Nanny of the Reef

By Taroi Black

Thousands of visitors are expected to descend on the Hawkes Bay as the region prepares for the Te Matatini Kapahaka competition. Many are likely to visit one of Napier's top tourist attractions, Pania of the Reef, a legendary figure in Māori mythology.  

Te Kāea spoke to the model for the statue, 78-year-old beauty Mei Whaitiri from Ngāti Kahungunu, who continues to visit the iconic figure which changed her life forever.

“I was only 15 years-old at the time when I was at Hukarere Girls College and a group of people were in search of a young Maori maiden to model for Pania,” Mrs Whaitiri says.

“They spoke to a few girls from Ngati Porou however, in the end, I was fortunate enough to take on the role knowing that I’m also a descendant of our ancestor, Pania.”

“The photographer asked that I will be in nude form, however, knowing that my family is Maori, my family decided to send a huia feather, the hei-tiki ‘Raukawa’ and the piupiu which adorns her today.”

To this day Mrs Whaitiri has kept the hei-tiki which also adorns Pania which holds special memories.