One year on: Uwhi trial expands
February 01, 2023 | Stories

By Niki Partsch

New, strongly woven weed supressing mats have been created to handle the moving water of streams and waterways that feed into lakes.

Uwhi are large mats woven from harakeke and other materials. Trials began in December 2021 with the laying of uwhi in lakes Tarawera, Rotoma and Rotoiti, in the Rotorua district.

The first uwhi were created by master weavers of Te Roopu Raranga Ki Rotorua. They were designed to supress pest weed in lakes, and to allow regeneration of native weeds which are important to the health of our lakes and waterways. 

The uwhi have been regularly monitored over the last year and the waterways are showing a consistent decrease in invasive pest weed species. The mats have lasted well in the lake conditions. “They are not too different from when they first went in,” says Te Arawa Lakes Trust Biosecurity Manager, William Anaru. “The uwhi are still suppressing invasive weeds 12 months on.”

The opportunity to expand the trial to Kaikaitāhuna (Hamurana Springs), on the northern side of lake Rotorua, has been welcomed by Te Arawa Lakes Trust, who hope that it can be shown that uwhi can be used to eradicate invasive pest weed from waterways that feed into lakes. William says “Kaikaitāhuna is a taonga (treasure) to the people of Ngāti Rangiwewehi and their association with the spring goes back to the mid-1300s. Their knowledge can only help us better understand the mahi we are doing.”

Ngāti Rangiwewehi weavers, created a new papa tuwhara (floor mat) which has been laid and secured to the stream bed at Te Kaikaitāhuna. Two ancient taniwha, Pekehāua and Hinerua are kaitiaki (guardians) of this spring and connected waterways. Benevolent female taniwha Hinerua resides at Hamurana Springs.

Karl Leonard, Ngāti Rangiwewehi master weaver and Tarimano Marae chairperson, explains how many things were infused into their papa tuwhara. “Reconnection, whakapapa and whanaungatanga, these are the important drivers. It was about laying a foundation for our iwi to become involved, to reconnect to our taonga. The problems in the waterways are huge, for us this is the first investment by our iwi into this process.”

Ngāti Rangiwewehi master weaver Donna Waiariki was also present, says Karl. “I was lucky, there was a big contribution from her to help with this kaupapa (initiative).”

“We reinforced the edges of the papa tuwhara for stability and kept the plaits, knots and whītau (fibre) on the surface. In the water, the fibre strands rose up and moved, massaging the taniwha Hinerua and making the tuwhara look alive,” says Karl.

The 5m x 2.5m papa tuwhara was woven within the iwi, on the verandah of their wharekai over a very significant weekend. “We had our kapa haka rōpū going, we also had the presentation of war medals to some of our fathers,” says Karl.

At the completion of the tuwhara, children from their on-site kōhanga reo (language nest) came to engage. “We had the kids come in, they sat on it, they sung.” Karl says. “While initially some whānau came out of curiosity, or to learn the art of raranga (weaving), it is the whanaungatanga (strengthening of family ties through shared experience) that comes out of whakapapa that is the kura huna, the hidden gem.”

Karl reflects that the event drew forth a range of emotions. “The tears of emotion that the kairaranga (weavers) shed on the day, came not from breaking new ground, killing invasive weeds, or weaving a tuwhara, but from whakapapa. The sense of obligation and responsibility, to the awa, to the whenua, to Hinerua and to the whakapapa of one another.”


Niki Partsch | Kaitohutohu Whanake - Māori Heritage Advisor
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