Tinirau education resource

Friends, guardians, food

The maihi (barge boards) of many pātaka have pakakē - whale-like - patterns. Tooth-like patterns on pātaka probably have their origins in the story of the chief Tinirau and his pet whale Tutunui. Tinirau offers his pet whale for transport to a guest, Kae, who in turn kills and eats the whale. These events illustrate aspects of the complex relationship Māori had with whales - as friends, guardians, and food.

Find out more about Tinirau.

At the exhibition

Emphasise to your students that this is a modern interpretation of an ancient story about people and whales. Get the students to watch this audio-visual, explore the immediate area, then discuss the following questions and topics.

Questions for 5 to 10 year olds

  • What happens in the story?
  • Discuss with the students why Tinirau was so upset and how he sought revenge.
  • Find the representation of Tutunui on the Maihi board. What other shapes can you see?

Questions for 10 years old and over

  • How does this audio-visual make you feel? Why?
  • What happens in this story?
  • Discuss how people retain knowledge and how this applies to the Maihi boards on the pataka.
  • Discuss why it is important to retain motifs and knowledge of ancestors.
  • How do people retain knowledge today? How is this different to hundreds of years ago?

Teachers' notes

A pataka is a customary food storage house for Maori. The pataka houses food and treasures and was a great source of pride to the people who used it. The pataka was often intricately carved to represent many different aspects of an iwi's (tribe's) environment and their spirituality.

People retain knowledge from many difference sources. In the past, these sources have included storytelling, dance, carvings, art, and song.


Tinirau’s pātaka
Tinirau’s pātaka
Tinirau with his wife and son
Tinirau with his wife and son
Tinirau’s and his pet whale, Tutunui
Tinirau’s and his pet whale, Tutunui

Top: Sperm whale, courtesy of Brandon Cole. Right: Orca fluke, photograph courtesy of Dr Ingrid Visser, Orca Research Trust