Schools are being encouraged to develop localised teaching units now that national standards have been abolished. Simon Collins reports in the third of a five-part series.

Almost 200 years after his ancestral tribe was almost wiped out, Savea Saua knew little about his heritage until he studied history at Otamatea High School.

In 1825, about 1000 of Saua's Ngāti Whātua forebears gathered near the Otamatea inlet of the Kaipara Harbour to face an invading force led by the Ngāpuhi chief Hongi Hika in what became known as the Battle of Te-Ika-a-Ranganui.

At first the defenders prevailed, killing several of the smaller invading force of perhaps 300-400 men, and forcing them to retreat.

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But then Hongi Hika arrived with guns which he had acquired on a visit to England, giving him a huge advantage. Hundreds of Ngāti Whātua were killed and the historian S Percy Smith wrote in 1910 that the Waimako Stream "is said to have run red with blood".

The historic Kakaraea Church at Otamatea Marae now stands on a site where the last Ngāti Whātua in the area were cooked and eaten.

"My ancestors were pushed as far as the Waikato, and that's why we have Ngāti Whātua descendants who relate at Ngāti Whātua ki Waikato, because that's as far back as they can go," says Saua, who is now 20.

"A lot of people in my generation and a few generations before it were not having a sense of belonging because it was essentially taken away. People were not knowing where they came from.

"I have been standing and speaking [on marae] since I was about 12 because I didn't have elders who spoke Māori. It stems all the way back to them not being there, because essentially they were pushed away."

History teacher Arina Bosch at Kakaraea Church near Otamatea High School, where she has introduced a unit on the Battle of Te-Ika-a-Ranganui. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
History teacher Arina Bosch at Kakaraea Church near Otamatea High School, where she has introduced a unit on the Battle of Te-Ika-a-Ranganui. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

History teacher Arina Bosch, who is also descended from the Ngāti Whātua hapū Te Uri o Hau, says no one was learning about this history when she arrived at the high school six years ago even though the battle was "the pivotal event in this area", causing Ngāti Whātua to welcome British settlers as a defence against Ngāpuhi.

"There was nothing even New Zealand-focused, let alone local-focused," she says.

Although Bosch did a master's degree on England's Tudors and Stuarts and believes that students need to learn widely to be "citizens of the world", she believes their own local history needs to give them a place to stand.

"I didn't want to spend the next 20 years teaching kids about Henry the Eighth," she says.

But introducing students to their own history was not easy.

"You can't just hit the books," she says. Although Percy Smith wrote a chapter on Te-Ika-a-Ranganui, he wrote from a British perspective and his sources were limited.

Arina Bosch (left) at Otamatea Marae with kaumātua Kim Phillips (centre) and kuia Hazel Kaio (right). Photo / Jason Oxenham
Arina Bosch (left) at Otamatea Marae with kaumātua Kim Phillips (centre) and kuia Hazel Kaio (right). Photo / Jason Oxenham

Hazel Kaio, a kuia of Otamatea Marae, says: "A lot of our history you can't get from books, you have to have that ongoing relationship."

Bosch took it slowly.

"I didn't teach this topic in my first three years at the school. I thought there was a real time of listening," she says.

She went on a history trail organised by the marae, consulted with a local Māori historian Roi McCabe, and invited Ngāti Whātua speakers to the school.

Finally, when she started teaching about Te-Ika-a-Ranganui in 2016, she brought Saua and his classmates to stay on the marae so they could hear the history directly from people who had kept it alive in oral traditions.

Savea Saua, fourth-from-right, at the marae with from left Jamahl Robinson, Emma Rankin, Joel Stephens, Jessica Linton, Rita Hames and Jesper Smyth, and teacher Arina Bosch (right). Photo / Supplied
Savea Saua, fourth-from-right, at the marae with from left Jamahl Robinson, Emma Rankin, Joel Stephens, Jessica Linton, Rita Hames and Jesper Smyth, and teacher Arina Bosch (right). Photo / Supplied

Saua, who has a Ngāti Whātua mother and a Niuean father, says the girls in the group learnt to karanga, calling in response to the call from the marae as they entered.

"It was great," he says. "I love inculcating the culture. It was a good learning experience, not only for myself but for the whole group."

Learning local

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