Shore Whaler's Wahine

Since I am of Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha and Pākehā descent it is natural and logical that my research be focused upon a central core of selected wahine from the South Island. Additionally, this is where the strength of my research lies. My experience to date has taught me that there are many good examples of these women particularly from Otago and Southland.

As Hana O’Regan has observed in her book Ko Tahu, Ko Au - Kāi Tahu Tribal Identity many modern Southern Māori have a strong a sense of identity that is derived equally from both their Māori and whaler and sealer heritage. This mixed-race heritage is one of the defining characteristics of many modern Kāi Tahu whānau. The importance of recording the story of this particular group of wahine not only from their descendants’ perspective but also from a collective Kāi Tahu Whānui point of view should not therefore be underestimated.

Frederick Tuckett (The New Zealand Company’s Chief Surveyor) estimated in 1844 that “two thirds of the (southern) native women, who are not aged, are living with Europeans”. This demonstrates that even by 1844 these wahine numerically comprised a large percentage of the female Kāi Tahu population. Atholl Anderson (A Kāi Tahu historian [Professor of Prehistory in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at Australia’s National University Canberra in 2008]) has also observed that this situation must have been a major cause of the decline in Southern Māori population by the 1840’s.

By 1864 people of mixed race comprised 24 per cent of the total Māori population in Otago and Southland. They were the most numerous around the shores of Foveaux Strait, which had 68 per cent of the mixed race population.

The early and extensive cultural partnerships between these wahine and the sealers and whalers is an important characteristic distinguishing Kāi Tahu from other Iwi.

Despite the strong Southern Māori flavour of my research, I am keen to compare the lives of these wahine to their contemporaries from other early shore stations around New Zealand and broaden the appeal of my project to a wider cross section of the general public.