• Sara Orme

Te Teko-Essay. Sara Orme


Te Teko 2008-

Hera (Sara) Tautuku Orme (Ngati Whakaue, Ngati Uenukukopako, Ngati Awa)

Ko Putauki toku maunga

Ko Rangitaiki toku awa

Ko Mataatua toku waka

Ko Ngati Awa toku iwi

Ko Tamaoki toku hapu

Ko Ruaihona toku marae

No TeTeko ahau

kei Auckland toku kainga inaianei

Ko Tautuku whanau

Ko Arapeta Orme toku matua

Ko Hera/Sara toku ingoa

Te Teko (2008- )is a very personal project. It’s been in the making for a long time and is still a work in progress. My photographic exploration of the township and its people began soon before the passing of my father, Arapeta Tautuku Orme of Ngati Awa & Te Arawa as we drove the familiar road between Rotorua, where he was living at the time, to Te Teko catching up with whanau and (his) old time school friends. I have been coming to Te Teko since I was a kid and Te Teko project explores the small, predominantly Maori populated, community in New Zealand of which my Father, my Grandmother and two generation before them were born.

Although I never got to document my father’s life here I continue to document his spirit, through whanau who live here today, soaking up both the past and the present of a place he was deeply connected to.

Te Teko is just one small story of colonisation in New Zealand. I hope this project will continue to open up the conversation regarding colonial land theft of the past and an understating of the inequalities of the present.

I graduated from Canterbury university in 1988 with a double degree in Art History and Sociology, majoring in both ethnicity and feminist studies. I later studied photography at Unitec, Auckland graduating in 1993.

I tap into my sociologist sensibility when I document the life and human experience around me as a photographer.

Today, when I arrive in Te Teko I am only called Hera. I am also endearingly known as ‘the blonde’. I am welcomed as whanau and we are united through our shared lineage.

I search for truth in my work as a photographer. I avoid showing Te Teko romantically like many non-indigenous people before me have done. There’s both tenderness and grit in my images. I try to reflect/record the positive and the negative aspects of the place… As it is. As I find it. I am conscious of not perpetuating a ‘status quo’ of how Maori are viewed and aim to create a way of seeing in all its complexity as well as celebrating resilience, survival and joy in what has been managed to keep.

I don’t always have my camera, it’s not always appropriate, but the narrative is never missed. Learning from my memories and experiences, connecting with whanau and asking more questions about the realities and consequences of colonial theft over one hundred and fifty years ago has become the essence of the Te Teko project.

There is so much mixed emotion for me personally and also as a photographer. Like all places no one story is the same and everyone has their own experience. However, it is hard to ignore the lingering impact and consequences of The Raupatu that are still visible and felt today, generations later. In 2021, for those who might drive through Te Teko and surrounding areas or read our national media, one might feel a sense of despair of visible poverty that prevails. I can’t look at it as either romantic, neither do I see only the impoverishment. It is just simply a different way of life and knowing that no life is ‘normal’. There is richness and love amidst the struggle and hardship.

Further links:

Te Teko selected images here

Growing up blonde & Maori here (A personal experience from Sara Orme)

Website here (saraorme.com)


____________________________________________________________________________

Te Teko is just one small story of colonisation in New Zealand.


I hope this project will continue to open up the conversation regarding colonial land theft of the past and an understating of the inequalities of the present.


As New Zealand historian O’Malley says, “It is about taking ownership of our history, binding us together as a nation that can honestly confront its own past. We need to own this history. Doing that is not intended to sow the seeds of division or disharmony. It is actually the basis for genuine reconciliation.”


Te Teko parallels what happened with the colonisation of indigenous cultures around the world such as the North American Indians, Aboriginal Australians and so forth. Now more than ever we need to know this history and be honest with ourselves.


I graduated from Canterbury university in 1988 with a double degree in Art History and Sociology, majoring in both ethnicity and feminist studies. I later studied photography at Unitec, Auckland graduating in 1993.


I tap into my sociologist sensibility when I document the life and human experience around me as a photographer.


Te Teko is a very personal project. It’s been in the making for a long time and is still a work in progress.


My photographic exploration of the township and its people began soon before the passing of my father, Arapeta Tautuku Orme of Ngati Awa & Te Arawa, as we drove the familiar road between Rotorua, where he was living at the time, to Te Teko catching up with whanau and (his) old time school friends.


Te Teko, a small predominantly Maori community is the birthplace of my father, my grandmother and my great grandmother.


Although I never got to document my father’s life here I continue to document his spirit, through whanau who live here today, soaking up both the past and the present of a place he was deeply connected to.


I have been coming to Te Teko since I was a kid but it wasn’t always easy for me going back. I grew up in Christchurch, where both my parents had met while at university. I did feel ‘white’ in that my experience of life was quite different despite our Maori heritage always being paramount. When I visited Te Teko I felt uncomfortable. I looked different. I wished I had dark skin. At times I was picked on or ‘joked about’ for being fair skinned, white and blonde, but, while my father did get cross if anyone treated me differently, he never let me dwell on that; we were all whanau; we were one people and that was that.


Today, when I arrive in Te Teko I am only called Hera. I am also endearingly known as ‘the blonde.’ Cars still slow and locals still stare as I walk down the one main street. On entering the local tavern with my cousin I was asked once if my car broke down because ‘we never get white people here’. When I ask the guys to join a fishing trip I am met with intrepidation. As the Nani’s explain; most of these men have never mixed with ‘white looking people, only the ‘officials’. Once they know I am whanau then they will move beyond their own prejudices and we are united through our shared lineage.



I search for truth in my work as a photographer. I avoid showing Te Teko romantically like many non-indigenous people before me have done. There’s both tenderness and grit in my images. I try to reflect/record the positive and the negative aspects of the place… As it is. As I find it. I am conscious of not perpetuating a ‘status quo’ of how Maori are viewed and aim to create a way of seeing in all its complexity as well as celebrating resilience, survival and joy in what has been managed to keep.

I immerse myself as much as I possibly can, but at times I still feel an outsider. I’m not local or have ever lived here. I don’t really know the day to day lingo, the eyebrow raise, the language of chur, chur I used to always hear with my father but I see, I listen and I gather the stories from those who trust me whole heartedly and with me always is the spirit of my father and those before me.I am welcomed and loved and I am greeted as a descendant from The Kahupaki line.

I don’t always have my camera, it’s not always appropriate, but the narrative is never missed. Learning from my memories and experiences, connecting with whanau and asking more questions about the realities and consequences of colonial theft over one hundred and fifty years ago has become the essence of the Te Teko project.

My father, throughout his life, was known as ‘half caste', a term widely used to describe one's ethnicity during his lifetime. He did struggle with being ‘that Maori’ in the white world and ‘our posny white boy’ in his Maori world. He was a lawyer and a strong advocate during the 1970’s for the Treaty Of Waitangi settlements and went on to study race relations as a Winston Churchill scholar in the UK. His biggest driving force was always for his people, his turangawaewae.

I have many memories of us as kids traipsing across someones farmland anywhere in NZ and my father would explain that this was our land and we could walk across it if we wanted to. I never fully understood at the time but there was something exciting about the rebelliousness of it all the same. There were a lot of things I never fully understood as I glazed over dad’s Treaty banter as a kid. But as an adult I realise that my work as a photographer, in particular this project, is very much about the injustice experienced not only by dad, but by all his people.

The Rangataiki river and Mount Putauaki dominate the distant landscape and is the mountain and river of the Ngāti Awa people. For a people whose land is both spiritual and functional their history can be seen as both wondrous and tragic. With no Turangawaewae a person is incomplete.


There is so much mixed emotion for me personally and also as a photographer. Like all places no one story is the same and everyone has their own experience. However, it is hard to ignore the lingering impact and consequences of The Raupatu (land confiscation) that are still visible and felt today, generations later. In 2020, for those who might drive through Te Teko and surrounding areas or read our national media, one might feel a sense of despair of visible poverty that prevails. I can’t look at it as either romantic, neither do I see only the impoverishment. It is just simply a different way of life and knowing that no life is ‘normal’. There is richness and love amidst the struggle and hardship.


A lot of people look at my photos and say: “These people are so poor.” I encourage the viewer to look at my photographs and try and ask why as well as understand the differences here in Aotearoa.

There maybe visible, monetary poverty but as a photographer I try not to let this be everything. When I photograph, I am constantly asking myself; how has the past impacted on the people and what is happening in Te Teko (Ngati Awa) today.

No matter where or how we live, we like in the same way, we love in the same way, we hate in the same way, and we all have similar emotions. So I don’t think much is lost. But my photographs are also a reminder of a New Zealand past that should not be ignored. Not only did colonisation take away the land from the people but with that they were left insufficient for their needs, social structures were destabilised and their proven developmental capacity was taken off them. It was a total loss of power. For more than a century afterwards, Ngāti Awa remained an aggrieved, struggling people.

To understand the present we cannot ignore the past. Reading through the Treaty Of Waitangi settlement documents I felt the same anger of the many of the people before me. A strong sense of injustice.

Twenty four years after The Treaty was signed, in the mid nineteenth century, tension was rising and land wars in Taranaki, Waikato and Tauranga started to spill over into eastern Bay of Plenty. Although up until now Ngati Awa was quite neutral there was a general suspicion of the crown. Around this time a missionary (Volkner) and crown official (Fulloon) were killed in Whakatane which would prove to be fatal for the entire tribe of Ngati Awa for the next one hundred and fifty plus years.

After the murders, arrests were made, the perpetrators were imprisoned and three men were hanged, however, the entire Ngati Awa people were labelled as 'tangata hara' (sinners) or rebels and would prove to be fatal for the entire tribe. Being tangata hara affected how Ngāti Awa not only saw themselves but also how others saw them, and tainted their interactions with the government, Europeans and other iwi for generations to come. The ‘sin’ of a few was to be borne by Ngati Awa as a whole.


In 1866, with the pretext of ‘rebellion’ for the murders, the confiscation of over 448,000 acres of land was justified by a crown led siege in and around Te Teko. To make matters worse this was implemented by their former enemy, now united with The Crown, Te Arawa.


The fertile lands taken were simply for acquisition, to break the tribal power and authority of the Ngati Awa hapu, and to effect a punishment for the previous Völkner and Fulloon murders of which the perpetrators had already been punished. It was not appropriate for anyone’s land to have been taken on the ground of rebellion and the people of Ngati Awa were completely powerless.


For more than a century afterwards, Ngāti Awa remained an aggrieved, struggling people with few economic prospects. The effects of The Raupatu lingered psychologically as well as physically. This marked a period of economic and social dislocation for Ngati Awa who went from rural peasantry, with a relatively comfortable subsistence, to a rural and increasingly urban-based proletariat, largely dependent on wage-earning – or the dole. Generations were forced to live without the collective resources to provide the kind of future they wanted for their children and mokopuna. They also fell behind in terms of health and educational progress.


In terms of their own culture, their standing amongst the tribes of New Zealand was considerably diminished. They were a people without means. Over a century later they were still seen as the tangata hara.


In the mid twentieth century, there was some acknowledgment, from the government, regarding the inequalities of those whose land was confiscated. Many tribes throughout New Zealand benefited from the establishment of trust boards administering funds, providing money for education, especially at a tertiary level and social and economic advancement was supported. Generations of youngsters in those places have received some benefit.


Comparatively, however, assistance for Ngati Awa had been minimal. There was no independent authority or advocate to assist Ngati Awa, and no laws or regulations to protect their rights. The youth of Ngati Awa have not had the same educational opportunities. For many years, the tribe has been without a collective resource base. They had a lot of catching up to do.


The provision of a tribal structure for Ngati Awa did not happen until the Runanga o Ngati Awa was established by statute in 1988 to receive lands in settlement and political claims relating to the Ngati Awa land development scheme. A Lot of land was not returned until 1990, and the settlement had nothing to do with the confiscations.


Furthemore, when some land was eventually handed back as individual titles, problematic in itself, there was a scramble of perceived ownership. It created rifts between hapu & iwi that affected the unity of the tribe and even today questions are asked about how certain families became beneficiaries of certain land blocks. A level of divisiveness and competition between groups split Maori communities as effectively as the process of land individualisation itself.


Ownership was gradually broken down from hapu to whanau to individuals whose holdings amounted to little more than an acre at most – enough only for a house and garden.

Blocks were partitioned and fragmented to the point that they were no longer economically viable by 1970. The smaller blocks of returned land were now inadequate for them to run an economic farm, compared to the size of rural allotments that was considered necessary for European economic development.

As people passed on and their shares devolved to their children, the further fragmentation of shares was inevitable.


Ever since the confiscation, the land returns, and the introduction of individual ownership through the Native Land Court, people have become so divided that agreements are probably not always possible.


Moving forward:


Today Ngati Awa is represented by Te Runanga o Ngati Awa. Resuming and maintaining community interest is one of the greatest challenges facing Ngati Awa. The people continue to build a future and heal the past.


The Crown gave a statutory pardon to those who were arrested, tried and labelled as ‘tangata hara’, and in respect of all matters arising out of the land wars in 1865.


When all grievances are resolved, the tribe’s motto, taken from the dying words of Ngāti Awa and Ngāi Tūhoe chief Te Mautaranui, will take on a new and more positive meaning:


He manu hou ahau, he pī ka rere. I am like a fledgling, a newborn bird just learning to fly.



Further links:

Te Teko selected images here

Growing up blonde & Maori here

Website here