Story: Early mapping

Māori map of New Zealand (1st of 3)

Māori did not have a tradition of drawing maps – their geographical knowledge was expressed in oral traditions. But once Europeans began visiting New Zealand, Māori were able to translate this knowledge into map form. The earliest Māori map to have survived was drawn by Tukitahua of Ōruru in 1791. Tukitahua and Ngahuruhuru were taken from their home in Northland to Norfolk Island, where it was hoped that they would be able to teach the convicts about flax weaving. But as both were men, their knowledge of flax preparation was minimal. While trying to explain where they would like to be returned to, Tukitahua drew a map of New Zealand on the floor in chalk, which was then transferred to paper. His map gives most prominence to those areas he knew well and that were important to him. Tukitahua also included spiritual information. The path that the spirits of the dead follow to Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Rēinga) before departing to the spiritual homeland of Hawaiki runs through the North Island.

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Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: MapColl-CHA-2/1/9

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

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How to cite this page:

Melanie Lovell-Smith, 'Early mapping - Māori and maps of colonisation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 27 May 2022)

Story by Melanie Lovell-Smith, published 24 Sep 2007