In the early 2000s, two construction projects caused debate because they were planned for areas where taniwha were believed to live.
In 2002, the Ngāti Naho hapū in Waikato objected to construction of a highway in a particular area, because it would destroy the lair of one of their taniwha, known as Karutahi. Eventually, Transit New Zealand agreed to partially reroute the highway.
The building of a prison in Ngāwhā, Northland, was also opposed because of belief in a taniwha. Takauere, a taniwha in the form of a log, was said to have been created by a Ngāpuhi ancestress, Kareariki. While he was mainly located at Lake Ōmāpere he was also believed to manifest himself at Ngāwhā Springs and other geothermal areas. Local hapū were concerned that the prison would impede his travel. Ultimately, against these objections the prison was built.
In both cases, raising taniwha as an objection led to controversy. Some people suggested that the objection was an attempt to get compensation, and that the taniwha could be paid to go away. Even among Māori there was disagreement as to whether the concerns about taniwha were genuine or not.
Taniwha and identity
Witi Ihimaera, author of The whale rider, says that he has a kaitiaki (guardian) which is a taniwha. Her name is Hine Te Ariki and she lives in the Waipāoa River.
When Tahu Pōtiki was chief executive officer of the administrative body of the Ngāi Tahu people, he expressed disbelief in taniwha. However, he noted that ‘the old Maori view of the world allowed for taniwha, as they explained descent lines from the gods.’ 1
While debate continues, taniwha continue to play an important role in the cultural identity of many tribal groups.