2000 Year of the Dragon - Spirits and Guardians

The fourth in New Zealand’s lunar stamp series, 2000 Year of the Dragon - Spirits and Guardians, commemorated the Chinese Lunar Year. In Chinese folklore, dragons guard the earth’s jewels, govern the weather and watch over the rivers.

Issue information

Māori understanding of the world began with a belief that all things were created by a supreme being. Io was the maker of Ranginui the Sky Father and Papatūānuku the Earth Mother who in turn gave birth to Gods of war, peace, food, forests, sea and wind. Tāne Mahuta the god of the forest, is said to be the father of mankind. This was a world of multiple dimensions where humans, spirits, gods and demigods co-existed, a world in which dramatic and some frightening tales were created. Handed down from generation to generation, these stories give insights into the Māori world. 

Every New Zealand region has stories telling of encounters with supernatural beings such as taniwha, fairies (patupaiarehe) and giant reptiles. They are generally set in the distant past, but are still commonly told today and the themes running through the stories are universal.

One of the stores is about Araiteuru, a female taniwha said to have arrived from the homeland of Hawaiki before the original migrants. She had eleven sons and each went on a journey of exploration, digging a trench with his nose as he went. Together they created the many branches of the Hokianga Harbour.

Also featured is Kurangaituku, the giant bird-woman who imprisoned Hatupatu and then recaptured him after he escaped and stole her fine cloaks and her taiaha. Near Atiamuri, there is an extraordinary rock standing beside the road, said to be the one inside which Hatupatu hid from Kurangaituku. This rock is a tipua, a tapu entity with special powers. Offerings of twigs are still made to it.

One story tells of two sisters, Te Hoata and Te Pupu, who were considered the origin and personification of the supernatural fire that creates volcanoes and thermal activity. 

Another story told is of the patupaiarehe, handsome beings who lived on hilltops and other remote places. Their houses were built from swirling mist, and the fairies themselves were usually glimpsed on misty, overcast days. Most of the time the spirit people were only visible to tohunga with visionary powers, though others could hear them.

A well told story tells how a giant reptile kidnaps a woman, makes her his wife, then is killed by her people. One of the names given to this monster is Te Ngarara-huarau (the reptile with many progeny). The name may relate to an episode in which a couple of the creature’s scales turned into ordinary-sized reptiles that became the parents of all reptiles.

Finally featured is the story of Tuhirangi, custodial taniwha and protector of Kupe, who travelled from the place known as Hawaiki to discover this Land of the Long White Cloud. In the late nineteenth century, Tuhirangi became associated with a dolphin that was famous at the time. For more than twenty years, from 1888, a white dolphin inhabited a stretch of water off Pelorus Sound, north of French Pass. While Pākehā called this dolphin Pelorus Jack, Māori people naturally recognised him as Tuhirangi.

Product Listing for 2000 Year of the Dragon - Spirits and Guardians

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Image Title Description Price
Single Stamp

Single 40c 'Āraiteuru, North Island sea guardian' gummed stamp.

Āraiteuru, guardian of the Hokianga people, was reputed to live in a cave on the treacherous south head of the Hokianga Harbour. A female taniwha said to have arrived from the homeland of Hawaiki was pregnant and had eleven sons. Her offspring soon chose homes of their own and as they searched throught the water of the Hokianga, they gouged deep channels creating what are now the many branches of the Hokianga Harbour.

One son Ohopa was so angered by the many obstacles he found on his jouney he chose to terrorise the people of the Panguru Mountains. Another son Waihope burrowed so deep inland he created the great Lake Omapere.

$0.40
Single Stamp

Single 80c 'Kurangaituku, Giant bird-woman' gummed stamp.

Standing as tall as a tree and able to spear pray with her fingernails was the giant bird woman Kurangaituku. Out gathering food one day she came across a young boy, Hatupatu, who she decided to take home and keep as a pet. After some time Hatupatu began to yearn for his family. One morning, after Kurangaituku had left for the day, Hatupatu collected all of Kurangaituku's precious treasures and made off into the bush. Kurangaituku followed in pursuit screaming in fury.

Hatupatu could hear the pounding of the bird woman not far behind him. But then he happened upon a large rock, which he commanded to open. Hatupatu scrambled inside and the rock closed shut. Realising the bird woman was still outside, Hatupatu made his escape underground. He eventually emerged at the hot springs in Rotorua. Knowing the dangers of the hots springs and mud pools, Hatupatu managed to fool Kurangaituku into following him across the a hot pool and she fell through the crust and perished in the boiling mud.

$0.80
Single Stamp

Single $1.10 'Te Hoata and Te Pupu, Volcanic taniwha sisters' gummed stamp.

Te Hoata and Te Pupu are said to have arrived in Aotearoa form Hawaiki at the urgent summons of Ngātoroirangi, the great tohunga of the Te Arawa waka. Freezing in the bitter wind and snow, Ngātoroirangi had called to his sisters from the top of Mount Tongariro where he and his slave had been exploring. Te Hoata and Te Pupu left Hawaiki at once to bring warmth and fire from their homeland.

On their long journey south, the sisters stopped to rest at White Island, igniting a volcano, then made their way underground to Tongariro, creating hot springs, geyers and mud pools along the way. Finally reaching Ngātoroirangi they threw up a blanket of flames to warm him, but they were too late for his slave who had already frozen to death.

$1.10
Single Stamp

Single $1.20 'Patupaiarehe, Mountain fairy tribe' gummed stamp.

The patupaiarehe, or 'fairy people' were the elusive and mystical beings that drift between the worlds of spirits and humans. Handsome, uncanny creatures, patupaiarehe were said to possess human bodies with distinctive light orange hair and fair skin. Living on mountain tops and other remote places, their houses were built of swirling mists. The chatter of the patupaiarehe could reputedly be heard on misty mountain tops or in dense bush.

Like humans, they hunted, fished, wove garments, sang and danced. They were known as master flute players and the sound of their music was said to charm and enchant human women. Stories tell of how they sought humans as lovers and often humans genuinely fell in love with them.

$1.20
Single Stamp

Single $1.50 'Te Ngārara-Huarau, Giant first lizard' gummed stamp.

Te Ngārara-huarau, a fierce giant lizard, longed to live with and be accepted by humans. One day Te Ngārara-huarau captured a human wife. Although they lived together for some time, the woman was ever watchful for her chance to escape back to her famlily. One day she caught the lizard off guard and was able to escape the repulsive beasts grasp. Once home she and her family devised a plan to kill Te Ngārara-huarau. The brothers built a great house for the giant lizard and then lured him into the village, fooling him into believing that the family accepted him.    

Deliriously happy with his new house and family Te Ngārara-huarau settled down that night to go to sleep. Once assured the he was sleeping and would not wake, the family locked the door and set the house ablaze, killing Te Ngārara-huarau and setting themselves free from his torment.

$1.50
Single Stamp

Single $1.80 'Tuhirangi, South Island sea guardian' gummed stamp.

Tuhirangi was first known as the taniwha that guided and protected Kupe's canoe on his voyage from Hawaiki to Aotearoa. Kupe was the first to discover this land, having travelled thousands of miles across open seas guided only by the stars. Soon after his arrival in Aotearoa, Kupe recognised the dangerous and seething currents ot Te Au Miti or 'French Pass' near Cooks Strait.

He instructed Tuhirangi to live at Te Au Miti and to look over those attempting to pass through this treacherous region. Tuhirangi is said to live in a cave known as Kaikaiawaro or Taitawaro.

$1.80
Miniature Sheet Mint, used or cancelled miniature sheet.  $3.30
First Day Cover First day cover with stamps affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $7.30
Miniature Sheet First Day Cover First day cover with miniature sheet affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $3.80
Limited Edition Limited edition collectable containing exclusive stamp products not available anywhere else. $135.00

Technical information

Date of issue: 9 February 2000
Number of stamps: Six
Denominations and designs: 40c Araiteuru, North Island sea guardian; 80c Kurangaituku, Giant bird-woman; $1.10 Te Hoata and Te Pupu, Volcanic taniwha sisters; $1.20 Patupaiarehe, Mountain fairy tribe; $1.50 Te Ngārara-Huarau, Giant first lizard; $1.80 Tuhirangi, South Island sea guardian
Products designed by: Manu Smith, Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand
Printer and process: Southern Colour Print, New Zealand, by lithography
Number of colours: Four process colours
Stamp size and format: 40mm x 30mm vertical
Miniature sheet size: 100mm x 135mm
Paper type: 103 gsm red phosphor coated
Number of stamps per sheet: 100
Perforation gauge: 14
Gutter pairs: These could be obtained by purchasing at least two stamps of any denomination, with a gutter panel between them.
Special blocks: Plate/imprint blocks could be obtained by purchasing at least six sheet stamps. Barcode and value blocks could be obtained by purchasinf at least two sheet stamps. Barcode blocks were available in A and B formats for sheet stamps.
Period of sale: These stamps remained on sale until 8 February 2001.