Sunday, June 19, 2016

What's in a name?

My very first blog in this series was about naming places, and the significance and meaning of place names. The past few weeks I've been learning with work colleagues a waiata relating to Te Whanganui a Tara (Wellington Harbour). From the perspective of someone sitting on Mātairangi (Mt Victoria), it names and relates stories about some of the harbour's features - locating them through Maori genealogies and histories.

It got me talking to a friend this week about Māori and Pākehā placenames round Wellington. The Maori names are generally more colourful and have a rich story around them - when you find out what they was. It also seemed to be more relevant to the place.

But I realised that even European names that seemed bland or largely irrelevant to the feature so named, started to speak volumes about aspects of the European/Pākehā relationship to the land in question. For instance, Somes and Ward Islands in the middle of the harbour take their name after Joseph Somes and John Ward, London-based governor and secretary respectively of the New Zealand Company - which bought the islands and other land around Wellington from Te Ati Awa in September 1839.

Those same two islands bear the names Matiu and Mākaro, after daughters or nieces of the Māori explorer Kupe, said to be the first person to visit these shores. However, as far as I know, Somes and Ward never visited the country, preferring instead to make their profits from those lured by the promises of the Company. But Somes, Ward and others' foreign and purely financial interest in the land leaves its legacy in their name on our islands - even after being handed back to Māori.

However, after sounding that discordant note, I leave you with an electronic version of the waiata we were learning, Noho Ake Au, by PAO. (We didn't sing it like this.)

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