Otakou

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Location
45°49'00"S
170°43'00"E
Country
 New Zealand
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Description

Otakou (Māori: Ōtākou [ɔ:ˈta:kou]) is a settlement within the boundaries of the city of Dunedin, New Zealand. It is located 25 kilometres from the city centre at the eastern end of Otago Peninsula, close to the entrance of Otago Harbour. Though a small fishing village, Otakou is important in the history of Otago for several reasons. The settlement is the modern centre and traditional home of the Ōtākou rūnanga (assembly) of Ngāi Tahu. In 1946 Otakou Fisheries was founded in the township; this was later to become a major part of the Otago fishing industry.

History

The name Ōtākou is thought to come from Māori words meaning either "single village" or "place of red earth". Prior to the arrival of European settlers, the place was a prominent Māori settlement, and it is still the site of Otago's most important marae (meeting ground). By the early 19th century, the three Māori iwi of Ngāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe and Waitaha had blended into a single tribal entity. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed nearby in 1840 on the H.M.S Herald by two important chiefs, who were descended from all three tribes.Prior to the standardisation of Māori spelling in the 1840s, the name was written as "Otago", reflecting its pronunciation in a local southern Māori dialect. This prestandardised form was adopted by European settlers as the name for the surrounding area, the Otago region, and it is commonly mistaken as a European corruption of Ōtākou. The name originally referred to the channel off Wellers Rock but was transferred to the lower harbour as a whole, the port, the nearby Māori settlements and the Weller brothers' whaling establishment, one of the region's oldest European settlements, which had been founded in 1831. The old Māori names for the Māori settlements were Te Ruatitiko, Tahakopa, Omate and Ohinetu. In December 1817 the Sophia, a Hobart sealing ship captained by James Kelly, anchored in the waters of the harbour near Otakou. A small group of men, including Captain Kelly, took a rowing boat around Heyward Point to visit Whareakeake, then the site of a Māori kāinga (village), where one of the men, William Tucker, had a house and a business selling hei-tiki. For reasons that remain speculative, the encounter turned violent and three of Kelly's men, including Tucker, were killed. The survivors rowed back to the Sophia but, according to Kelly's account of the event, found her boarded by Māori from Otakou and retook her in a bloody fight. Historians caution that Kelly's account, made to justify the actions he took, exaggerates the danger he and his men were in. Kelly destroyed multiple canoes and set fire to "the beautiful city of Otago", which was almost certainly Otakou, although the kāinga at Whareakeake was also burned and abandoned around this time, which some historians believe to have been Kelly's doing. This incident is treated as an episode in the ongoing state of lawless conflict known as the Sealers' War.

Present use

Otakou remains an important centre of Ngāi Tahu life, as the location of Ōtākou Marae. It is a marae of Ngāi Tahu and the branch of Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou, and includes the Tamatea wharenui (meeting house).Otakou is located close to Taiaroa Head, the site of an albatross colony and other wildlife such as seals and penguins. Local Māori still call Taiaroa Head by its original name, Pukekura, which was also the name of the pā (fortification) established there around 1750 and still occupied by Māori in the 1840s, before the land was taken by the Government under the Public Works Act for building the lighthouse and the fortifications used during the Russian Scare of the 1880s.
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