Topic: Tapu Tītoki (Ōtūmoetai Pā)

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Said to be the oldest tree in Tauranga, the Tapu Tītoki at Ōtūmoetai Pā is a tree of immense historical significance. At around 300 years old, the Tītoki has been traditionally used as a guide for those at sea to find their position. In the traditional manner, the bodies of chiefs were hung in the Tītoki until only bones remained, and beneath the tree was where a peace treaty was agreed between Ngāi Te Rangi (Tauranga) and Te Arawa (Rotorua & Maketu) in 1845, ending ten years of warfare. Story researched and written by Debbie McCauley.

The tītoki (Alectryon excelsus) is a common native New Zealand tree known by early European as the New Zealand Oak. It has shiny leaves and a twisting trunk with smooth dark bark. The tree produces small purple flowers in spring, with the seeds taking up to a year to mature. In early summer the hairy woody capsules split when the black and red fruit ripens and the shiny black seeds are revealed. Māori traditionally extracted oil from the seeds for use on their hair and body.

The Tapu Tītoki in Tauranga is situated at the rear of the Ōtūmoetai Pā Historical Reserve on Levers Road in Matua. The land was previously owned by the Matheson family and the Tītoki is situated to the east of the remnants of the Matheson homestead. Alister Hugh Matheson (1925-2011) was a well respected Tauranga Historian.

The age of the Tītoki is approximately 300 years old. In pre-European times the tree was significant due to its large size and the fact it could be seen used as a place marker for those out at sea. Along with the Tītoki, Māori used Mauao, Karewa Island and where Thompson’s Track crosses the Kaimai Ranges to find their position. The Tītoki was also used as a guide to the best hāpuka (groper) fishing grounds outside the Tauranga harbour.

In the traditional manner, the bodies of chiefs were hung in the Tītoki until only bones remained. These were then cleaned and buried or places in caves. Bodies are also said to have been buried under the tree. The importance of the Tītoki makes it tapu.

On 23 September 1845, a hui took place beneath the Tītoki which signified the end of ten years of warfare between Ngāi Te Rangi (Tauranga) and Te Arawa (Rotorua & Maketu). Around 400 people from Rotorua attended the hui. The gathering was witnessed by Archdeacon Alfred Nesbit Brown (1803-1884), Rev. Thomas Chapman (1792-1876) and Rev. Christopher Pearson Davies (1812-1861). A large stone from Mauao was placed on the spot over which the chiefs made their peace by each placing a foot on it, shaking hands, rubbing noses and smoking the pipe of peace.

Maungārongo (the ‘Peace Stone’) remained as a token of peace between the iwi until a farm worker, who didn't realise it's significance, split the stone in the late 1800s to make steps. Today, the Peace Stone is held at the Tauranga Heritage Collection Museum, and the Tapu Tītoki is protected and maintained by the Tauranga City Council.

 

Sources:

Bursall, Stanley Walter & Sale, Edmund Vernon (1984). Great Trees of New Zealand.

Matheson, Alister. The Peace Stone.

McCauley, Debbie (2018). The Treaty of Waitangi in Tauranga: Te Tiriti o Waitangi ki Tauranga Moana (pp. 22-23). 

Notable Trees Register.

Otumoetai Historic Reserve.

The New Zealand Tree Register.

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