As New Zealand’s tangata whenua (people of the land), Māori have strong cultural, spiritual and historic associations with kiwi.
According to many traditions, the kiwi is the eldest child of Tāne-mahuta, god of the forest, who created plants and birds. Humans are descended from Tāne-mahuta and, through this kinship, kiwi are our elder brothers and sisters and offer us an older sibling’s protection.
Many Māori are actively involved as kaitiaki (guardians) of kiwi, using traditional knowledge about the bird to protect and restore populations in their rohe (territory). The special relationship between tangata whenua and kiwi has been formally recognised as part of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement claims for a number of iwi and hapū. One is the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998. Tangata whenua are leaders in a number of projects supported by The Kiwi Trust, including:
- The Lake Waikaremoana Hapū Ecological Trust
- TheHarataunga BNZ Kiwi Project
- The Whakatāne Kiwi Trust
- Omataroa Kiwi Project
Kaitautoko Kaupapa Kiwi
The Kiwi Trust values the special association tangata whenua have with kiwi. In 2011, it appointed Morgan Cox as its Kaitautoko Kaupapa Kiwi, to support kiwi projects and help them achieve their kaitiaki goals, while also satisfying the needs of funders. Morgan brings to the role some knowledge of te reo and tikanga Māori, and familiarity with kiwi recovery.
Kiwi feathers are highly valued for weaving kahu-kiwi (kiwi feather cloaks). Kahu-kiwi are nearly always named and are usually reserved for chiefs. The cloaks are made of a flax fabric with the feather shafts woven securely in. Sometimes whole kiwi skins are sewn together to make cloaks, with the feathers still attached. The tradition of making kahu-kiwi continues, using feathers gathered from kiwi that die naturally or through road accidents or predation.