Kaihaukai art collective discuss kai (food), Cook, and the legacies of encounter

Kaihaukai are an art collective whose practice is manifested through the shared experience of kai and kōrero.

Here, Ron Bull and Simon Kaan talk us through their response to our exhibition Tamatea: Legacies of Encounter.

Kai-hau-kai are feast rituals specific to Kāi Tahu, where special kai are gathered, prepared, and shared to commemorate an important event.

These rituals have been adopted conceptually and are enacted as contemporary art by the Kaihaukai Art Collective, Ron Bull and Simon Kaan, who are both of Kāi Tahu, Kāti Mamoe descent.

Their works are designed to support the continuation of Kāi Tahu cultural practices, some of which are at risk of being lost, and to assist in the transfer of knowledge.

As artworks, their events are social experiences that are open to everyone.


Kaihaukai is about that whole idea of creating an essence that survives the interaction. That word ‘hau’ that’s in the middle there talks about that connection that people make when they give a gift.

We rely on that concept of koha – the deeper meaning of that is sharing of breath, that hā, that giving of breath.

When you give and when you receive, there’s an essence that’s established, a trust, there’s a bond, there’s a permanent something that outlives that actual tangible giving of the gift.

Kia ora, we’re Ron Bull and Simon Kaan, commonly known as the Kaihaukai art collective.

We’re here in Wellington Te Whanganui-a-Tara today to respond to an installation here at Te Papa round Tamatea | Dusky Sound in the South Island through the medium of food, through exploring experiences with food and trying to tell a narrative of that place through the food that we’re going to serve.

The Tamatea exhibition is responding to the acquisition of the painting of William Hodges that was done 250 years ago, around that time. And the Kaihaukai response is just another ... the next layer, that that helps to put it into a ‘now’ context, I suppose.

With an art exhibition, for example, people will view and they’ll partake from a distance.

I think what we’re trying to encourage with that is a hands-on participation. So, you actually become part of that work.

Kaihaukai is that idea of bringing everything in together and sharing together. It’s not just the taste buds of Ron or the, you know, the sensory of Simon, it’s actually what other people bring there as well.

So we try and incorporate as many stories, as many narratives, as many angles as we can, so we can get around a story.

We’ve got one of our musicians coming in to respond to the concepts that were unpacking. We’ve got an edited video work as well. So it’ll be sort of a multimedia sort of experience for people.

We’re looking at that idea of impact and our footprints and the legacies that they leave behind.

Of course, the, you know, the [exhibition] byline is ‘Legacies of Encounter’.

It’s connecting us directly back in there, you know, as an ancestral place, as a place that is us.

And that’s the beauty of that painting. It probably wasn’t intended to be like that.

You know, we don’t see it as a painting essentially. We see it as this gift, or taonga, that’s been handed down through the generations.

With our response today, we’re looking at four iterations of food, or four signifiers of time of encounters.

The first, it’s just nature as it is. We’re calling that the ‘mana moana’.

With that, we’re just serving whole fish and cockles in kelp bags to symbolise that there’s minimal human impact on the preparation of that food.

And, in fact, when people look upon that, all they’ll see is the kelp until we open it up and explore the food that’s in there.

The next iteration talks about that iwi-Māori contact. Our people down there, the foods that we ate and the preparation methods.

We’re doing tītī. We’ve got some smoked pāua, the pāua hua as well, so the gut sack and that.

So that speaks to that time of a lighter ecological footprint.

That third footprint is that one of Cook, when he came through in 1773. And one thing that Cook did, is he tried to establish a garden.

So, you know, there’s more of a heavy footprint in the landscape. He tried to bring in new technology, he tried to bring in foods from another place. So it’s a heavier footprint and the legacy of that in New Zealand is ongoing.

We’re making some edible dirt. We’re going to smoke that with peat from Tamatea, from Dusky, so it’s going to have the flavour and the essence of the land.

And within that we’re going to plant carrots and potatoes in nice rows, to sort of reference agricultural processes.

The last one is literally that legacy of encounter, with the rats and the stoats and the deer that have come in, and they’ve changed that place altogether.

We’re using those predatory meats – the deer, the meal may or may not contain rat – and mixing that up and overlaying that on top of Cook’s garden.

So we’re putting it into the earth and serving it on top of the residue of Cook’s garden and saying, well, actually things have changed so much now that we haven’t got the crayfish, we haven’t got the pāua stocks, we haven’t got the blue cod any more.

When Cook came he said, you know, the bird sound was deafening. It’s almost silent.

And with that we’re asking that question: if that’s the legacy of encounter from these four iterations, then what’s our response as people to that place, to what we want to leave behind? What is our legacy?

When we came up with this concept, one thing that we were adamant about is that we couldn’t sell the food that we were preparing. But what we are asking is that people return that breath, when we give that gift, that hā, that gift of food to people, we’re saying what can you do in response?

With this project, we’ve decided that that breath should go back into Dusky Sound.

That koha, that breath, that we want them to leave within that, is that legacy of pest eradication.

It’s dispersing it from this place at Te Papa and it’s dispersing it back to Dusky Sound.