bond is strengthened as people realise how important the river is. Wiremu stresses that retention of river stories keeps connections to the river alive. Wiremu is a child of the late Hare Puke – a former chairperson of the Tainui Māori Trust Board.


I used to hear the old people talk about this river as almost like one’s pito. That pito is like a emotional bond as a mother with its child – the same bond I would have with my aunty and with any members of my family. You can’t break that bond, but that bond can only be strengthened when one becomes more aware of the importance of a river like this.

When I think of the river – Waikato Taniwharau, he piko he taniwha, on every bend of the Waikato river is a chief – that really talks about the kaitiakitanga of each other’s tūpuna that they had over this river and being able to provide kai, to host and to celebrate their mana. Not all of it was always happy, but that comes with the territory. At the time, there was a lot of competition over kai, over māra kai were particularly the most prized.

I think with this river here, it’s a river that’s dangerous as well. You gotta be tūpato. If this river was a different river, like clean flowing water, you could see the bottom, safe to swim in – I bet you even the Pākehā will agree to me arguing over its mystique. If it was like this – if it was a river that was slow and meandering, safe to swim in, clean to look at and freshwater and you can see fish float in it, I bet you everybody would be on board the same waka. And because the river is only barely noticeable, you just drive across it, you only get about a 3 or 4 second snapshot of it, otherwise, unless you live on the banks of it, it doesn’t become as meaningful as it is.

I think, ensuring that those hapū histories are not lost. That’s the main part of keeping the connection alive and ensuring into the future we can commemorate those tūpuna, those wāhi tapu and in meaningful ways. And we’ve already provided added provisions here with the city council that many of our wāhi tapu pā along this river here in Kirikiriroa will be commemorated with pou and to allow whānau to bury pito and things under those pou to show their direct whakapapa link back to those sites, places that were recorded in those traditions.

Wiremu Puke

The Waikato Tainui College for Research and Development acknowledges the financial support given by the Waikato River Cleanup Trust Fund which is administered by the Waikato River Authority.

The Waikato River Cleanup Trust does not necessarily endorse or support the content of the publication in any way.