Hiku Davis: Working with a sense of the past
Updated: May 16
Hiku Davis’s family has gone by different names – Snowdon, Davis, Davies, and Rewiti.
They reflect a mixing of bloods and fortune since an English ancestor married into whānau from Aotea in the 1820s.
With no D, V or S in te reo, Davis morphed into Rewiti while the family navigated turbulent times and shifting allegiances.
Hiku’s whakapapa lines reach back to Hongi Hika, which enabled some of his ancestors to remain on Aotea while others took refuge among relatives on the Coromandel with the arrival of Ngāpuhi muskets.
With most mana whenua dispersed, Aotea’s land was quickly parcelled up and sold to Europeans, who took up copper mining, timber milling and farming. Māori land was reduced to native reserve around Te Whānga-o-Motairehe/ Katherine Bay and offshore islands like the Broken group.
Hiku, now 36 and living in Motairehe, grew up in the bay and remembers at age four playing on the rocky beach, swimming with his friends and noticing a stone that stood out among hundreds of thousands of others. He showed it to his mum who took it to someone who had experience and they identified it as a broken handle of a patu, a stone adze.
It marked the beginning of his curiosity with the past, and this knowledge is now sought after when koiwi, skeletal remains, or artefacts are found around the motu and they need to be handled with appropriate tikanga.
When the Tū Mai Taonga project approached the taumata, Ngāti Rehua Ngātiwai ki Aotea’s kaumatua group, about protocols for establishing tracks for a network of feral cat and rat traps in Te Paparahi, it was Hiku they turned to.
His job as wahi tapu advisor is to work alongside the field crew in the bush.
His sense of previous use and occupation is mainly guided by sight; subtle changes in vegetation and topography that suggest a clearing and flattening for a pā site or hunting camp.
“Most people see a hole in the ground, I see a kumara pit. You map it out and you start seeing other features like a terrace, have a look at the ground and give it a scratch and see charcoal, or maybe an obsidian flake.
“You notice sun and shelter … it’s nice to wake up on the east side of a mountain.”
Hiku says, “what’s expected of me is to make sure these sites are left alone; these places are sacred, our people have lived and died here for generations.”
He says the pattern of use of Te Paparahi reflects the period before European arrival when the population around Aotearoa was growing and there were periodic shortages and competition for resources.
Easy meat – moa and seals (bones of which have been found in middens at Awana and Whangapoua) – had been exhausted and hunting parties moved through the gulf and landscapes following shark, seabirds, kererū and other food.
“They were almost nomadic, moving to the best muttonbirding or crayfishing areas according to the season.”
The 1700s saw fortification of headlands, evidenced in terracing around Aotea, and the storage of food away from an easily raided coast.
“The Ōkiwi basin was rich growing soils and the hills at the top were good places to store kumara, easy to defend. If you saw someone that might be hostile, you go bush.”
Recently, he stopped the field crew and diverted trail making around a flattened area halfway up a ridgeline from the coast. Puzzled, he sat there wondering about its purpose, then noticed “taraire trees and a couple of pigeons nervously flying around”.
The arrival of rats and house cats would have made a huge difference, he says. Before that the camps suggest there was a sustainable harvest of birds.
Hiku is saddened by how few birds the field team is seeing in Te Paparahi and pleased that the Tū Mai Taonga project is an opportunity to change that.
He has worked in the past for the Department of Conservation, the council and road contracting crews, but says Tū Mai Toanga is going about things in a careful way; making sure the voices of mana whenua are listened to and enabling them to shape the way that life can be returned to the forest.
Story and photos by Tim Higham for the Tū Mai Taonga Project