Otago Polytechnic
CORP staff KRussell SMann 007

Glimpsing the past

Collaboration between Kai Tahu and Information Technology Professor Samuel Mann

Professors Khyla Russell and Samuel Mann

An innovation that brings history to life, digitally recreating landscapes of times gone by, is the result of collaboration between Kai Tahu and Otago Polytechnic.

The Polytechnic’s Professor of Information Technology, Samuel Mann, was interested in digitally rebuilding landscapes and settlements that are now vastly changed.  Through the whakapapa, waiata and stories recounted to him by local rūnaka, he was able to bring past scenes to life using 3D game technology. This interactive simulation was called SimPā.

“SimPa reflected and explored the relationships between Kai Tahu whakapapa and landscape and all the ways in which we define the concept of whakapapa,” explains the Polytechnic’s Kaitohutohu, Professor Khyla Russell.

“We connect ourselves to landscapes through whakapapa, and perceive these places as being a part of ourselves,” she says. “Over time, these scenes have changed enormously, but when you listen to the old stories and waiata, you can imagine what it was like.”

One such story from Otākou describes a deafening birdsong right down to the shoreline – something Professor Russell herself remembers.

“As kids, everybody had a few cows, pigs and chooks, and an orchard. We were only 25 minutes from town [Dunedin], but it was a different world.”

One of the goals of the SimPā project was to facilitate cross- and inter-generational storytelling, and allow learning through play.

“This contemporary technology affords us a new means of imparting our stories to our iwi members,” affirms Professor Russell, “wherever in the world they may be.”


Russell, K. & Mann, S. (2013) The many indigenous bodies of Kai Tahu. In J. Fear-Seagal & R. Tillett (Eds.), Indigenous Bodies: Reviewing, Relocating, Reclaiming. Albany NY: SUNY Press. 179-190.