Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 52, 1920
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The testimony of the southern Maori that greenstone was got a [ unclear: ] head of Lake Wakatipu raises the query, What is the correct for [ unclear: ] the name Wakatipu? Shortland gives the name as “Wakatipua” [ unclear: ] two maps in his book, The Southern Districts of New Zealand, and [ unclear: ] page 205 also spells the name with a final “a,” but at page 35 he refers to the lake as “Wakatipu.”

Its correct form is one of the conundrums in Maori nomenclature. The difficulty is threefold: Should there be an “h” in the name, or a final “a,” or both? I referred the matter to the best-informed of the southern Maori, and have nine opinions regarding it, but cannot says am much further ahead.

Two of the old men said the name was Wakatipu, and meant “growing” canoe”; but why it was growing they knew not, except it was a sort of magic canoe. Another also said the first part of the name was waka, not whaka. He had never heard the reason for the name, but considered it was a canoe to cross the lake. An old woman said she had heard no traditions to account for the name, but the old people she had known usually called the lake by the name of Whakatipu-wai-maori. An old man said, “Whakatipu means ‘to grow,’ ‘to nourish,’ and the reason the name was given was because the Waitaha and Kati-Mamoe tribes when beaten in war retired there to rear families.” But against this one of the best authorities on southern history says it is a Waitaha name given long before the Kati-Mamoe appeared in the south. The Waitaha, he says, were descended from Toi, Rauru, and Rakaihautu, and why they named the lake “Whakatipu” is not known, but, as far as he knew, it was not after any chief or ancestor. The late Tare-te-Maiharoa said he did not know who named Wakatipu, nor why. It was a Waitaha name, and its origin had been lost in antiquity. Another usually well-informed man said he had never heard the origin of the name, nor did he even know the correct form of the word. The last opinion I got was from a man who gave me numerous place-names of the lake vicinity, and he said the Waitaha bestowed the name Whakatipu. The word whaka (or, as the North-Islanders would say, whanga) meant “a bay,” and tipu meant “growing,” but he had never heard why the Waitaha applied the name.

In regard to information derived by Europeans from Maori sources, Mr. Henry P. Young, who got his information at Colac Bay, wrote in 1903, “Wakatipu should be Wakatipua, the waka or hollow of the tipua or demon from the well-known legend.” Mr. Henry E. Nickless, writing in 1898, said that Hoani Matewai Poko, a son of Te Waewae, told him the proper name of the lake was Whakatipu and not Whakatipua. Mr. H. M. Stowell (Hare Hongi), in 1898—the year the stamp was printed with “Wakitipu” on it—wrote that the name should be Whakatipu; and he was followed by Mr. S. Percy Smith, who wrote, “Mr. Stowell may be right about Whakatipu, although Tare Wetere assures me that it should be Whakatipua, and I am inclined to think that the name should be Wakatipua.” Halswell in his 1841 map spelt the name “Wakatopa.” James F. Healey, writing in 1898, said that the Waitaki Maori in 1856 gave him the name as Whakatipu, and said it was a mighty lake [ unclear: ] existed near a greenstone river. A white settler told me that the [ unclear: ] had told him the name was Waka-tipua because a phantom can [ unclear: ] to drift on the lake. In Mr. Cowan's notes was one—“Whaka [ unclear: ] was the name of a canoe in which the Maoris went to fetch the [ unclear: ]

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[ unclear: ] wai from across Lake Whakatipu.” Mr. Cowan says in his Maoris [ unclear: ] New Zealand the full name of the lake is Te-roto-whakatipu-whenua.

The late Mr. W. S. Young, of Otakeho, writing to me regarding his [ unclear: ] trips in 1857–59, said a very intelligent old Maori, Kawana by name, told them he used “to live at a large lake called Wakatapu, the only place where greenstone could be obtained. Opposite their settlement on the shore of the lake was a great cliff, which occasionally broke away, when the chief would launch his sacred canoe, Wakatapu—hence the name given to the lake—and, paddling across, obtain pieces of greenstone and distribute them among the tribe. Ultimately the northern Maori came after greenstone and destroyed the lake tribe… When or how the name first degenerated from Wakatapu to Wakatipu is more than I can tell. Had we lived in southern Otago I think the lake would have been called Wakatapu (sacred canoe).” Mr. Young saw the lake and a slip in a cliff from the top of the Shotover Mountains; but as he soon after removed to the North Island he never saw at close quarters the Roto Wakatapu and the Pari Pounamu (greenstone cliff) described by old Kawana.

In a letter to me Mr. S. Percy Smith says he is inclined to think the name should be Whaka-tipua, and that is also my conclusion. An old legend says the lake-bed was formed by a giant ogre or tipua, called Kopu-wai, being burnt there. Shortland. wrote wakapapa instead of whakapapa, so he may also have written “Wakatipua” for “Whakatipua.” The tradition of a canoe crossing the lake for greenstone will probably be true, but it has become grafted into or intermixed with the older story that the great hollow in which the lake lies was formed by the ashes of the giant. Hence we find the conflicting opinions already recorded. The matter cannot be regarded as settled yet, but it is hoped that the foregoing information may help towards a solution.

The question as to whether the name is rightly Wai-pounamu or Wahi-pounamu is an interesting one. The southern Maori was almost as bad as the cockney for deleting and adding the aspirate. Dozens of examples could be given, but one will suffice here. There is an island east of Stewart Island, and its name is Wahi-taua, but it is usually called Wai-taua. Even in Mr. Justice Chapman's paper there are two illustrations of this trait. One kind of greenstone is called auhunga on page 513, and on page 515 it is called hauhunga. On page 509 an ear-pendant is termed kapehu and also kapeu. One of my informants found a kapeu on Pigeon Island (Wawahi-waka), Lake Wakatipu, in the year 1864. It must be very old, as it was worn white. As far as I know, he has it still in his possession. To revert to Wai-pounamu and Wahi-pounamu, I think it is probable both forms were used—the former for the rivers of Westland, where pounamu was got in the water, and the latter for perhaps Piopiotahi and Te Koroka, where it was procured from cliffs or mountain-sides.

Mr. Cowan gives the kind of greenstone that was found at the head of Lake Wakatipu as koko-tangiwai, but I was told it was inaka (or inanga). I heard recently that a European resident in that locality had come across what he considered to be an old greenstone-quarry. If that be so, we should be able to ascertain something more than we know at present about this traditional pounamu hunting-ground.