By Whakatane Beacon
An ancestral pa site in the Eastern Bay of Plenty has been officially opened.
The former fortified village in Ruatoki near Whakatāne was commemorated with a small service held on site together with Ngai Tuhoe iwi and the Taneatua community on Sunday.
A signed post, including the names of up to 25 historical sites, was placed atop the Puketi pa site.
Kaitiaki (guardian) and descendant of Ngai Tuhoe, Paki Nikora, shared some of the historical records, whakapapa (genealogy) and stories of former times.
Nikora said the site, which was next to his residence, was once the entry post of Te Urewera and a "strategic pa site".
"You could control the borders and you could see anyone trying to come from every direction. That's why they lived here, to protect our lands."
He said, in the early 15th century, rangatira (chief) Rua-pururu stayed on the plateau with his hapu.
"He was the man at that time who had control over the various pa sites surrounding Puketi.
"This includes Kapowhetu, which looks down into the valley of Waimana."
He also controlled Paharehare and Te Waro, located in the ranges.
"The people who lived on these mountain tops and ranges came from Te Tini o Toi and other tribes. They lived on all these hills.
"They were here long before the Mataatua waka arrived," he said.
From the early 18th century, some of the hapu that settled in the region were Ngati Tawhaki, Ngati Koura, Te Mahurehure and Ngati Rongo, all subtribes of Ngai Tuhoe.
However, in 1868 a battle took place between the people who lived in the area and other tribes.
"The Crown wanted our land and their loyalists waged war to kick the people off the land because they were against the building of infrastructure, roads and the surveying of lands."
Following that battle in the late 18th century, the Crown confiscated the land and gave it to some of their loyalists.
His wife, Parearau, a researcher, said following the land loss, Charles Garlic, who was married to a descendant of Ngati Pukeko, took over the lease.
"Four generations of the Garlic family worked and leased the land for 137 years, so, we have to acknowledge them for their mahi and for looking after our land," she said.
Nikora said when they secured the land in 2013, it struck his heart to preserve the history.
"That's when we knew we had to retain the history and expose it, so our future generations will remember it.
"We've got it back for everybody.
"We are only caretakers, not landowners, and we'd like to share it with everyone, so, they can get that spiritual connection to the land.
"We've been left all of this through the hardships, bloodshed and turmoil that our ancestors endured, so, we want to share it with everyone."
Parearau is currently writing a thesis that will share the history of the whenua and will also be collated in booklets and distributed to whanau.
"A sign in booklet will be available on site. All we ask is that whanau and iwi let us know they're coming up.
"A mihi to Nga Whenua Rahui and Matauranga Kura Taiao fund for their support in helping us develop the pa sites."