A gift of knowledge

Te Rau Karamu, Massey University’s new marae. Image courtesy of Massey University Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa

By Ellie Franco Williams

Londoner by circumstance, Brazilian by blood and Wellingtonian at heart, Ellie is an aspiring journalist currently studying for her master’s at Massey University. When she’s not chasing MPs, creatives, or rally-organisers for her next story, she loves to hike through the capital city’s forests and marvel at the views with probably her fourth coffee of the day in hand.

Kura Moeahu, a Te Āti Awa kaumatua has gifted nine waiata to groups and institutions in the Wellington region. He talks to journalism student Ellie Franco Williams about his most recent waiata, gifted to Massey University for the opening of its new marae, Te Rau Karamu.

When Kura Moeahu discusses Waewae taku haere his eyes light up. He’s excited to talk about the waiata he wrote for the opening of Te Rau Karamu, Massey University’s new marae in Wellington. His iwi, Te Āti Awa, gifted the waiata to Massey and the staff performed it for the first time at the unveiling of the marae on the Pukeahu campus in March. It is one of nine waiata Kura has written, three for his kapa haka groups and six for various institutions. He says each of these rōpū (groups) can share verses they wish to learn. “Don’t give all your kai to one person, break it up and give it to different people,” Kura says.

Waewae taku haere, meaning “my journeying feet,” was written in 2018 by Kura and Professor Ngataihururu Taepa, who gifted the rangi (melody). For their iwi, the opening of the marae affirms their residence and occupation by placing their feet in various places within their tribal boundaries here around Wellington harbour.

The waiata is a pātere, a song that acknowledges landscapes and talks of the land. This pātere decolonises some place names which have been replaced without mana whenua consideration. It explores history, using the Māori methodology of recording narratives, revisiting Māori language and reflects the importance of sharing knowledge with future generations.

Kura Moeahu and Professor Ngataiharuru Taepa in front of the marae wharenui.

Kura says within the waiata is a journey through significant sites around Wellington. “When you talk about Lyall Bay you are talking about Hue te Para. When talking about the airport, they should use the original name, Hue te Taka. When people talk about Point Jerningham, the original name of Waihirere is never acknowledged.” Kura explains that Matairangi, where “mata” means face, and “rangi” means universe, is the name for Mt Victoria. It was a popular stargazing location for Māori people and that’s how the mountain got its name – as a place to lie back and observe the sky.

The first line of the waiata, “Ka eke ki te Ranga-a-Hiwi, ki ngā hau māwake”, Kura translates to “ascend to the ridgeline where you will hear, observe and feel the various winds”. It’s followed by “Hitaratara taku kiri i te hau tonga nā Ngake”, meaning “I get goose pimples from the southerlies, the pathway that the taniwha Ngake took.”

The lines of the pātere then evolve into a haka. “Tū ihi wiwini, tū ihi wawana o te Kāwana Tianara” translates to “standing fiercely and standing loyal to the power of the Governor General”. Kura says this reference is a reminder of the lasting impact of Governors General abusing their power over Māori very near where Massey University Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa now sits. “It’s a reminder that the final law-maker of the land is the Governor General who gives the royal assent for legislation, not iwi Māori,” Kura says.

“Pakēpakē mai ana, Pakēpakē ana te whaitiri ki runga o Huriwhenua” translates as “the place of Huriwhenua where you hear the thunder”. Kura explains that this line refers to “the turning of the land where the mountain Pukeahu proudly stood”, which was eventually flattened for settler occupation. The landscape of the region changed drastically within a short time following the arrival of settlers.” A short walk from the marae, the National War Memorial stands where Pukeahu once was. “This was the site where many Māori were incarcerated and became slaves of the state, imprisoned without trial, forced to build many of the roads here in Wellington, Tina Kore Road and Wakefield Street to name a couple.”

The line “I mauhere ai ōku tupuna i Pukeahu” refers to Kura’s ancestors who were imprisoned at Pukeahu for standing up and protecting their rights. The Parihaka prophets and leaders Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, both of the Taranaki and Te Āti Awa iwi, were detained and imprisoned without trial for 16 months for encouraging Māori to lead a pacifist, non-violent way of life. Kura says the inter-generational trauma and whakamā (shame) is still evident today.

Kura sings the lineKa noninonitia ki runga i te muka tū-tara-a-whare” and explains its meaning as “an imprint of the local iwi, acknowledging the iwi here, a constant reminder that we as Te Āti Awa are mana whenua here.” He translates the last lines “Ka hoki nei au…ki taku tuatahitanga, ki Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa,” to mean “let me return to the origins of my singing this song here at the Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa”.

A phrase that came up repeatedly in kōrero at the tā i te kawa (dawn blessing) and pōwhiri was “te kura i huna”, which Kura says means “the knowledge, gifts in hiding”. “As part of decolonising a system that has colonised us, we’re trying to remove the layers of both colonisation and urbanisation to tell our story.” He says that when people start to understand the hidden layers of history, the next question is, are they prepared to listen to the pain? And are they prepared to process that pain and walk through it?

At the heart of the pātere is the gift of knowledge. “The bird that eats the miro berry merely owns the forest, whereas the bird that consumes knowledge owns the world…However the bird that comes home will sustain its iwi,” says Kura. By gifting the waiata to Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa, Kura and Te Āti Awa iwi hope to see the waiata become a mechanism of shared learning. “When a young person signs up to Massey University and enters that wānanga, they’re going to be fed. They’re going to be fed te kai o te kōrero, te kai a te rangatira he kōrero.”


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