11 August 2010

Proud Heritage

A Friday afternoon in a quiet part of town. We went, not quite sure what to expect from our journey. Our destination - Waiwhetu marae, in a quiet street nestled under the eastern hills of the Hutt Valley.



It looked closed, quiet and sleepy.  We marvelled from outside at the lovely carvings and panels. Took a walk along the side of the building. Lovely smells were wafting from an open door. A face appeared. Our host Jules made the introductions. Asking if we could, if these visitors from afar could, if it's not too much trouble, possibly see inside the marae.



We were welcomed into the meeting hall, then the dining room with the delicious smells of a roast dinner tempting our smell and taste. The history and culture of this wonderful place was explained to us with warmth and enthusiasm. We found out our guide was none other than Patsy Puketapu, daughter-in-law of the man who made it all possible.


Waiwhetu Marae was created as a result of a vision from Ihaia Puketapu, leader of Te Ati-Awa-No-Runga-I-Te-Rangi tribe of Waiwhetu settlement in the Hutt Valley. His vision was for a great meeting house not for one tribe alone but for all the people, Maori and Pakeha. His vision came alive in 1960 when Waiwhetu Marae was re-built with a new meeting house, Arohanui Ki Te Tangata – Goodwill to all men.

Patsy had suggested we go along the road to the Tiki Lounge cafe and to view the Hetet studios. Which had been Jules' plan all along I think. When we got there, the studio was closed, but after a coffee, we were surprised to see a girl weaving in the studios. She invited us in, and we found her hard at work on a lovely cloak. Which she had already been working on for 2 months. Sophie, the granddaughter of the famous Maori weaver, Erenora Puketapu Hetet, known throughout Maoridom for her skills in weaving. She showed us a video of her grandmother's heritage and traditional weaving skills that have been passed down the generations. A talent and skill that has been shared wider than just the immediate family tribe, Te Atiawa. I was amazed to learn that one cloak can have 10,000 kiwi feathers in it.

Across the road, we rejoined the boys in the new architecturally designed cultural centre opened in 2005 by Helen Clark. Where two waka (canoes) stand pride of place. Imagine our amazement to see Noah and Jack, sitting pleased as punch in the waka with paddles. We were ready to tell them to jump out before they got in big trouble, when we realised that Patsy had come across the road and had actually allowed our boys the privilege of sitting inside the waka. Wow.


Then in came her two grandsons, who she introduced to us as Naringi and Mana, speaking to them in Maori and explaining to us all the while about the waka. We also met her husband Teri Puketapu, and he and James had a conversation about a recent trip to Dorset (our UK family hail from Somerset originally which is right next door so to speak!)

We left the building, somewhat overwhelmed by what we had just experienced. For our family all the way from Wales to have this up close, unexpected personal experience of the Maori culture and heritage was nothing short of amazing. To meet the tribal leaders, and to have been embraced so warmly on a Friday afternoon which could have easily been just like any other, had simply blown our minds.

For me, growing up in South Auckland (attending Papakura High School where as a skinny Pakeha girl I was more often than not in the minority), the Maori culture was always part of school life and school events. I'm sure more often than not I failed to both understand its significance, and appreciate its uniqueness within the wider world we live in. Today, I rectified that. And then some. I'm so proud of this heritage we have. And even more proud to have had the opportunity to share it with others.

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