Wednesday, 7 September 2016

1998 The Statue of Wairaka

       Back in June, when Kim was working on her post, 1998 - 1999 Scenic Stamps, she came across a stamp featuring the Statue of Wairaka found mounted on a large rock at the mouth of the Whakatane River (harbour). At that time I provided her with a short version of the story of Wairaka but now I wish to explore this story in greater detail along with better photographs of her statue that can be barely seen on the stamp.

$1.50 - Wairaka at Sunset, Whakatane.
A seldom-seen perspective, by Cam Feast, of the statue of Wairaka which stands on top of one of the rocks at the channel entrance of Whakatane Harbour (river) in the Bay of Plenty.

1998 Scenic Skies $1.50 Max Card.
Wairaka stands on her rock at the Whakatane Heads.

Local exhibition held in Whakatane in September 1999.
Notice the figure on the postal cancellation is The Statue of Wairaka, found on the rocks at the mouth of the Whakatane River.

Whakatane (to act as a man) - This story springs from the classic period of Maori migration to New Zealand. The women of the Mataatua Waka (canoe), left to themselves when the men went ashore for the first time, found their waka (canoe) beginning to drift out to sea again. If something wasn't done soon, the waka and all the women would be lost on the rocks at the harbour entrance.

While the canoe still contained all the paddles, these were tapu to women and could not be touched since they held the mana of Toroa, captain-navigator of the Mataatua. A high-spirited teenager, Wairaka, who was the daughter of Chief Toroa, realised their only chance was for the women to save themselves, so she boldly seized one of the paddles and began to paddle the waka back to shore. (Most women were able to use and paddle the small canoes used for everyday fishing.) As she did this, Wairaka shouted, Kia Whakatane au i ahau (to act as a man). Other women, including her mother/aunt Muriwai, followed her example until some of the men swam out to take over.

Later Wairaka stood before her father to face her punishment. She knew she had done wrong, by breaking the tapu and mana of her father, great damage had been done. She knew that many karakia (incantations) would be needed to undo this damage and restore her father's mana to the Mataatua waka. Also, all the paddles that the women had touched would need to be destroyed because they had been defiled. Even some of the men who had used the paddles held by the women had broken the mana too.

Toroa also knew that his daughter had done a great wrong but he also realised her quick thinking had saved his people from an even greater disaster. Bravery and actions such as this, hold honour and respect among the Maori people and so it was with Toroa too. He decided to forgo the usual punishment in favour of honouring her for her actions and leadership.

Kia Whakatane au i ahau (to act as a man), today the modern city gets its name from this story.  

A bronze statue of Wairaka stands on a rock at the Whakatane Heads to commemorate this act. Unveiled at the Whakatane Heads in 1965 as a memorial to the wife of Sir William Sullivan. This bronze statue atop Turuturu Rock lies at the mouth of the Whakatane River and commemorates the bravery of Wairaka, the daughter of Toroa, captain-navigator of the Mataatua waka.

Owairaka School.   The Story of Wairaka.
        Here is another version of this story which I thought worth including. I found it on the website of Owairaka School in Auckland.

Wairaka is a Māori ancestor for the Mt Albert (Owairaka) area of Auckland. She is known as one of the beautiful daughters of Toroa, chief of the Ngati Awa tribe and captain of the Mātatua waka (canoe). Wairaka is known throughout New Zealand because of her bravery. She is known as a strong leader of her people.
Wairaka was very strong and powerful because she was a leader. She was a leader that gave wise advice to her phenomenal people. As she took her place as a leader, life in those strenuous days became easier and happier for her people.
One story of Wairaka’s bravery is when she saved the Mātatua waka and the Ngati Awa tribe, after their arrival in Aotearoa, New Zealand. With her mighty words she called to her ancestors praying, “Kia Whakatane au i ahau (let me act like a man)". She grabbed the paddle and advised the women to save themselves from death.
Touching the paddle in those days was very ‘tapu’ or sacred. But Wairaka knew it had to be done.
Wairaka was very brave and very important and that is why she has been remembered. After this event she came up to Auckland, settling in the area we now call Owairaka.
Our school and our mountain are both called Owairaka meaning it belongs to or where she (Wairaka) lived.

"Wairaka was an important, powerful woman. In these days hardly any Māori people forget the interesting history of Wairaka. She is a role model for all people and her memory continues to inspire us today."

Some of the images in this post were used with permission from the illustrated catalogue of Stamps NZ
You can visit their website and On-line Catalogue at,

Some Information or images for this post came from.


  1. I remember this stature. We saw it on that trip Allan snr arranged to White Island. Its on that big rock just before those waves as we leave the Whakatane River Mouth. Now I know the story behind it, as well as how Whakatane got it's name.
    I've enjoyed many of your Maori story posts Allan. You've put a lot of work into this blog.

  2. I have just found this post.
    I like the way you told this story. It's a bit different to the story as I know it but I would not ask you to change it. The stamp does not display the statue to it's best advantage since the subject is more the sunset but the photos you added do that.
    Now I like the attempt you made at explaining tapu and wby the waka paddle should not have been touched. That is a complex issue that would take many words but you did well. I also like how you described Toroa's decision to punish her or not. Good work Allan.

    1. Yes Reshma. That is the statue just as you leave the river mouth on the left-hand side. We did see it on the way to White Island and it was pointed out by the boat's captain.
      Glad you are enjoying and learnt something from our blog. That is what it's all about here.

      Thank you Moa.
      I felt for someone who knew nothing of Maori culture it would appear silly that the woman would not do anything to save themselves so I thought further explanation would be helpful. I also reasoned that it would be a difficult decision for a leader such as Toroa to decide about his daughter. Finally I took the idea from the story of Hinemoa where her father recognized her bravery and allowed her the man she loved. Notice she is remembered for her bravery and leadership qualities by the children of Owairaka School.
      Am I correct here? Please tell me and I'll change it?