Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 37, No. 10. May 22, 1974
Students in the heart of Ngati Porou
Students in the heart of Ngati Porou
About 18 members of Te Reo Maori Society, the Victoria University language and culture group, spent a week of the May vacation at Tikitiki, a village about a hundred miles north of Gisbome on the East Coast. They stayed on the central marae in Tikitiki, but spent most of their time at Kaiwaka marae, about two miles north of the village. The purpose of their stay was to do renovation work on the Kaiwaka wharenui (meeting house) and wharekai (dining hall), not to mention the ramshackle wharepaku (grots).
Kaiwaka has been given over by the local Ngati Porou people to the students of New Zealand. The offer was first made by master carver Pine Taiapa a few years ago, before he died. The paint mixer, organiser of the project and go-between of the students and local people is Victoria's senior lecturer in Maori language, Koro Dewes, who is from Ngati Porou.
The marae has been little used in recent years, but has a long history and is in the heart of one of the richest areas of Maori-tanga in the country. It was originally a Ringatu church marae, and while the buildings are distinctively marae-style, the only ornamentation in the wharenui is a carved upraised hand (ringa tu) on the poutokomanawa, the main support pole.
The wharenui could comfortably sleep 60 people if not a hundred, in marae style with matresses jammed together on the floor, and people jammed together on the matresses. The wharekai, which has a large kitchen attached, could equally cope with such numbers. More than an acre of flat land surrounds the buildings. A stream runs down behind the kitchen, and across the road is the Poroporo river. Not far away is the sea. The nearest shop is two miles away, in Tikitiki.
To what use will the marae be put? When Pine Taiapa wrote to the Vice-Chancellor of this university he said "I am confident that the students will respond to take pride in having a marae they can call their own, while pursuing their studies. We will have teething obstacles, we will relish them and overcome them, for we will be first in the field of pooling our know-how to make our country a happy multi-racial one...."
Those words give a clue to the spirit behind the gift. Already the wishes of Ngati Porou are being realised. A work party in Easter of 1973, and now this latest party (more like an ohu than any of Kirk's kibbutzes, I reckon) have cleared and painted and fixed and painted so that the marae is just about ready for regular use. Two or three electric stoves are still required, as are cutlery, crockery, utensils, a fridge, a washing machine, and dozens of mattresses. Any donations would be welcomed and put to good use — see Salient or the Department of Anthropology and Maori.
It is envisaged that groups will find Kaiwaka ideal for conferences, longer seminars, teach-ins and the like. Obviously with the wealth of Ngati Porou living culture so close, it is likely that the use will be Maori oriented, but it need not be exclusively so. Workshops on aspects of Maori Art such as kowhaiwhai (rafter patterns) or tukutuku (reed panelling wall decoration) are obvious possibilities, with the extra incentive that the buildings could be adorned at the same time.
Another possibility for music students and people who like singing is that they could stay at Kaiwaka and hear the songs of Ngati Porou, possibly the most musical people in New Zealand. One of the most pleasant aspects of the May work-party's stay was the session in front of the fire every night, listening, learning, and joining in to the incredible range of modern songs and waiata, a great number of them locally composed.
It was an honour to be taught action songs by the widow of one of Ngati Porou's greatest composers, Henare Waitoa. Auntie Minnie, Kuia, Rewiti, Paul, and all the others, your voices are with us still.
I could get very sentimental describing the stay in Tikitiki, and the pain we all felt when we had to leave. Our 'keeping the marae warm' gave some pleasure to the local people who showed their feelings with gifts of Maori bread, puha, and most important, their company. What we experienced and gained in our stay, and what the students of New Zealand stand to gain from Ngati Porou through the gift of Kaiwaka and through being accepted into the heart of Ngati Porou, we will take a long time paying back.