Our whare, Maahunui, takes its name from the canoe of our shared ancestor, Māui-tikitiki-a-Te-Raka. Māui is known throughout the Pacific as the great hero figure who discovered fire, slowed the sun in his pathway across the sky and hauled the islands of the Pacific from the ocean floor to the world of light. He is seen as the hero who established our daily customs while challenging the established order.

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Māui’s whakapapa is found throughout Polynesia from as far north as the Hawaiian Islands or stretching from the western islands of Tonga across to the eastern islands of Tahiti. Ngāi Tahu is the southernmost tribe holding the Māui whakapapa. Yet despite the extreme distance our whakapapa 
and traditions are consistent in acknowledging Māui as our common ancestor. Foremost among those traditions are the accounts of Māui hauling the islands up from the oceans from his canoe. This tradition establishes the South Island as the land to which our ancestors migrated and claimed.

‘Te Waka o Māui –
The canoe of Māui’
– is the oldest name 
for the South Island 
of New Zealand. ‘Te Waipounamu – The
 Greenstone Waters’ – is another name that refers to its beauty and fame as the source of greenstone, but Te Waka o Māui reaches across Polynesia and is embedded among its people. It is a name upon which New Zealand is founded and lends itself to the creation of its sister island, ‘Te Ika a Māui’, the North Island. Together both names create New Zealand. Aotearoa, like Te Waipounamu, comes later in our traditions, but neither have the feel and weight of custom that Te-Waka-o-Māui and Te-Ika-a-Māui have.

In Ngāi Tahu tradition, Māui set out on a fishing expedition with his brothers in the canoe Maahunui. As the day was drawing to a close none of the brothers had any success. Nonetheless Māui had with him the jaw of his grandfather Muri-raka-whenua, which he used as
 a fishhook. For bait he struck his nose and covered the hook with the clots from his blood. The great fish Waro took the bait and Māui began to haul the fish aboard despite the pleas of his brothers to release the fish. Māui persisted in his efforts declaring, “Ko tāku ika anō tēnei, i tae ai au ki te moana – this fish is mine that I have sought to catch’. Māui eventually landed his fish, which our traditions tell us immediately transformed into land. On his achievement his mother who was ashore at the time, dreamt of his success and said the following pepeha: “Ko Māui-pōtiki,taku tama, kei te whakatāne i a ia – that is my son, Māui, becoming a man’ Māui’s fish, the North Island (Aotearoa) is properly known as, Te Ika- a-Māui’. And his canoe then became the South Island or, Te Waka-a- Māui – the canoe of Māui’. Stewart Island was known as the anchor for the Maahunui and bears the name, ‘Te Puka-a-Māui’.

Maahunui was the name of Māui’s canoe and it is the name that our new whare continues to carry from its predecessor.

This information has been sourced from the Ngāi Tūāhuriri: Tuahiwi and Takiwā booklet produced by the Ngāi Tūāhuriri Education Committee, 2014 and the Christchurch City Libraries website.