Poverty Bay, or Tūranganui-a-Kiwa? Gisborne split between past and future

An official application to replace the name Poverty Bay with its original place name, Tūranganui-ā-Kiwa, is dividing Gisborne.

Almost 250 years on, there's a renewed push for change.

"Why can't we restore that mana back into our whenua and our tipuna (Kiwa) that arrived here? Because he was the original tipuna that arrived here on our sacred waka," says Ana Te Kani, a teacher at Kaiti School.

Ana's grandmother, Gisborne community leader Rawinia Te Kani, fought to recognise the name Tūranganui-ā-Kiwa - and although she didn't live to see her dream of an official name change, the next generation has a better chance of seeing that fulfilled.

"Kids at Kaiti School definitely know Tūranganui-ā-Kiwa is the name that was given to this area, and I suppose if you say Poverty Bay to them, they go, 'What's that name, Kōkā? I haven't heard that before," says Ana.

"If I could change it that would be really good, and I'd be happy because we're not poor," says 11-year-old Kaiti School pupil Connor Paenga.

But Gisborne retiree Mike Mulrooney is strongly in support of keeping the status quo, and wrote into the local paper arguing that history is history and no one has the right to alter it.

"This is the thin end of the wedge. Once you start it, it's going to escalate. I think we must retain a degree of colonisation," says Mr Mulrooney.

Sea Captain and Voyager Te Aturangi Nepia-Clamp has been sailing for more than 30 years. He feels the time has come to recognise those who shaped our past and use it to educate future generations.

"I'm not in favour of Poverty Bay, but as many would say that is a part of our history, just as Tūranganui-ā-Kiwa is a part of our history. I have mixed feelings about what happened with the first arrival and they aren't pleasant feelings because of the bloodshed," he says.

Those in favour of changing the name feel that the word "poverty" has negative connotations of being inferior and extremely poor.

"Poverty Bay, that was our name and that's all there was to it, and they didn't have this thought that, 'oh, Poverty, that's a terrible name.' It never occurred to them at all," says Mike.

Poverty Bay.
Poverty Bay. Photo credit: The Hui

It was Kaiti School that got the ball rolling five years ago, creating a petition to officially change the name. A dual name of Tūranganui-ā-Kiwa Poverty Bay has now got the backing from Gisborne City Council.

"It's about giving mana back to the name - Kiwa is the tipuna that arrived here and he gave that name, and that name has more meaning, more valuable meaning than Poverty Bay," Ana adds.

More discussion and detailed historical research will be carried out, and it'll be the New Zealand Geographical Board who will ultimately decide on any official name change.

The descendants of Kiwa feel they've waited long enough to finally set the history books straight.

"We were the original name here and somehow it's been brushed under the carpet without a thought to our feelings," Te Aturangi says.

The Hui