Victoria Square’s Giant Pou Whenua Unveiled – December 1994

In December 1994, as part of the 1990 commemorations of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, a giant six metre, totara ‘Pou Whenua’ – simply known today as the ’Pou Pou’ – was unveiled in Victoria Square.

Among those attending was Sir Tipene O’Regan, the chairman of the Ngai Tahu Trust Board. He spoke about the ‘Pou Pou’ being a representation of the history of the Maori people in the South Island.

With the main two themes being ‘mahinga kai’ (food resource) and ‘tipuna’ (ancestors), the Honourable Vicki Buck acknowledged that the Pou Pou’s rich symbolism brought a much needed cultural balance to the city. Indeed, the area once known as ‘Puari’ had been a great seasonal food gathering place, used as far back as the ancient Waitaha iwi.

Designed and carved by Christchurch based Riki Manuel, two arson attacks in March 1995 had him respond in the most unexpected way. Ignoring requests for better security, Manuel said that his carving was made to be touched, experienced and he didn’t want it locked away behind a fence. With more lighting added and an increase of police patrols, these troubles soon settled.

With the arrival of the first Canterbury Association settlers in December 1850, many would have had their first dealings with Maori at Victoria Square as the surveyors had marked the area to be a trading post. Known to camp on site during business days, the Maoris would sell potatoes to the settlers – this easily being the first business transactions there. It wasn’t until 1853 that a real market place was set up and organised. The deserted eel traps – still stationed in the much deeper Avon – were always quite a good conversation starter between Christchurch’s earliest Europeans.

*Image courtesy of the Christchurch Public Libraries –*

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