Tōtara Stump 

Totara Stump

Curriculum links

Learning areas

  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Which strands will it fit with?

  • Social Studies – Place and Environment, Continuity and Change, Identity, Culture, and Organisation
  • Technology – Nature of Technology

Key Competencies

Thinking, Relating to others, Participating and contributing 

Levels of achievement

 Levels 1-7 

Year groups

Years 1-13

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Which topics of study can it support?

  • New Zealand Technological Advances
  • Innovation and Invention
  • New Zealand Society – Past and Present
  • Pūrākau

How long might this take?

Allow 5-10 minutes.

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Where do I find it?

  • Level 3, Blood, Earth, Fire.
  • Lost? Ask a Te Papa Host.

Why should I take my class to visit this?

  • This is a rare and unusual example of a tōtara stump that was left after Māori cut down the tree using customary tools.
  • The whole class can fit easily around the front of it. 

What is there to do there?

  • Observe the stump and use it as a discussion point.
  • Read the whakataukī (proverb) behind this item.
  • Compare the toki (adze) marks left on the stump to the toki in the case.

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What should I know about this?

  • The stump is from a native tōtara tree (Podocarpus totara).
  • Tōtara will grow to 40 metres tall.
  • This tōtara was cut down in pre-European times.
  • It was extracted from the Ohinemuri River in the Coromandel region in1917 and gifted to the Museum by the Paeroa Gold Extraction Company.
  • This is an excellent example of skills developed by tangata whenua (indigenous people) for use in the natural environment to make taonga (cultural treasures).
  • The tree would most likely have been used to make a waka (canoe).
  • If you look closely, you can see the toki (adze) marks on the stump.
  • The toki in the case next to the stump are made from argillite, a very hard stone that can be worked to produce a sharp edge.
  • Toki were made mainly from argillite though greywacke, basalt, and pounamu (greenstone) were also used.

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Possible topics for discussion

  • Can you see the cut marks left from the toki?
  • How long do you think it took to cut the tree down?
  • Discuss the whakataukī ‘Tere te tapahi, roa te whakatū. Swift to fell, long to resurrect.’ What do you think this means?
  • If you cut down a tree this size what would you use it for?
  • If you wanted to make a waka how would you decorate it?
  • How long do you think it took to make a waka using customary tools?
  • Do you think that the tree was used for a waka or for something else, such as parts of a marae (meeting area) or a waharoa (gateway. This taonga is part of the realm of Tane, the Māori god of the forest. In order to use the forest, special prayers or karakia must be said seeking permission to take things such as trees. This protocol is expressed in the story of Rata and his canoe.
  • Rata needed to build a waka to chase and kill his father’s killer. Rata went into the forest and felled a suitable tree. The next day when he came back to the site he found the huge tree standing upright again. Rata was very confused so, after felling the tree again, he hid in the forest and waited and watched. He saw the hakaturi (the tribes of insects, birds, and forest spirits) putting the tree back together again. With powerful chants they lifted the tree back onto its stump. Rata made himself known to the hakaturi and they berated him. They warned him that the trees must not be cut down without Tane’s permission. From then on, karakia were performed so the tree being felled could be used for its intended purpose. Offerings were also placed on the stump for Tane, such as fronds of the mauka and peretao ferns.
  • Compare this stump size to the waka Teremoe on Level 4 in the Mana Whenua exhibition. Do you think that a stump of similar size would have been left after cutting down the tree for Teremoe?
  • What kinds of tools do we use today to cut down trees?
  • Discuss how understanding the customary practices of Māori is important in today’s society.
  • Discuss the great importance of waka culture to Māori identity given that Māori tribes arrived in New Zealand by waka. During a pepeha (genealogical introduction by a speaker), the waka is mentioned. It is an icon of identity.

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Further information


Related material

  • The pātaka (storehouse) called Te Takinga, in Mana Whenua on Level 4. An example of a specialized building.
  • The wharenui (meeting house) called Te Hau ki Turanga, in Mana Whenua on Level 4. An example of a specialized building.
  • Fale (house) in PlaNet Pasifika on Level 4. An example of Pacific housing solutions using natural resources.
  • The waka Teremoe on Level 4. An example of the innovative use of natural resources.
  • Toki in our collections
  • Blood, Earth, Fire student activity trail. Download, print and fold into a booklet that your students can use to explore the Blood, Earth, Fire exhibition.

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