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Monday, 4 November, 2002, 11:09 GMT
Maori swamp creature delays road
Maori men doing haka dance
Maori culture is thriving in New Zealand

Construction work on a major New Zealand highway has been delayed following warnings about a mythical river monster.

Work on one section of the new highway ground to a halt when a local Maori tribe warned of a swamp creature said to be living in the path of the new road.

The Waikato expressway is a 12-kilometre (7.5-mile) stretch of new highway over swamp land in New Zealand's central North Island.

According to the local Ngati Ngaho tribe, the region is home to a number of taniwha or guardian spirits.

Some say the presence of a taniwha might also explain the large number of fatal car accidents along the existing road.

Culture respected

Maori concerns about taniwha are treated quite seriously by New Zealand road building agency Transit New Zealand.

Transit spokesman Chris Allen says the highway agency will meet tribal elders later this week to confirm whether the highway is encroaching on sacred land.

Mr Allen says Transit has specific protocols reflecting the beliefs of local Maori. Reports of a taniwha are regarded as as serious as the discovery of human remains.

The company had already been advised of two other taniwha living near the construction route. However in both cases the taniwha were considered by Maori to be a satisfactory distance from the new highway.

Maori concerns about spiritual issues are becoming increasingly common in New Zealand, where Maori culture is enjoying a renaissance.

In the far north of the country, members of the Ngapuhi tribe have been involved in a three-year court battle aimed at blocking a new prison, because tribal members claim the planned site is also the home of a sacred taniwha.

See also:

25 Oct 02 | Correspondent
04 Dec 01 | Entertainment
14 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
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