Te Teko - PhMuseum

Te Teko

Sara Orme

2008 - Ongoing

160 years ago my ancestors were labelled Tangta Hara (Sinful People) as many fought The Crown till their death for the land which was their very existence, their life force, a giver of personal identity and a source of spiritual strength. Land that was our people’s Tūrangawaewae (standing place), our foundation and our place in the world. With no Tūrangawaewae our people were incomplete.

As a child I grew up listening to my fathers kōrero (conversation) of injustice to our people, Māori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand, and the lingering impact and consequences of land confiscation that are still visible and felt today. The land was stolen by The Crown, laying the basis for the economic, cultural and spiritual impoverishment leaving Māori as an aggrieved, struggling people.

Te Teko project began soon after my father died in 2008. An ongoing project, based around my own whānau (family) who are Tangata Whenua (people of the land), referencing the small, predominantly Māori populated town, of the same name, of which he, my grandmother and four generations before them were born.

I also grew up witnessing the many struggles my father had as a ‘half caste’, a Maori-Pakeha (white man) man torn between two cultures. At times he struggled being in these worlds. Te Teko continues my connection with my father and my ancestors who lived before me as I continue to try and understand the complexities of the world he and they lived in and through our whānau (family), who live there today.

I focus on the enduring presence of whenua (connection to the land), the very ground that gave my father and all our people mana,(self respect) and it’s connection to identity, strength and humanity. The presence of the Rangitāiki river winding through the town with (Mount) Pūtauaki’s looming presence behind provides nourishment to our people's spiritual needs, belonging and identity.

The history of Te Teko could be considered both tragic and wondrous and symbolic of our indigenous culture in Aotearoa New Zealand, and indigenous cultures universally, who continue to struggle with loss and hope from the aftermath of historic land theft.

Through all of this, I am reminded that the land remains and so do the people.

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  • Rangi and her horse Akimai are each others life force. Te Teko is one of the few towns in Aotearoa New Zealand where you will see kids and adults riding bareback around the small town.

  • Mt Putauaki looms in the distant background in Te Teko, the spiritual mountain of our people, the Ngati Awa.

  • Our Tupuna (ancestors) guide and nourish our people and helps us gain a greater understanding of the challenges they faced. They inspire greater love and compassion that translates to relationships with the living, within our families and outside them.

  • Wairata, standing strong in our awe (river), The Rangitāiki, the very river that once saw the siege of 1865 when our ancestors were evicted from their land. Wairata stands reminding us that the and remains and so do the people.

  • Ruahoinia Marae, the meeting place for my hapu (tribe)

  • Roparti, eager to have his photograph taken inside our marae (meeting house) and unable to resist using his hand to form the sign showing his gang affiliation to The Mongrel Mob. Gang culture is very prevalent in Te Teko.

  • Tautuku whanau (family) asked me to take their family portrait. I am privileged to to be a photographer from 'within'.

  • Ursula

  • Ursula

  • All Māori introduce themselves through their pepeha (introduction) that identifies our people through their awa (river) and maunga (mountain). The Rangitāiki and Putauaki are the mountain and river of our people, the Ngati Awa (our tribe).

  • Matu

  • Josef

  • Kapua walks his pig on a daily basis. He raised several animals that he loved and cared for. The animals also sustained his whānau (family). It is typical to gift the meat to events such as Tangihana (funeral) and weddings held at the local Marae (meeting house).

  • When it comes to tangihanga,(funeral) it’s all hands on deck.

  • Apihai, my fathers cousin, was always happy to see me. On this morning we walked for miles over his land as he talked to me about our ancestors who would always guide us. It didn't matter that he was still in his dressing gown.

  • I focus on the enduring presence of whenua, and its connection to identity, strength and humanity. The Rangitaiki awa (river) once saw the seige of 1865 and our ancestors evicted from their land. Today we are reminded that the land remains and so do the people.

  • Rangi

  • The urupā (graveyard) allows moments to think of those who passed and those left behind.
    It is the absolute manifestation of Māori beliefs and an acknowledgement of constant communion between the spiritual and human worlds. If we cease to celebrate life and death in the way of our ancestors, our very existence as Māori will be under threat.

  • Toward the Rangitāiki, Rangi and Hera, with their backs to the camera, convey a sense of resolve after sharing some of themselves. The river awaits, a horse awaits….The land remains and so do the people.


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