Te Taou and the Sandhills
For the last million years restless Tai Tama Tane, the Tasman Sea of the Pakeha, has been casting up sand on a thirty-mile beach just north of Auckland. In the beginning the tiny grains collected and grew into a long narrow bar separating the ocean from what was to become the harbour of Kaipara. The years went by and this sand began to grow upwards upon itself until it formed a range of hills, a continuation of the higher Waitakere ranges, running parallel to the coastline. More sand emerged from the sea to form a beach, and then an ever-widening stretch at the western base of these hills. A chain of fresh-water lakes appeared between the hills and plains of sand and as the centuries rolled on, the whole of this land became clothed with forest. Kauri, karaka, puriri, rewarewa and lesser trees grew to maturity, the rakau katoa to cover the naked skin of Papa. And no man saw them.
A hurricane came with lightning, and the forest was burned and laid low. The ocean cared not and continued to throw up sand from its depths. When the west wind blew, the sand went flying away inland once more, covering the dead trees and making new hummocks and hollows. In some places where hills were low and the wind keen, the sand evaded the lakes set out like sentry posts to guard the remnants of the forest, and crossed the long dividing barrier to smother the fertile land beyond.
This was the land that the people of Te Taou gained by conquest early in the eighteenth century. They saw where the children of Tane had been smitten by Tawhirimatea, and saw Tangaroa, ceaselessly throwing up sand for Hauauru, the west wind, to spread across the land.
As they considered these things, this hapu of Ngatiwhatua saw a parallel between the story of the sandhills and their own history. First there had been the time of their beginning in Aotearoa. This was around 1300 A.D., when some people of the Mahuhu canoe had landed on the low sandbank at the entrance of the Kaipara harbour. Then a great storm and the sea had come destroying their homes at Taporapora and casting the people about like trees in a gale so that they were scattered and forced to find new homes. Most of them went north; from there, together with some of the people of Mahuhu canoe who had always lived around Doubtless Bay, Ngatiwhatua began to drift south again, over-running the human obstacles in their path.
When Ngatiwhatua had migrated as far as Poutu on Kaipara North Head, they were con-
fronted, if they wished to continue south, with the task of defeating the men of Waiohua, Ngaririki and Kawerau. As the lakes and hills of their ancestral home had long defied the onslaught of the sand dunes, so the people of these tribes resisted the invasion of the lower Kaipara. It took Ngatiwhatua all the years between 1680–1730 to gain this territory. During this time there were many skirmishes on sand and beach as first one side and then the other won a victory. The great Ngatiwhatua chief Haumoewharangi, who led the earliest war parties, was killed there, and so was the giant warrior Kawharu of Kawhia, whose aid had been sought by Ngatiwhatua.
Special machines are used for planting marram grass. Leather jackets and goggles protect the men against the sand.
Ngatiwhatua attach most importance to the battle of Otakinini, a pa on the west side of the mouth of the Kaipara river, as marking the final conquest of lower Kaipara; but to the hapu of Te Taou, the important battle is the one fought at Waionui lagoon. Kaipara South Head, within sight of the sandhills that had already cost them dearly. This took place at the end of the sixteenth century. The warriors of Haumoewharangi, the Uri o Hau, in making one of their attacks on the Ngaririki, had killed Nganaia, a man of note among the defending tribe. In return for this, Ngaririki killed the chifetainess Tou Tara of the Uri o Hau. This ancestress of the Reweti people died through a spear (tao) wound in the breast (u) and so the hapi of Ngatiwhatua to which she belonged took the name of Te Taou.
Settlement in New Lands
Te Taou trace their origin as a hapu from this battle, and also from another ancestress of that time, Makawe, a daughter of Haumoewharangi. After the invasion of the newly-won lands following the battle of Otakinini, Makawe lived at Te Makiri, a pa on the Kaipara river, just south of Helensville. Here, around this pa, in an area between Kaukapakapa and Taupaki, Te Taou grew up. Many of their pa sites were on the west of the Kaipara river and many had been the homes of the earlier owners of the land. Te Taou territory extended in the west to the coast at a point behind the triple pa sites of Waituoro, Taipu a te Marama and te Heke which stand on the western range near Helensville. To the north along the sandy peninsula, Ngatiwhatua proper and Uri o Hau held sway.
As the name Taipu a te Marama indicates, this pa stood on sandy country. The famous Oneonenui pa near Muriwai is another pa with a self-
explanatory title. Te Taou came to know the sandhills very well, and every prominence which rose unchanging above the sea of sand gained a Maori name. The long beach was known in the south as Muriwai, and in its northern stretches as Rangatira; and the lakes, small and large, each had a name given in memory of some event in the past.
Legends to add significance to the sandhills came into being. Remembering the great Kawharu of whom Ngatiwhatua said, ‘His face was as long as from my fingertips to my elbow’, the lakes stretching from Muriwai settlement to South Head became ‘the footsteps of Kawharu’, and Te Taou believed that it was to Paeroa, an area on the dunes near Wharepapa, that Rona had fled after bringing down the wrath of the moon upon his family.
Braving the risk of an encounter with taniwha in the very deep and blue lakes, they dug cause-ways between these stretches of fresh water. Through this inland waterway, which in many places can still be seen, the people of Te Taou, and probably residents of an earlier age, hauled their canoes.
No eels were found in the lakes, but there were fresh water mussels, crayfish and waterfowl. On the coast, which was also an important highway, there were toheroa and excellent fish, with sometimes the gift of whales from Tangaroa.
Te Taou did not always cross the changing contours of sand on peaceful missions. There are many stories of people running to the sandhills to escape or ambush war parties. The battles of Haumoewharangi and Kawharu had scarcely passed into history when Waiohua under Kiwi of Maungakiekie pa, Tamaki isthmus, began another series of battles on the sandhills and country round about.
The Desart Coast
Soon after this, Captain Cook sailed by, describing the land as ‘The Desart Coast’. Soon after that again, Ngapuhi began attacking the Kaipara, seeking Te Taou with varying success among these hills.
By the time the first pakeha came, Te Taou knew every aspect of living in the sandhills, and generations of their forbears were in their last long sleep in hidden burial places among the dunes. Te Kawau, not yet christened Apihai, was their paramount chief and Ngapuhi under Tareha were laying waste to their homes.
In July 1820 Te Kawau brought the first white men to the district. They were Samuel Marsden, the pioneer missionary, and Mr Ewels, a companion from the ship, Coromandel. Their visit was short but Marsden and Ewels had time to walk on the great sandhills. The pa to which they came and in which they spent the night was Ongarahu, on a ridge at Reweti; and Marsden's names lives on in Te Tou o te Matenga, the title given to a hill which stands in the sand behind Ruarangihaerere.
Marsden was back in Te Taou country that November. One of his missionary companions, the Rev. Butler, wrote eloquently in his diary of the feeling of awe and desolation and the protecting love of the Almighty which he experienced when he surveyed the ‘immense tracts of sand which much resembled a deep snow in Winter, with here and there a stunted bush growing through it … and the tremendous roaring surf
Pakehas Come to Stay
that is seen and heard for many miles.”
Six years after this, Te Taou, through fear of Ngapuhi, joined the exodus from Kaipara to Waikato. Te Taou did not see their sandhills for a decade and when they returned there, the whole pattern of Maori life had changed. Tribal warfare had been ended by the missionaries with a series of peace-making meetings and more and more Pakehas were coming to New Zealand to stay.
Te Taou lived on in their villages near the sand until about 1870. The principal settlements were those of old, Oneonenui, Ongarahu, Kopironui and Pahunuhunu, near Ohirangi. At Ongarahu in 1865, Te Kawau gave shelter to the crew of the cutter ‘Petrel’ which had been wrecked on the Muriwai coast, and a mission base at Pahunuhunu, the home of Aoihai te Wharepouri. Here Bishop Selwyn planted two Norfolk pines which are still standing today, and visiting ministers held services in the chapel near the sand.
As the Pakeha cry for land became greater the old chiefs of Te Taou, Apihai Te Kawau, Hikiera. Paora Tuhaere, Uruamo, Otene, Wharepouri and their sons sold much of their ancestral territory, keeping small reserves for themselves and their people. They sold the sandy acres as well as the arable, and gave white men the possession of the land right to the Tasman Coast. And it happened that after almost a century and a half, the sandhills of Te Taou became significant to them only for the wahi tapu among them, and as a pathway to the coast of the toheroa and sea fish.
The nature of the sand, like life itself, had changed for Te Taou. It was their enemy now, spreading over many of the old pa sites and threatening, in its march from the sea, to engulf those people who stayed in its path. By 1870 the sand, like some greedy taniwha, had swallowed much of that portion of the Ongarahu pa in which Te Taou lived, so that a new pa had to be found. This second Ongarahu, a mile to the east, is above the west side of the Reweti railway station and is the present marae of Te Taou, complete with church, cemetery and ‘Whiti te Ra’ meeting house.
The sandhills kept rolling forward as the years went on. The Pakeha settlers who lived in their shadow were worried about the relentless drift of the dunes, but they seemed as powerless to stop
the flow as were the people of Te Taou.
The first white man to attempt to halt the sand was Mr Richard Monk, who took up land at Woodhill in 1870. Mr Monk employed Renata Poata Uruamo and others of Te Taou in planting poplars, marram and experimental grasses from Australia on the sand at the back of his farm. The marram flourished and the poplars can still be seen from the main road to Helensville.
Later, another Pakeha who attempted single-handed to check the sand was Mr Richard Hoe of Reweti. This man was a friend of all Te Taou and had greatly admired their tohunga chief, Otene Kikokiko. In the 1920s Mr Hoe planted marram, lupin and pines, but though these grew well his efforts were of as little use as trying to empty a lake with a canoe baler. Still the sand came on, creeping over hills and spilling into valleys until the dunes just south of Woodhill were only half a mile away from the main road.
The 1930s were hungry years in New Zealand. Not only was the sand hungry for the land but men were often hungry for food. To give men work and a little money, the Government established relief camps, placing the men in Public Works. And in 1932 men were brought to begin planting the sandhills with lupin and marram. So that this could be done, the Pakeha owners of the sandhills sold their useless acres to the Ministry of Works for a nominal sum.
At first few of Te Taou found work on these sandhills in which they had once lived. But they were interested in the planting, and were pleased that the burial grounds of their people were respected by the Ministry of Works.
The first camp was a little north of Woodhill, and others were built near the sand at Reweti and Muriwai. The men who lived in them slept in canvas tents and worked on foot in all weathers, doggedly continuing their battle over the years. Then in 1936 some pinus radiata were planted amongst the marram and lupin, and at last the sandhills closest to peoples' farms and homes were stopped in their advance.
In the thirty years since this work started, a complete transformation has taken place. Where the great hills of sand once blew about for miles in ever-changing patterns—the ‘immense tracts … like a deep snow in winter’ which the Rev. Butler had described—there are now dark pine-forests, all flourishing in different stages of growth. The State Forest Service took over from the Ministry of Works in 1951, since skilled foresters were needed by this time. There is some cover now on all the dunes except for a strip still owned by
At the same time that the scope of the planting is expanded, the older trees must be pruned and thinned. The sale of some pine products has already begun, and in the future, as the trees reach maturity, this will be greatly increased.
Work for Te Taou
One of the first of the Te Taou people to work regularly in the forest was Kelvin Povey, who began there in 1952. Mr Povey, who traces his descent from Renata Aperehama, soon put his skill with machinery to good use. Together with Mr M. Jonas and Mr I. Lloyd, he invented a planting machine for the marram grass. This small machine, mounted on a Ferguson tractor enables two operators to plant five acres of marram a day. Mr Povey later helped to perfect a larger machine, a multiple of three machines on one frame, which is towed by a D.7 and plants eighteen to twenty acres of marram a day. Six men, many of them of Te Taou lineage, sit under cover in this large planter.
Today, many people of Te Taou work in the forests. Every day more of them are tending the pines for eventual milling, while others drive gang and supply trucks, and Durban Pairama is an all-round driver of note, handling at various times the
grader, heavy trucks, the D6 and D7. All the Maori men working in the Woodhill Forest have some Te Taou connection or have married women of this hapu of Ngatiwhatua.
Still more people will be needed in future and for our young folk this great project, which is so intimately connected with their past, will be a wonderful place of employment in the future. Apart from regular workers, whole families often take a hand in extra work in the weekends, packing marram and lupin seed, making a happy Te Taou occasion of the job.
This then is how many of our people live today. With homes on our ancestral reserves we work in a Pakeha economy on the land that was once the sandy domain of our people. Some may mourn the past and the fact that we cannot now offer visitors to the marae at Reweti our traditional shellfish, but all admit that the reclamation of the dunes has brought us nothing but good. In the forest and on the sand we work in harmony with men of other races who still respect our customs and wishes. The old wahi tapu are all fenced off today and left unplanted, and the seaward face of Oneonenui has been set aside as a tapu area because of the hundred Waikato who were once slain there. The future of Te Taou is ably guarded by the men of the State Forest Service. They, with Te Taou among them, work forever with the sound of the ocean in their ears, fighting a constant battle on the ancient sandhills with the sand continuously cast up by restless Tai Tama Tane.