New Zealand’s Whanganui River is the lifeblood of the Māori. The tribes of Whanganui take their name, their spirit and their strength from this great river, which flows from the mountains of central North Island through to the Tasman Sea.
In Te Ahi Kā – The Fires of Occupation photographer Martin Toft explores the deep physical and metaphysical relationships between the river and the Māori. In 1996 Toft spent six months in the middle and upper reaches of the Whanganui River in an area known as the King Country. Here he met Māori who were in the process of reversing the colonisation of their people and returning to their ancestral land, Mangapapapa, which is on the steep banks of the river inside Whanganui National Park. At the end of his journey Toft was given the Māori name Pouma Pokai-Whenua.
Returning twenty years later to rekindle the spiritual kinship he had experienced, Toft began to work on this book. Its narrative is situated within the context of the current Whanganui River Deed of Settlement, Ruruku Whakatupua and the projects led by local Māori to settle historical grievances with the government dating back to the 1870s. At the heart of it is the Whanganui tribes’ claim to the river, which is seen by them as both as an ancestor and as a source of both material and spiritual sustenance.
Born in Denmark, Martin Toft is a photographer and educator who works on commissions and long-term independent and collaborative projects. He combines elements of documentary and fine art to explore social, anthropological and cultural themes, often immersing himself in communities for long periods of time. His work is underpinned by archival, historical and conceptual discourse and incorporates photography, video, sound and text.
Martin Toft’s new book Te Ahi Kā – The Fires of Occupation has now been released under the imprint of Dewi Lewis Publishing. It consists of 89 colour and b&w photographs spanning from 1885 to 2017, including rare images held in 19th and 20th century collections in New Zealand, photographs from both my trips in 1996 and in 2016 and vernacular images from Māori family albums.
Seven hidden chapters of text appear inside fold-out of double page spreads, that include important conversations with tribal elders in relation to Māori cosmology and provide context about the return to their ancestral homeland.
The book was launched in Europe at Paris Photo in November and on 5 Dec a special ceremony was performed by Māori elders from my tribal affiliation upon the arrival of books in Auckland (read more about that here).
Copies can be purchased through the Dewi Lewis website. For New Zealand, Australia and South Pacific visit Oratia Books.
Te Ahi Kā – The Fires of Occupation is edited by Rafal Milach and designed by leading book designer Ania Nałęcka-Milach and ublished with financial support from Creative New Zealand, Lottery Environment and Heritage Fund and Te Mana o Te Awa grant administered by Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui.