There was much blood shed during the separation of Papa-tu-a-nuku (Earth) and Rangi-nui (Heaven), the primeval parents. The blood of Rangi-nui is sometimes seen as a red glow in the sky. The Maori call it Papakura and they look to it for signs and omens. The blood of Papa-tu-a-nuku, the Mother Earth, flowed into the earth itself and became red clay. This is the origin of KOKOWAI, the Sacred Red of the Maori.
It is utilized in a number of traditional ceremonies. When applied in conjunction with a Karakia it becomes tabu. The Kokowai was burned in a fire, ground into a fine powder and stirred with shark oil to make paint. This paint was then used as a stain for Rakau wood carvings and for the painted patterns on the rafters of the community gathering houses known as Kowhaiwhai.
The soil for five of these terragraphies comes from the Waipoua forest in the North of Aotearoa. This forest, home of the Te Roroa, contains some of the oldest Kauri trees, which can date back 2000 years and can have a circumference of up to 25 m. The five remaining samples originate from the east and west coast of Waipounamu, the name given to the southern island of New Zealand by the Kai Tahu.