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No. 22 (April 1958)
– 51 –

THE STORY OF PLACE NAMES

THE NAME TAKANINI

Toward the west side of Auckland there is a place named Takanini. It is, I believe, the name of a race-horse, also an area used in training race-horses, so must frequently be on people's lips. The name reminds me of several talks I had with the late George Graham, who said the name should really be Takaanini (Taka-anini). In that name two letters ‘a’ come together; and I also remember that at a meeting of the Geographic Board the late Sir Apirana Ngata said that when the two letters ‘a’ come together in a Maori word it simply means that the vowel has a long sound; the ‘a’ is doubled, and in adopting such a name the pakeha need use only one letter, and this is why the Board adopted the name with the spelling Takanini instead of Takaanini.

But there are exceptions. In Otago there is a mountain name Maungaatua, which was at one time spelt Maungatua, and I have seen attempts to explain the meaning of Maungatua (Maunga-tua) —something to do with the back (tua) of a mountain. But they could never explain what they meant by the back of a mountain, and in fact no satisfactory meaning could be given to the word. It should really be Maungaatua (Maunga-atua), where ‘atua’ is a well known word meaning ‘spirit’, with which knowledge a logical meaning is quite possible and understandable.

So with Takanini, which George Graham said should be Takaanini; and I am sure he was correct. In Fenton's ‘Judgments’ there is a detailed history of the occupation of the Auckland isthmus including Tamaki, and the history is accompanied by an extensive genealogical table in which the name appears twice as Ihaka Takaanini. So that Ihaka Taka-anini was an historical personage. I seem to remember, too, that George Graham said that two personal names were included in the one name—Taka and Anini; but I got no details about these two people whose names had been combined to make one—Takaanini. But there is no doubt that Takanini should be Takaanini.

WAIWHAKAHEKETUPAPAKU

The difference made by one letter

When I was a boy I had a boy's fancy for long words; and when I joined the Lands and Survey Department, Christchurch, in 1887. I soon found how fond the Maori was of long words too, especially in his place-names. The first name which took my fancy was one spelt Waiwakaheketupa-paku; and on my pestering a senior draughtsman who seemed to know a little Maori for the meaning of the name, he made a shot at it. “Wai”, said he, was water, and often a stream was called Wai-something; ‘waka’ is ‘a canoe’, ‘heke’ is ‘down’, and ‘papaku’ a corpse; so the meaning will be something like this: “The stream where a corpse was seen floating down. Which of course it was not. But I had to be content with that meaning for many years. I learned the correct form of the name when I learned the history of the place and of the Maoris living there. The district about there was called by the pakeha the Springs district, because of the many huge fresh-water springs scattered about it. These springs are where the underground streams of the great Waimakariri burst to the surface and make streams sometimes of considerable size. I found that one letter had been dropped from the name of the stream about which I am writing, the letter ‘h’: the correct spelling was Waiwhakaheketupapaku, and this letter made all the difference, but not till I learned its history. Waiwhakaheketupapaku was the name of one of these big springs, and the the stream flowing from it was given the same name. I never liked these big springs, of which I knew a number. Their margin is usually closely grown with the big tussocks we knew as ‘nigger-heads’ because of their black curly appearance when burnt, as they often were. You could get on to one of these nigger-heads and look down into the spring, which might go down for fifteen feet or more before it turned into the course in which it flowed underground before coming up. They looked uncanny, and you took care not to fall in; for besides being deep, their water was very cold. Now the Maori had a kind of waterburial, and this particular spring was used for water-burial. The corpse to be disposed of was weighted by a few heavy stones being tied to its feet, when the corpse was slipped feet-first into the spring and allowed to sink, which it did, disappeared and was never seen again. Now as we boys knew, these deep springs were often inhabited by big eels, and I reckoned the fate of the corpses was not very hard to conjecture. Of course the spring was tapu, so the eels, even if caught, were never eaten by the Maori. The discovery of the use made of this spring filled me with strange mixed feelings which I have never been able to get rid of. “What's in a name?” A great deal sometimes.When I was a boy I had a boy's fancy for long words; and when I joined the Lands and Survey Department, Christchurch, in 1887. I soon found how fond the Maori was of long words too, especially in his place-names. The first name which took my fancy was one spelt Waiwakaheketupa-paku; and on my pestering a senior draughtsman who seemed to know a little Maori for the meaning of the name, he made a shot at it. “Wai”, said he, was water, and often a stream was called Wai-something; ‘waka’ is ‘a canoe’, ‘heke’ is ‘down’, and ‘papaku’ a corpse; so the meaning will be something like this: “The stream where a corpse was seen floating down. Which of course it was not. But I had to be content with that meaning for many years. I learned the correct form of the name when I learned the history of the place and of the Maoris living there. The district about there was called by the pakeha the Springs district, because of the many huge fresh-water springs scattered about it. These springs are where the underground streams of the great Waimakariri burst to the surface and make streams sometimes of considerable size. I found that one letter had been dropped from the name of the stream about which I am writing, the letter ‘h’: the correct spelling was Waiwhakaheketupapaku, and this letter made all the difference, but not till I learned its history. Waiwhakaheketupapaku was the name of one of these big springs, and the the stream flowing from it was given the same name. I never liked these big springs, of which I knew a number. Their margin is usually closely grown with the big tussocks we knew as ‘nigger-heads’ because of their black curly appearance when burnt, as they often were. You could get on to one of these nigger-heads and look down into the spring, which might go down for fifteen feet or more before it turned into the course in which it flowed underground before coming up. They looked uncanny, and you took care not to fall in; for besides being deep, their water was very cold. Now the Maori had a kind of waterburial, and this particular spring was used for water-burial. The corpse to be disposed of was weighted by a few heavy stones being tied to its feet, when the corpse was slipped feet-first into the spring and allowed to sink, which it did, disappeared and was never seen again. Now as we boys knew, these deep springs were often inhabited by big eels, and I reckoned the fate of the corpses was not very hard to conjecture. Of course the spring was tapu, so the eels, even if caught, were never eaten by the Maori. The discovery of the use made of this spring filled me with strange mixed feelings which I have never been able to get rid of. “What's in a name?” A great deal sometimes.