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Monday, March 21, 2011

Tūrangawaewae of Lost Content


In a recent article, I touched on the problems that the Ethnic English have to face in re-shaping their identity to the modern world. This is an identity that has for some become stuck in mythical time-warped lands like Heartbeat Country and Midsomer County – places where, once upon a time, either nothing too nasty ever happened, or, if it did, it was at least framed by crunchy, graveled drives, dormer windows and exposed beams.

As Housman so wistfully versified:

‘What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content’.

So, as I am now a member of an at least nominally bi-cultural society, it is interesting to observe how Maori are coping with the need for the next ‘Cultural Refresh’ here in New Zealand.

And they have some great words that bear on the adjustment process, like rangatiratanga (tribal identity), tangata whenuatanga (collective affinity to a locale), mana (pride of stance), taonga (tribal treasures) and turangawaewae.

The latter is particularly interesting as it describes something that Europeans find hard to call:

‘Tūrangawaewae are places where Maori feel especially empowered and connected and that they can call “our foundation, our place in the world, our home”. The word is a compound of tūranga (standing place) and waewae (feet), and it is often translated simply as ‘a place to stand’.

Let’s start then with the haka (see story below and the embedded video).


[by Michelle Duff, Dominion Post, 18/03/2011]

‘Before the first drops of ink had touched the document, the kaumatua (tribal elder) of the Ngati Toa tribe / iwi, Mr Taku Parai gestured to the weapon on the table.

The sleek greenstone mere had belonged to his ancestor, the famed chief Te Rauparaha.

With a grin, Mr Parai told New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew that the weapon would not have to be used on this occasion.

"It does have a few dents, though," he joked, before the pair signed a historic agreement between Ngati Toa and the union, giving the All Blacks the right to continue performing the Ka Mate haka.

The haka, which has been performed with varying degrees of success by All Black teams since 1905, has been widely used since the 1980s and featured heavily in NZRU advertising. It is said to have been first performed by Te Rauparaha.

Ngati Toa has filed an application with the Intellectual Property Office to trademark phrases in Ka Mate, to prevent its misuse.

It has previously been reprised by the Spice Girls, and appeared in a Japanese Coca-Cola advertisement and on tourist merchandise.

It has taken the NZRU and Ngati Toa months to come to the agreement, of which the exact details are still confidential.

At Porirua's Takapuwahia Marae yesterday, Mr Parai said it was a step forward for both parties.

"We look forward to future dialogue we know we've come a long way since 1905 when the haka was first performed, with little Tinkerbell fingers and one foot."

He issued a challenge to the All Blacks to attend Ngati Toa haka training, saying afterwards it would give them a chance to "see what the spirit of the haka means to us as a people, and carry it for the nation".

There was no financial aspect to the contract, but Mr Parai said this would be discussed in the future.

‘Mr Tew said it would be a privilege to perform Ka Mate with Ngati Toa's formal blessing, and did not rule out attending a practice session. "Signing this agreement confirms an understanding that has been in place for some time ... what we've done is captured it in a document that will outlive the people who are standing here now."


Reviewing a new exhibition at the Pataka Museum that covers ‘The Pa [Maori stockade settlements] of Porirua’, (on the western coast of the Wellington conurbation), Dominion journalist Bronwen Torrie reminds us of the end game of ‘The lost world of Te Rauparaha’ (Te Rauparaha is the Maori chief who is the reputed author of the Ka Mate haka).

Te Rauparaha (1760s-1849) was a Maori chief and war leader of the Ngāti Toa tribe who took a leading part in the pre-European Musket Wars in Aotearoa – New Zealand. For the 20 years prior to the onset of European colonization in 1840, his coalition of tribal forces, armed with muskets purchased from British traders, dominated both shores of the Cook Strait. He was known then as the Napoleon of the South Pacific.

However, Te Rauparaha’s political power and influence ebbed away after he was arrested by the British in 1846. His chief settlement the Taupo Pa was then forsaken and its wooden palisades rotted away. It has therefore been entirely appropriate for the agreement between Ngati Toa and the NZ Rugby Union on the future use of Te Rauparaha’s haka to be signed at the modern replacement for the Taupo Pa, the Takapuwahia Marae in Porirua.

But if we want to study cultural change and adjustment, it is hard to find more abrupt shifts than those faced by Maori like Te Rauparaha. What lands of lost content must he have mused of in his confinement?

And there is also an Island Bay connection here (known as Tapu-te-Ranga to Maori).

At some time around 1800, a high-born Maori princess named Tamairangi (reputedly of strong character and great beauty) crossed Cook Strait to marry into the Ngati Ira iwi which then controlled Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour) and the Porirua area. There were at least two children from her marriage to the chief Whanake, one of whom was a son Te Kekerengu.

In the early 1800s Tamairangi queened her way around Cook Strait, as a local celebutante. Apparently, when she travelled she was carried on a litter by male attendants and on public occasions she wore the finest of new cloaks and carried a carved taiaha (battle mace).

All this came to an abrupt halt in the 1820s when the area was encroached on by the Ngati Toa from Taranaki and their allies the Ngati Tama and the Ngati Mutunga. Te Rauparaha and his nephew Te Rangihaeata were the master minds of this coercive colonisation.

For the first few years an uneasy peace prevailed, broken by occasional skirmishes and squabbles over food resources and living areas. However, about 1824, the Ngati Mutunga chief Te Poki, uneasy about the future security of his people, put forward the idea of a pre-emptive attack on the Ngati Ira.

Eventually, the Ngati Ira were overwhelmed and Tamairangi, her children, and a remnant of their people took refuge on the small, rocky island called Tapu-te-ranga in present day Island Bay, Wellington. A stone-walled pa had been built on the island, to the east of the main rock.

However, when Ngati Mutunga arrived to attack the pa, Tamairangi's people put her and her children in a canoe, and they escaped westward by way of Rimurapa (Sinclair Head) to Ohariu. There they were captured by a party of Ngati Mutunga.

Thinking that she was about to be killed, Tamairangi asked permission of her captors to make a formal farewell to her lands and her people. She sang a waiata (song, prayer or poem) she had composed, of such beauty and pathos that Te Rangihaeata, who was visiting Ngati Mutunga, was moved to offer Tamairangi and her family his protection. He took them with him to Kapiti Island.

But Tamairangi's handsome and headstrong son Te Kekerengu seduced one of Te Rangihaeata's wives and they had to flee again, crossing Cook Strait to Arapawa Island, Tamairangi's old family home. When rumours reached them of Ngati Toa attacks south of Cook Strait they fled further southwards and took refuge with the large South Island Ngai Tahu iwi.

Tragically for Ngai Tahu, granting asylum to Te Kekerangu's coincided with Te Rauparaha's plans to attack them to wrest away control of the trade in greenstone (used for war clubs and jewellery). In a creative PR exercise, Te Rauparaha was therefore able to claim that avenging the slight to Te Rangihaeata's honour justified his aggression.

Late in the year 1829 a large Ngati Toa war party headed by Te Rauparaha attacked the northern Ngaitahu stronghold at Kaikoura and massacred large numbers of the garrison. It seems that the Ngai Tahu regarded Te Kekerangu as the main cause of their misfortune and subsequently executed him.


Now all these events are not really that distant. New Zealand is a young country.

Earlier in the year, my young son Sam was fossicking in a rock pool along the Island Bay shoreline and he found a piece of stone that looked to my eye to be a Maori club or ‘mere' (see photo below).

I took it dutifully to our national museum Te Papa and had it assessed by the Curator of Maori Taonga. She was unable to confirm that it was man-made and let me keep it.

I do think though that its resting place just across the inlet to Tapu-te-Ranga makes it a possible witness to Tamairangi’s defeat and flight in 1824. And something a woman curator perhaps would not understand so well – it feels just right in balance and weight if you are seeking to use it to break open someone’s skull.

The adjustments then that have been forced on Maori since 1840 have been huge.

Not long after I settled in New Zealand in the early 1990s, my employer, the NZ Ministry of Energy, funded me to undertake a 2-day residential course on Maori culture and the Treaty of Waitangi. This was held at the Raukawa Marae (meeting house)in Otaki. The campus included the adjoining and beautifully crafted Rangiatea Church that had been built in the period 1849-1850, under the direction of an Anglican missionary the Reverend Octavius Hadfield.

And it was the great Te Rauparaha, no less, lately released from his captivity on a British warship, who sponsored the construction of the church, believing that European cultural influences were becoming irresistible - though he himself remained sturdily pagan.

The course that I attended was led by Professor Whatarangi Winiata, who has Ngati Toa affiliations and who subsequently became the founding Tumuaki (Vice-Chancellor) of the Maori university at Otaki, Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa. A kindly and wise man, during his presentation, he made what I thought at the time was a rather too obvious statement.

He pointed out that on a recent visit to England, he had again been struck by the one-to-one correspondences between English culture and New Zealand culture – everything from tea and scones to driving on the left hand side of the road.

But in the tradition of great Maori chiefs he was speaking softly, expecting that those who were prepared to listen would hear beyond the words. In essence, he was drawing attention to European indifference at the degree to which Maori culture had been casually supplanted by banal and mundane Englishness - in essence, a process of Midsomer-ization.

So what of those who complain about the erosion of Englishness in The Shires?

Perhaps they could do worse than recognize the plight and fight-back of indigenous cultures like that of the New Zealand Maori which were initially overwhelmed by colonization and that now face further threats from globalization and the sameness of modernity.

It’s great to see the haka performed at Twickenham – and just maybe we may see a version licensed for use by England one day!

Let’s all get then on with saving the best from the past and making the best of the future.

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