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The Ruatoki valley blazes as Tuhoe stands tall

Wed, 19 Jan 2005

The Ruatoki valley blazes as Tuhoe stands tall

The Tuhoe people of the Urewera region have suffered since a Crown invasion and persecution from the 1860's. It is January 16th 2005 Sunday in the Ruatoki valley. A Waitangi Tribunal hearing has been called. Tuhoe are waiting to meet the visitors many are on horseback. Determined to remind the Crown of these many wrongdoings, Tuhoe have come out in force.

A young Tuhoe tribesman, tino rangatiratanga flag in hand, riding a horse bareback, gallops down the valley to where the Crown is waiting reminiscent of times of when prophet-warrior Te Kooti rode thru these tribal lands during his armed-guerilla campaign to save Maori lands from an increasingly greedy British settler population. The flag flutters a symbol of resistance against colonisation and the Crown sponsored theft of indigenous lands.

Dozens of Tuhoe on horses follow behind him.

The Crown is carried by horse-drawn cart across the 'aukati line' or confiscation line toward Tauarau Marae at Ruatoki, they are greeted by 600 chanting Tuhoe. Those on horseback have begun a tirade of insults and curses.

Another tribesman appears from the sidelines he has a burning banner in his hand. - He yells "Haere mai! Kei te hiakai a Tuhoe!" -which roughly translates as- "Come here! Tuhoe is hungry"

Five cars lying on their sides about 100m apart on alternate sides of the road are set alight as the horse-drawn procession approaches the line. Bonfires are lit between the cars. These ahi-cars symbolise a re-enactment of when the Crown practiced a scorched earth policy in the area during the 1860s. A policy which saw an invasion of Tuhoe where many were killed, exiled, arrested, with villages razed to the ground.

There is graffiti on the cars with slogans like - 'Return stolen lands' and 'Ropata Wahawaha scumbag' a reference to Ropata Wahawaha a Maori who fought on the side of the crown against Maori during the 1860s Land Wars.

It is obvious to all that the tribe, Tuhoe, is angry and rightly so.

Kaiwero-challengers are gathered at the confiscation line smeared with mud, many of these naked male warriors and semi-naked warrior women are adorned with ta-moko. The hated confiscation line was established after the 1865 killings of the Reverend Carl Volkner at Opotiki and Government agent James Fulloon at Whakatane, but was said at the time to be in response to rebellion. This resulted in the 200,000 hectare Urewera National park and other parts of the eastern Bay of Plenty being illegally confiscated by the Crown.

Guns shots reverberate around the gathering adding to the atmosphere of this highly charged crowd. Manawa-wera and other types of haka also boom down the Ruatoki valley from the confiscation line. The authorities frown on the use of guns at traditional gatherings but this is Tuhoe country. The gun is not an uncommon addition at traditional gatherings in these parts.

Well known Tuhoe figure Tame Iti steps before the Haka party and delivers a whakapohane, a baring of the buttocks, a number of the haka party make further gestures of defiance.

The procession continues where there are traditional challenges issued from every marae on the way to Tauarau Marae. There Tame Iti ceremonially shoots the New Zealand flag the rituals of encounter continue for some time and then are over.

Later Tame Iti later elaborates "We wanted them to feel the heat and smoke, and Tuhoe outrage and disgust at the way we have been treated for 200 years,"

"(The Crown) destroyed people's homes and burned their crops and we wanted them to feel that yesterday. We wanted to demonstrate to them what it feels like being powerless."

"The confiscation and subsequent colonisation have had a devastating effect on Tuhoe over the past 100 years."

On reflection bystander Iri Akarana-Rewi of Ngapuhi said "Maori culture has lost something, it has become catalogued and contained on performance stages at kapa haka festivals, Tuhoe have taken it off the stage and used it to challenge the powers that be and here it is where it should be in all its honest intensity, in the valleys, on the roads and streets a functioning part of everyday life.

My uncle once said that the struggle of people against power was the same as the struggle of remembering against forgetting.

Today Tuhoe has chosen not to forget, today Tuhoe has shown us the way."


more images http://www.aocafe.com/forums/album_cat.php?cat_id=6

interview with Ati Teepa (video quicktime) http://aotearoa.wellington.net.nz/vids/tuhoeclaims.mov

right-wing pakeha/white media (video media-player) http://tvnz.co.nz/view/video_popup_windows_skin/468986

profiling Tame Iti http://aotearoa.wellington.net.nz/he/tame.html

info on Te Kooti http://www.aocafe.com/te_kooti/



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