Tommy Kapai: Story rings true, 150 years on

By Tommy Kapai

1 comment
On June 21, 1864, British military forces inflicted huge casualties among local Maori at Te Ranga.
On June 21, 1864, British military forces inflicted huge casualties among local Maori at Te Ranga.

Everyone has the right to tell their own truth and not have it told to them.

Recently, I have had the truth told to me by direct descendants of two very different, but somehow the same, cultures.

Three weeks ago, to the day, on the other side of the world, I stood inside a stunning church named after Saint Maximin, in what has to be one of the prettiest parts of the planet, Aix-en-Provence in Southern France.

For me it was the local korero that had been handed down from generation to generation that felt right for reasons that all the other historians and men of God, as well as the odd Hollywood movie could not convince me of.

The same can be said for the korero and whakapapa of Te Ranga, the battle site on Pyes Pa Rd, where we listened on Saturday to the version of events from direct descendants, and not from the lipstick version, painted on to our forefathers' faces to act as an excuse for confiscating lands that Tauranga is built on today.

None of us were at Te Ranga when this bloody battle occurred.

Equally, no-one living today can be invoiced for what I heard a priest say in his words was "a bloody war crime."

But just like every other pocket of the planet where land and religion are the catalyst for conflict, we can take truth as we understand it with us and teach it to future generations.

There is no question I felt the wairua of a woman who was very much alive inside and under the Basilica of Saint Maximin - as did my mate who was a local from the next village over.

I felt the same wairua at Te Ranga and every time over the past eight years that we have gathered to commemorate the battle I have felt a presence.

If there is good to come out of the sad and bad that happened in that Pyes Pa paddock, perhaps it is we here in Tauranga have grown up culturally and can face the mistakes of the past as a community.

There were hundreds there on Saturday who cared about what happens when you dispossess a people of their language and their land, and want to help in every way possible as a community to find a pathway forward.

At a time when I work in a town named Greerton, after the Colonel in control of what happened at Te Ranga 150 years ago, I will in my own way honour and recognise the true heroes, based on the truths that my tupuna have taught me, by calling this part of Tauranga Taratoatown.

Some may see this as linguistic lipstick, painted on to the face of Tauranga, and others a slap in the face of our founding fathers.

Their predictable response will appear in pages of this paper in a couple of days' time.

But for those of us who took the time to be at Te Ranga, the words echoed by the poem read out, and the weeping waiata sang, as the lone kuia picked up her ancestors and carried them to the cenotaph of remembrance, will stay with us forever.

Kei wareware tatou - they will never be forgotten.

broblack@xtra.co.nz

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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