Page 1: Biography
Ngati Whatua leader, Anglican lay reader, land negotiator
This biography, written by I. H. Kawharu, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 3, 1996.
Otene Paora was born, probably in the 1860s or early 1870s, at Reweti, south of Helensville, the third son of Paora Kawharu and his wife, Rahera Uruamo of Te Taou, Nga Oho and Te Uringutu hapu of Ngati Whatua. He was baptised in January 1873. Otene married Ngahiraka of Waimamaku with whom he had four daughters and a son. Although Reweti remained important to him – he singlehandedly renovated the marae chapel there – he lived principally at Orakei from around 1900. Early in his 30s Otene became a lay reader in the Anglican church, serving in and around Auckland, apart from a brief sojourn in Rarotonga. From 1905 he was patron of Queen Victoria School for Maori Girls and each year organised a fund-raising fair. In 1911 he was a member of a national Maori committee which aimed to support and maintain the mana of their people. In 1914 he was a speaker at an Ohinemutu hui to open a new Arawa church and he gave an acre of land at Orakei for a church.
A man of quiet demeanour, Otene Paora was a skilled and practised orator in both English and Maori. These attributes, coupled with a strong sense of social justice, took him into a wider political arena. The Crown was acquiring Ngati Whatua land, and of primary concern to Otene was the 700-acre Orakei block on the Waitemata Harbour. In December 1868 the Native Land Court had awarded title of the block to the three Ngati Whatua hapu to which he belonged, the descendants of those who had conquered the Tamaki isthmus in the mid eighteenth century under their chief, Tuperiri. At the time it was thought that the court had established an inalienable trust estate for the hapu. However, it soon became clear that the 13 persons named in the title were not trustees but beneficial owners. His attempts to re-establish the essential trust character of the Orakei estate and to warn his people of the potentially destructive effects on Maori society of the individualisation of title to tribal land occupied much of Otene Paora's time after the turn of the century.
He first applied to the Native Land Court in 1904 to seek the inclusion of those descendants of Tuperiri who had been left out of the title by its allocation to the 13 owners. His application was dismissed. This was to be the fate of his many subsequent attempts either to restore in practice the concept of a trust estate or else to ensure inclusion in the title of all the descendants in the land. For instance, in November 1911 he applied once more to the court, this time appealing against the 1869 order. He asserted that the 13 were merely representatives for the hapu, that females had been wrongfully excluded, and that most of the 13 were not resident on the Orakei block, while many who were and who possessed superior rights were not included. In dismissing this application the court noted that if the matter were to be reopened, it had to be done by Parliament.
Consequently, Otene Paora petitioned Parliament in 1912. When he appeared before the Native Affairs Committee on 10 September he insisted that all descendants of Tuperiri be included in the land, commenting that if the government did not uphold the petition, then it might as well 'build a canoe and put on board that canoe those descendants of Tuperiri who are not included in this land, and let them drift away into the ocean'. Nothing came of this appeal, notwithstanding the inclusion on the committee of Maori leaders James Carroll, Apirana Ngata, Taare Parata, Maui Pomare and Peter Buck.
In the early 1920s Otene Paora was involved in the Ratana movement and he attempted to set up a church deriving from it. However, this Church of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and Faithful Angels was absorbed into the Ratana church after it was established in May 1925.
Otene continued his campaign throughout the numerous attempts by the Crown to purchase the remaining land at Orakei. Finally, worn out, he appeared before the Acheson inquiry in 1929. This time he had the satisfaction of hearing the sole surviving member of the original 13 admit that he and the others were indeed meant to have been trustees, not owners. However, Otene Paora did not live to see the inquiry publish its findings vindicating his claim. He died at Reweti on 29 December 1930.
Successive generations of his whanau and hapu adhered to his position, and their persistence was rewarded in the Orakei statutes of 1978 and 1991, which empowered the Ngati Whatua of Orakei Maori Trust Board to administer part of the block. This later development vindicated the position he had asserted without success in his lifetime. His advocacy for his people exemplified the wider struggle by Maori to secure their rights.