A landscape of prophecy

By Tosh Graham

Landscape Architectural graduate and member of Te Tau-a-Nuku, Tosh Graham studied prophecy as part of his degree and found it a potent design driver, full of inspiration and guidance. 

The concept of a prophecy is different to a historical point in time, it may be recorded in a historical manner but it moves through time and evolves within its passing. According to Geertz (1994) “Prophecy is not static, but is and always has been used in response to internal and external conditions as a way of articulating and defining contemporary events within the context of language and ‘tradition’.”

Pita Turei (2015) uses the word matakite in place of prophecy explaining, “Only in recent times have the words prophet and prophecy been use and it’s not a translation – it’s a different thing. If we substitute matakite with these words, we blur a line and take a label based within Chris- tian influence; this diminishes the perception of what our own terms of reference are.”

Considerable attention has been given to related landscape topics such as cultural, spiritual, sacred landscapes and more recently shared landscapes, but prophecy is an unexplored area and I found no research on this subject within landscape architecture – making this the first.

Through literature reviews and historical searches, research of the post-colonial theory of hybridity, the Resource Management Act and the Te Aranga Māori Design Guidelines I created a set of diagrams that gave a steer on the type of prophecy that would be appropriate – having strong connection to both the land and people of Auckland. I found two prophecies I wished to investigate; one of them will be discussed in this article.

Interviews with well-informed people both Māori and Pākehā were conducted; the participants were key holders of vital histor- ical, cultural and ethnographic information instrumental to the study. Following the interviews, the site locations for the project revealed themselves in a way that aligned to the historical events influenced by the prophecy, all of which have shaped Auckland city. The project developed a process that demonstrates prophecy may play an important role in landscape site analysis and also considered the impact of a prophecy-led design process. 

For Māori, knowing your whakapapa is essential to identity since it expresses who you are. By giving recognition to Auckland’s historical past and whakapapa, a point of reference emerges that defines the city, enabling it to move forward with a clearer vision of the future.

The catalyst for this research began while participating in the 2013 IFLA50 Student Charrette with a design proposing the erection of pou on the Ōkahu Bay breakwater. Ngāti Whātua representatives who attended the final presentation connected the design to a prophecy given by a tohunga named Titahi. It is proposed that the underlying premise of the prophecy can be interpreted as an invitation to the coloniser to share the land with tangata whenua, further, that the colonial capital of Auckland was established under the influence of this prophecy. The historical narrative derived from it was developed into a set of design moves to create four monuments that honor the pre and post-colonial history of Auckland.

Just prior to Cook’s arrival, the prophecy of Titahi told of a ‘nautilus shell’ coming to these shores, which represented the sails of the European ships, and a ‘pou whakairo’ or new sovereignty being established in the Waitematā. This prophecy was a key factor in the consideration of Ngāti Whātua and Apihai Te Kawau inviting Lieutenant Governor William Hobson to Tamaki in 1840, and the offer of a land gift for the establishment of a new capital for Aotearoa. The sites that formed the boundary markers of the new British colony were my first 3 sites for design: Opoututeka (Cox’s Bay, Westmere), Maungawhau (Mt Eden) and an extension of the axis through the Hobson Bay boundary marker to Takaparawhau (Bastion Point) - the tūrangawaewae of Ngāti Whātua.

The smallest pou, at Opoututeka (Cox’s Bay, West- mere) would be around 12m tall. 

The smallest pou, at Opoututeka (Cox’s Bay, West- mere) would be around 12m tall. 

The pou on Maungawhau (Mt Eden) to be proportional to the obelisk on Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) attempting to a bring balance to these maunga.  

The pou on Maungawhau (Mt Eden) to be proportional to the obelisk on Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) attempting to a bring balance to these maunga.  

The 4th site chosen connects to where the colonisers erected their flagstaff on Te Rerenga Oraiti (Point Britomart, now Quay Street). That ‘pou’ was considered by local iwi to be the ‘literal’ fulfilment of the Titahi prophecy and the location became the epicenter of colonial power in Aotearoa.

The main element incorporated in the landscape interventions is siting of pou. During the course of the interviews I was challenged to re-evaluate my perception of what pou are. From this emerged a re- defining of the traditional function of pou beyond boundary markers into a contemporary expression of cultural identification.

The pou at Opoututeka (Cox’s Bay, Westmere) would be of a modest height of around 12m, whereas the pou on Maungawhau (Mt Eden), Takaparawhau (Bastion Point) and at Te Rerenga Oraiti (Point Britomart) are increasing- ly tall and massive structures, buildings with a living purpose that people could enter and fill with life.

I imagined the pou on Maungawhau (Mt Eden) to be proportional to the obelisk on Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) attempting to a bring balance to these maunga, whilst the pou on Takaparawhau (Bastion Point) will bring equilibrium to the tomb of Sir Michael Joseph Savage and represent the endurance of Ngāti Whātua through and beyond colonisation. The structure envisioned for Te Rerenga Oraiti (originally Point Britomart) is positioned at the end of Bledisloe wharf on a direct axis to where the original flagstaff was located on Point Britomart bluff, providing recognition of our colonial past and the embodied meaning of the flagstaff for Māori and Pākehā. The monumental pou would be comparative in size to the Statue of Liberty, exemplifying the culture and heritage of Aotearoa and establishing itself as an iconic symbol for our nation.

A crowning feature of these pou is the positioning of a light beacon on their tops. A pillar of light is directed straight up, rendering the sites visible by night and forming a terrestrial constellation of iconic landmarks. Each pou is a special site-specific monument, but by combining the light beacons another city wide monument would be formed, giving Auckland a special point of difference and be a reminder that the city was founded on a prophecy of sharing.

The project aimed to show that indigenous prophecy could add a further relevant dimension
to landscape analysis and be a significant driver for design of culturally meaningful landscapes. The design outcomes of this research are ambitious and polemic, but support the suggestion that prophecy is a subject worthy of attention and consideration. This by no means implies that the designs presented are fully resolved; they are an initial output to be refined and enhanced.

While it is admirable to have aspirations of making Auckland the ‘world’s most liveable city’, we should not lose sight of what we are living for. I propose that a concept such as this could result in Auckland city becoming more liveable through intangibles such as pride and ownership. This project provides a unique way to reconnect with past knowledge with designs imbued with respect and acknowledgment of Auckland’s cultural history allowing prophetic historical narratives to manifest into everyday life, encouraging a deeper appreciation and understanding of landscape for Māori and Pākehā in Aotearoa. 

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 12.08.08 pm.png
Landscape, UrbanTosh Graham