Leo Bensemann

Aotearoa New Zealand, b.1912, d.1986

Pass in Winter

  • Harry Courtney Archer estate, 2002
  • Oil
  • 2003/08
  • 1971

'Whichever pass this is, it reminds me of something Te Aue Davis of Maniapoto, the great supporter of Kāi Tahu, once said: ‘They’re beautiful, but what’s the use of them? You can’t grow kumara up there.’ You can see why our people headed for their coastal villages in winter.

'In Kāi Tahu tradition, the snow-capped Southern Alps, the spine of the South Island, Te Waipounamu, are the ancestors upon the waka [canoe] called Te Waka o Aoraki, where we reside. When you’re looking at these mountains, you inevitably come to Aoraki in the creation myth. The demi-god Aoraki’s mokopuna [grandson] 
Tu-Te-Raki-Whanoa has gone looking for him and comes across the wreckage of Aoraki’s waka. He finds his tūpuna [grandfather] – or father, depending on your whakapapa [genealogy, or which iwi or tribe you descend from] – and the crew all turned into stone, sitting there with snow on them. He finishes his tangi [enduring Māori ceremony to mourn the dead] for them. He then looks at the wreckage of the upturned waka: he sees the high side – the mountains sitting there are his ancestors; and then the low side, buffeted by the south easterlies running up and down. Then he sets out to make the land fit for living.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)