Another hot February day remembering the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, a process which started on the 6th February 1840, and continued as copies of the Treaty document circulated New Zealand for signature by representatives of local iwi.
There’s a day of commemoration and activities down at the Historic Village in Tauranga and there are similar community gatherings all around New Zealand ancillary to the annual ceremonies in New Zealand’s historic Waitangi, Northland – Te Tai Tokerau.
Late into the night before I hear the mumblings and grumblings of those who object to the unique status the Treaty affords New Zealand Maori – ironic that I hear accents of those born far away from here. I hear those recounting stories of their Maori childhood friendships as indicative of the non-existence of division and racism in New Zealand. I hear those wanting to” leave the past behind”; to move on. This night’s show host is surprisingly moderate and foils the animosity with a soft sensibility of our changed times and changing attitudes.
In 2019 our local country school was the site of regular Te Wananga o Aotearoa te reo Maori language classes. I joined one of these and enjoyed one of the best and most enriching cultural and creative experiences of my life. No, I cannot converse in te reo but now when I listen intently to te reo being spoken I can pick out words and phrases, names and places, numbers and dates. I look at the language with new and informed eyes.
The te reo Maori language courses run by Te Wananga are far more than “language lessons” – they are an introduction to Te Ao Maori – the Maori world view or perspective, local history, marae protocol, cultural and creative pursuits and opportunities to visit and stay at local marae and visit historic sites. And an acknowledgement that te reo Maori is one of the official languages of this country.
The second marae our class was privileged to visit was the Ngati Pukenga Iwi marae Te Whetu at Welcome Bay, Tauranga.
Every aspect of the marae layout and embellishment supports protocol and recounts the history and genealogy of its people.
The wharenui, the meeting house, of this marae embodies and is named Te Whetu o Te Rangi the son of the eponymous ancestor of Ngati Pukenga. Each piece of the architecture has a structural name.
There is a separate and separately named dining hall/Wharekai. The walls of this buillding are also decorated and record local history and legend. Meals are served here and our creative activity of poi making also took place in this large space. We learn to play highly competitive children’s games – a preparation for handling the weapons of war out on the green space and perform with our newly made poi.Contemporary poi making. I asked permission from the Kaumatua to take a video of the marae. After I had done my walk through I discovered I was calling the marae by the name of the wharenui. The marae is Te Whetu and the wharenui within the Te Whetu marae is called Te Whetu o Te Rangi. Each name has its separate and unique underlying story.
The wharenui we were privileged to stay in was not the original buiilding on the site. In 2006 it was almost destroyed by fire. The story of its death, deconstruction, burial and rebirth is documented in a beautiful book recording this saga, Te Tu Hanga Whare o Whetu – The Rebuilding of Te Whetu o Te Rangi by Des Tatana Kahotea. I wish I had read this beautiful record of the history of the wharenui before I visited Te Whetu. It is an inspirational narrative. The article below from the Bay of Plenty Times sets out the process taken by Mr Kahotea. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/bay-of-plenty-times/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503343&objectid=11525759
Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.
If you can, go to the RNZ (Radio New Zealand website) and read this evocative piece written by Eden Fusitu’a one of RNZ’s Social Media Journalists about the opening of the Museum Te Rau Aroha at Waitangi – a museum named after the WWII canteen truck which was a gift from Maori school children “the native schools” all round New Zealand to the Maori Battalion. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/on-the-inside/408935/te-rau-aroha-made-me-weep
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