Page 1: Biography
Ngati Whatua land negotiator
This biography, written by Angela Ballara, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.
Ngapipi Reweti was an enigmatic and controversial figure. Almost the whole of his recorded life was dominated by competition between Maori living on the Auckland isthmus and European authorities for ownership of land at Orakei. He was born at Okahu Bay, Orakei, probably in 1883 or 1884. His father, of European and Te Akitai ancestry, was sometimes known as Tame (Thomas) Panapa Hawke or Tama Haaka, but often called Tame Reweti. His mother was Te Tuhi Reweti (also known as Kirihipine Reweti) of Te Taou, the principal Orakei hapu, kin to Ngati Whatua. Te Tuhi was the grand-daughter of Reweti Tamahiki (also known as Wiremu Reweti I), who, with his uncle, Apihai Te Kawau, signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840; and the daughter of Wiremu Reweti II and his second wife, Katene. Ngapipi Reweti had at least one brother.
Ngapipi Reweti attended Tamaki West School from the age of five, and at 12 was sent to St Stephen's Native Boys' School where he remained until he was 18. He then studied engineering at an Auckland college until he was 22. Reweti was soon looking for work: his land interests at Orakei were leased, and although he owned 50 acres in the Waikoukou No 2 block, many others shared the title and they were poor quality gum lands.
Reweti's great-grandfather, Reweti Tamahiki, had been among the 15 trustees of the 700-acre 'inalienable' Orakei Native Reserve set up by the Native Land Court in 1869. Until 1898 the restrictions on long-term alienation kept the reserve intact. That year the court partitioned the land to 13 former trustees and their successors as individual owners, reserving at the same time a nearly 40-acre inalienable papakainga (village site) block on the flat in Okahu Bay.
Restrictions on alienation of the land were gradually removed, and the land other than the papakainga block was put up for sale. In 1911 Reweti filed a counter petition to that of the non-seller, Otene Paora, who claimed that the sellers' title to Orakei was defective. As a local resident at Orakei who could speak fluent English, Reweti was a useful go-between. The legal firm of Earl and Kent first used him as an interpreter at a meeting in Helensville called to discuss a private purchase of part of Orakei. At about this time the Auckland City Council became interested in acquiring Orakei as the site of a model suburb, and on 4 May 1912 Reweti led a deputation to the mayor of Auckland, C. J. Parr, assuring him that the sellers would prefer to deal with the council. Pressure had been put on the government to prevent private speculation, and an order in council of 1912 prevented alienation of the Orakei block other than to the Crown. The Crown instructed its lawyer, Selwyn Mays, to purchase as much as possible of the remaining shares in the Orakei block at 10 per cent above valuation.
Although Reweti continued to work for Earl and Kent, who now represented Maori clients wishing to sell to the Crown, he was not paid a salary but was promised that his shares would be valued at a higher rate. He hoped that the experience of working for a legal firm would help him to qualify as a licensed native agent. As well as interpreting, Reweti acted as the firm's factotum and, unofficially, as the Crown's land purchase officer's agent. Later, he denied that he had attempted to induce people to sell, and said that he had merely helped the government to negotiate for the hill lands, telling potential vendors that the reserve on the flat would never be purchased. However, in 1913 the cabinet approved the sale of Orakei, and Mays began to purchase the papakainga block on the flat.
After 1913 Reweti ceased to work for solicitors and Crown purchasers, worked for a time in a quarry at Paeroa, and gradually sold his interests in Orakei. At a meeting on 29 February 1916 he voted with the majority against the non-sellers, including Otene Paora and his own uncle, Te Puna Reweti. His last interests were transferred on 23 February 1917, but he continued to live in a cottage erected on property he had sold. In 1929 he moved to another cottage on the remaining 2½ acres on the flat still owned by the Maori community. About this time Reweti commenced working for the Auckland City Council, first on a depression work relief scheme, and then as a permanent employee. He was to remain in this job for many years.
A groundswell of opposition developed among Orakei Maori to the way in which the Crown had acquired their land, through piecemeal purchases of what was meant to be an inalienable reserve, validating its acts by legislation. Reweti climbed on this new bandwagon, possibly because the promises to double the value of his shares had not been kept. During Judge Frank Acheson's 1930 inquiry in the Native Land Court, Reweti gave evidence that Mays had promised not to purchase the papakainga. In evidence he related how he had acted as interpreter when Mays made a deal with Wiremu Watene Tautari to purchase his hill lands. Watene stipulated that he wished to reserve six acres for himself and his family at the back of the Okahu flat, including the only fresh water spring available to the Orakei community. Reweti claimed that Mays signed an agreement reserving it, but Mays denied anything but a verbal promise to allow Watene to repurchase his paddock within two or three years.
Orakei Maori, often with nowhere else to go, continued to reside at Orakei in the 1930s, many of them technically squatters on Crown or church land. The community had no water other than one stand-pipe, no electricity or sewerage, and, since there was no security of tenure, their houses were poorly maintained: the city council refused building permits on the grounds that the occupants were squatters. Protest at their continued presence mounted, especially among Crown and city council officials. The village was regarded as an eyesore and a health risk. Officials made use of Ngapipi Reweti, by now of some standing at Orakei. On 31 August 1928 the church and cemetery block were vested in him and two others as trustees. In 1932 Reweti and George Graham, secretary of the Te Akarana Maori Association, were part of a delegation to the mayor of Auckland, G. W. Hutchinson, stating that Orakei Maori wanted an end to the dispute, but little resulted from this initiative. Although a frequently hostile press continued to urge the forcible dispersal of the community, most Orakei Maori were determined to stay.
In May 1938 Reweti attempted to find a solution that might also benefit himself. He approached an Auckland official, J. H. Robertson, and enquired whether he would receive any assistance in developing land he had in Tauranga if he used his influence to obtain a settlement at Orakei. He proposed the ejection of squatters, the sacking of city council employees and the refusal of relief to those who remained on Crown land.
The government and city council did not adopt Reweti's suggestions, which were not known to his community, and he suffered no loss of standing. In the royal commission set up in 1938 to inquire into Maori grievances concerning land at Orakei, Ngapipi Reweti was the star Maori witness. Questioned and cross-questioned on 24 August, Reweti confirmed his earlier evidence. The commissioner, Robert Kennedy, did not believe Reweti, and declared that Maori should cease to occupy any Crown land at Orakei. Some Maori were found to have been made landless by the Crown's purchases, and others, including Reweti, required compensation because inadequate prices had been paid for their land or improvements.
Despite the commission's findings, Maori occupation of Okahu Bay and Orakei continued. By now chairman of the marae council, Reweti was the principal speaker at a meeting in 1939 designed to seek some solution. None was found, and it was decided, once again, to seek legal advice. By 1940, after reports of typhoid, Native Minister Frank Langstone was talking of using force to disperse the community. In 1941 Reweti and 28 others petitioned Parliament over the ownership of Bastion Point, but this was not to become an issue until after Reweti's death.
In 1942 two Crown appeals were heard in the Native Appellate Court: against decisions forbidding the forcible removal of the occupants of the papakainga and church sites on the grounds that they were landless; and awarding the Orakei people any tidal accretions of land since 1898. Orakei Maori appointed Reweti to represent them, despite the Crown's offer to pay the cost of a lawyer, and he appeared on behalf of the Orakei community to contest the appeals.
Leadership, as far as it was ever in his hands, passed from Ngapipi Reweti, and he faded from the record. By 1943 Te Puea Herangi and the Auckland Trades Council were taking an interest in the fate of Orakei, and plans were being discussed for a model pa and a new marae separate from housing to be located on the hill. The chief, Te Hira Pateoro, decided to put everything into Te Puea's hands. Reweti was still alive when the settlement on the flat was destroyed, the meeting house burned down, and the people relocated in houses on the hill. Survived by his wife, Anitana Rikihana, Ngapipi Reweti died on 17 May 1957 at Parnell, when the community of Orakei had reached its nadir.