A couple of weeks ago our jade carving course joined the chefs course for a noho marae to Bruce Bay further down ‘The Coast’- (way further down!) I was pretty excited about this trip having driven past the marae a few years ago when on our way to Central Otago. I was a intrigued by the wee whare partially hidden by a stand of kanuka between the road and the tall rimu and kahikatea that marked the start of extensive pakihi swamp further inland. On our way down we had a couple of stops to enable the chef trainees to gather cress for the planned boil-up, and to visit Okarito, a gathering place where ‘mahinga kai’ was traded back in the days of Maori travels on The Coast. In our case (‘mahinga kai’ referred to traditional food items that the culinary arts students would learn to recognise, collect and use in their cooking.)
When we arrived at Te Tauraka Waka A Maui we were welcomed with a traditional powhiri on the marae atea in front of the beautiful whare nui- “Kaipo”.Atop the barge-boards that represent the encircling arms of the tipuna that the whare is we see
Maui who stands on a large toki.After sailing from Hawaiki Maui’s crew thought they sighted land but he thought it was a mirage, (he tiritiri o te moana) but it was the Southern Alps. The weapon (called ‘te hei mauri ora’) is what he used to kill the two taniwha who guarded this beautiful bay that he landed in before going on to fish up the North Island, Te Ika a Maui.
We were invited into the whare for the whaikorero and hariru. (Interestingly on this marae whaikorero is always done indoors rather than on the marae atea as is the norm. The reason is simple- namunamu.) The interior of this whare is wonderful. Around the walls are story-telling tukutuku panels between beautifully carved poupou that each represent one of the ancestors of the Ngāti (Kāti) Māhaki ki Makaawhio . Featured in a number of the poupou is pounamu, that magic stone that is so important to the people of Te Wai Pounamu. Several poupou have a panel with a thin slice of pounamu that is back-lit and gives the whare truly unique ‘night-lights’ providing striking visual addition to the pou while creating a subtle soft light for those who need to negotiate their way through what may be a crowded ‘whare-moe’. After the hariru (the shaking of hands and hongi) with our tapu status removed we proceeded to the whare kai, called ‘Poke’ after the tipuna wahine who was the wife of Kaipo, for shared kai with our new ‘whanau‘.
After we had all ‘broken bread’ together to cement the new bonds of whanaungatanga we returned to the wharenui for a talk from our host about the whare and then mihimihi.
Jeff Mahuika was our host and as a stone carver was responsible for carving all of the greenstone neck pendants that were given to our 2012 Olympians. As we sat on our mattresses around the sides of this lovely house, Jeff told us about the ancestors that are represented by the poupou and the various special historical elements of the area represented in the tukutuku panels that line the walls. It was a fascinating session and to see and feel the reverence of this guardian of his hapu’s heartplace was somewhat humbling.
(As I age I increasingly regret being of a race that relies on written records for these can be lost, can be undervalued or can be overlooked. I know my family has or had bibles that had our full bloodline in but I have no idea where these bibles are. I know who last had the Australian one but sadly he has lost any interest in his family history and has no recollection of where it is either! I know my father had inherited one but when he died and his widow (not my mother) moved from the family home that one was lost. I know that one of my family is researching our family history but the frustration that exists waiting for the results of that research )
Mihimihi is the process whereby we introduce ourselves to others and recite to them our ‘whakapapa’. This is one of the most daunting of tasks for those who are doing it for the first time, to stand in a new and strange place among a group of strangers trying to recite a family tree (that may have only recently been learned) in a new language- mihimihi should be delivered in ‘te reo’ (the language, in this case, Maori.) Of course all of the ‘manuhiri’ (visitors) had been given some time to research and learn their own family roots and put them in the traditional form- first you tell of your physical origins naming your waka (or canoe that your iwi arrived in Aotearoa aboard- this relates to the fact that all tribes trace their origins to tipuna who came from Hawaiki on one or other of the waka of the great fleet) your mountain (maunga), your river (awa), your iwi (tribe), your hapu (sub-tribe) and perhaps your notable tipuna/tupuna who came with your waka. From these important elements of where you came from you then name your progenitors, your immediate family line. This may go back as far as you wish- in fact in many instances for pakeha or non-Maori this may only be for a couple of generations, whereas for Maori verbal historical record-keeping means the whakapapa may extend step-by-step from the very waka mentioned at the start of their mihimihi and extend generation by generation in direct line to one’s immediate mother and father, and self. You should realise, of course, that such a ‘direct line’ has many branches if all of the forebears who contributed to one’s being are named- everybody has maternal lines, and paternal lines, and these are all seen as equally important to Maori. Of course as this was a learning experience for the young and not-so-young people in our group and we were in the whare rather than on the marae atea where it is traditional to speak only in te reo/Maori, some chose to recite their mihimihi in English while some, rather than make up their own ‘traditional’ elements gave due deference to the hosts by using the local maunga, awa, iwi and hapu and then their own family.
My mihimihi went something along the lines of…
“E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o nga hau e wha, tena koutou. (I could have then said, somewhat facetiously “Endeavour te waka” but chose not to…) Ko Ben Lomond te maunga, ko Loch Lomond te moana, Ko Campbell ofArgyll te Iwi, Ko Buchanan me Graham of Monteith toku hapu, No Taranaki ahau. Ko Jean raua Charles Crozier i Bathhurst oku tupuna ki te taha o toku whaea, Ko Alma Patterson i Tasmania raua Bill MacGibbon i Castlemaine oku tupuna ki te taha o toku matua, ko Allan raua Jeannie MacGibbon oku matua, ko Murray toku ingoa. No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou tena huihui tatou kotou. Kia ora.”
The next couple of days were simply spent- sitting on the beach watching Bruce Bay sunsets,and just quietly talking about this and that and learning more of the rohe,visiting the Makaawhio Riverto look for the special stone, aotea found only in that river, trekking along a bush tracklooking for ‘mahinga kai’- pikopiko shoots, mingimingi berries, kiekie seeds, kareao or supplejack shoots, and being told about the medicinal properties of so many of the fruits of the forest.
It was wonderfully restful (even though there was a continual running battle with the namunamu (sandflies) that are a real feature of the area.) Of course we all shared the various tasks of food preparation, cleaning and ‘housework’, and had some formal ‘lessons’ but these were all ‘in context’ and didn’t serve to detract from the overall sense of being at peace in a special place.
After a poroporoaki on the marae atea we somewhat somberly loaded ourselves on our buses and headed home, mostly warm in the knowledge we would always be welcome back.
Our first stop was at Fox Glacier to ‘water the horses’ and to buy a welcome cup of ‘proper coffee’ before we detoured down to Lake Matheson for lunch. As magical as Bruce Bay is, Lake Matheson is also a very special place and we were lucky to arrive when it was calm and clear enough to experience what is special about the little lake,the iconic reflection of Aoraki Mt Cook in the still waters. After a walk around the lake and a leisurely lunch we continued our journey home stopping only at Harihari for a comfort stop. Here we saw a new addition to the village,a project being installed by renowned Kiwi artist Sue Syme.Each one of the colourful message tiles has been designed by the sponsor of it and then glazed by Sue. Visually exciting!
It was a great trip and everybody brought something home with them. Some were pleased with their pieces of aotea found on the Makaawhio, some with their new knowledge of mahinga kai, or their broader knowledge of tikanga Maori, some with their new-found friendships and some simply with the warm sense of having been there. If you have a bucket list add a stay in this very special place to it.