Monday, October 18, 2010

Otakou Marae - A Peninsula Place

Otakou Marae sits almost at the end of Otago Peninsula, near Dunedin - a splendid collection of buildings tucked away down a side road, a short walk from the water's edge. I went there for the first time three or four years ago with Ngai Tahu's TE KARAKA team, working on a series of Ngai Tahu runanga kai features.
I spent the day talking with local kaumatua (elders) about the traditional importance of Otago Harbour as a food source for the Otakou people and in particular, our discussions focussed on the cockle or tuaki as they are known to the locals. Actually New Zealand Littleneck Clams (Austrovenus stutchburyi), they are the single-most abundant large invertebrate animal found in inter-tidal sand flats in sheltered harbours and estuaries throughout New Zealand.

Tuaki have been an important food source for Muaupoko (Otago Peninsula) Maori for generations and their shells have commonly been found in centuries-old middens. The whole area was once speckled with many kaik (villages) and Pukekura (Taiaroa Head) was an important fortified pa.

It was a perfect sunny day in May when I visited Otakou again earlier this year and I couldn't help remembering my previous visit, sitting outside on the bench seats listening to Matenga Taiaroa talking about his great-grandfather, who walked the same soil; to Tangi Russell, who feels just as passionate about maintaining the harbour's tuaki resource; and to Paul Karaitiana, who lives just around the corner from the marae at Te Rauone Beach. He's been there thirty years or more and still gathers tuaki and other kai moana (seafood).
Otakou is 'home' to Waitaha, Rapuwai, Kati Hawea and Kati Mamoe; and in my view it's one of the loveliest of the southern Ngai Tahu marae. Quite apart from its divine location, I'm intrigued by its hefty, elaborately embellished church, its carvings and other tucked-away treasures.

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