Grave calls for burial site to be recognised

“PUT IT RIGHT”: Kaumatua Wally Manahi with marae members and councillor Denise Roche at the Matiatia urupa
“PUT IT RIGHT”: Kaumatua Wally Manahi with marae members and councillor Denise Roche at the Matiatia urupa

Marae trust members and whanau are urging council to put things right by officially recognising a Maori burial ground at Matiatia.

The Piritahi Marae Trust and Ngati Paoa are asking for picnic tables, rubbish bins, and the gravel path running beside the foreshore to be moved so ancestral graves can be respected.

Kaumatua (elder) Wally Manahi, trust chairwoman Kathy Lumber, and marae committee representatives with their children, joined Hauraki Gulf islands’ councillor Denise Roche on Sunday morning to pay their respects at a newly marked grave.

Lying next to the fenced off grave of important landowner Rapata Te Rou, the new grave contains a recently relocated Maori skeleton.

The bones were moved after becoming exposed by erosion in the area caused by a council stormwater pipe. They had been lying beneath a gravel path laid by council in 2003.

The path was formed to give access up the hill to the inaugural Sculpture on the Gulf exhibition on the Church Bay walkway but people unwittingly walked along it over graves and between the skeletons of Maori family members.

Ground penetrating radar imaging has already identified many graves at the site and the trust believes there are others that have not yet been detected, as was the case with the grave under the path.

The trust and Ngati Paoa want to see the path moved back, behind the site, to where cars are currently parked on the grass.

They also want to see the picnic tables and bins relocated, with inscribed plaques on boulders set at each end of the graveyard marking its significance.

One would be near the sealed foreshore car park and the other would be at the stream.

Eventually, there are hopes for a series of poles to be erected facing the sea.

Trust members say the measures would make the graveyard a special place for the whole island community.

The relocated path could still provide access to the Church Bay walkway and people would be able to continue enjoying their picnics from the moved tables.

The trust and Maori throughout the island approached the Waiheke Community Board last week to ask for recognition of the graveyard and help to carry out the changes (see separate story).

The board was sympathetic and agreed to allocate a budget to investigate the work and costs of relocating the path, picnic tables, and bins as well as marking the site with inscribed boulders.

The Small Local Improvements’ budget investigation in consultation with Ngati Paoa and the marae will cost between $10,000 and $20,000.

The board allocated more than $15,000 last month to restore and repair the Pakeha Pioneer cemetery, above Te Matuku Bay.

Marae committee member Huhana Davis says putting a path and picnic tables over the graves at Matiatia was not a deliberate act by council but an oversight, due to lack of research.

“If we can collectively rectify that to give back the appropriate respect but in a manner that’s inclusive, we can make this gateway one of the most famous in the world.

“The mistake was made through ignorance rather than arrogance. Ignorance can be forgiven.”

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