I can trace my family lines in New Zealand for at least 150 years. That is not long, compared to my family history in the United Kingdom, but it seems long enough to establish a firm foothold in a relatively new land. Yet, from time to time, I find myself very ill at ease in this country, as if I were an early settler woman tripping up on her petticoat heritage as she flounders ashore to encounter sights, strange and unimaginable. Sights as distant from her life experience and comprehension as the approximately 12,000 miles she has travelled to meet them.
Such a time happened recently when we visited a small sanctuary at the intersection of two busy streets, Salisbury and Barbadoes. This spot, sequestered within a gathering of native plantings, has been calling me ever since I noticed its appearance some years ago. I finally responded to the calling on Saturday. But, when I arrived on the threshold of the enclave, I found I didn’t know how to knock on the door, nor upon whom I was calling. I had the vaguest of notions, gleaned months ago from a newspaper article , that I was at a sacred site for Maori. What did that mean? Should I take off my shoes; should I take photos? There were no signs to give a name to the area, to indicate protocol, to offer a history. Was I supposed to know all by osmosis or by virtue of my New Zealandness? As a student, I walked past this sacred site every day for a year. There wasn’t a single plant or obvious marker, at that time, and I had no idea I was walking so close to a place of treasured history. Who did know back then? Was I alone in my ignorance?
I decided, eventually, that, as an upholder of all sacred spaces, it would be okay to take some photos. At least, my photos would be more respectful than the beer bottle tossed in to the surrounding bushes.
Here are the photos.This is the approach from a side road; Cambridge Terrace. You can see what looks like a totem pole but is actually called a pou.
A close up of the plantings. This is my first view of the clear, sacred water. *”The stream has special significance because of the wairua (spirit) of the water often used by tohunga whakaora-a-wairua for healing purposes, and for the historical link with the noble chief, Tautahi”. Otautahi (Christchurch) is named after Tautahi. *”Harakeke which was vital for clothing, ropes and mats, and many medicinal plants” were also found in the area.
Here are two of the three poles that mark the spot. According to the Christchurch City Library website, the three poles represent the three waves of migration to New Zealand. After the earthquakes, they all appear to be on a lean and the middle plinth has lost its wooden top. The website doesn’t explain which pole represents which migration but I feel as though the middle one represents my sometimes unsure footing in this land.This is the water tumbling on its way to the river. This is a view of the river Avon or Otakaro. Note that across the road is the badly damaged Holiday Inn, complete with the requisite fencing and containers.Opposite the sanctuary is the oldest cemetery in Christchurch which was also damaged in the earthquakes. It was established in 1851. Perhaps the position of the cemetery is an earlier precedent for my present day floundering. Was it appropriate to place a cemetery, admittedly a sacred ground, near another sacred place associated with a vital food gathering area?
So those are my tales for Saturday’s gallivanting. * When I came home I tried to find more information on the area but the best I could locate was in
As a final note, I return to the beginning of this post and my reference to my ties to the United Kingdom. When I visited Scotland and England for the first time, I felt ‘home’ and grounded when I travelled the land. There is much to be said for ancient bonds between a person and their land. The old threads hold stronger than we think and the new weavings take forever to come together to form a warm and comforting mantle.