As she stepped over the threshold of the Porirua marae she resurrected, tears began to flow for its manager Pania Houkamau-Ngaheu.
A crowd of 800 gathered before dawn on Saturday for the blessing of Horouta ki Poneke marae's meeting house, which had laid empty for two decades.
Politicians, the Maori royal family and kaumatua from the East coast gathered for the momentous occasion.
Hundreds more iwi and community members arrived for a weekend-long celebration involving speeches, performances and hangi feeding 2000.
Despite driving its restoration for two years, as a woman Mrs Houkamau-Ngaheu had not been allowed inside her wharenui until its blessing Saturday. She was given the honour of being the first to enter, stepping through the doors with her two young granddaughters as the sun rose.
"There's no words to describe it. When I was inside, the tears just flowed," she said.
"When I walked through those doors there were tears of joy, of elation, and that sense of content, that sense of 'yes! We did it'."
In 2011 Hourouta's charismatic leader Newton Crawford died. In his last days he broke with tradition by handing management of the Aotea marae to a woman, Mrs Houkamau-Ngaheu.
Saturday's rain was a sign from Uncle Newton, she said.
"We see it tears of joy. He's crying for us."
Mr Crawford's photo now hangs pride of place in Horouta's meeting house, surrounded by its new carvings and painted beams, not to mention the carpet, insulation and paintwork Mrs Houkamau-Ngaheu had installed this year.
Despite holding down a day job with Work and Income and chairing Porirua's Vikings rugby league club, Mrs Houkamau-Ngaheu has devoted thousands of hours to revamping her marae.
As well as transforming the meeting house, she has installed a new commercial kitchen in the dining hall, repaired crumbling walls, floors and roofs, and started a native medicinal garden.
"We burned the midnight oil, and in the last week we burned the 3am and 4am oil," she said.
With a zero budget, Mrs Houkamau-Ngaheu used her considerable charm and determination to barter much of the work.
She convinced students from nearby Te Wananga O Aotearoa polytech to help carve and paint the meeting house as part of their coursework.
"The transformation has been nothing short of amazing. It's been community-minded and community-spirited," she said.
Horouta will now become a healthy and spiritual haven for Horouta's 150 members, and a place to learn about Maoridom for everybody else, Mrs Houkamau-Ngaheu said.
"It's a place of learning, a place of sharing, a place of caring, a place of loving and a place of healing."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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