Ngāti Manu on the pā site which is to be returned to them after 177 years. “Slice by slice, the fish will be returned”. — Arapeta Hamilton. (Photo supplied)

“It wasn’t just the physical history that I learned, but the emotional one. This had a huge effect on me.” — John McIntosh. (Photo supplied)

The Otuihu pā site in Northland is being returned to Ngāti Manu, 177 years after it was razed by British soldiers.

The return will be part of Ngāpuhi’s Treaty settlement process, but it came about because of the special relationship between the land’s Pākehā owner and elders from the hapū.

In conversations with Connie Buchanan, both sides — Arapeta Hamilton of the hapū, and John McIntosh, the private landowner — explain how the agreement happened.


Arapeta Hamilton, Ngāti Manu Te Uri Karaka: ‘I’m optimistic the future will be better’

Ngāti Manu are known as the landless people. We had 53,000 acres of land before 1840, and we ended up with none.

It was a combination of factors which created that situation.

The Native Land Court came into being in the 1860s. It required that you had to occupy the land for your claim to be recognised. And our people weren’t living on the majority of our land all the time.

We had coastal pā and inland pā. At certain times of the year, when the eels were running, or particular fish arrived, our people would come down to the coast and live there for that period of time. And then they’d move back inland for the growing season — for the crops and birds.

So, when the Native Land Court was established, our ancestral lands got wiped away with the stroke of a pen.

That’s how all our whenua inland disappeared. And then we also had other people selling our coastal land, which is what happened with Ōtūihu Pā.

Ōtūihu Pā is located in the Bay of Islands on the Taumarere River.

It was placed strategically to guard the river and protect the people from whoever was trying to go up, and also from those coming down. It was a key location for our tūpuna to control the awa.

Our people had settled there early on, from the time of Te Ruwai and her husband Uematengerengere. Our rights to Ōtūihu come from those tūpuna, who are from Ngāti Tū, one of the oldest hapū in the bay.

The site was of strategic value to our people, and with the arrival of whaling ships, they developed it as a trading post, too.

From the 1820s, our tūpuna sold food and water to the ships. They sold local crops, vegetables, and pork from the pigs that they raised. They also charged anchorage fees of one musket per anchorage, which was quite a hefty price. They were very industrious.

They developed a relationship with James Reddy Clendon who was also building up a trading post in the bay. He became the honorary American consul, and all the American ships that entered the bay had to present their papers to him.

Our tūpuna sold Clendon land at Okiato, which is just across from Otuihu Pā.

Soon Ōtūihu had 131 Europeans living there, there were two grog shops, and the Māori population could go up to 300-plus, depending on the season and what was happening.

Our tupuna Pōmare II was placed in the right spot at the right time to trade with the Americans. He was quite canny, and he flourished in that environment.

What changed was that he signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840, on February 17.

It’s a day that we remember, and we still have a hui on that day every year.

Before he signed, Pōmare and the other major chiefs who hadn’t yet signed, all met with Governor Hobson. Hobson promised to locate New Zealand’s first capital at Okiato, which would help ensure Pōmare and our people would be able to continue to trade well into the future.

At that meeting, our tupuna said to Hobson: “E ngāwari te kī ko ahau tō hoa. Ka hoatu au ki a koe ngā tau e toru kia whakarite ngā kōrero.”

Which means: “It’s easy to say you’re my friend. But I’ll give you three years to prove what you’re saying.”

Well, within a year of the signing, Hobson moved the capital to Auckland. Then he rode over to Ōtūihu and said to Pōmare: “You can’t collect the tolls on the ships anymore — they belong to Queen Victoria.”

So we have a saying in our hapū: He ārero nakahi — the tongue of the serpent. Because that’s what Hobson was. He said one thing and then immediately changed and went off in another direction. He did that straight away, without a blink of an eye.

From there, we see a downhill spiral.

It really started with the sacking of Russell by Hōne Heke of Ngāpuhi in 1845. Russell was burned to the ground, except for a few buildings.

Our tupuna Pōmare knew about it and had gone from Ōtūihu to Te Wahapu because there was a trading station there. He went to protect his traders.

Others of his people went with Heke to the battle, but our tupuna went to ensure that nothing happened to the traders at Te Wahapu.

The governor acted on false information that Pōmare was involved in the sacking and sent a warship around to Ōtūihu. The warship came up in front of the pā, and our tupuna went down with a white flag to the beach below.

He wanted to talk with the captain. They sent a dinghy out and he got on board with his daughter and rowed to the ship. When he got on deck, they jumped him and tied him up in chains to the mast of the ship.

The soldiers pointed their guns at the pā and said: If you don’t put your weapons down, we’re going to bomb it. So, our tupuna sent a message back, and our people laid their guns down.

Then the soldiers went in and looted and burned it all to the ground. Most of our people took off into the bush. The soldiers took Pōmare up to Auckland and imprisoned him.

Some of the chiefs from the Bay of Islands petitioned the governor to release him. A condition of his eventual release was that he had to relinquish his lands at Wahapu.

My great-grandfather Uru Davis was given the name Te Hereheretīni, which means to be tied up in chains. His sister Kapu was given the name Te Nōta, the North Star, which was the name of the warship.

They were given these names by their elders to remember the indignity that our tupuna suffered at the hands of the Crown, so we would never forget. And our people have never forgotten.

When our people left Ōtūihu, they went up the Taumarere River and stayed there while another pā was rebuilt inland. They ended up living at Kāretu and the land at Ōtūihu was subsequently sold by our neighbors to European settlers.

But the land at Kāretu was not ours. It was gifted to us, whenua tuku, because we had nowhere else to go once the pā burned.

The impact of losing the land and our pā has been great. Our people have suffered enormously. Both economically and also from the slights of other hapū. Those who call Ngāti Manu “the landless ones” don’t understand the history of how it happened.

It was always the dream of our old people for Ōtūihu to come back to us. Because it’s our ancestral land.

I riro whenua atu, me hoki whenua mai — as land was taken, so it should be returned.

The first Pākehā owners of Ōtūihu that I came into contact with were the McInnes family. They sold it to a Singaporean who thought he could subdivide it, but it turns out he couldn’t. So he sold it to an Englishman, a man with rare parrots. That man didn’t really want to know about the history of the land. When I used to ring up and ask to go on to the property, it was as though I was imposing on him. He had a funny attitude.

Then it got sold to John McIntosh. My cousin Suz Te Tai and I developed a relationship with John and his family. And that was the starting point of the journey back.

After he purchased the property, we invited him onto the marae, and started talking about the history of the pā and what had happened.

We let him know that we’d like to buy it one day if we had the money. And he also let us know he’d be interested in selling it to us. And so, we developed this relationship that was built on trust. He allowed us access to the pā whenever we wanted, and to go down and get oysters. He’s been a good friend.

Given the number of owners that I’d dealt with previously, it was a nice surprise. He’s a very hardworking gentleman. He’s got a business in Auckland. His way of talking is direct — he doesn’t beat around the bush.

After a while we got in contact with Te Arawhiti, the Office for Māori Crown relations, about how we might go about getting the land back. Eventually, Sir Brian Roche, along with some officials and staff from Wellington, came up to look at the site.

We walked over the land, and I talked about the history of it and why it was so important to our people.

I said to Sir Brian: “Will it come back to us in my lifetime? Because I’m not going to last much longer.”

And he said: “Hopefully, it will.”

We’ve now agreed that it will come back to us through the land-banking process. The Crown will purchase it from John, it will be land-banked, and then it will come back when Ngāpuhi settles. That’s the journey that it has to go through.

We are elated. We didn’t think we would get there. The process has been going on for a few years now.

At one stage, Te Arawhiti and John weren’t seeing eye to eye. He wanted to include a condition of the sale that it can only come back to us, to Ngāti Manu, but Te Arawhiti said no.

I remember saying to my cousin, Suze: “Waihō ma te wairua e arahi.” Leave it to our tūpuna to guide us. We have always felt they were with us on this journey. There’s been that spiritual force with us right from the beginning and it has really carried us.

The land we’ll get back is about seven acres in total. My dream for the land is just to get it back. Then we’ll use it for educational and cultural purposes, for helping out our whānau and our young kids. That’s our main priority.

But I get an amazing buzz from just standing on it. From there, you can see up the Waikare River, you can see across to Waitangi, to Paihia and all of Opua, and then you can see up the Taumarere River as well.

The vantage point is amazing. And you can feel the wairua of the place.

It makes me think of the words of our tupuna Pōmare II, who said: 

Pupuhi te hau te paura o te pū,

Pākarukaru ngā kōhua rino

Tawhewhe ngā paraikete whero

Engari toitū te whenua 


Gunpowder will be blown away by the wind

Iron pots will be broken

Red blankets will become worn

But the land remains forever

I’m more hopeful now than I’ve ever been. Our survivability as whānau and as a hapū is stronger than it was even 10 years ago. There’s more of our people speaking te reo, and there’s a greater awareness among our people.

So, I’m optimistic that the future will be better. Slice by slice, the fish will be returned.

. . .

John McIntosh with his mother Adelle and brother Paul.“I was aware of history, but it’s not until I had my foot on the ground there that I suddenly felt it and fully understood the loss. You start to step into someone else’s world, not just run parallel with it. You start to think: ‘Hang on, this is just wrong.'” (Photo supplied)

John McIntosh, landowner: When you see something unfair, how can you sit on the sidelines?’

As soon as I walked on to the land, I thought: “This is a magical place.” It’s just unbelievably beautiful.

I knew immediately that I wanted to buy it, and in early 2020, that’s what my family did.

For 140-odd years, we’d owned property in an area of Auckland that later became known as Mount Albert. We were getting chased out by high-rises and developments, and we wanted to relocate our old villa somewhere where it could remain as an intergenerational holiday home.

I’m a boy from Te Atatū, born and bred, and I did have an awareness of the sensitivity of buying a piece of land with a pā site on it. Like a lot of young men growing up in many areas of New Zealand, we had a cross-section of friends, both Māori and Pākehā.

I was aware of things like the land that was balloted to Pākehā returning soldiers but not to Māori soldiers after the First World War. My family participated in the Bastion Point protests. We protested during the Springboks tour, too. My mother, Adelle, particularly, was ahead of her time.

So, I was aware of history, but it’s not until I had my foot on the ground there that I suddenly felt it and fully understood the loss. You start to step into someone else’s world, not just run parallel with it. You start to think: “Hang on, this is just wrong.”

Before I bought the property, I went down to the marae and introduced myself. That’s how I met Arapeta and Suz. From there, we just started talking together as neighbours, and having regular conversations.

We talked about things like access to the pā. They’d been locked out for a variety of reasons, and over a long period of time. There were some previous clauses in the subdivision when we purchased the land, for example, that the hapū could only access the pā via the jetty, which wasn’t fully finished. So, I said: “Just drive up any time you want — here are the keys to the gates.”

The other interesting point was that, prior to our family purchasing the land, Ngāti Manu as a hapū had no legal access to the site. Access was tied to Arapeta’s, and one other person’s, names. That seemed bizarre too.

So, we formulated an attachment to the title which said that no matter what happened when Arapeta passed on, Ngāti Manu would still have full and free access to the pā. This was all prior to the conversation about us selling.

I suspect the iwi were pleased that it wasn’t sold to foreign owners again who, while they would’ve been in awe of the wonderful location and views, possibly may not have had a full understanding and appreciation of the land’s historical connections.

Often in Northland, if land has a Historical Places Trust site on it, owners may landlock it. If they don’t maintain jetties, and you can’t land on high-tide marks, then the historic sites effectively become impossible for anyone to access.

After I bought the land, I found out that I could move the house site from one side of the internal driveway to the other, which improved the block immensely. This would give our family great views over the Opua marina.

Arapeta and Suz said they were happy for us to move the house site over. It will also put the villa further away from the area where we think Pōmare’s whare may have been.

These were the sorts of conversations we were having on a regular basis, about how to work as neighbours effectively — about how to both come out at the end with the best of what we could get.

I learned that Ngāti Manu were in long, drawn-out Treaty negotiations and settlement, so at one point I said: “Why don’t I sell you the tihi area and the pā site?”

I’d been to Heritage New Zealand, and they’d given me huge dossiers on all the history of the site — Pōmare’s involvement and the Battle of the Girls, and so forth.

But the thing that really mattered to me was learning about the emotional attachment Ngāti Manu had to the site. They’d had some of their kuia dying before they could even set foot on it. It was all very devastating for them.

So, it wasn’t just the physical history that I learned, but the emotional one. This had a huge effect on me.

The area of land that’s coming back to Ngāti Manu is just a tiny sliver of what was once theirs. After 177 years, it’ll be something that they can walk on to and put their feet on again, and it will be theirs.

It’ll give them somewhere to focus on as a central point, even just for simple things like celebrating Matariki. There’s also resources up there for them — things like oysters, fishing, and firewood. During Covid, the young fellas went out there and harvested oysters to feed some of their elders.

In terms of the actual sale, the Crown were not the easiest of purchasers to deal with. Of course, they wanted the land cheaper, that sort of thing. I’ve even got emails implying I was an unwilling seller, yet I started the sale process, was selling the land below market value, and losing money due to the longevity of the sale process. We weren’t sure if Te Arawhiti was going to buy some, all, or none of the land. I couldn’t plan ahead, and I had to pay to keep my family home in storage while building costs were going up at record rates. This all became increasingly frustrating.

Trying to get officials to understand that I was not selling the land for any other reason than for it to be held as settlement for Ngāti Manu was a very expensive exercise for our family as this had to be handled through our lawyers.

Getting it through to the Crown was like pulling teeth out of a chicken. We eventually ended up having to talk with Sir Brian Roche.

We’re now just waiting on the subdivision to be approved — that’s the clause which will trigger the sale. Then Ngāti Manu need to apply to have the land included in their settlement.

If anyone else is ever interested in doing something like this, the best advice I can give is to always work directly with the iwi and hapū. Every meeting, every email, every conversation, you must cc or include everyone in.

That’s one of the best things that Suz and Arapeta and I did. No one was outside of anybody else’s information circle. They understood my tax liability, they understood my costs. No one had any secrets.

My family had no part in taking the land, and we haven’t had it in our control for very long. So, you have to get a trusting relationship established first and be prepared to just listen and communicate honestly.

Once everything was sorted out, the extended McIntosh family were welcomed on to the marae for a formal thank-you for being part of it.

That blew me away. We talked for weeks afterwards about the welcome we received from those whānau down at the marae. For a hapū without huge resources to put on something like that, and for so many people to turn up, was very humbling.

When I was speaking on the marae, I mentioned how we literally existed in parallel worlds while in the same room. I said that this process has allowed us to step foot into that other world.

It’s my personal belief that you mustn’t be a spectator of stupidity or unfairness. The grave will supply plenty of time for silence.

When you see something unfair, how can you sit on the sidelines? You’ve got to get involved and do something. Hopefully this will help restore some mana to Ngāti Manu, and they will no longer be known as landless.

(Photo supplied)

As told to Connie Buchanan and made possible by the Public Interest Journalism Fund.

© E-Tangata, 2023

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