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Ngāi Tahu archive recognises ‘incredible’ research as taonga

24 April 2024

Hundreds of hours of work by a UC academic couple, Drs Christine and Peter Tremewan, have created foundations for a taonga Ngāi Tahu database.   


Photo caption: Pip Tremewan, Tā Tipene O’Regan, Tanya Tremewan and Thane Tremewan. 

A recent gathering at the Ngāi Tahu Archive in Wigram recognised the late researchers for providing the foundations of the Ngāi Tahu database of 19th century ancestors.  

In the 1980s, a well-known academic in the French department of Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury, Dr Peter Tremewan, began researching the role of the French in the colonial history of Aotearoa. At the same time, he carefully collected names and other recorded information related to Ngāi Tahu individuals and whānau who lived during the 19th century.  

Dr Christine Tremewan, also a Canterbury academic whose career included achieving a PhD and lecturing in Māori studies at UC, then applied her meticulous skillset to the supervision, review and cataloguing of the data. Their daughter, Dr Pip Tremewan, recalls helping occasionally during her early university days by “recording information on dozens of little cataloguing cards”. Later, the information from the many cards was entered into a digital database.

This collection, ‘Kaitahu’, is described by Ngāi Tahu Senior Archivist Jill Durney as, “a taonga and an incredible feat of work”.  

Kaitahu encompasses information and source referencing for around 4,000 ancestor names. It has close to 1000 pages of information that Peter and Christine painstakingly recorded and referenced over many decades. The Tremewans gave a copy of the database to Ngāi Tahu in 2016.  

“Their instinct was always to share their knowledge so that others could build on it,” says their daughter, Tanya Tremewan. “They hoped that the information they passed on would be a useful resource, such as for tracing whakapapa.” 

Over subsequent years, Ngāi Tahu worked to incorporate the Tremewans’ database into their own and, “everything in it has been verified”, Durney says. 

The Kaitahu collection is now part of Kareao, the official Ngāi Tahu online archival database, which comprises some 30,000 items including photographs, manuscripts, maps, taonga, biographies, oral histories and audio-visual material.  

“Peter was hugely respected within Ngāi Tahu,” says Tā Tipene O’Regan, who was present for the occasion and is a UC Adjunct Professor.  

Most of the Ngāi Tahu archival collection is now based and stored at the purpose-built Archives New Zealand facility in Wigram thanks to a partnership between the Ngāi Tahu Archive team and Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga Archives New Zealand. The Ngāi Tahu Archive includes the collections of the Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board, the records of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, and the personal papers of selected individuals.

Distinct from the Archives New Zealand Crown collections, the Ngāi Tahu collections are managed and stored separately within the shared facility. This resource is available for everyone to use and can easily be accessed online. 

This article was written by Niki Partsch and originally appeared on the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga website and in the Heritage This Month newsletter.  

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