By Angela Gregory
KAIKOHE - Concerns that the proposed regional prison site at Ngawha could be tapu are emerging among Maori, who say blood was once spilled on the land during battles.
The Minister of Corrections, Clem Simich, this week confirmed he had chosen the 30ha site, 7km north-east of Kaikohe, for a new prison which was expected to hold mainly Maori inmates.
A Ngapuhi kaumatua, Ron Wihongi, said he had records which showed battles were fought in the area, which was near a number of pa sites.
Mr Wihongi said it would be wrong to incarcerate Ngapuhi on land where their ancestors' blood was spilled.
It would affect their spiritual and mental health in various ways, he said.
"There would be mental disorders ... and could be terrible repercussions."
Mr Wihongi said he was surprised the Ngati Rangi Trust, which administers the land, was not aware of the problem.
The trust commissioned a report on the site's Maori values for the Department of Corrections, which was satisfied there were no sacred areas.
The author of the report, Tukaki Waititi, said yesterday that he had to start from scratch, and interviewed many locals and kaumatua, including Mr Wihongi.
When asked why he was chosen he replied: "They needed a writer in a hurry, that's all ... and I'm neutral."
Mr Waititi said that while it was likely there were battles in the wider Ngati Rangi lands, he could not pinpoint exactly what had gone on at the prison site.
But he was satisfied there were no wahi tapu sites and noted the area had been farmed for years.
"Does it become tapu because someone wants to build a prison, and not when it is used for grazing?"
Mr Waititi said any past tapu would likely have been lifted when the area was first farmed.
A Ngapuhi kaumatua, Arama Pou, said he did not think a prison was ever a suitable use for a former battleground because it inflamed a past situation.
"The ancestors bled to make their point and to put a prison there is not helping the past or the future."
Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua said he had worked at Auckland Prison at Paremoremo prison when it opened about 30 years ago.
Kaumatua and kuia had to come in to try to clear tapu because inmates were mutilating themselves and committing suicide. "But the evil spirits are still said to be there now."
The department's prison project leader, Richard Morris, said the tapu claims at the Ngawha site were extraordinary.
"This site has been offered up by a Maori trust. It has been farmed for centuries."
By Angela Gregory