Te Maatu - Our Place
Rōpata Taylor, of Ngāti Rārua and Te Ātiawa descent, reflects on NRAIT’s legacy. Te Maatu, ‘the big wood’, was the heart of our Motueka ancestors’ land.
It was both a garden and a forest – a luxuriant podocarp forest dominated by rimu and southern rata, and rich with matai, titoki, rimu, totara and abundant bird life. Beneath the canopy were nikau palm, mamaku treefern, fuschia and many other fruit-bearing and edible plants. Our ancestors cultivated gardens around the trees, in a form of companion planting.
This was our traditional way of gardening, where we didn’t eradicate all other species and create a monoculture. Instead, we had a strong biodiversity approach, and our crops coexisted with these giant trees. These gardens produced huge volumes of potatoes, including Maori potatoes and both early and recently introduced European varieties, along with kumara, kamokamo and other crops. These were brought into Nelson by our ancestors and traded at Auckland Point and further afield, feeding the waves of incoming European settlers.
Their arrival and the rapid pace of settlement was a great opportunity for us economically and commercially. By the 1850s, a third of the sailing ships registered at the Port of Nelson were owned by our ancestors, working Te Tai o Aotere, Raukawa Moana and as far afield as Australia, trading the goods we were producing. Aside from a few incidents, relations with the settlers were generally positive, and our families and communities were thriving. In addition to recognising the benefits from trade, our ancestors supported the arrival of the settlers in our territory because they believed in Wakefield’s egalitarian promise whereby we would live alongside each other to our mutual benefit. But one thing was sacrosanct: when we met with Wakefield in 1841 we made it very clear that Te Maatu was fundamentally important to us, and that it would be ring-fenced and not included in any negotiations. But the settlers’ appetite for land was insatiable and they coveted ours. Their growing infrastructure – coupled with disputes over boundaries and land purchases – saw them start to swallow what we had left. Then in 1853, Governor Grey took 371 hectares of our most productive land, the heart of Te Maatu, and gave it to the Anglican Church’s Whakarewa School, without offering compensation.
Following major investigations and many attempts to reclaim the land, ownership was finally returned to the tangata whenua of Motueka 140 years later. We are proud kaitiaki of the heart of our Motueka ancestors' land.
Rōpata is Chair of Ngāti Rārua Ᾱtiawa Iwi Trust Board, ex-officio member to the Investment Committee and Deputy Chair of Koru Investments. He is also General Manager People & Culture with Wakatū Incorporation.