Raided become the raiders as Tuhoe win their pound of flesh

By Kennedy Warne

The Urewera Raids and the ensuing trial of Tame Iti and his three fellow activists sparked alarm, outrage — and a little inspiration. Writer Kennedy Warne and photographer Peter James Quinn spent months in Tuhoe country as the iwi’s Treaty negotiators sought to regain control over their remote, rugged rohe. These excerpts are from their new book, Tuhoe, Portrait of a Nation

Patrick 'Onion' Orupe. Photo / Peter Quinn
Patrick 'Onion' Orupe. Photo / Peter Quinn

A tear welled up in Patrick Orupe's eye and spilled down his cheek, leaving a wet trail across the blue-black lines of his moko. He looked at me and said: "A century ago you raped my grandmother. You shot my grandfather. You dug up my potatoes and set fire to my crops. And in 2007 you came and pointed guns at my children. Should I feel happy about that?"

We were talking a few metres from the house where the charismatic Tuhoe leader Rua Kenana died, up the Waimana River valley in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

Orupe is descended from members of Rua's community at Maungapohatu, and has inherited some of the prophet's brimstone and his sorrow. The anger burns hotter with age.

As a child, raised by his grandmother, Orupe was oblivious to the injustice of the police invasion of Maungapohatu in 1916.

His grandmother would look at photographs of the community and start to wail.

"I didn't realise what it meant," Orupe said. "I was just a snotty-nosed little brat thinking, 'Why are you still going on about that, Nan, wailing like an old lady?' But when she died, that wailing became a fire."

The fire is what keeps Orupe - nicknamed Onion for his shaved head - close to his ancestral marae. It is a burning sense of betrayal that many Tuhoe feel when they reflect on almost 200 years of interaction with the colonial power.

Tuhoe history can break your heart. I found it impossible to travel around Te Urewera and not sense the ghosts of the unquiet past.

Driving east from Rotorua, past the elegant volcanic cone of Putauaki/Mt Edgecumbe, there was the inescapable knowledge that all this flat, fertile land - kiwifruit and mandarin orchards, dairy farms, here and there the stubble of harvested corn - was once Tuhoe's best land and their best chance for a stake in the colonial economy.

It was confiscated in 1866 through a combination of punitive zealotry and bureaucratic ineptitude. Even when the mistake was realised - that the wrong tribe had been punished for rebellion - the land was never returned.

Te Mapoumarae at Maungapohatu. Photo / Peter Quinn
Te Mapoumarae at Maungapohatu. Photo / Peter Quinn

The inland boundary of the appropriated land - the much-despised "confiscation line" - is public knowledge now, thanks to a 2007 police roadblock set up insultingly near it during an armed raid on Tuhoe communities.


For me, the journey that led to this book started in the High Court in Auckland. Last year, I was in the public gallery attending the trial of Tame Iti and the other members of the Urewera Four, a trial in which the prosecution was alleging that these people were evil masterminds up to some seditious no good; the defence saying that Tame was in fact a Nelson Mandela-like figure.

It seemed that it wasn't Tame and his friends who were on trial, but Tuhoe itself. Tuhoe, an iwi that has been dogged by suspicion, mistrust, the sense that they're a scary, remote, unreliable, unpredictable people living in a mountain fortress in the middle of the North Island.

It seemed the only way to penetrate the confusion and ignorance that surrounds these people was to go there, to make a journey, to front up to Tuhoe, to go further and to ask, what does it mean to be Tuhoe?

Although government mechanisms were in place to compensate Maori for land confiscations found subsequently to be unjustified, Tuhoe received virtually no remedy. From a confiscated area almost the size of Stewart Island, the only awards made to individual Tuhoe amounted to an area equivalent in size to the Auckland Domain - a ratio of about one in 10,000. "The unfairness of the situation Tuhoe found themselves in cannot be overstated," notes the Waitangi Tribunal.

After confiscation came invasion. Its roots lay in misunderstanding and a miscarriage of justice, and it spiralled into Tuhoe's most devastating conflict with the Crown. In 1866, a 34-year-old firebrand from the East Coast was bundled onto a ship carrying convicts to the Chatham Islands for incarceration. He was suspected of supplying ammunition to the Hauhau, who were still embroiled in violence against Europeans in Poverty Bay, but he was never tried. His name was Te Kooti.

Chatham Island was New Zealand's Guantanamo Bay, without the benefits. When the prisoners arrived, they had to build their own prison barracks from tree fern and flax. Most had inadequate clothing for the island's cold, wet climate, and many became ill. After building their prison, the detainees built a hospital. Even so, 28 died during their period of incarceration.

They were expected to grow their own food, but were given neither ploughs nor seed. Eventually, the Government provided ploughs but supplied no animals with which to pull them. The prisoners yoked themselves, along with their wives and children, to the ploughs. Like Te Kooti, most of these "enemy combatants" had not been tried, and their imprisonment was later ruled to have been illegal.

It was in these dire circumstances that Te Kooti began to receive divine visitations and a new religion was born - one that gave its followers hope of bursting the chains of oppression. In an elaborately planned escape, Te Kooti hijacked the supply ship and sailed back to New Zealand with more than 160 prisoners and their families.

Ruatoki school-children make their way home. Photo / Peter Quinn
Ruatoki school-children make their way home. Photo / Peter Quinn

Once back in Poverty Bay, Te Kooti began to wreak vengeance on those who had betrayed him, and on the wider European community. His trail of bloodshed made him a feared and wanted man, though initially he had sought nothing more than to establish himself as a religious leader.

He came to Te Urewera with the law baying furiously at his heels - and Tuhoe took him in. They gave him shelter and became his staunchest followers and he adopted them as his people. He understood their experience of captivity and exile, and they his. He was able to place their plight within a biblical narrative, as a chosen people who would one day reclaim their promised land.

In throwing in their lot with Te Kooti, Tuhoe drew up on themselves the full wrath of the colonial government: no part of their homeland would be left unscathed. The commander of the Government's forces, Colonel George Whitmore, put the matter plainly when he remarked: "Well now, I am going to punish them. They must be exterminated."

Te Kooti casts a long shadow over Te Urewera. In the forest, I often thought of his miraculous escapes from pursuit. I imagined him melting into the twilight or as a furtive wraith in the morning mist. Like a cat with nine lives, he cheated his pursuers, sometimes streaking stark naked from his whare and into the forest when the first enemy shots were fired. There was something magical about his ability to elude capture. During the three years he was pursued, he was shot at least five times, losing fingers and being struck in the shoulder and ankle.

Stories are told of his Sam Browne belt being sliced in two by a bullet. The constabulary, chasing him for a bounty of half a million dollars in today's money, couldn't credit his luck: how could their bullets, fired at such close range, keep missing? "This was a shameful period in New Zealand's history," noted Maori Land Court judge David Ambler. "It is New Zealand's equivalent of the Highland Clearances in Scotland, and Tuhoe were by far the main victims."


I camped a night on the dunes on Te Putere, a Government reserve that Binney described as Tuhoe's "concentration camp". A cold wind blew along the coast from Whakatane, a few kilometres to the east. Black and sluggish, the Tarawera River meandered through sprawling scrub. This was Tuhoe's Babylon: here they wept when they remembered Zion. Every morning they would look at their green-grey
mountains on the horizon.

It is repulsive to think of it: corralling women, children and old people on land that was either swamp or dune, expecting them to live off this land while their fate was weighed by government minions.

When the expedition was over (without achieving its goal - Te Kooti would never be captured), Whitmore and his troops were praised by the governor for their "conspicuous courage".

Only now, a century and a half later, does their inconspicuous brutality come to light.

Performers make their way towards the stage at the Tuhoe Ahurei Festival. Photo / Peter Quinn
Performers make their way towards the stage at the Tuhoe Ahurei Festival. Photo / Peter Quinn

So I was not surprised at Onion's tears. He considers himself to be one of the lucky ones - lucky to have Tuhoe's history and customs instilled in him as a child. That awareness of identity and whakapapa is what brought him back to Te Urewera, where 3,000 Tuhoe remain on their traditional lands. He rejected the allure of the city.

Formany Tuhoe, the sense of identity ingrained in childhood is either weak or absent. Eighty-five per cent of the iwi live away from Tuhoe's homeland.

Forced by economic necessity to leave their marae, they face the almost certain prospect of cultural loss. Tikanga fades, and the memory of what it means to be Tuhoe becomes harder to retrieve.

It is for this reason that mana motuhake has been central to the iwi's negotiations with the Crown. Chief negotiator Tamati Kruger says: "Manamotuhake is the ability to live your own dreams, rather than being forced to live the dreams of others."

- Herald on Sunday

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