And patrons sought to fund a comprehensive dating of the La Coruna pohutukawa….
In the beautiful coastal city of La Coruna in Galicia, northern Spain, a large specimen of the New Zealand pohutukawa tree is located. Native to New Zealand, the existence of the tree is an enigma and as part of his research into potential early spanish and portuguese voyages to New Zealand, New Zealander Winston Cowie visited the tree over the weekend, in an attempt to date its age.
In doing so, he gifted the tree and people of La Coruna a magnificent greenstone pendant which is now worn by the tree, generously donated and carved by internationally reknowned and Te Hana based New Zealand master artist and carver, Kerry Strongman.
Cowie has been working with film director David Sims and last year premiered their feature documentary entitled Mystery at Midge Bay – Discovering New Zealand’s oldest shipwreck.
The documentary delves into potential portuguese and spanish discoveries of New Zealand and with one of the shipwrecks of the Pouto Peninsula that they had dated through working with New Zealand dendrochronologist Dr Jonathan Palmer, tentatively concluded that it was of Dutch origin, given the date of the wreck, 1705, and the origin of the wood, South East Asia, where the Dutch were dominant from the 1650s. Cowie and Sims are currently undergoing a consultative process with Te Uri o Hau iwi in respect of the documentary, as the possible Dutch shipwreck is within their rohe, and in time, are looking at negotiating with TVNZ Heartland and Maori television to have the documentary shown on New Zealand television.
The La Coruna pohutukawa has been an enigma since first being “discovered” by New Zealander Warwick Harris and La Coruna resident Juan Pineiro in 2001.The tree has not been dated although there is conjecture about its age. Some say that the tree is 400-500 years old, others say that the tree is 200 years old, brought back by an English sailor returning from the antipodes in the late eighteenth century.
“I call my research into potential spanish and portuguese discoveries of New Zealand the “Conquistador Puzzle,” says Cowie, a New Zealand lawyer, marine scientist, author and former Oxford University graduate and Rugby Union Blue. “Some pieces of the puzzle fit, others don’t, but in my view, there is enough of the puzzle to say that New Zealand may have been discovered by the Portuguese or Spanish, and over 100 years prior to Abel Tasman. There is not quite enough evidence to say that this definitely happened, yet, but by following up each of the puzzle pieces, in time we will be able to present a theory based on all of the pieces of the puzzle.”
“Where the La Coruna pohutukawa fits in the puzzle, I honestly don’t know, it is a mystery that has been sitting there, waiting to be solved. Our research and film making involves assessing each of the Conquistador Puzzle pieces, one by one, to see if they are relevant.”
It is the second time Cowie has attempted to date the pohutukawa. In 2009, with New Zealand’s top dendrochronologist, Christchurch based Dr Jonathan Palmer, they were due to core the tree and date it, when the Christchurch earthquake struck, affecting Dr Palmer. The trip was cancelled.
Cowie and Sims, both members of the New Zealand Underwater Heritage Group, have been supported in their research by the Spanish Embassy to New Zealand, and were granted permission over the weekend by the Mayor of La Coruna, Alcalde Negreira Souto, to take one small preliminary sample from the tree. Galician dendrochronologist Dr Ignacio Garcia Gonzalez took the sample from a healthy small branch of the tree to provide some insight into the tree’s growth cycle. A sample large enough to definitively date the tree was not permitted although the La Coruna Council was happy for a preliminary sample to be taken to raise awareness of the research and give an indication on growth rates. It is hoped in time that Cowie and Sims will return to La Coruna with the world’s leading dendrochronologist on pohutukawa trees, New Zealander Dr Jonathan Palmer, to work with Dr Garcia Gonzalez and date the tree properly, to definitively decipher its age.
Whether comprehensive coring occurs depends on obtaining the permission of a number of Spanish authorities, as the tree is protected, and also on obtaining funding for Cowie, Sims and Palmer to travel to La Coruna to do the work. “As I found over the weekend, Spanish politics and bureaucracy is something to behold. The good thing is that now I have met the key officials and through the embassy here in New Zealand, they are aware of our research. I am hopeful that in time we will be granted all relevant permissions, attract funding, and are able to see where the pohutukawa fits within the Conquistador puzzle.”
In recognition of the mana of the pohutukawa tree, Cowie, as a representative of the New Zealand Underwater Heritage Group, gifted the tree and the people of La Coruna, a New Zealand treasure, a greenstone pendant. Carved by internationally reknowned Master artist and carver, Kerry Strongman, the magnificent greenstone is reflective of the link, both physical and through spirit, of the tree to New Zealand. “When I heard that Winston was travelling to Spain to date the pohutukawa, I especially carved a very special piece of greenstone for a very special tree,” says Strongman. “It is a koro, a bird, a hook of abundance, and it holds secrets, like the tree. Now the La Coruna pohutukawa is very very special because it is the only tree in the world that is wearing a greenstone pendant. It will protect the tree and be symbolic of where it has come from.”
“The piece Kerry carved is magnificent,” says Cowie. “Kerry and his work are New Zealand treasures. I couldn’t encourage people more, to visit his studio at The Arts Factory in Te Hana, just north of Wellsford. The Kauri carvings he produces are phenonmenol, and he is so generous to the community. To be donated such a magnificent taonga to put on the tree was very special and humbling and I am really grateful to Kerry for his generosity.”
Please check out Master artist and carver Kerry Strongman’s website by clicking here.
Cowie is now seeking support, from New Zealand and Spanish patrons, to financially support himself, Sims and Dr Palmer flying to La Coruna, to date the tree, providing all of the permissions are obtained from relevant Spanish authorities.
To date, Cowie and Sims have produced Mystery at Midge Bay from their own resources and they say that forking out further funds now would be “over and above the call of duty.” They will be holding two showings of “Mystery” at The Kumara Box in Dargaville in a fortnight’s time. Dates will be released next week. If interested in attending, please contact Warren Suckling at The Kumara Box.
“Regardless of what the age of the tree comes back as, if we are allowed to date it, it is still a very honourable tree, hence the gift of greenstone” says Cowie, “and by dating it, at least then we will know for sure if the tree forms part of the Conquistador Puzzle or not. The tree is already special. It could be very very special, like the Tower of Hercules, a Roman lighthouse and UNESCO world heritage site in La Coruna. This is up to the people of La Coruna, and hopefully through donated airfares from New Zealand and Spanish patrons, we can solve this part of the puzzle.”
Cowie, author of a New Zealand epic historical novel, A Flame Flickers in the Darkness, will be re-releasing that book into two separate books later this year. The first, called “Greenstone Trail,” spans Fiordland, Auckland, whaling expeditions in the South Seas and the key events of the First Taranaki War of the 1860s. “Keep an eye out for it in bookshops, for a Christmas release,” says Cowie. “It’s looking really good.”
And there are only circa 40 out of 500 copies left of A Flame Flickers in the Darkness, New Zealand author Winston Cowie’s New Zealand historical fiction novel or book set during the New Zealand Wars or Maori Wars or New Zealand Land Wars of the 1860s. You can grab a copy from Whitcoulls, independent bookstores and online on PublishMe and Fishpond. Grab one of the last ever copies of A Flame Flickers in the Darkness, today!