Kaitiaki Kurt

Just what does it take to build a marae?

By Arthur Hawkes
Photo by Sanne van Ginkel

Featured in Capital #81
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Kurt Komene has nurtured something beautiful. As tikanga advisor to Te Rau Karamu, the new marae on Massey’s Wellington campus, he’s helped establish something many people did not expect to see in their lifetime. With specialist knowledge of te reo and tikanga Māori, Kurt is a performer, musician, artist, and weaver.

Living in Kingston, he’s greeted each morning by a spectacular view of the city. “I can see Island Bay, Berhampore, Newtown, all the way to Shelly Bay. I’ve got a big view where I call home.” While he now lives and works in the capital, he grew up in Parihaka in Taranaki, the historic Māori settlement famed for  non-violent resistance to the British.  Many Parihaka residents relocated to Wellington. “The design  of this marae was very similar to one I had seen planned on paper back in Taranaki,” says Kurt. He has found seeing the finished marae “absolutely amazing”.

While he was working for Māori health organization Te Tihi Hauora in Taranaki, Kurt was deeply involved with a community of elderly women. He filled the role of kaumātua so the health team could visit the marae within protocol. “My involvement with the nannies inspired me to be the person I am today. When you hang with our older generation they give you a gift that will keep you intense, keep you strong, and if you ever needed someone to cuddle, you had your old people, you had your nannies.”

His role at Te Rau Karamu in Wellington involved a similar responsibility for care and guardianship, ensuring the space and customs observed upheld the wellbeing and safety of the artists who adorned the marae with art celebrating the natural world and the creation of Te Rakau Tipua, the cosmic tree. “When you look at what they’ve contributed to this project, the work is just magnificent, the mahi is magic. There’s no other marae like Te Rau Karamu. Other maraes link to ancestors, but our marae talks about the importance in what’s around us.”

Kurt and the team also set about establishing a space of care and sanctuary for the students. “Sometimes they struggle. That’s all part of life: the emotional changes and anxiety – but when you come out of it in the final year, you’ve made history, and that’s a message we share to everybody. Be aware and strive for what you feel, and what you dream.”

Two people heavily involved in the marae were the late trade unionists, Māori activists and kaumātua Te Huirangi Waikerepuru and Mereiwa Broughton, both immensely special people in Kurt’s life, and that of the marae. The team started in 2014 on what would be a seven-year project;  Mereiwa passed away in 2016, and Te Huirangi during lockdown in 2020. Kurt saw the project through to its completion, which he describes as a moment evoking all the memories and wisdom of the two kaumātua. “When you lose a loved one, you’ve got to realise that they’re moving on. We’re all just passing through, that’s something that’s really important. So no matter where you go, they’re always going to be there, and that’s a really special thing.”

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