Ōtātara, the ancient pa site above the Tutaekuri River overlooking Waiohiki Marae. Ōtātara is one of those places in the world where you can feel the connection with the ancestors, the metaphysical, the divine, writes Denis O’Reilly.

American musician Joe Walsh, best remembered as the Eagles’ legendary guitarist, has a special association with Ōtātara, an ancient pā site in Waiohiki, Napier. Denis O’Reilly explains.

 

It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you

You better let somebody love you

Let somebody love you before it’s too late

(from “Desperado”, by the Eagles)

Let me tell you a story. It involves artists, history, and a special nearby place.

One artist is a musician. Music is the sound of metaphysics.

The nearby place is Ōtātara, that ancient pā site above the Tutaekuri river, overlooking Waiohiki Marae in Napier.

Ōtātara is one of those places in the world where you can feel the connection with the ancestors, the metaphysical, the divine.

The musician Joe Walsh first came to Waiohiki in 1989 when he was touring with the reggae band Herbs.

At that time, Joe was in the full grip of substance addiction, and, in his words, “on a journey to hell”.

On Joe’s first visit to Waiohiki, Hugh Tareha gave me a bone carving for Joe.

Hugh would sometimes sleep on Ōtātara. He would have visions, and would translate these metaphysical apparitions into physical beings, tangible objects, iwi rākau.

The pou of Wiremu Tamihana, which stands at the entrance to Waiohiki Marae, was carved by Hugh. Erected for the 40th anniversary of the coronation of Te Atairangikaahu, it marks Tamihana’s visit to Pā Whakairo in 1855 to discuss the Kiingitanga. Waiohiki is one of the eight foundational pou of the Kiingitanga.

Hugh Tareha would sometimes sleep on Ōtātara. He would have visions, and would translate these metaphysical apparitions into physical beings, tangible objects, iwi rākau.

We live history. Consider the recent hui at Omahu involving the descendants of the tīpuna represented by these three pou that stand on Links Road: Renata Kawepo, Paora Kaiwhata and Tareha Te Moananui.

These rangatira, the Trinity, guided the seminal relationships between local tangata whenua and tangata Tiriti.

That notion of the two partner peoples, walking and working together, is alive and well in the shadow of Ōtātara.

It’s okay to be Pākehā at Waiohiki. In a volatile, uncertain, and complex world, enjoying our differences while collaborating for our collective wellbeing must become the paradigm of national consciousness in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Joe Walsh in Otatara.

But back to Joe Walsh. We were at Waiohiki in 1989.

Buoyed by substances, Joe was flying high with Herbs.

In a quiet moment, I offered to take him up to Ōtātara. We sat on the tipuna rangatira Turauwha’s old house site.

Handing Joe the carved hook, I told the story of Te Matau a Māui, and the landform in front of us.

We just sat for a while. Joe Walsh experienced an epiphany, a spiritual awakening.

That hook became Joe’s talisman.

Denis O’Reilly and Joe Walsh in 1989.

In retrospect, it was probably the impact of a hundred encounters that Joe had experienced in Aotearoa: the Māori welcomes, and the expressions of aroha from people who had little in material terms, but who were rich in spiritual wealth and were generous with it.

Joe is known for touching hearts through music.

He also has the capacity to touch hearts through the power of his words.

He’s had special words to say at Ōtātara. In 2014, when Joe visited for the second time, this is what he said.

“This is a special place, and it is very special to me. It was here on a visit many years ago, up on the hills, that I had a moment of clarity. I don’t understand it, but I reconnected with my soul, and I remembered who I used to be . . .

“I admitted I had problems and I had to do something about it. It was the beginning of my recovery from my addiction to alcohol and drugs, and when I got back to America, it gave me the courage to seek help.”

Accompanied by whānau and friends, Joe came to Ōtātara once more.

The tōtara guitar, presented to Joe Walsh.

This year, in April, accompanied by whānau and friends, Joe came to Ōtātara once more. It was his third pilgrimage here.

Others, who themselves draw strength from Ōtātara on their recovery journey, laid the challenge in the form of a carved totara guitar.

Joe shared his musical skills with the young local musicians, and gave them confidence.

He shared his story of fame, of despair and addiction, and of redemption.

Music is intergenerational. Twenty-five local kids with ukuleles played an Eagles number (“Hotel California”) and, with tears forming in the eyes of their mums and dads, Joe Walsh joined them.

Joe joined the Eastern Instiute of Technology band. As I’ve told you, music is the sound of metaphysics: existence, identity, consciousness, actuality, and possibility.

It’s about us.

Joe Walsh with tā moko artist Tamanuhiri Russell.

Joe Walsh leaves marks on our souls. In exchange, Tamanuhiri Russell left marks on his body.

The lines of tā moko tell of Joe’s ancestry, of his connection with ngā iwi Māori,of the maunga Ōtātara, of the journey that is life.

When you next cross the awa Tutaekuri, look up at Ōtātara. Listen to the music of your soul. Remember Joe’s words of encouragement when faced by adversity.

Think of our shared future in this green land, where tangata whenua and tangata Tiriti go hand in hand — secure in who we are, and following the Māori star.

When you next cross the awa Tutaekuri, look up at Ōtātara.

Denis O’Reilly lives at Waiohiki in Hawke’s Bay where he chairs the Waiohiki Community Charitable Trust. He is a writer, social activist and consultant.

E-Tangata, 2024

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