He whenua, he whenua, he whenua

Back in July/August the Wellington Architectural Centre’s newsletter traversed the territory of Maori architecture, pointing to the slipperiness of the phrase itself, and calling for a greater recognition of Maori aspiration in our built environment. But this focus on the built meant that no comment was made on what was perhaps the most important architectural event to impact on Maori in recent times – the raids upon the people of Ruatoki.

The raids can be read to be about whenua, and particularly mana whenua (both of which were missing from the glossary in the July/August newsletter). Mana whenua is the concept of power being derived from historical and contemporary links to the land, of having the right to sustain oneself from the land. Nothing can be more architectural than having your mana whenua disputed, your right to the life-giving land questioned and threatened. The 2007 raids were, of course, not the first, nor second, nor even third time that Tuhoe have had their mana whenua challenged by the State.

The confiscation by the Crown of more than 180,000 hectares of prime agricultural land in 1866 left an indelible mark on the landscape – a line marking the point of forced loss of mana whenua. Tuhoe’s head of Treaty negotiations, Tamai Kruger, has said that passing that line everyday is like travelling past a point “where your family was murdered.” 1 On Monday, 15 October 2007 the Police set up road blocks on the Tuhoe side of this line, this marker of inside and outside. Symbolically, this was an invasion, a taunt toward the chiefs who in 1872 erected signs proclaiming the trespassers would be eaten in an effort to protect themselves from the land-hungry Pakeha.

Elsdon Best immortalised the Ureweras as remote and rugged in the national psyche. The unsuccessful chase of Te Kooti by the Crown showed the sanctuary-giving powers of the land, though the Crown’s march on Maungapohatu in 1916 to arrest Rua Kenana displayed that this was not absolute. On the whole, however, the dense interiors of the Ureweras proved resistant to the surveyors’ desires to map the land, and therefore resistant to the colonial desire to conceptually claim it.

Fast forward some 91 years and it was the media who revealed how far the idea of mapping equating to ownership has progressed. The exclamation by the news presenter that the hut used by the Urewera terrorists could be spotted via Google Earth marked how complete the surveyors’ goal has become. Any sense of remoteness had gone – the power of the Ureweras rendered impotent. Anyone, anywhere in the world could explore the valleys and the heights from the comfort of their broadband-enabled home, cafe, or workplace. Mapped by satellite, updated regularly, the land is conceptually claimed and owned.

[As published in the December newsletter of the Wellington Architectural Centre.  For information on the Centre, click here]

1Sunday Star Times, October 21, 2007, C3.

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