The Nautilus: An Oral History Poem of a Colonisation of Indigenous Peoples


This poem is my attempt at capturing a snapshot of a long history of the Ngati Whatua o Orakei, a hapu (sub-tribe) belonging to a city district in Auckland now known as Orakei. 

It is written as we, although the stories and experiences in this poem come from different individuals. The reason I combine them into a collective we is because no individual exists in isolation in the Maori world. Instead, these stories exist as a collective whole, much like how the individual and his/her whakapapa are one, inseparable and bound to one another. I acknowledge the following people for inspiring me with their stories and histories that shaped this poem. Grant Hawke, his whanau, Otene, Pepe, and their children, Joannie, Aunt Ruth, Bauhinia, and the future generations of Ngati Whatua to come. Their stories, I hope, will be ones that will echo throughout the future of New Zealand and the rest of the world as a catalyst for other indigenous movements and for all those oppressed by colonisation and other injustices.

From William Tsang of Seattle,

For the Ngati Whatua of Orakei


The Nautilus

We, the Ngati Whatua

belong to Maungakiekie, our Mountain

to Tamaki, our River,

and the Waitemata, our Ocean.

We, descendants of conquerors, bound by blood and our whakapapa

to the Nga Oho, Uri Ngutu, and Te Taou,

proudly belong to the lands which sustain us.

From Mangonui to the Tamaki River―

its serpentine waves carve the contours

of our ancestral lands in Orakei: Home.


This is our land,

this is where it begins,

Admire our fertile plains and hills,

our waters, which is full of life.

Over the horizon, a sprawling metropolitan

majestic in its own right.

This is our view.


Come, those who are homeless

plant your feet upon the soil of our lush gardens.

Run this tapestry through your fingers

and trace back your whakapapa.

Let us tell you the stories behind

these shiny blackened carvings

set upon our wharenui, inside and out.

This is our life force.


The Queen is coming

and our homes are eyesores and a plague upon Her Majesty―

Houston, we have a problem.

What remains of our mana whenua

gaze out their tiny cell houses into the night

towards a marae set ablaze below.

And our tangata whenua,

uprooted and dragged away to the North

fade away in heartbreak and suffocation

until the last breath of our whenua

escapes our wrinkled lungs.


We, adolescents, sent

away to boarding school

return home to a different land of grey buildings that line Kitemoana Street

Now here, hear the static of our wool jumpers

bristle as they slide along the smooth hardwood floors.

The flickers of light switches and flushes of toilets,

are like sweets upon our tongue,

a babe’s first touch of winter’s snowfall.


We keep our fingernails dirty with dirt

it shall not be washed away,

for it is all we have left.


Our River fills the Hobson, Mission, and Okahu Bay

and carries in her cradle,

a bounty of shellfish beds and flounder

―life given to us.

She has also taken life from us,

Three poisoned with typhoid.

By her hands.

Against her will.

And as she weeps for her children,

waves upon waves of an ominous filth

creep along a winding concrete tunnel,

through our ancestral lands

and into her waters.


We, the teenage youth,

the rangatahi of our Iwi, lit a fire within our bellies when,

for three minutes,

we cast the rage of our warring gods upon a full city council.

And to a standing ovation, we cried,

“Get your shit out of our water!”

So began the genesis of an occupation,

506 days of history to be made.


Here we stand, the 5th of January 1977,

upon the plains of Bastion Point.

Along with our Pakeha friends,

we climb atop the lookout tower

and camp along ridges.

Sustained by the constant hum of our non-violent voices,

we echoin the words of Whina Cooper, leader of the Great Maori Land March

“Not One More Acre!”, “Not ONE more Acre!”


Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 9.22.54 PM

Morrison, Robin (1978), Ngati Whatua occupation of Bastion Point.

Yet our whanau stands divided once again.

To break this Pakeha law, this crown, this tapu

is a sacrifice we must pay

to reclaim what is ours.

We stay behind on the marae

―it is all we have left

through which our children

may learn the whakapapa.


“We fought for you in two world wars and this,

this is how you treat us?

This is how you treat my people?”

Behind your dark coat of arms

and your ornate crests,

They do not hide the whiteness

which has erased the brown from our skin and our land for centuries.


A sudden, silent wind

blows from the north upon a candlelight.

And a Great Nautilus,

wreathed in a fiery wrath,

takes into its gaping void,

the life of our daughter, our niece,

our five year old Joannie of Ngati Whatua.



Joannie’s memorial site overlooking the Bastion Point bluff.

Her death is not in vain.

For in that moment,

a drop of her mauri

fell upon our ancestral soil.

And from it, sprang spring’s first tender green shoots:

Our Mana Wāhine, the centrality of women in our world.


Look at this fruit it has bore.

We are proud to inform you

that our daughter and our niece

will have three and four bedroom whare

to call their own

―the first of our whanau in seventy years to return to their roots.


Look here at the flowers which bloom from its branches.

They are the women of this iwi,

They are Whina Cooper, Princess Te Puea Herangi, and all the women of Aotearoa


Look here at the pollen which blows across oceans

and lands upon the bullet wounds

of Amadou Diallo, Renisha McBride, and Rekia Boyd

at the hands of the 5-0.

Upon the sacred lands of the Duwamish People—

Lutshootseed lost among the constant chatter of educated voices

washed, and washed again, in bleach.


A Great Evil will whisper in the ears

of the poor and disenfranchised,

“You are problems, not people.”

But the voices of the Joannies of this world

will be heard throughout history,

bellowing out what has happened atop Bastion Point

―1869 to September 18th, 2015.


Amidst the bulwark and flames of a passionate and broken people,

a path is paved towards healing.

The body and soul of this land and its people,

like a seed of a great Kauri tree,

are planted in the soils of ancestral redemption.


A sunset view of Auckland skyline and Mission Bay from Bastion Point.

It’s roots eventually intertwine,

beyond the reach of our mountain and our river.

Intertwine with the roots of the land that course through my veins,

through your veins, and yours, and us all.

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.


October 22nd, 2015

University of WashingtonNew Zealand Exploration Seminar 2015

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