Pronouncing History: place names in Kāpiti

Being at home in a landscape includes seeing the full story of its history reflected, not just one side. Scoop Wellington’s Lindsay Shelton reckons Kāpiti has taken an important, symbolic step. 

This article is cross-posted with permission from Scoop Wellington


Wiremu (Wi) Te Kakakura Parata, elected as MP for Western Maori in 1871; his land was the early commercial centre of Waikanae.

A working party of iwi representatives and a local historian have come up with a great idea – using the names of five people from the 19th century history of the Kāpiti Coast for new street names which are needed because of changes caused by the new expressway.

The Kāpiti News reported the names and the reasons for choosing them.

“The names that we recommend honour people who in different ways contributed to today’s bi-cultural Kāpiti region … Taken together their names form a chain of founders of the region … community leaders dating from the original settlement of the northern iwi in the 1820s through to the founding of villages along the line of rail in the 1890s.”

The names are:

* Peka Peka/Te Kowhai to Hemi St, Waikanae – Unaiki
* Hadfield Rd connection – Katu
* Waikanae township – Kakakura
* Waikanae to Paraparaumu North – Rauoterangi
* Poplar to Paekakariki – Hurumutu.

The Kāpiti News report tells the fascinating story of each person whose name has been suggested.

A sixth proposal, chosen in the centenary year of the First World War, is the name of the Maori contingent at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, that included a strong party from Kapiti.

* Kāpiti to Poplar – Hokowhitu

The six names will now be considered along with suggestions from 400 other local people. It sounds as if the process will be a complicated one. Mayor Gurunathan describes it:

“The council will work through a process to assess all suggestions received against the Criteria for SH1 Renaming and a shortlist of possible names will be developed in consultation with community boards and councillors before a final decision is made by the full council.”

The process hasn’t been helped by a DomPost report headlining complaints from two people who said the 19th century names would be hard to pronounce.

This has drawn a convincingly critical response from Aaron Smale on the Spinoff.

He writes:

Two words sprang to mind when I read this story – ignorant and lazy. And I’m not just talking about the individuals quoted. While everyone is free to express their opinion, the media make decisions all the time about what opinions are important and worthy of giving attention to and how those views are portrayed.

Which raises a few questions. Why are two individuals who are apparently completely ignorant of the history of the area they live in and the people behind the names … given the front page of a major metropolitan daily to spout their ignorance? Why is this same media outlet not challenging them on their lack of effort to pronounce names that are in one of the official languages of this country? Why isn’t this media outlet giving more historical background to those names that are so offensive to a couple of ill-informed individuals?

Smale ends by writing:

the media … seem determined to omit and wipe out the history of a people that are still here. But Māori are still fighting to retain and regain their history and have it recognised in small ways. Like the renaming of a road after the government bulldozed an expressway through their burial grounds.

The Kāpiti council now has a chance to help regain some of the area’s history, with its choice of new street names for the old State Highway One.

Do your local road names reflect history? If so, whose? 

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