Panuku asked children from Wiri Central School to input on what they would like a new playground in their area to look like. (Photo: Supplied)

How a South Auckland playground will be a gateway to an iwi’s history

An Auckland iwi whose population and land holdings were decimated during the New Zealand Wars is partnering with the Auckland Council’s development arm to ensure its stories are being heard – and a new playground plays a starring role.

Note: This article uses the iwi’s preferred spelling of Takaanini.

A new playground for South Auckland will serve as a memorial to the life of a prominent Tāmaki Makaurau chief, but also the tragedy that beset him and his iwi. 

As part of Panuku Development’s extensive work around the Manukau CBD, it is building a new playground in the neighbouring community of Wiri, which will be ready to use from next April. A key part of its creation has been input from South Auckland-based iwi Te Ākitai Waiohua. 

Karen Wilson is chair of the Te Ākitai Waiohua Iwi Authority and great-great-great granddaughter of Ihaka Takaanini, one of the preeminent chiefs in South Auckland during the mid-1800s. The suburb of Takaanini is named after him, and his son, Te Wirihana, is the inspiration for Wiri’s name. Prior to the New Zealand Land Wars, Te Ākitai Waiohua, under Takaanini’s leadership, had extensive land holdings across the region, including settlements in Māngere, Ihumātao, Papakura, Drury, Red Hill, Kirikiri, Ramarama, Karaka, Pokeno and Pukekohe. Takaanini was also a Crown-appointed land assessor and owned hostels in Onehunga and Mechanics Bay.

Having complained that dense forest and swamps made the overland invasion of Waikato almost impossible to achieve. Sir George Grey set about rectifying that situation, ordering the construction of the Great South Road from Auckland through to Waikato. This photograph, circa 1863, shows men working on the road’s construction. (Alexander Turnbull Library, PA1-q-250-48, photograph by William Temple)

In 1863, Governor George Grey denounced Waikato-Tainui’s Kīngitanga movement as a threat to the British empire and demanded that all Māori living in Auckland either declare their loyalty to the empire or leave the district. But Ihaka Takaanini neither stated his loyalty to Queen Victoria or fled to the Waikato. Leading up this point, Takaanini had gained much respect from Māori and Pākehā alike through his role mediating between the colonial government and Auckland Māori. But the colonial parliament in Auckland had just passed the Suppression of Rebellion Act, which allowed the indefinite imprisonment without trial of any Māori suspected of disloyalty to the queen. So without any basis for the accusations, the entire Takaanini family was locked in the Ōtāhuhu military barracks for months, where many of them died of disease, and those who survived were exiled to Rakino Island in the Hauraki Gulf, where Takaanini would eventually die. It is still unknown where exactly he was interred, and this remains a source of distress for the tribe to this day. Wilson says her great-great grandfather Te Wirihana Takaanini, Ihaka’s only surviving son, was eventually freed and given a fraction of the iwi’s former lands at Pukaki in Māngere. 

Despite the decimation of Te Ākitai’s population and assets, Wilson says the iwi continues to reestablish itself. The iwi is currently working towards signing a Te Tiriti o Waitangi Deed of Settlement with the Crown, while looking for opportunities to enhance the economic and social wellbeing of its people. In this regard, the iwi has partnered with Panuku and other parties in the housing development known as Kotuitui, a name which has been gifted to the development by Te Ākitai. The massive 300-strong housing development is being built on Barrowcliffe Place between the southern motorway and the Wiri Creek Reserve, where the playground will be.

“Takaanini was the preeminent chief for the area and we acknowledge his significance, but it’s also a tragic story,” Wilson says. “So it’s humbling that Panuku and other mana whenua have allowed us to tell this story so people can understand why these areas are named as they are. So even though it might seem his influence has been lost, we would wish to make sure that it’s never lost in that we’re able to make sure his stories are told.”

Karen Wilson, right, alongside Manurewa Local Board members Melissa Atama and chair Joseph Allan at the Wiri Stream Reserve where the new playground will be built. (Photo: Supplied)

Wilson says the injustices committed against her great-great-great grandfather still reverberate today. 

“During that time of incarceration, most of the land holdings held by Ihaka Takaanini were taken over by others, so when Te Wirihana was released there were only small pieces of land that were available. When you lose key tīpuna in that manner, you get cut out of the process. But we’re now in a good space, and we’re able to talk to our whakapapa and history more knowledgeably.”

She says it means a lot that local children will be able to engage with Te Ākitai’s stories, particularly the story of how her people came to Aotearoa. 

“The best part of this is that it’s an educational space for children. The story I was told when I was a child was that our people didn’t come here on a waka but on a stingray, so that has been integrated into the design and we can retell that story through the playground. It provides kids an opportunity to have an adventure as it’s not prescribed what you do on it.”

An artist’s rendering of what the new playground will look like at Wiri Stream Reserve. (Photo: Supplied/Panuku)

Mason Ngawhika is the kai ārahi Māori – Māori responsiveness manager – at South Auckland-based community development agency The Cause Collective. He applauds Te Ākitai Waiohua’s efforts to ensure the playground reflects a Māori worldview. 

“The fact that it’s able to tell the mana whenua story is good, because if you asked the average person in South Auckland, ‘who are the mana whenua and do you know what happened to them?’, most wouldn’t know anything, so that story needs to be told,” Ngawhika says. 

“Also, the current style of playgrounds these days are these plastic monstrosities that are very singular in terms of purpose. There’s a slide and you just slide down it, there’s a swing and you just swing on it. Whereas these playgrounds, because they draw upon mātauranga Māori knowledge, they encourage children to use their imaginations, which is a thing children these days are starting to lose with the advent of devices and technology.”

Panuku’s principal landscape architect Suzanne Lange says using local stories can help the community feel a greater sense of ownership for the space.

“The success of this project has been working closely with the knowledge and people of the Wiri and Manukau neighbourhoods to understand the place and people and how we can fold that into the design brief.”



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