Celebration for whare opening

CHARLES COLE
Last updated 15:31 01/12/2012

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The opening of the new meeting house at Tuahiwi Marae attracted a crowd of about 1500 this morning.

The new whare replaced the old one, which was demolished last year because of structural damage discovered in the 1970s, said Tuahuriri upoko Rakiihia Tau Snr.

The old whare, Maahanui, was used as a shelter and safe haven by Christchurch Maori families in the couple of weeks following the February 2011 quakes.

Discussions had been going on since the 1990s about building a replacement and construction of the new whare, Maahanui II, began early this year.

This is its fifth meeting house in a distinguished history that stretches back to the mid-19th century. Its previous incarnations have hosted important Ngai Tahu meetings, and seen historically significant Native Land Court and Waitangi Tribunal hearings.

A modern-looking hall in the shape of a traditional Maori meeting house, its name appears in big letters across its front: "Maahunui II".

To the uninitiated, this may conjure up the image of a battleship or a new inter-island ferry, but the nautical theme is not inappropriate because Maahunui is the name of Maui's canoe from which he is said to have fished up the North Island.

In 1922, it was chosen as the name of this whare's immediate predecessor in recognition of its role in embracing the entire Ngai Tahu family throughout the South Island. Maui is an ancient ancestor of them all, and once he had fished up the North Island his canoe was transformed into the South Island.

The origins of Tuahiwi's central role in Ngai Tahu affairs stem from the sacking of Kaiapoi pa by Te Rauparaha in 1832.

The pa, just north of present-day Woodend, had been the iwi's political and economic centre, and Tuahiwi, 5km to the southwest, a closely allied settlement. After the massacre of its inhabitants, the pa site became a sacred burial ground, and Tuahiwi inherited the central role it had had for Ngai Tahu.

Tuahiwi was the natural choice, for its hapu was prominent in political and economic affairs.

Like Kaiapoi, it was conveniently located in the centre of the South Island; and it was in the centre of the Kaiapoi Native Reserve, the largest of the Maori reserves granted to Ngai Tahu as a result of the Canterbury Purchase in 1848 (1060 hectares roughly between the towns of Rangiora and Kaiapoi).

In 1859, the reserve was the first of its kind where its people were permitted to subdivide their land into individual titles.

They were allocated 5ha blocks and while the land was meant to be inalienable, the Crown soon created a variety of laws that led to Maori land being sold or simply being taken under the guise of being uneconomic. By the 1960s, the local councils had rezoned the land to rural land. This resulted in a fall in the capital value of the land, and its people were forced to live elsewhere. By 1981 only about one-third of the original reserve remained in Maori ownership.

The most important meetings at Tuahiwi have related to Ngai Tahu's land claims, in which they have sought redress from the Crown for the loss of land.

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Minutes from a Ngai Tahu meeting in 1879 at the first Tuahiwi whare, "Tutekawa", expressly state that such meetings should always be held there "because this is the centre of the South Island where people will gather like the Parliament of New Zealand at Wellington that is the centre of that island and this island".

Tutekawa managed to survive a serious fire in 1879, although many of its carvings were burnt.

One carving which was saved was that of Tutekawa, the ancestor after which the whare was named, and this can be seen today in the Canterbury Museum. The following year a second whare ("Tuahuriri") was built at Tuahiwi (the cost of about £300 being funded by Ngai Tahu from throughout the South Island), although within two months it was blown off its foundations by a gale.

Its larger and sturdier replacement served until it was itself replaced by Maahunui in 1922 (at a cost of about £3000). The dedication service on August 3, 1922, was conducted by Archbishop Julius and attended by several members of Parliament, including Native Minister Gordon Coates, who declared the whare open (and also heard Ngai Tahu grievances over land claims).

Tuahiwi has hosted many dignitaries over the years from governors, native ministers and prime ministers to visitors from overseas, notably officers of the Discovery Antarctic expedition in 1901, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1920.

Maahunui was the scene of some very important Ngai Tahu discussions in 1925. The Crown had decided to offer the tribe £354,000 in compensation for the insufficient amount of land they had received at the time of the Canterbury Purchase.

The Native Land Court sat at Tuahiwi and ruled that any beneficiaries would have to prove descent from tribal members who lived in the area covered by the Purchase. Though Ngai Tahu were unhappy with the offer, it prompted a good two months of discussions, many arguing that descent from any Maori living in Canterbury at the time of the Purchase should be sufficient.

Applicants submitted their whakapapa, or genealogy, for the consideration of a committee of Ngai Tahu elders, and in doing so the whakapapa of the whole tribe was established (though it was improved by some amendments in 1929), giving Ngai Tahu a solid identity in a culture that defines itself by its genealogy. Tribal membership today totals 40,000, an increase from 638 in 1925.

More than a mere building, Maahunui became a symbol that spanned the generations of the 20th century, and in August, 1987, it had just entered its 66th year when Tuahiwi Marae opened the long awaited hearings of the Ngai Tahu claim before the Waitangi Tribunal.

Maahunui was not large enough to host the first crowded hearings, so these took place at the hall of Rangiora High School. However, as the hearings became less crowded they shifted back to the old whare, where they were completed in 1989, and where the subsequent land claims and settlement discussions were heard in the 1990s.

Maahunui served Tuahiwi for nearly 90 years, but in recent years it became more and more apparent that its life was coming to a natural end; its foundations needed to be replaced, and its toilets and kitchen were well past their use-by date.

Leading the charge for a new whare has been Arihia Bennett, chair of the Tuahiwi Marae development committee, and she has worked in constant communication with the chair of the runanga, Clare Williams, and the marae trustee chair and upoko, HR Tau.

It was a sad day when the old building was farewelled towards the end of 2011 as it had been around for longer than almost all iwi members. Its demolition was remarkable in these deconstructive times for not being a consequence of earthquake damage.

Designed by Huia Reriti of MAP Architects, Maahunui II has been constructed over the last 12 months and, with new furnishings and modern kitchen equipment, it stands ready to receive its first visitors this weekend.

Built with modern materials, it has the simple gable roof form of a traditional whare, and if one stops to analyse it, one can notice that traditional Maori colours have been used with a black roof, white walls, and a trim of red.

The front windows display some graphic art of Matariki, the winter star, but there are no carvings or other artwork in the building yet. The previous whare did not contain carvings as its people wanted to use its space without having the restrictions of tapu. If any artwork is to become a feature of the new whare it will first be the subject of discussion within the community.

Maahunui II has the same size of floor plan as its predecessor, though the equivalent space where a stage existed has been replaced by a mattress store.

The most significant change to the overall plan of the building is in its north-facing orientation (like most whare, its predecessor was on an east-west axis).

There is a local precedent for this, since it has been recorded by Rev J W Stack (who established Tuahiwi's St Stephen's church in 1867) that all the houses of dignitaries at Kaiapoi pa faced north.

Now, the whare is positioned to receive the sun all day through its glassy front, and its entrance has a more commanding aspect over grounds on the north side of the site.

Maahunui II will be named by upoko HR Tau, and dignitaries in attendance will include the Ratana Church apotoro, Anglican ministers, Bishop Barry Jones, and historians for the Ngai Tahu Claim, Harry Evison, Jim McAloon and Jane Parsonson.

- The Press

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