Hall opening marks revival

19:53, Nov 29 2012

Just over 12 months ago I wrote about the historic house at Tuahiwi being dismantled to make way for a new building. This weekend the new house will be officially opened.

It is called Maahunui just like the last one but I understand it incorporates some modern ideas. The old Maahunui was opened in 1922 and I am sure the people will intend that this one serves the people equally well for the next 90 years.

This house is being opened during a time that will, historically, be recognised as a prosperous renaissance period for Ngai Tahu. The past 20 years have seen the construction of at least eight Ngai Tahu whare on traditional village reserves whereas the previous 80 years saw only two opened.

The reality of a post settlement environment has meant greater access to resources and an increase in creative confidence.

The first house opened during the cultural resurgence was Marukaitatea on Takahanga Marae. It will no doubt be generally considered a Cliff Whiting house as he was the master carver but the stories and the confidence in expression will be forever attributed to the Takahanga leadership of the time.

The houses that followed have been a variety of shapes, styles and artistic design.


The Awarua, or Bluff, house is round in construction but adorned with more of the Cliff Whiting style. The major internal carvings all depict female ancestors and tell a story of intermarriage with early whalers and sealers leading to modern day Ngai Tahu.

At Puketeraki, near Karitane, the house has maintained its weatherboard community hall appearance but there are bay windows now making the most of the stunning views over the village below and Waikouaiti bay. Once again there is a confidence being expressed as the pressure to simply replicate another carved house reminiscent of the Ngata era is quite overwhelming. The people of Puketeraki have incorporated many elements of Ngai Tahu cultural expression but still have their weatherboard hall.

Others have followed a much more conservative style that one might expect to encounter when walking on to any marae up and down the country but the ancestral representation and the embodiment of local customs remains staunchly Ngai Tahu in each of the houses built.

The most recent house to be opened at Rapaki is a stunning piece of work that includes a combination of traditional design alongside many contemporary elements. It has carved totara slabs in recognition of their ancestors but it also has beautiful painted designs on the roof ribs and an electric sun roof. The courtyard is designed to invite people in and the symbolism throughout rivals that of the fallen Catholic basilica.

This creative confidence has also found its way into the Christchurch rebuild discussions. Ngai Tahu have not been shy in expressing their views about how a genuine cultural expression might be given effect in the overall rebuild design. This has spanned the spectrum of urban design, architecture, recognition of art and culture and downright, commercial competition to be at the coal face when it comes to putting buildings up.

Of course they are out there competing with other proposals and ideas but Ngai Tahu are prepared and able to foot it alongside their peers in a way they were not allowed to during the original planning for Christchurch city some 160 years ago.

Another exciting idea that has emerged from within the Tuahiwi people themselves is potentially transforming a very large block of native reserve land, Kaiapoi Maori Reserve 873 (MR 873), into a modern housing estate for as many of the original owners as the lands may allow. There is an absurd history that has seen the lands retained in Maori hands but practically impossible to turn into residential housing options for the owners. Instead uneconomic, complicated blocks of land have been held in an unsustainable manner for well over a century while owners have battled to have their dead capital released.

Current proposals for the block of land include rezoning for a more conducive residential development. This is to be considered alongside whanau housing models, renewable energies, well managed water systems, sustainable agricultural and industry zones and excellent connections between living, recreation, communal and cultural spaces.

This would include how the new development might interact with the wharenui Maahunui, as the Tuahiwi village and the marae lie in the centre of MR 873, and general recognition of the depth of Ngai Tahu history instilled in to the local landscape.

So this weekend the opening of Tuahiwi's hall is an important moment for the people of the village but it is also indicative of a progression that affects not only Ngai Tahu but all Cantabrians and South Islanders.

May Maahunui stand long.

Maahunui e, tu tonu.

The Press