Heads bow to the sound of wailing as generations of grief and sadness cut across the crowd.
It is 5 February 2010 and 180 years after a murderous massacre on the Akaroa site, Takapūneke is about to become a historic reserve. Around 200 people have gathered on the grassy Banks Peninsula hillside on a hot, dry morning to carry out a spiritual cleansing and bless a site of historical and cultural importance.
According to historian Harry Evison, in November 1830 the brig Elizabeth, flying the British flag and captained by John Stewart, anchored off Takapūneke. Stewart invited Ngāi Tahu ariki Te Maiharanui on board to talk trade, at a time when the tribal musket wars were developing.
Once on board, Te Maiharanui was invited below, where he was seized and shackled by the ship’s officers. Te Rauparaha of Ngāti Toa had been hidden below decks with a party from Kapiti, waiting to avenge the killing of Ngāti Toa chiefs at Kaiapoi earlier that year.
Te Maiharanui’s wife and daughter and others who came on board were also taken prisoner and taunted by Te Rauparaha.
Ngāti Toa warriors then rowed ashore in Stewart’s boats and set fire to Takapūneke, killing and capturing people as they fled from the flames. On board, Te Maiharanui and his wife resorted to killing their young daughter to save her from a torturous death at the hands of Ngāti Toa.
The following day Ngāti Toa warriors returned to the ship with captives and baskets of human flesh to feast on. Stewart set sail for Kapiti, where, in return for a promised cargo of flax, he handed over Te Maiharanui, to be tortured to death with his wife and other important captives.
Weeks later, when the Elizabeth arrived at Sydney harbour with its cargo of flax, a young survivor of the massacre gave an account of events, which was relayed to Governor Ralph Darling. Stewart was duly arrested for murder, although he later escaped.
Two years later, Britain took the first step towards annexing New Zealand, appointing James Busby as Official Resident.
For Ngāi Tahu though, the foundation of distrust of the British was laid. Takapūneke was considered a sacred site and survivors began rebuilding their lives in the next bay, Ōnuku, which means at a distance.
Melany Tainui, a direct descendant of one of those survivors was aware, even as a child, that the Takapūneke site held special meaning to her whānau.
“Different whānau members would mention how wrong it was to have the rubbish dump on that site.” Many years later, as a young woman, she learned the full extent of the tragedy that had occurred.
“The significance of the story of Takapūneke was the amount of people, my family, that passed away. Over 200 of our people were killed.
She says most people in Akaroa had no knowledge of the event.
In 2001, Tainui had an opportunity to work at the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in Wellington. With the support and encouragement of her whānau and the Akaroa Civic Trust members, she participated in collating information for the Takapūneke Wāhi Tapu Registration.
She gave a moving account of her understanding of events as passed down through the generations, which helped to explain the historic and cultural significance of Takapūneke. Tainui was one of a small group of people who, over 17 years, helped build the case for an historic reserve. Today she is looking ahead.
“It was amazing to be there on the day of the blessing. When I started to get involved in the process, I thought it was going to take about two years and it has actually taken ten years for it to happen. But now I’ve started to realise that the work has only just begun.”
NGĀ ROIMATA O TAKAPŪNEKE
Ngā Roimata o Takapūneke (The tears of Takapūneke) exhibition commemorates the new historic reserve by telling the story of the massacre through images, texts and audio interviews.
Ngā Roimata is a dual reference to both the name of Te Maiharanui’s daughter, Ngā Roimata and the tragedy of the massacre.
The exhibition at Akaroa Museum is open until 3 May 2010.
Further Reading: Toitū Te Whenua: The Land Remains, Takapūneke and Green’s Point 1830–2010 by John Wilson and Harry Evison. Published by the Akaroa Civic Trust to coincide with the creation and celebration of Takapūneke Historic Reserve held at Takapūneke and ōnuku Marae on February 5, 2010.
Contact: PO Box 43, Akaroa 7542 or www.akaroacivictrust.co.nz.
Historian Harry Evison first became aware of Takapūneke and Ōnuku as a student researching his Masters thesis on Canterbury Māori in the 1940s. He uncovered further detail in Sydney’s Mitchell Library when he was working on his first book Te Waipounamu – The Greenstone Island, in which the first published account of the Treaty of Waitangi signing at Ōnuku can be found.
“The first person to put the idea in my mind that this beautiful area of land should be a reserve was Victoria Andrews of the Akaroa Civic Trust in 1994. I agreed with Victoria and said I would do what I could to help the trust in its campaign for the reserve,” says Evison.
In 1995, he published an article in The Press supporting the establishment of a reserve and explained the historical significance of the area. This very public statement drew a mixed response.
“I did get some abusive phone calls … I’ve never heard such foul language. I was being accused of ‘pandering to the blacks,’ which was ridiculous, as I was providing an accurate account of events.”
Like Tainui, Evison was also given the opportunity to put forward the case for a reserve. In September 2001 he presented his findings, speaking from the base of the Britomart Memorial at Green’s Point, close to Takapūneke. Among his audience members that day were staff from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
“At the beginning of the meeting, the cloud was down on the peak of Tuhiraki (Mt Bossu) and it was as if the great mountain was frowning on us. However when I reached the punch line of my speech, the cloud lifted. I pointed this out to the audience at the time. To me it seemed symbolic.”
Evison says the historical importance of Takapūneke and the subsequent signing of the Treaty at Ōnuku gives the site as much importance as the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
“It is the South Island equivalent. Takapūneke is a beautiful site and a great resource for the whole country – both for its historical significance for Māori, and for its historical significance for New Zealand. Also there is a need for a reserve in the area for people to enjoy.”
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker says the ceremony celebrating the establishment of a historic reserve at Takapūneke was one of the most important moments of his life.
Parker was mayor of Banks Peninsula when he encouraged the council to decide against further development on the site. It was a difficult financial decision at the time. “However, we knew what we had to do to put it right.”
He says an increased knowledge of past events helped people realise why development in the area had been culturally insensitive.
“Once it was all brought out into the open there was a full under-standing of what we needed to do.”
Ōnuku Rūnanga ūpoko George Tikao is pleased that after years of meetings, the council has listened.
“To remember the people who were killed on that land – that is what we’ve been arguing for all this time. After the massacre, the Treaty was brought down here and some believe that this area, this site, was the beginning of the Treaty, the birthplace of the Treaty.”
Tikao says the next step is to establish a steering committee, which will consult on and develop policy and protocol for the use of the reserve.
“The general view is to allow Takapūneke to be regenerated as a park for all the people of New Zealand. It’s going to be a green space for the mokupuna.”