Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Whau River on You Tube

Gilbert Brakey from Friends of the Whau emailed a link yesterday 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 ...

Edited to add (27 February 2017):

I came upon news articles referring to "Te Wau Point" or the "Maori Lookout" in Blockhouse Bay today, dating from 1937.

Also -- there is the text of Deed 208, dating from 29 June 1841:

Deeds—No. 208.
Land between Orakei and Manukau, Auckland District.
Kia mohio nga tangata katoa i tenei Pukapuka ko matou nga Rangatira me nga tangata o Ngatiwatua ka tuku ka hoko atu nei i tenei kainga o matou e takoto ana WAITEMATA TO MANUKAU.i roto i nga Rohe tuhituhia ana ki tenei Pukapuka ki a te Karaka te kai tiaki o nga tangata Maori mo te Kuini o Ingarangi mo ona uri iho mo tetahi tangata wahine ranei e waiho ai e Ingarangi hei Kingi hei Kuini ranei ake tonu atu—te Wenua nga Wai katoa me nga mea katoa o runga o raro o taua Wenua ka hokona rawatia nei e matou ki a te Karaka te Kai tiaki o nga tangata Maori mo te Kuini o Ingarangi mo ona uri iho mo tetahi tangata wahine ranei e waiho ai e Ingarangi hei Kingi hei Kuini ranei ake tonu atu. Boundaries.Ko te rohe ki te Ita ka timata ki Orakei ka haere i te ara e tika ana ki Manukau a tae rawa ki Maunga—kiekie ko te rohe ki te Hauta ka haere i Maunga—kiekie a Puketapapa a Wairaka a te totongo waka ki te Wao ko te rohe ki te Weta ka haere i te Wao a tae rawa ki te rohe i hokona e matou i mua ki te Kuini ko te rohe ki te Nota te rohe Places sold excluded.o te Kuini a ka haere i tatahi a Te Kokorutanga o Orakei (ko nga kainga ia i hokona ketia e matou i mua ki te Pakeha kia kapea.) Receipt for cash £200, 4 horses, 30 blankets, 10 cloaks, 1 tent, 1 desk.Ka tangohia nei e matou nga utu mo to matou kainga E rua rau Pauna moni e wa Hoiho e toru tekau Paraikete kotahi tekau Koroku kotahi Teneti kotahi Pouaka Hira. Tirohia o matou ingoa me o matou tohu ka tuhituhia nei ki tenei Pukapuka i tenei ra i Waitemata i te rua tekau ma iwa o Hune i tenei tau o to tatou Ariki kotahi mano e waru rau e wha tekau ma tahi i te tirohanga o enei Kai titiro.

Na te Reweti Tamaki.
Te tohu x o Kawau.
Na te Hira.
Na Paora tona tohu.
Te tohu x o Taumata.


Jas. Stuart Freeman.
Wm. L. Standinger.
G. E. Eliott.
Auckland,29th June, 1841.

In lieu of the above-mentioned Cloaks, His Excellency has been pleased to approve of the Chief Davis receiving the sum of (£25.0.0.) Twenty five Pounds sterling. George Clarke, Protector of Aborigines. Received the above £25 . 0 . 0 in lieu of the Cloaks.Receipt for £25 in lieu of 10 cloaks. Na te Reweti. Witness— H. D. Smart.

Know all men by this document that we the Chiefs and men of the Ngatiwatua tribe 1841. 29 June.Auckland District. give up and sell the portion of land described within the boundaries mentioned in this writing to Mr. Clarke the protector of the Natives for the Queen of England and her heirs whether male or female whether Kings or Queens for ever the land the whole of WAITEMATA TO MANUKAU. the water and everything above or below that land and we altogether sell to Mr. Clarke Protector of Aborigines on behalf of the Queen of England and her heirs whether male or female. The Eastern boundary commences at Orakei and runs along the road to Manukau Boundaries. until it reaches Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) The Southern boundary runs from One Tree Hill to Puketapapa (Mount Rascal) by Wairaka to the portage at Te Wao The Western boundary runs from (the portage) Te Wao to the boundary of the land formerly sold by us to the Queen The Northern boundary runs from the Queen's boundary along the Sea Coast to the Bay of Orakei (The places we separately sold to Europeans formerly Places already sold excluded. to be excluded). And we have received payment for our land Two hundred pounds in money £200 Receipt for £200, horses, and goods. (4) Four Horses (30) Thirty blankets (10) ten cloaks (1) one tent and one sealing box (Desk?) In witness whereof behold our names and marks affixed to this document on this day at Waitemata on the twenty ninth day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty one in the presence of these witnesses.

From Te Reweti Tamaki.
The mark x of Kawau.
From Te Hira.
From Paora his mark.
The mark x of Taumata.

Witnesses— Jas. Stuart Freeman.
Wm. Standinger.
G. E. Eliott.

A true translation.
John Jermyn Symonds, Native Secretary. Auckland, October 7th, 1847.

A True Copy of Original Deed and Translation.
H. Hanson Turton. Wellington, October 28th, 1874.


  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.