Awarua o Porirua taniwha at Mana Island

Awarua O Porirua is a taniwha (see below) of Porirua harbour. The young Awarua wanted to be able to migrate with his friends the birds. So, secretly by night, he taught himself to fly. He crashed twice on his first public flight – the second time into Mana Island, taking the top off it.

This Awarua is based on pre-European Maori drawings of a taniwha and a bird form found in caves at Opihi and Te Manunui in South Canterbury. I first saw the Opihi taniwha on the NZ Christmas stamp of 1960 – it fascinated me as a 5+ year old, I traced and copied it many times after that. And I finally got to visit it in early 2021, plus the excellent rock art museum in Timaru – as they said, these images were NZ’s first art gallery.

A well-known Ngai Tahu rock art researcher, Gerard O’Regan, contacted me in January 2019 for permission to show this in his museum and university talks that refer to the modern re-use of rock art imagery. 

A creature of many forms

From – govt

“Taniwha are supernatural creatures whose forms and characteristics vary according to different tribal traditions. Though supernatural, in the Māori world view they were seen as part of the natural environment. Taniwha have been described as fabulous monsters that live in deep water. Others refer to them as dragons – many taniwha looked like reptiles, had wings and ate people. They could also take the shape of animals such as sharks, whales, octopuses, or even logs. Some taniwha could change their shape, moving between different forms.

Taniwha were either male or female. They usually lived in or near the water – lakes, rivers or the sea. They hid in lairs known as rua taniwha, which could be deep pools, caves, or dangerous waterways – areas that people avoided.

In some traditions, taniwha were terrifying creatures that captured people and ate them. Occasionally, it was said that they would kidnap women to live with them as wives. These monsters would inevitably be killed and the women returned to their families.

Others were kaitiaki, or protectors of iwi (tribes) and hapū (sub-tribes). These ones were respected, and people who passed by their dens would say the appropriate karakia (charm) and leave an offering, often a green twig”.


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