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Otara

O intro

 

Kia ora! Welcome to Auckland, city number 11 on 52 Suburbs Around the World.

Considering I’ve lived just three hours away by plane for most of my life, it’s pitiful I’ve never been and knew so little about the place. And I don’t just mean Auckland – all of New Zealand was pretty much a blank to me. I knew it had magnificent mountains, had suffered a terrible earthquake and that Australians like to make fun of the way Kiwis say ‘six’ (childish but fun), but that was about it.

Time to head across the ditch, starting with its most populous city, Auckland, and one of its southern suburbs, Otara.

Otara? One of the poorest areas in Auckland that only a few years ago was ruled by violent gangs and had one of the worst crime rates in New Zealand? That’s where you want to go, the Auckland friends we’re staying with asked. Well yeah. Given I was in the country with the largest Polynesian population in the world, I wanted to check out the Polynesians – Otara was where many of them lived. And anyway, apparently things had improved and despite still being “probably the toughest area of policing in New Zealand” it was much safer.

Some history… Given its remote location at the bottom of the globe, NZ was one of the last places on earth to be settled by humans – Maori arrived here only 800 years ago. The first iwi (peoples) of Otara way back then were the Ngāi Tai, who probably lived quite happily in the area with its rich volcanic gardening soils and fresh water springs, doing what their Polynesian ancestors had done for centuries – warring with neighbouring tribes and eating each other. Then about 200 years ago life changed forever with the arrival of Europeans. From the 1850s onwards Otara was settled by British and farmed. After WWII, Otara was developed as a State Housing area.

Okay, let’s go Otara!

 

Part 1: Spirited play – the players

Day one in Otara. It’s completely dead. Nothing and no one stirs. 

Short on patience at this stage in the project, I start to think, nah, bugger Otara, I’m going somewhere else.

My friend, Gay, who’s kindly offered to play chauffeur, suddenly remembers that aside from much of NZ being on holiday, today is also a public holiday. Really? The day after New Year’s Day? While it explains the lack of life, I still can’t handle the nothingness. And then all of a sudden, in the distance, we spot colour and movement – scary gangs? Whatever it is, we’re there.

‘It’ turned out to be a sports field full of hundreds of Samoans, from 20 Methodist churches all around Auckland, in Otara to play Samoan cricket and volleyball. Serious competition in lava-lavas…

 

 

20 churches, 3 days, 1 goal - victory

20 churches, 3 days, 1 goal – victory

 

 

 

 

the team from Papakura

the team from Papakura

 

 

 

 

super-sized, super-colourful cricket bats

super-sized, super-colourful cricket bats

 

 

 

 

Like the rest of Polynesia, meaning ‘many islands’, the Samoans had long ago abandoned their more exotic faiths in the name of just one Christian god.

 

 

many islands, one god

many islands, one god

 

 

 

 

church and sport

church and sport

 

 

 

 

But that didn’t mean they wouldn’t fight tooth and nail to beat each other. These people take their religion and their sport very seriously.

 

 

"Yes, it's very competitive!"

“Yes, it’s very competitive!”

 

 

 

 

"Our duck tattoos represent brotherhood" - Manuka Methodist

“Our duck tattoos represent brotherhood” – Manukau Methodist :: 1

 

 

 

 

"Our duck tattoos represent brotherhood" - Manuka Methodist :: 2

“Our duck tattoos represent brotherhood” – Manukau Methodist :: 2

 

 

 

 

stripes, modern and ancient

stripes, modern and ancient

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Spirited play – the supporters

While the various games were in session, the teams’ supporters were watching them from under their tents, laying or sitting on a variety of colourful woven mats. Not Samoan-made, hand-woven mats mind you. When I asked where they were from, one girl cried out, “The $2 shop!”

Nonetheless, the mats made wonderful backdrops for some portraits. Starting with the Kelston Methodist Church from West Auckland and the cheekiest four year old I think I’ve ever met – Wesley. The sugar-fueled blue lolly he’d just finished was probably not helping.

 

 

Wesley :: 1

Wesley :: 1

 

 

 

 

Wesley :: 2

Wesley :: 2

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth

Elizabeth

 

 

 

 

Nancy

Nancy

 

 

 

 

And these soulful young men…

 

 

Pobalu

Pobalu

 

 

 

 

sacred - kava and kids

sacred – kava and kids

 

 

 

 

In the next tent were members of the Papakura church from far south Auckland, where I met more beautiful kids. Like Hildegard with her long long locks (she’s the one in the introductory image at the beginning of the post)…

 

 

Hildegard

Hildegard

 

 

 

 

woven

woven

 

 

 

 

Alysha

Alysha

 

 

 

 

green

green

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Band in the backyard

On our next visit, driving around the back streets of Otara, I thought I heard a band playing. Sure enough, as we turned the next corner, there it was – a dozen or so players, trumpets blaring, right outside one of the weatherboard houses. A moment later they downed tools and left – to drive 100 metres down the street to the next house. Could I follow them? Sure.

 

 

"We go around to all the Tongans in the area and play. It's a bit like people singing carols."

“We go around to all the Tongans in the area and play. It’s a bit like people singing carols.”

 

 

 

 

a band in her backyard

a band in her backyard

 

 

 

 

band in the backyard :: 1

band in the backyard :: 1

 

 

 

 

band in the backyard :: 2

band in the backyard :: 2

 

 

 

 

band in the backyard :: 3

band in the backyard :: 3

 

 

 

 

band in the backyard :: 4

band in the backyard :: 4

 

 

 

 

I loved the blend of traditional woven skirts with white shirts and blaring trumpets, but it wasn’t easy capturing the boys. Aside from being in a mad rush to press on to the next house once they’d finished their tunes, they really didn’t know what to make of me – I guess it’s not every day a Pākehā (white person) turns up in Otara and shoves a big camera in your face.

 

 

a touch of tradition

a touch of tradition

 

 

 

 

Part 4: The proud Maori and his moko

After the band, we left to explore more of the neighbourhood. I don’t know what I noticed first when I met Pawi – his beach buggy ripping along the pavement or his moko, facial tattoo.

 

 

Pawi with three of his nine kids

Pawi with three of his nine kids

 

 

 

 

Pawi is a proud Maori but one of the most gentle men you’d ever meet. Yet when I look at the close-up of his face now, I can imagine he might look a little scary if you met him walking down the street.

I asked Pawi how painful it was to get the moko done, on a scale of one to ten, with ten being insanely painful. “Out of 10? 12, especially the area between your lip and nose”.

Pawi’s wife, Tracey, also endured the pain to get a moko kauae – chin tattoo – based on the one her grandmother had. Neither of them regret it; although they do get some funny looks from time to time, from Maori as well as non-Maori, it’s important to them as a way of keeping their traditions alive.

 

 

"Getting a moko is about keeping our traditions alive"

“Getting a moko is about keeping our traditions alive”

 

 

 

 

Aside from the tattoos, Pawi is active in kapa haka, Maori performing arts, as well as carving greenstone. And he and Tracey, who’s a fifth generation flax weaver, have a weaving business.

 

 

"I'm half Samoan and half Maori but I feel more Maori" - Pawi

“hand-woven” :: 1

 

 

 

 

"I'm half Samoan and half Maori but I feel more Maori" :: 2

“hand-woven” :: 2

 

 

 

 

The couple have a total of nine kids, ranging from a 19 year old son that Pawi had at the tender age of 14, to two year old Tareta. But soon it’ll be ten – Tracey is pregnant. Life must be busy.

 

 

two year old Tareta

two year old Tareta

 

 

 

 

As I went to leave, I shook Pawi’s hand – in return he gave me my first hongi, the traditional Maori greeting, or parting in this case, where you’re meant to touch noses and foreheads. Only I got a little confused and went a little Eskimo with it, rubbing his nose instead of just touching. What a wally.

 

 

Part 5: Market day

Aside from being infamous for high levels of poverty and crime, Otara is also a little bit famous. For the 1995 hit single, How Bizarre, by local hip-hop artists OMC (Otara Millionaires’ Club). And for the weekly Saturday market…

 

 

Otara Market day

Otara Market day

 

 

 

 

more patterns - Lydia

more patterns – Lydia

 

 

 

 

Poko, from the Cook Islands, wearing an eis

Poko, from the Cook Islands, wearing an eis

 

 

 

 

I noticed Amon, below, from a distance. Well, I noticed his muscles, tattooed to the hilt. He was at the markets with his girlfriend, having a nice relaxing time – until I stopped him and asked him to whip his shirt off so I could photograph his torso. As I snapped away, Amon explained that he was mostly Tongan with some German and English as well. His job? An agent for rugby league players.

 

 

Amon

Amon

 

 

 

 

"They're the names of my three kids"

“They’re the names of my three kids”

 

 

 

 

hills and valleys

hills and valleys

 

 

 

 

little league vs big league

little league vs big league

 

 

 

 

Part 6: More tattoos

Not long after meeting Amon, I met Toa, a handsome and heavily tattooed Samoan. Uncomfortable with the idea of taking his shirt off in public – “My wife may not like it!” – Toa invited me to his house in neighbouring Clover Park a few hours later to take some shots.

Tattoos are big in Samoa, literally – Toa has a pe’a, the traditional male tattoo of Samoa, covering the body all the way from the waist to the knees, as well as some on his upper torso. In fact, the word tattoo apparently originated from the Polynesian word tatau.

Toa explained that most of his tattoos had been done by the traditional, incredibly painful method – I read later that those who can withstand the pain are hugely respected for their courage in the community.

While they look highly decorative, they’re not – the designs are symbolic and relate to Toa’s status in the community as well as to traditional concepts of strength and travel.

Toa and his wife have four kids, the youngest being one year old Taelin. The perfect accompaniment to Toa’s striking tattoos…

 

 

Taelin and Toa :: 1

Taelin and Toa :: 1

 

 

 

 

Taelin and Toa :: 2

Taelin and Toa :: 2

 

 

 

 

At some point during our little shoot at the side of his house, Toa told me he was actually a chief of his Samoan village, Lefaga Matautu. And that his wife and kids and everyone in the Samoan community all called him by his chief name, Lemalu. Should I too, I asked? It was the least I could do after getting a chief to strip down to his lava-lava and show me his tats. 

 

 

the hongi

the hongi

 

 

 

 

"I'm actually a chief"

“the design is only given to chiefs”

 

 

 

 

"My wife and kids call me by my chief name, Lemalu"

“they symbolise strength and travel across water”

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

So that was Otara, one of Auckland’s ‘worst’ suburbs. Look, the place isn’t postcard pretty. In fact, parts of it were downright scungy. And it would be silly to think nothing sinister happened there, even if it has moved on from its recent dark past. But I have to say, I found the place pretty interesting despite barely scratching the surface. Mainly in the way the Samoan, Tongan and Maori communities continue to keep their cultures alive, even if it means 12 out of 10 pain. Although there is one practice I’m relieved they appear to have dropped – that eating each other business sounded pretty outrageous.

 

 

 

 

black sand

black sand

 

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

It’s been a while since Coco and I haven’t been together 24/7. But this week I barely saw the girl. While my friend Gay and I were roaming the streets of Otara, Coco was busy doing kid things with Gay’s partner, Mark, and teenage daughter, Meisha. The only time I’ve seen her was when we all took a few hours off to visit one of Auckland’s black sand beaches, Piha.

Aside from that, I haven’t been firing on all cylinders this week. After months of good health I finally succumbed to a bad cold and chest thing and have been dragging myself around, trying not to spread the infernal germs. My excuse anyway if this entire post makes not one jot of sense!

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Annette Murphy

See you next week.

 

  1. Lisette says:

    Happy New Year Louise and Coco! What a lovely collection of beautiful people in this post! Have enjoyed it as much as all previous posts, and didn’t notice any side effects of your not feeling 100%. Hope you get well soon, ad look forward to the next post…

    Saludos from Barcelona!
    Lisette

    http://cutesuite.wordpress.com

  2. Sarah says:

    Yay – welcome back! Thanks for this glimpse into the islander cultures – I walk past a tongan church (on the way back from my church) every Sunday, and am in awe of their traditional dress – and the fact that to the best of my knowledge none of them are local, but they all come to the services in beat up sedans. Warms my heart.

  3. Stephen says:

    Love this post (as usual). It definitely goes to show that we shouldn’t necessarily listen when people write an entire city off as being “boring”……

  4. Louise says:

    Lisette – There are some beauties aren’t there? On the mend, thank you!
    Sarah – They really respect their culture don’t they? So interesting when cultures like theirs are transplanted to a new land – to see them against such a different backdrop.
    Stephen – Very true. At a glance places like Otara can look like nothing is going on. But then you meet the people and everyone’s got a story don’t they? Especially obvious when they wear them on their skin!

  5. Joel says:

    Fush ‘n’ chups, bro.

    Anyway, like you, I’ve always lived figuratively within arms’ length of New Zealand, and never visited until two years ago, when I decided to drop in for a week because the cheapest flight home from America went via Auckland. Absolutely loved the place. Rented a sleeper van for the week intending to drive all over, but I spent so much time sightseeing that I only wound up driving a loop around half of Northland (the little tiny bit of NZ that’s north of Auckland).

    Also, I always thought OMC were Ontario Millionaires’ Club. Feel a bit silly now.

    Lastly, you don’t suppose “come to my house and I’ll take my shirt off” is a bit of a weird pick-up line? =P

  6. Liz says:

    Kia ora Louise So glad you ended up going to Auckland..yah. Being an ex pat Aucklander I’ve been waiting with bated breath for this one, and you’ve hit the nail on the head starting with this post on Otara. Great tattoo shots and loved’ band in the backyard 4′ and the beautiful photos of the children.Enjoy AKL, hi to Gay and the whanau x

  7. Charlotte says:

    I don’t know what changed exactly (your cold?) but I really love this week’s portraits. Not that all the other ones were bad! But you managed to capture really interesting faces in Otara :)

  8. Louise says:

    Joel – NZ would be great to explore via caravan – I’ve been trying to think how I could squeeze one into this project.
    Liz – Very glad I could show you a bit of home – I know it was an eye-opener for Gay!
    Charlotte – Might be the light – it was middle of a really sunny day so I needed to shoot the faces in some sort of shade. The light was ideal just near the front of the tents – really brings out the dark eyes. Definitely not my dripping nose!

  9. Tanya says:

    You’ve done the people of South Auckland proud with some beautiful photos. If Coco & you would like to come for a good kiwi BBQ in Orakei (a quiet, boring suburb) we’d love to have you. Tanya x

  10. jo says:

    I lived in central, inner-Auckland for 10yrs and worked in south Auckland for that time. I left NZ seven years ago and, given some us & downs there, have not entertained going back.
    Your gorgeous post made me quite teary and in fact miss it… first time.
    You captured some essence of the things I’d forgotten I loved.
    Is it weird to say the shots felt like they had music to them??? I guess that might be because it is what I associate with people I knew from the area – and the market.

    Anyway, this is a superb piece, and while I have been captivated by much of your gorgeous work on this project -this entry moved me.
    Thanks

  11. Katie says:

    Great post. If you head to Wellington (which you should) check out Newtown.

  12. Louise says:

    Tanya – I was hoping a local would chip in – and who should it be but a Hong Kong school buddy! If I can find some time it would be wonderful to see you after so long.
    Jo – I’m moved that it moved you. Especially love that you heard music too!
    Katie – If we make it down there, I’ll check it out, thanks for the tip.

  13. Katie says:

    Polynesians! Beauty, colour, movement all captured so beautifully, thank you! I loved the colour of the van at the market – coordinating so well with the outfit of the hard worker inside!

    • Louise says:

      I assume that was a conscious decision not a coincidence – the outfit I mean. Hot work making those hot chips.

  14. Tanya says:

    Understand you are on a schedule. I work in Ponsonby at The Women’s Bookshop so if you are passing pop in. You are going to have to shoot West Auckland & the North Shore too now!

    • Louise says:

      If I’m in the hood, I’ll definitely pop in.

  15. Sharon Brennan says:

    Louise I have really enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to your weekly posts. I’d like to nominate this blog for a 2012 Blog of the year award. http://genealogymatters2me.blogspot.com.au/2013/01/blog-of-year-award-not-1-but-2-stars.html

    • Louise says:

      Well, thank you!

  16. ellen says:

    wonderful such great people and itneresting people to i love all the hand made sutff

  17. Chris K says:

    Beautiful shots Louise, you captured so much color, mystique, and soul. Really beautiful and rich. Great choice for your first in NZ. NY misses you and best to Coco!

    • Louise says:

      From NZ to NY – quite a change huh?! Much love to you all up there.

  18. Louise McLeod Tabouis says:

    Loved the post Louise.

    • Louise says:

      Bonjour! Very happy you liked it. How’s Paris?

  19. Petrina says:

    Awesome, enjoyed everyjpart of your post…I even knew a few photos of kids you had under Soulful young men lol.. loved it The picture of the little boy named Pobalu is actually (Pouvalu) :) lol and his little brother Samuelu- Cutees- Love to see our multicultural country grow. Much Luv to mY South side familia xo

    • Louise says:

      How funny that you know those guys! Loved those ‘cutees’. If you see them again please say hi from the camera lady!

  20. Kaylie says:

    I’m an American studying abroad in Auckland right now, and a bunch of my group and I went to the market in Otara last Saturday (we have been asked to compare/contrast 2 auckland suburbs for an essay) and I had an incredible time. As I have continued to do more research for my paper, much of the information is depressing at best. This post made me feel so much better… despite the poverty, these people have an amazing culture, and they offer something truly unique to this country. The pictures are truly beautiful, and very touching, especially the little boy and his dad in the hongi picture… I can’t even describe how wonderful it was to see this…

    Kaylie

    • Louise says:

      Yeah, when you read some of the stats, it can be saddening – but then you meet some of the people and they seem full of hope don’t they? Best of luck with your study Kaylie.

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