Bringing the fight for Ihumātao to K Road

This Sunday a unique parade is taking place on Auckland’s K Road to honour Hape, the resourceful ancestor that Karangahape Road is named for – and to highlight the plight of his descendants.

You may have heard the name Ihumātao at some point over the past couple of years. They are the small semi-rural South Auckland community on the shores of the Manukau Harbour that are about to have 480 new houses unceremoniously dumped on the doorstop of their ancestral land by Fletcher Housing – land that has been the subject of much pain for the iwi over the past 150 years. They have had it confiscated, quarried and repeatedly polluted. The Fletcher’s development is simply one more in a chain of horrific abuses.

A protest group, SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape), made up of tangata whenua and community members emerged in opposition to the development in 2012 and have been fighting tooth and nail ever since.

The group have enacted a number of forms of protest so far – they have erected a Kaitiaki Village at the entrance to the Ōtuataua Stonefields, the heritage park next to the development block that contains their ancestral maunga as well a number of wāhi tapu. The group believe that not only does the land being built on have significant cultural significance (this is backed up by archaeologists reports) but that development will also negatively impact on the Stonefields. The Kaitiaki Village tells visitors to the Stonefields all about the struggle of the area, stretching back to the 1860s up to their fight with Fletchers today. It’s also a place for the protestors to be visible on their whenua at all times.

The group have presented petitions at a council and a state level to stop the purchase of the land, which was confiscated in 1863 as punishment for Ihumātao’s support of Waikato-Tainui during the New Zealand Wars and has been in private ownership by the same family ever since. Eventually the block was sold to Fletchers in 2016 after a major rezoning decision by Auckland council. After the sale went through, SOUL continued their fight and have taken their case to New York and Geneva to put before the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and now they are appealing a Heritage New Zealand decision to let earth works commence.

This Sunday a hīkoi will wend its way down Karangahape Rd to Symonds St to highlight the struggle at Ihumātao and give a voice to a community fighting to be heard. Why K Rd? Because not only is it a central hub for artists and activists – it is named after their ancestor, Hape.


The story of Hape

As told by SOUL member Qiane Matata-Sipu (Te Waiōhua, Waikato-Tainui)

Hape was a tohunga that lived in Hawaiiki. It’s understood that one of his responsibilities was to bless the Tainui waka before it left on its big voyage to Aotearoa. Hape had clubbed feet – feet that turned inwards – and because of that he was told that he was not of able-body to travel on the waka. Hape was hurt by that, he wanted to see the new land.

The night before they were to depart, Hape was deceived by the men of the village, who patched up all the holes in his whare with grass and mud so that he couldn’t see the daylight.

The next day when the sun rose, he was still asleep not knowing that the waka had left without him.

Hape went down to the water, distraught. He sent up a prayer to Tangaroa, who sent him a stingray. The tohunga rode on the stingray’s back all the way to Aotearoa, where he ended up on the shores of the Manukau Harbour, at Ihumātao.

The stingray was so fast Hape got there before the waka. After he travelled to the four corners of the Ihumātao whenua to call out and see if anyone was there, planting a tree at each corner to claim the land, he went out past Maungawhau and he looked down and could see the waka only just coming into the Waitemata harbour. From the ridge high above the harbour he did a karanga to them to welcome them to the new land – that ridge became known as Karanga-ā-Hape, or Karangahape, also known today as K Road.


Artist Rebecca Hobbs making a banner at the Ihumātao kaitiaki village. Ihumātao kuia Aunty Betty looks off into the distance. Image: Qiane Matata-Sipu

Six cousins that whakapapa to the area form the core of SOUL, including remarkable young lawyer Pania Newton who lead the charge to the UN and who was recently awarded a Kiwibank Local Hero medal. But among their devoted supporters is hīkoi organiser Rebecca Hobbs (known to friends as Hobbsy), a Pākehā Australian artist who first became involved two years ago through her love of volcanoes.

“When I came to Tāmaki I was instantly blown away that we were on top of a volcanic field and that there were 50 volcanoes in a 20 kilometre radius,” she says. “I knew straight away that I wanted to make work about them. And then living in Otara and working at MIT I came to understand that if I wanted to make work about this in a way that didn’t perpetuate a colonial way of thinking then I needed to work with mana whenua.”

Realising that making work about all the volcanoes in Auckland was too Western an approach, a “surveyor’s attitude” as she puts it, Hobbs instead decided to focus on South Auckland.

She went to Makaurau marae at Ihumātao to ask permission to make artwork about their ancestral maunga – Puketāpapa-ā-Hape, the smallest cone in Auckland’s volcanic field and Ōtuataua, which has now been quarried away so that only a hole remains.

“That’s when I met Waimarie [McFarland] and Qiane [Matata-Sipu] and they told me about the group that they started called Save Our Unique Landscape. The SOUL kaupapa… Once you know about it, it’s really hard to disregard it.”

Hobbs, who is working on her PhD, began to attend regular hui and eventually started to prioritise work with SOUL, incorporating it into her studies.

“There was work that needed to be done and I had a skill that I could assist with. After about eight months I realised I just wanted to concentrate on Ihumātao. I contacted the same family members I first contacted when I went to the marae and just let them know it had shifted in that way.

“They all seemed to understand why the shift had occurred for me and I jumped in with both feet at that point. I became the media coordinator, which is anything from maintaining the Facebook and taking photos, to digging holes when they need it.”

The idea for the hīkoi was seeded during a workshop last December run by the Pacific Panther network. The visibility of a protest action in the central city was appealing, as well as being able to share the story of Hape.

As a K Rd regular with ties to Artspace, Room Gallery and Tautai Pacific Trust, it was a natural fit for Hobbs to take the lead on the project. “Every Sunday we’ve been doing workshops, making flags and banners. We’ve made costumes, any paraphernalia we can work into the hīkoi, and I’ve asked the University of Auckland to assess that work, as well as the activation in the hīkoi. It’s a weird thing where I have a SOUL hat on when I’m doing the background work for the parade, and then I have a study hat on when I’m making all those items. There’s a real blurring between the two.”

Having grown up in a remote part of far north Queensland, in “Wulgurukaba country, up past Townsville,” Hobbs is no stranger to indigenous communities or the struggles they face. But she says it wasn’t until she became an artist years later that the means of processing the knowledge and the language around that struggle began to form.

The appearance of a true blue Aussie in their midst has come as no surprise to SOUL’s Pania Newton. “I’m not surprised because our Aboriginal and indigenous whānau in Australia have similar issues as us,” she tells me. “She experienced that firsthand in her community. She has a passion for volcanoes and maunga, it was innate for her to connect with the struggle at Ihumātao. We’re not surprised, just really grateful.”

Perhaps key to Hobbs’ standing within the group is that her approach to her art and her work with SOUL has clearly defined boundaries which she hopes ensures safe relationships and safe work practices for everyone.

“I’m not wanting to work with their knowledge, which is taonga for them, what I’m trying to do is work in a way that doesn’t step on that. The best way to explain that is… Puketāpapa out at Ihumātao is wāhi tapu. You can’t walk on Puketapapa. I don’t need to know why, I just need to ask where I can walk and where I can’t in order to make work safely.”

She is wary of describing her work as decolonising or post-colonial as they are modes that she feels have been dominated by academics rather than tangata whenua.

“Academics really fucked with the idea of post-colonialsim. Linda Tuhiwai Smith talks about the academics that took post-colonialsim and made it their own, which disenfranchises the people it’s meant to be for. So it’s problematic for someone like me to claim that I have a decolonising practice. With SOUL, I’m lending my skills to support the whānau in an effort to reclaim their whenua. That’s a real decolonial act, I think. I’m more like an accomplice that’s trying to help out.”

JOIN THE HĪKOI

Te Karanga ā Hape hīkoi
Sunday December 10
10am Morning tea, Studio One Toi Tū, 1 Ponsonby Rd, Auckland
11am Assemble cnr Ponsonby and Karangahape Rd

More information at their Facebook.

Click here to read more about the history of Ihumātao.

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