Ngāi Tahu are the indigenous people of Te Waipounamu, the South Island of New Zealand. Our whakapapa (genealogy) binds us to this land, and to our ancestors who discovered, explored and settled it.  We are an amalgamation of Waitaha, the first people to settle here about 700 years ago, and Ngāti Mamoe and Ngāi Tahu who migrated later from Te Ika o Maui (the North Island).

At Te Ana our role is to act as the guardians of Māori rock art in the South Island on behalf of our local iwi Ngāi Tahu. We are a non-profit organization and all the revenue we earn from the centre and tours, is used to protect and revitalize our treasured rock art. By visiting Te Ana you are helping to protect our precious tribal legacy for the generations to come.

Titia ki te uma kā taoka o nehe
Pin to your heart the treasures passed down

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Story of the Rock Art

Rock art can be found in many countries worldwide, dating back to as early as 60,000 years ago. Rock paintings and ‘cave art’ of indigenous people provide us with some of our earliest insights into our ancestors. Dotted throughout Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Pacific these paintings and drawings have been the subject of considerable enquiry and interpretation. For more on world rock art go to the Bradshaw Foundation.

The majority of the rock art sites in New Zealand are found in Te Waipounamu, or the South Island. They are widely spread from Fiordland in the southeast to Karamea in the northwest. However, the major concentrations of sites are located in the limestone rich areas of the Aoraki district covering North Otago and South Canterbury.

There are two main types of rock art. The art can be scratched or carved into stone, or it can be painted or drawn onto the stone’s surface. In New Zealand it is recorded that the rock art paint was made from animal or bird fat mixed with vegetable gum and soot or kokowai (red ochre) to make black or red paint. The pigment created was known to be particularly long-lasting,and was referred to as, ‘an ink that would stand forever’. In Te Waipounamu rock art was most commonly applied to limestone – its smooth pale surface providing the perfect canvas for rock art.

Manaakitia kā taoka o nehe
Embrace our treasured past

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Rock Art Conservation

Rock art may appear to be one of the most durable surfaces on which to apply art, yet drawings of charcoal and ochre are perhaps the most vulnerable in existence.

They are vulnerable because the materials used to create the art are perishable, and few other works of art are required to stand the punishment of the elements, windborne dust, animal rubbing, changes to the environment and, indeed, time.

Despite its seeming durability, limestone, the favoured rock surface on which the art was produced, is notoriously unstable and easily eroded. New Zealand’s rock art heritage includes the earliest records created by this country’s first inhabitants, and they are provided with very little protection against damage, either by natural forces or vandalism. The sites that remain today may be only a very small portion of the number that there once were – a painted landscape alive with the voices of our ancestors!

Aside from the physical threats to rock art, one of the major obstacles in protecting these fragile sites is the lack of awareness of their very existence! Te Ana is designed specifically to raise awareness of this fragile aspect of our national heritage, and to encourage people to respect, conserve and protect it for the generations to come.

Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei
For us, and our children after us