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Pukaki Māori carving on 20 cent coin

This page tells you about the Māori carving design featured on New Zealand's 20 cent coins, which were first issued in 1990.

How the Pukaki came to be in the 20 cent coin

The image on the 20 cent coin is a reproduction of a specific carving of an 18th century Māori warrior leader called Pukaki. He was a Rangatira (Chief) of the Ngati Whakaue iwi of Te Arawa in the Rotorua district.

The carving was made in 1836 and you can see it today in the Rotorua Museum.

Pukaki came to our attention as a result of the 1984–87 Te Māori exhibition and the use of Pukaki's image on a particularly striking Māori Language Commission poster.

At the time we were looking for a new image to put on the 20 cent coin, as we were moving the kiwi image to the new $1 coin.

The first Pukaki 20 cent coins were issued in 1990. More recently, a gold $10 collectors' coin featuring Pukaki has been minted.

Pukaki's story

Pukaki's birth resulted from a peace-making marriage between Ngati Whakaue and Ngati Pikiao of Rotoiti around 1700. Pukaki grew up during a time of armed conflict, both within Te Arawa and against wider Bay of Plenty–Waikato tribes. He lived on Mokoia Island in Lake Rotorua and then at Parawai, which is now surrounded by the Ngongotaha township.

In Pukaki's later years, a major tribal war under his leadership resulted in Ngati Whakaue defeating their Tuhourangi relations, forcing them back to Tarawera and taking over the lands of Pukeroa-Oruawhata, where Rotorua is sited today.

Most of Ngati Whakaue then moved from Parawai to the village of Ohinemutu, which is part of Rotorua today.

Around this time, Pukaki died and was buried in the Mamaku foothills, where the descendants of his elder son, Ngahina, still watch over him today.

The carving

The Pukaki carving, as depicted on the 20 cent coin, was created in 1836 as part of a five-metre-high gateway to guard the entrance to Ohinemutu from an impending attack. This was three generations after Pukaki's death.

The carving was expertly crafted by Te Taupua of Ngati Whakaue from a large piece of totara felled by the Ngongotaha stream. It honours Ngati Whakaue's conquest of Pukeroa-Oruawhata.

The carving shows Pukaki holding his two warrior sons, Wharengaro and Rangitakuku. Between his legs can be seen remnants of his wife Ngapuia.

In the 1850s, the Pukaki carving was taken down from the gate, its gateway section removed, and the statue itself moved to Ohinemutu's main marae, beside the Tama te Kapua meeting house.

Pukaki returns home

In 1877, Ngati Whakaue gifted the Pukaki statue to the Crown as a symbol of trust for the Crown's promise to develop the Rotorua township for the iwi's benefit. Years later the statue ended up in the Auckland Museum.

On 2 October 1997, 120 years after the Pukaki carving had been removed from Ohinemutu's gateway, local tribe Ngati Whatua o Orakei helped the Auckland Museum to return it to its origins. The Crown, museum, city and tribe all agreed the Rotorua District Council was the best place for Pukaki to rest and the statue remains there to this day, gifted to the nation for all to enjoy.

The Pukaki Trust now looks after Pukaki. More information about Pukaki is available in a book by one of his descendants, Dr Paul Tapsell, titled 'Pukaki: a comet returns'.

Photo credit: New Zealand Herald