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ASB Tamaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum

As romantic as much of the folklore around how Tamaki Makaurau got its name may be, the people of Ngati Whatua o Orakei simply know it as "Tamaki the place desired by many". It fittingly describes how the narrow isthmus was sought by many tribes for its bounteous waters and rich, fertile land.

It was Ngati Whatua who, in the mid-18th century, won a long, bloody battle for the prized land, and decided to stay and stamp their political control. Over the centuries their leaders have been warriors, peacemakers and astute statesmen; rangatira who fought many battles to protect the interests of their people.

"We cannot take away from our leaders who put Ngati Whatua into the position of strength we hold today; we can only repay them by holding on to the mana they gave us," says Danny Te Puna Tumahai, a respected kaumatua of Ngati Whatua o Orakei.

Ngati Whatua began in the Far North and steadily moved south, first conquering the Kaipara, and then, around 1740, invading the Tamaki isthmus under the leadership of Tuperiri, chief of Te Taou hapu.


Chief Kiwi Tamaki and the Waiohua people then held sway in Tamaki Makaurau. There had been years of friction between the tribes, but Kiwi Tamaki intensified the conflict when he killed many Te Taou at a feast near Helensville.

"Honour required the account to be settled, and it was not long after that Ngati Whatua evened the score and took possession of the Tamaki isthmus," the late Sir Hugh Kawharu, Ngati Whatua scholar and leader, said in a lecture at Auckland Museum in 2001.

After Kiwi Tamaki was killed at the battle of Paruroa - Big Muddy Creek, in Cornwallis - Ngati Whatua eventually claimed the stronghold pa at Maungakiekie and Mangere to gain control of Tamaki.

Tuperiri invited the vanquished Waiohua to join their ranks and, by encouraging marriages with his offspring, blood links provided mana whenua - authority over the land.

Tuperiri's grandson Apihai Te Kawau was even known as "the man of many cousins", with so many connections to other hapu.

A renowned warrior in his youth, Te Kawau led a 1600km war expedition called Te Amio-whenua - the encircling of the land - through the North Island in 1821.

Two decades later he was one of three Ngati Whatua chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi "at Manukau". Swiftly, Te Kawau sent a party north to the Bay of Islands to invite Governor William Hobson to make Tamaki the new colony's capital.

Ngati Whatua saw an agreement to share the land with the European settlers as protection against further raids from their enemies, particularly Ngapuhi of the north, and the opportunities, Kawharu outlined, of literacy, medicine and trade.

Paora Tuhaere. Photo / Wikimedia
Paora Tuhaere. Photo / Wikimedia

For 20 years Maori trade would prosper in the new Auckland, especially in produce; in his book Greater Auckland Maori, historian David Simmons noted that in 1848 Maori brought 20,000 baskets of potatoes and 5000 baskets of peaches and apples to trade at Beach Rd, which fed the new settlement. But most trade came to a halt in the 1860s during the Taranaki Wars.

Te Kawau initially offered Hobson a triangle of 3000 acres (1200 ha), which today makes up most of central Auckland.

With the deed signed in October 1840, Te Kawau's people received a payment of money and goods worth 281, according to a report of the Waitangi Tribunal. (Six months later, a 44 acre block of that land sold at public auction for 24,275.) But Ngati Whatua did not see it as payment for the land.

"These things were koha, just like the Treaty blankets," Kawharu said. "The people undoubtedly continued to believe that the land and their mana were still theirs, untouched and beyond negotiation."

Te Kawau made it clear he wished to keep a large chunk of land - Okahu Bay, Orakei and Remuera - for his people. By 1855, Ngati Whatua's land ownership was stripped down to just 700 acres (280ha), known as the Orakei Block. He urged his people not to sell more land - and urged the Government to stop buying it. When the Native Land Court was established in 1865, Te Kawau helped Ngati Whatua obtain a certificate of title to this precious land "to make it safe for our present and future generations".

He wrote to Governor George Grey, whom he considered a friend: "These are my lands. I will not allow any person or persons to talk (negotiate) to you about my lands. Those places are to remain a residence for myself and my children, that we may be near you to guard you all and our town (Auckland)."

On his death in 1869, Te Kawau's authority in Ngati Whatua passed to his nephew Paora (or Paul, as Pakeha called him) Tuhaere. He was a peacemaker rather than a warrior, who had a solid understanding of the new government of the land and its laws.

A Christian lay preacher, Tuhaere spoke at inter-tribal gatherings, often offering peace to tribes his forefathers had warred with. He was also a businessman, buying a schooner, Victoria, to develop trade with the Cook Islands.

Although a staunch supporter of the Crown, Tuhaere was a respected leader in the movement to achieve greater Maori control of Maori affairs in the late 1800s. A man of peace, he believed confrontation was never the answer.

Apihai Te Kawau. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library.
Apihai Te Kawau. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library.

In 1860 Governor Thomas Gore Brown convened a hui in Kohimarama of more than 200 "loyal" Maori leaders - as tensions grew over the new Maori King movement, Kingitanga, and the Government's war with Maori in Taranaki over land sales and sovereignty.

After the month-long hui, Tuhaere believed Maori would have a more significant say in the issues affecting them and that the Treaty of Waitangi would be honoured. But he would be disappointed; the promise to hold the Kohimarama Conference each year was never fulfilled.

Instead, Tuhaere set up the first Maori parliament at Orakei in 1879, to discuss whether the Crown was upholding Treaty principles.

Grey (signing his name Hori Kerei) sent a telegram to the 300 leaders assembled, urging them to unite to find a "solution for the troubles that still remain".

"Our tribe Ngatiwhatua (sic) has been an upholder of the law and a preserver of the peace since the first coming of the Pakehas to the island let the result of your work be to establish the old order of things, when the European and the Maori dwelt side by side in peace," says his message in the official minutes of that first parliament, which met until 1889.

Tuhaere was also a member of the Kotahitanga (unity) movement, which established a national Maori Parliament in 1892, focused on assuming control of Maori affairs, like retaining tribal ownership of Maori land. But it fizzled out in a decade, when its authority went unrecognised by the New Zealand Parliament.

In 1869 the Crown assigned the last remaining Ngati Whatua land - the Orakei Block - to 13 trustees in the hapu, including Tuhaere. He fought to have the land remain under tribal ownership, where houses could be built and rented to settlers, providing an economic base for the hapu.

But the Crown took the land he planned to subdivide to build a defence fort.

Tuhaere died in 1892, and soon after the Orakei Block was divvied up to 13 individual owners, making it easier for the Crown to persuade individuals to sell their shares. Within 50 years Ngati Whatua would be left landless. The protests, which would last for almost a century, were about to begin.

Next weekend: The battle for Takaparawhau-Bastion Point.
Find more stories at Taku Tamaki — Auckland Stories. See:

Giants of men

Sir Hugh Kawharu, whose ancestor was named after a Kawhia giant. Photo / Peter Meecham
Sir Hugh Kawharu, whose ancestor was named after a Kawhia giant. Photo / Peter Meecham

Sir Hugh Kawharu, distinguished scholar and leader of Ngati Whatua in the late 20th century, was given his surname by a kaumatua; the name of an illustrious warrior giant in the 17th century. "With it went a sense of duty he never wavered from," Margaret Kawharu wrote of her father.

Legend has it that the original Kawharu, of Kawhia in the King Country, was a giant of a man; David Simmons said the warrior stood "three maro tall" (a maro the distance from fingertip to fingertip of outstretched arms). Ngati Whatua — according to Te Ao Hou, The Maori Magazine — described Kawharu with a face "as long as from my fingertips to my elbow".

Ngati Whatua had heard of Kawharu's bravery and strength in battle, and in 1680, asked him north to Kaipara to help fight Te Kawerau. His footsteps were so large that the string of freshwater lakes from Muriwai to South Head became known as "The Footsteps of Kawharu".

He led a series of raids — known as Te Raupatu Tihore, "The Stripping Conquest" — across the Tamaki isthmus, before being killed at a pa at Waiherunga in South Kaipara.

Almost two centuries later, Paora Kawharu was given the name of the Tainui warrior giant. Margaret Kawharu, senior Maori adviser at Massey University, wrote in the Herald that her great-great grandfather lived in Kaipara, where he became renowned as a tohunga whakairo (master carver).

His most famous work was Taheretikitiki, the waka taua (war canoe) used by Maori royalty around the turn of the 20th century. The waka was fashioned from kauri by Ngati Whatua carvers led by Paora Kawharu at Riverhead in the 1870s.

In his 1930 book The Maori: Yesterday and Today, author James Cowan wrote of Paora Kawharu and another elder overseeing the project: "These tohunga, squinting along the canoe, would say to the adze-men, 'Take a little bit off here,' and so on, until the adze work was completed to their satisfaction. When the canoe was launched it floated as evenly and gracefully as a swan in the water."

The waka was carved for their chief, Paora Tuhaere, who later gave it to King Tawhiao; for decades it was used to ferry distinguished visitors across the Waikato River to Waahi Pa, headquarters of Kingitanga.

The waka's original prow — or tauihu — was bought by Auckland Museum in 1896 and is still on prominent display.

Sir Hugh's great-grandfather was an advocate of education and set up a school in Woodhill. His grandson, James Te Hikoi Paora, became a rangatira of Ngati Whatua o Orakei — and a mentor to his nephew Hugh, who, among his many achievements, wrote the authoritative translation of the Maori text of the Treaty of Waitangi, led Maori studies at Massey and Auckland universities, and chaired the Ngati Whatua o Orakei Maori Trust Board for 28 years until his death in 2006, steering negotiations for the iwi's Treaty claims.

"Kawharu was a giant," kaumatua Danny Tumahai says, "and Sir Hugh lived up to that name as a giant of a man in his own right."


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