The struggle for Takahanga

Jul 18, 2014


Today Takahanga Marae stands proudly overlooking the ocean on an historic pā that has been occupied for generations. Kaituhi Tony Bridge reports on how the long-standing vision for the marae was finally realised.

Hariata Manawatu, of Kāti Kurī, vividly remembers those early fundraising days for Takahanga Marae. “You know, we must have been fundraising since I was at primary school, and I am 80 now. That is more than 60 years ago. There was the Māori committee and we used to do raffles. We formed a kapa haka group and we used to give performances. We even went in and did cabarets at Heathcote in Christchurch with seafood suppers that we used to make and take down in the car.”

The Kaikōura Māori Committee used to meet wherever it could; much of the time in the local RSA building, which eventually became too expensive and difficult to use. Tangi were held in whānau houses or at the old primary school in Ōaro, and so too were Christmas parties. “It was very hard renting anything in Kaikōura, like the Memorial Centre. You weren’t allowed to sleep anyone and you sort of paid the earth for it. There was nowhere if you had a tangi where you could sleep visitors,” recalls Hariata.

Although the marae fundraising went on for many years, it was Hariata’s father, Rangi Solomon, who aspired to having a marae on the historic site of Takahanga Pā, in the middle of Kaikōura. At the time he was chair of the Kaikōura Tribal Committee and the Kaikōura representative on the Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board. Tā Tipene O’Regan had only just been appointed on the trust board and began spending a lot of time with Rangi, staying in Ōaro and travelling together to Christchurch for board meetings.

“On one of those visits I was down at Ōaro and I hopped into the little blue Austin Cambridge truck. Johnny Solomon had put the fish ashore and Rangi was delivering the fish to the factory. We came up, delivered the fish and did the necessary transactions. We drove up on the little road by the old mortuary. It was raining and cold so we sat in the truck while he told me about his dream for the site. It seemed a somewhat unpromising place. It was just a big paddock that had ponies and horses grazing on it. It was there he told me that he wanted me to help get the land back ,” recalls Tā Tipene.

In 1977 Rangi Solomon sadly passed away, just when momentum was starting to build. However, his aspirations for Takahanga were well entrenched throughout the whānau, and it was his son Bill Solomon who was to lead the kaupapa which Tā Tipene described from Rangi’s aspirations as, “to build the future of our people on the bones of our past”.

Under the Kaikōura Deed of Purchase of 1859, Takahanga was set aside as a Māori Reserve, before the Kaikōura County Council orchestrated the swapping of the Takahanga Reserve for Crown land in the Hāpuku Valley, commonly known as the Kaiwhare Swap. The land exchange was acted upon, and the council soon established the Kaikōura Hospital and the Takahanga Sports Domain.

In 1975, whatever land was left over from the original Takahanga Māori Reserve that the council didn’t take for the sports domain or other council facilities was incorporated into the Takahanga Historic Reserve, managed by the Kaikōura County Council, as recommended by the Lands & Survey Department a few years earlier.

By the time Tā Tipene O’Regan became involved, he quickly discovered that changing the use of the reserve would not be easy. “Rangi wasn’t very clear on who owned the land but to my horror I found out it was a National Historic Reserve. Its legal status was roughly that of the Cenotaph in Wellington. When I started looking into it I could see the shutters going up through the Wellington bureaucratic system. You just didn’t touch National Historic Reserves!”

He recruited Wellington-based lawyer (now Sir) David Gascoigne, who subsequently recruited Tony Ellis. Both worked pro bono. The Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board agreed that the Kaikōura Māori Council could use the trust board’s letterhead for the upcoming challenge. “At the time that was the only contribution our trust board could afford,” says Tā Tipene.

In 1977 the Kaikōura Māori Committee began meeting with the Historic Places Trust, the Kaikōura County Council, and the Lands & Survey Department about their future aspirations for Takahanga. This eventually led to the Takahanga Historic Reserve being altered to allow for a marae to be managed by the Takahanga Pā Trust Board, which was to include both Crown and local Māori representatives.

The first issue facing the newly-created board was that the Historic Places Trust instructed that an extensive archaeological investigation be carried out before any construction could occur. At this time Michael Trotter was Director of the Canterbury Museum, and had previously worked with Rangi Solomon on the archaeological dig on the foreshore below Takahanga for the proposed Kaikōura Post Office.

“Archaeological investigations are very expensive and the sort of money we were talking about was between $20,000 and $30,000, and that was about the money that the local people had raised for their marae buildings,” says Michael Trotter. “So Beverley McCulloch came up with a suggestion that we get the local people to do all the work and we would supervise it. We would ask volunteers to help, and everything could be done that way with no cost going towards the local people.”

In February 1980, Michael took annual leave from his position at the Canterbury Museum, and along with Beverley McCulloch, supervised the initial two-week excavation. While Michael stayed on site in his campervan, volunteers from Christchurch were billeted with local Māori families.

Bill Solomon and Wharetutu Stirling during the archaeological excavation of Takahanga in 1980;  right: the opening of Takahanga Marae in 1992.

Bill Solomon and Wharetutu Stirling during the archaeological excavation of Takahanga in 1980; right: the opening of Takahanga Marae in 1992.

Hariata Manawatu fondly remembers the archaeological dig. “Spencer Kahu and John Stirling used to do it on the weekends because they worked during the week. We used to take a pot luck dinner. So we would take a pot of food every day to feed everybody that was digging. We did all the digging and scratching during the week before the men took over on the weekend. The kids would come up after school to help.”

This was the first time that a local Māori community had been used in an archaeological dig, and although there were concerns raised in the archaeological fraternity, it turned out to be a huge success. It was also of major public interest, with visitor and school groups coming on guided tours of the site.

“It was the most marvelous experience from our point of view,” Michael Trotter says. “Not only did we carry out the dig with untrained people, it was done to perfection.’’

“What was most amazing was the enthusiasm from everybody. In those days, you would have student groups who would do the work and go home. Here we would say knock off time would be about 4pm so people could go home and cook a meal, but we would have people working through to 7 o’clock at night. This was unheard of.

“It was all a great success. The local people were so happy that we were invited back in 1982 to have another dig, not where any building was planned, but down at the gateway of where the wall (the maero) goes across. So we came back and did it all over again.”

With the archaeological excavation under control, the focus shifted towards obtaining the necessary building permits from the Kaikōura County Council. This led to a series of public hearings that showcased a nasty side of the local community, with submitters opposing the marae due to fears of “drunken parties, foul cooking odours and a place for gangs to hang out.”

“When they had the objections, Bill in his wisdom sent two people who he thought would be cool and calm. That was Hilla King and Ngoi Pēwhairangi. Well, they lost it at the objections,” says Reo Solomon.

Gascoigne and the Lands & Survey Department staff were also shocked by the community’s response. Gascoigne’s solution was to have the development of the Takahanga Marae declared a public work under the Public Works Act. By using the political support of Ngāi Tahu MPs Rex Austin and Ben Couch, and the support of Lands & Survey Department staff, the then Minister of Works Bill Young agreed with Gascoigne’s recommendation, which resulted in the construction of the marae falling outside the council’s jurisdiction.

With all the necessary building permits in place, Tā Tipene called in North Island artist Cliff Whiting (Te Whānau a Apanui) to help. “I asked Cliff to come and run a wānanga for us as I knew he had an amazing slide-show about marae, but our people were suspicious, saying, ‘Who’s this guy from the North Island? Who is this guy that Tipene is bringing?’ So we had to go through all that, but I remember in a little dark RSA building in Kaikōura once Cliff finished his presentation, before the lights went out, a little voice at the back of the hall saying, ‘When do we start?’”

Before anyone realised it, the Kaikōura Māori community was entrenched in a huge cultural revitalisation exercise. Regular wānanga on tukutuku panels and kōwhaiwhai, were taking place, with renowned experts such as Te Auē Davis and Ngoi Pēwhairangi, at places such as the Lincoln Field College in Ōaro, and the Ōaro Primary School.

There was still the problem of finding an architect, which Tā Tipene managed to solve. “During my wife’s nurse training days she met a woman called Mary Jarman, whose husband Tom was an architect for the Housing Corporation. He was quite keen on the idea, and thrilled to bits to help out.

“Well, one day Cliff met me at DeBrett’s bar in Wellington, and on a napkin he drew the proportions of the house modelled on the marae at Atene on the Whanganui River, based on its perfect proportions. I gave this table napkin to Jarman, who did the rest. By the time the marae was completed, Tom had passed away, but his wife and daughter were at the marae opening.”

Local builder Peter Cormack was contracted to build the marae, and like the archaeological work, the decision was made to involve local people in the heart of the work. “We turned the meeting house into a workshop, and we turned the people into the resource that we needed to produce the works that went inside the meeting house. We cut across all the traditional conventions. However, it was a way of getting people involved in their art and bringing them into contact with their histories,” says Cliff Whiting.


A distinctive feature of Takahanga is the involvement of other Ngāi Tahu hapū. Reo Solomon can recall how both Bill Solomon and Aroha Poharama travelled around Te Waipounamu introducing the concept of what Bill wanted to see done, and inviting them to contribute by doing their own panel.

There was no money for the project, so funding was sought wherever available, including grants from Te Waka Toi and the Māori and South Pacific Arts Council. Labour was provided through Government work schemes. Materials were procured wherever they were available. Bill Solomon insisted there be no debt, and would not approve anything unless there was money to pay for it.

Things didn’t go entirely to plan. The builders had material left over which Bill Solomon didn’t want to waste so they raised the height of the building, making the walls higher than originally planned. When Cliff Whiting discovered what the builders had done, he went white but said nothing.

“He went into the wharenui and disappeared,” says Tā Tipene. “After a time the others sent me across to see what was going on. I peered through the window and he was lying there on the floor, not moving. I went back and reported this to the others. They sent me back several times and still he hadn’t moved. Finally, after a long time, he came out. ‘I know what we will do,’ he said. ‘I have the answer.’ His solution was the distinctive curved wave pattern which flows through all the panels and makes the interior seem lower than it actually is.”

Takahanga Marae was officially opened in 1992. “It was a big effort,” says Hariata Manawatu. “The kids had to learn all the songs and welcome everyone on. The men did all the cooking.

“It was our dream that we would have a marae, but at times it seemed a long way off. It was hard work fundraising. They just persevered. It was a bit of a shock when it all went up. Bill was very proud.
It is somewhere for us to go.”

The first in an on-going TE KARAKA series on Ngāi Tahu buildings.