Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Whau River on You Tube

Gilbert Brakey from Friends of the Whau emailed a link yeasterday to a preview clip of a documentary being prepared on the Whau River, called "Waitahurangi" (the participants appear to have links with Te Kawerau o Maki of the Waitakere Ranges).

For a river which still forms a boundary between two historical societies (mine, the Avondale-Waterview HS, and West Auckland HS), there are still unanswered questions about its history, both pre-European and after. It used to form a municipal boundary and had done since the early part of the 20th century, but that's now changed with the coming of the Super City. It has always been linked to the notion of "portage", the conveyance of people and goods from one harbour (the Manukau) to the other (the Waitemata), but even in the above clip, the Whau is referred to as "State Highway 2" to the Tamaki River's "State Highway 1". J T Diamond and Bruce Hayward wrote in their 1978 book Prehistoric Archaeological Sites of the Waitakere Ranges and West Auckland, New Zealand (p. 95):
[The Whau portage] was not as favoured as the Otahuhu portage, for the Whau route involved a steep section above Green Bay. This route was more frequently used by parties travelling on foot between the two harbours.
And there is the thing about names.

To the AWHS, because we have members from my age and up who have always known the river as the Whau (pronounced 'wow'), that is what we call it. To us, the 'f' sound introduced is a late 20th century addition. Younger people, academics, territorial authorities prefer to use the 'f', and say 'foe'. Yet, I note an interesting thing from the Friends of the Whau booklet, currently online (p. 8).
Te Whau is part of the vast area known as "Te Wao nui o Tiriwa", or "The great forest of Tiriwa", the ancient Maori name for West Auckland and surrounding districts.
Oddly enough, "Wao" is exactly as this district of the Whau was spelled at the beginning of European impact on the area, later changed to "Wahu", and then (probably because "wahoo" sounded rather daft, "Whau". It would make a ton of sense for early Europeans to have taken up the name "Te Wao" and apply it to the western districts in general. Which they did: Te Wao in the European mind was the land purchased from Ngati Whatua, up to the Waitakere Ranges.

My thanks, therefore, to the Friends of the Whau (who pronounce it "foe") for adding another piece to the Whau (pronounced 'wao') puzzle. We may even have the reverse situation to Wanganui/Whanganui -- it may turn out, in order to have correct usage, the 'h' here needs to be removed.

By the way: the name Waitahurangi as used in the clip's title is a tributary to the Whau watershed on the western side, "the Fairy River", according to the Green Bay history site, From Green Bay to Gondwanaland. Te Kawerau o Maki seem to prefer applying it to the main river itself. Which is rather neat. I reckon the name of the new local board should be Waitahurangi Local Board. It's a great name. But, there'll be those, I suppose,who'd complain that they can't pronounce it ...


  1. You have a point though. My grandfather always knew it as the 'Wow' (Whau) I have always known as the same and so did my parents. so where did this 'f' sound come from do I ask as I wring my hands and try to look innocent...

  2. This was fantastic - thank you for sharing - I love the Whau River, however, was saddened to see in the YouTube clip the state of it in some place ;'(

  3. I continue to have my doubts about the theory that it is named after the tree, Entelea Arborescens or Whau tree. But, I have yet to see proof that the tree was native to the Whau River. Discovering that full name for West Auckland in the Friends of the Whau booklet was a bit of a revelation.

    It is natural that folks today pronounce "wh" as an "f" sound with Maori placenames. That's how they are taught in school these days. I remember it just coming in when I was at school. But the sound for 'wh' is actually somewhere between 'f' and the English 'hwh' sound as in "where". Difficult to reproduce if your tongue is just used to one way of behaving.

    I've had my doubts about that 'h'. I suspected it was a rogue letter in the case of the Whau, and ironically may have been from English attempts at the true name, not Te Reo.

  4. Cheers, Cat. Yes, I'm looking forward to that documentary when it comes out. Our river deserves all the attention it can get.