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Rakau Motiha

Rakau Motiha

na Hokotehi Moriori Trust
Rē Moriori na Kiwi Hammond
kā hokoahua na Celine Gregory-Hunt

Story outline

This story tells of one of the children of Rēkohu walking amongst the rakau kopi groves and studying the rakau momori/living tree engravings on some of the trees.  

Learning context

The ability of people to find peace and nurturing from within our environment, especially in our forests, is reflected in this story. Peace and calmness, listening to bird songs, and seeing the carvings on the rakau momori recapture a past that we can only imagine. 

Students can identify and consider the flora and fauna in the photos and find similarities and contrasts to our forests in New Zealand. 

Our forests are the lungs of our world. Further studies could be about the dwindling forests around the world and how that affects us.  

Before reading the story

Before you read the story together, look at the illustrations and talk about what you see happening, drawing on students’ prior knowledge:

  • Page 30 – What kind of trees do you think these are?
  • Page 30 – Are those fruit on the tree? Are they edible?
  • Page 31 – What is the name of a group of trees?
  • Page 31 – What do you think the boy is looking for?
  • Page 32 – What is the name of the bird?
  • Page 33 – What is the boy looking at?
  • Page 34 – What do you think the boy is thinking or feeling?
  • Page 34 – What is the purpose of the sketch at the bottom right?


For key vocabulary in this story, you could make flashcards with an image and the word. For this story, these words are:

Rakau motiha – Dancing trees

Rakau momori – Living tree engravings

rakau kopi – karaka grove

hikikihiwaka – fantail

Tau muai ta rongo – Feel a sense of peace/calm


Some important language structures in this story are:

Tau muai ta rongo k’ hēre au ki roto ta uru rakau. – The grove is quiet when I walk inside to walk through the trees. 

Other examples of this structure with a different noun/verb/adjective to reinforce it):

  • tau muai roto mai – inside it is calm 
  • Tau muai hoki au. – It makes me feel calm too.

k’ hēre au ki roto ta uru rakau – when I walk inside to walk through the trees 

Other examples of this structure are:

  • K’ hēre au ki waeng’ ngāherehere – When I walk to the middle of the grove 
  • K’ noho au ki tetehi rakau kopi, e rakau nui – I sit beside a big kōpi tree 

Follow-up activities

These follow-up cloze activities will give students the opportunity to practise pronunciation and extend their knowledge of vocabulary and simple language structures: 

  1. Kei muri kā rakau kopi tata ki __________ tetehi wawa …
    The kōpi trees near Kāingaroa are behind a fence …
  2. K’ haere au ki waeng’ ngāherehere k’ __________ au t’ hokoairo karāpuna ki ru __________.
    When I walk to the middle of the grove, I see the marks that Moriori ancestors made on the trees.
  3. Ka ta rē __________ enak’ k’ rongo au.
    All I can hear is the voice of the __________.


Highlights: A Wananga on Re-Igniting the Moriori Visual Arts


Compose a poem about Moriori rakau momori using words learnt from the text.

For example: 

  • rakau kopi (kopi tree)
  • hikikihiwaka (fantail)
  • rakau motiha (dancing tree)
  • Tau muai ta rongo (To feel a sense of peace and calm)
  • Tau muai roto mai. Tau muai hoki au. (To feel peace within. I feel at peace.)


Students can choose an aspect of the story and create their own illustrations. Support them to write a phrase or add relevant labels to their work.

Photo story
  1. Take five photos of an outside area of significance at your school (e.g., garden, artwork/sculptures around the school).
  2. Develop a storyboard for each photo telling the story of why these places/things are important to your school.
  3. Use online tools (slides and docs), PowerPoint, word, paper and pens/felts/colour pencils (print photos), pic collage app.
Oasis carving

You will need: old sharp pencil/coloured pencil, paper design of carving and oasis (floral foam) cut in half lengthways, then cut each of those halves into quarters). You should get eight small pieces from one block of oasis. (Oasis are used for flower arranging and can be purchased from your local garden centre or store.)

  1. Decide on the focus of your carving designs (based on this story).
  2. Do some initial drawings on paper, then get this signed off for carving the final piece. (This is when you will get your oasis.)
  3. Start carving your design onto your oasis for display.


  • What are the distinctive features of Moriori rakau momori?
  • Find other examples of rakau momori and add them to a Google slide with a short explanation or label for each example.
  • What do other indigenous carvings look like?
  • Do they have a particular style?
  • Does your culture use carvings? If yes, describe them. If not, how is art expressed in your culture?
  • Why was the place named Te Awapātiki? What is its significance?

Other resources


Noanoa, J. & Heke, N. (2014). Māori Art for Kids. Craig Potton Publishing. 

Huia Publishers. (2015). Māori Carving: The Art of Preserving Māori History. 

Mead, H. M. (2015). Te Toi Whakairo: The Art of Māori Carving. Oratia Media.

Useful web links

Hokotehi Moriori Trust

Moriori tree carvings

Tiaki Kahukore (Goomes) – his island home 

Meet the locals: Rakau momori

Moriori people live on in tree artwork

New Carvings: A Wananga on Re-Igniting the Moriori Visual Arts

Wi Taepa – the role of the artist in the invention of new designs

Rākau Momori (Moriori memorial trees) fact sheet

Word list of te reo Moriori

photo from story