The cultural history of the Styx
The Māori name of the Styx appears to have several similar forms of one name. On an 1856 Canterbury Black Map by the Chief Surveyor Thomas Cass, the river is called ‘Purarekanui’. James Herries Beattie refers to it as Pouharakekenui, as does Canon J.W. Stack in 1867. In the same publication (Maori Place Names of Canterbury), Herries Beattie tells of an “aged Otago Maori” who refers to the river as ‘Pūharakekenui’ (heaps of large flax) as the river was a reserve where an abundance of strong and large flax grew. It appears that in a letter to Sir George Grey, Tuahiwi kaumatua Aperehama Te Aika used Pouharakekenui and Pūharakekenui interchangeably. Though they mean different things, it is generally accepted that both may be used to describe the river. In W.A. Taylor’s contribution to Beattie’s book, Taylor asserts it is sometimes spelt ‘Purakinui’ and this may be down to European error. The name used today in the Ka Huru Manu Ngāi Tahu atlas is ‘Pūharakekenui’.
The swampy flat-lands of Christchurch was once home to the hunting grounds and trading posts of Ngāi Tahu Māori. While there was some settlement in the area such as the pa at Opawa (Opawaho), the main Māori population centers were pa such as Kaiapoi (Near Waikuku) and Koukourarata (Port Levy) among others. The Christchurch area served as a source of sustenance for the surrounding pa.
The people of Ngāi Tūahuriri (Kaiapoi pa) in particular fished along the Styx for foods such as tuna (eel), kanakana (lampreys) and waikōura (freshwater crayfish). Other forms of mahinga kai such as koreke (quail), putakitaki (paradise duck) and kāuru (cordyline) would have been hunted or cultivated along its banks and in the surrounding area. The Pūharakekenui/Styx was particularly valuable as it led to Te Riu-o-Te-Aika-Kawa or Brooklands Lagoon. Here tuaki (cockles), rōrōa (a special shellfish) and pātiki (flounder) were also gathered. Upstream around Ōtukaikino reserve, traditional embalming practices took place. The surrounding streams and tributaries such as the Kāpūtahi/Kaputone and Otāwhakapuru were also significant mahinga kai sites for Ngā Tūahuriri. Pūharakekenui or ‘The Styx’ is stepped in local Māori tradition and history.
- P. 92, 100, 104, 105, 109, 112. Beattie, J.H. (1945) Maori Place-names of Canterbury. 2nd Ed. Cadsonbury. Christchurch.
- Ngāi Tahu, ‘Ka Huru Manu Atlas’, (http://www.kahurumanu.co.nz/atlas) Accessed 14/12/2018.
- P. 29. Taylor, W.A. (1952) Lore and History of the South Island Maori. Bascands Ltd.
- P. 39, 56. Teihoka, Taare Wi (1880) cited in Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori (1989) Ngai Tahu 1880. H.K. Taiaroa. (Unpublished typescript. [English translation of two original notebooks in Te Reo Maori of place names related to mahinga kai compiled by H.K. Taiaroa in 1880 from information provided by Ngai Tahu informants]. Ngai Tahu Archive. Collection 140. Item D301, Box 102, D. Wai-27. Wai-27 Doc – R30 – Book “Ngai Tahu 1880.” Macmillan Brown Library Archives Collection.
The history of the Styx Region is a long and interesting journey, about which many books have been written.
These books, and more information on the area may be found at the Styx History Group, Belfast History & Genealogy of Canterbury, New Zealand website: