The Ōtaki Scholar Arrives

“I’ve been very warmly welcomed to Otaki by Ngati Raukawa and the college,” Benjamin Osugo, the 72nd Otaki Scholar said after a powhiri at Raukawa Marae and a whakatu at Otaki College the previous day. 

“I enjoyed the powhiri, it is very different, very traditional,” he said. “I liked how the people feel connected with people around them; people in Scotland are not the same.”

Ōtaki Scholar, Benji Osugo with College principal Andy Fraser and student leaders, following the powhiri. (Click for full view)
Ōtaki Scholar, Benji Osugo with College principal Andy Fraser and student leaders, following the powhiri. (Click for full view)

During the powhiri, Benji delighted the kaumatua by beginning his korero (talk) with a greeting in te reo – Maori, and concluded by singing his own wiata Ain’t No Sunshine from the Bill Withers album!

During his time here he visited Otaki School “I saw 10 year old boys doing a haka, it was very impressive. I’ve never been intimidated by a 10 year old before!” He visited the three marae  — Raukawa, Tainui and Katihiku — “that was more rural”; Rangiatea Church where he heard the history of the building — “Te Rauparaha — stories where he lived and how he ordered the church to be built, how he came and conquered then became a faithful man” and the Otaki race course home to the Otaki Maori Racing Club. After a visit to Sander Apparel he is the proud owner of an All Black tie.

His itinerary was for Benji and Tevita Kata, Otaki College head boy, to spend Wednesday night on Kapiti Island, but adverse weather reports meant the trip was cancelled. Instead he walked the Arcus Loop up Otaki Gorge – “we have similar mountainous terrain to Scotland” and then he visited Nga Manu bird sanctuary before heading across Cook Strait to the South Island on Thursday. 

After visits to colleges in Blenheim, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin, it was back to the north, finishing his time in New Zealand on August 29th in Auckland.

Benji aged 17, admitted to never really travelling “this is the first time I’ve really travelled and it’s definitely the furthest!” 

After a very friendly start in Otaki, the “travel horror” of a 24 hour delay at Heathrow Airport, missing his connecting flight and arriving a day late, were forgotten during his time here.

Benji was the head boy at Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen and was awarded the Otaki Shield at the end of the school year. This allowed him to come to New Zealand for six weeks, visiting secondary schools in each of the towns the New Zealand Shipping Company’s merchant ship Otaki traded through.

His interests cover a wide field – he plays guitar and sings, loves drama and musicals. “I saw Wicked twice when it came to Aberdeen! I’ve been in Calamity Jane, Oklahoma, The Boyfriend and Treasure Island. I played rugby, but I’m looking for a new sport.”

He has an interesting background — his father is Nigerian and his mother Danish, he has lived in Aberdeen most of his life and next school year he’s off to St Andrews University to study physics and drama. 

The Otaki Shield was presented to Robert Gordon’s College in 1937 by the NZ family of Captain Archibald Bisset Smith, a former Robert Gordon’s College pupil, who captained the NZSC’s merchant ship Otaki during World War I. On March 10 1917 the Otaki was attacked by the German raider Moewe a fully armed vessel. The Otaki only had one gun, but was able to inflict considerable damage to Moewe before being fatally damaged. Captain Bisset Smith ordered his crew to take to the lifeboats, while he went down his ship; only six members of the Otaki’s crew, including the captain died. Captain Bisset Smith was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for “conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty”. There were only two VC’s awarded to the Merchant Navy during World War I.