Dead kiwi given second life as kākahu and taonga

The kiwi is one of our most iconic manu - but also one of our most vulnerable. 

However, Northland iwi Ngāti Torehina ki Matakā are honouring kiwi that die by creating kākahu and taonga.

A new book is being launched to document the iwi's journey so far.

Ngāti Torehina ki Matakā kaumatua Hugh Rihari lives near the Rangihoua Heritage Park - a wāhi of historical significance in the Bay of Islands. Traditional pā sites which are hundreds of years old line the hillsides, and Pākehā missionaries first landed here in 1814.

Today it's home to one of the highest populations of brown kiwi in Te Tai Tokerau.

"I can relate to the fact that kiwi is an iconic identification for Aotearoa, New Zealand to the great world outside," says Rihari.

Although there is highly effective predator control in the park, high numbers of kiwi are still killed in the Bay of Islands by stoats, dogs and cars. Between 2018 and 2019, 39 dead kiwi were handed in to the Department of Conservation (DoC) in Kerikeri - and half of them were hit by cars. The dead birds are stored in DoC freezers.

A deceased kiwi about to undergo a transformation.
A deceased kiwi about to undergo a transformation. Photo credit: The Hui

The journey to empower local hapu to maintain mana over kiwi is being led by Raewyn Ormsby Rihari and Tiwai Rihari-Rawiri.

Tiwai first started teaching Raewyn 10 years ago. Raewyn and Tiwai both hold permits and hold wananga where they teach hapū members how to pelt kiwi and use their feathers. Raewyn says it's emotional pelting them.

"Because, you know, we're like, 'Oh my god - this is our national symbol, lying here dead.' But we're privileged to be able to bring them alive again."

Cinzia Vestena is the biodiversity ranger for DOC in the Bay of The Islands. For the last decade she's been part of building a relationship with Ngāti Torehina ki Matakā.

"It's amazing seeing something being turned from [something] dead into something beautiful."

Kiwi can be kept in freezers for a number of years, and information is collected so they can be returned to the correct hapū. And those hapū are now making the most of these taonga.

Raewyn and Tiwai are sharing their journey in a new book, Te Manu Huna a Tāne.  The confronting pictures in the book reveal the pelting process in full detail. 

Tiwai says the process is moving.

"These manu have sacrificed their sacrifice for us that we can continue this this mahi."

Rihari wants people to see how vital it is for them to become kaitiaki for our kiwi.

"We know that we are transgressing their tūrangawaewae and we need to be more protective of them. But I think the idea really lies in working together. 

The Hui