Marae life: Education by immersion

Sam O'Leary —  05/11/2009

Kia ora,
Te Pūkenga Atawhai is a course run by DOC for the specific purpose of enlightening its staff about Māori, Māori issues, Māori culture/beliefs, the Treaty of Waitangi, and the proper (tika) ways in which to conduct yourself when you interact with tangata whenua – See in our line(s) of work, we deal with tangata whenua all the time.

The course is run by Pou Kura Taiao – Indigenous Conservation Ethics Managers, who among other roles are ‘cultural advisors’ that work for the Department. The Pou are all extremely nice blokes (There is one female Pou who I’m led to believe is the rose amongst the thorns) exuding all sorts of mana. The Pou know way more than a thing or two about their culture.

I’m venturing forth from my secluded house in the Wellington ‘burbs, to sleep on a marae with a bunch of anonymous snorers on Arapaoa Marae in Waikawa, and learn about the Treaty amongst other things. And what should I expect? I’m really not quite sure…

 

Te Pukenga Atawhai participants and Pou Kura Taiao.

Te Pukenga Atawhai participants and Pou Kura Taiao assembled outside Waikawa Marae. Photo: Jazz Scott

Like I say, I truly didn’t know what to expect. I was on a ferry with about 4 people I knew from the Wellington office I work from, and I was about to join about 35 other strangers for a week on the Marae in Waikawa, which is very close to Picton in the Marlborough Sounds.

So I joined around forty of my esteemed colleagues, who were from Wellington, Nelson/Marlborough, Motueka, Reefton, Aoraki/Mt Cook, the NZ Fire Service and elsewhere. We arrived at Waikawa and were brought onto the Marae with a traditional powhiri (welcome). I’d seen powhiri before on the tele and stuff, but I’d never actually experienced one, let alone participated in one… ‘What do I do now?’ I’m wondering, the whole way through… But luckily Te Pūkenga Atawhai is one of those places where ignorance (read: naivety) isn’t shunned, rather it’s welcomed, and then if need be it’s corrected for you in the nicest way possible.

Participants are welcomed onto the marae as we held our own powhiri and hui as a group.

Participants are welcomed onto the marae as we held our own powhiri and hui as a group. Photo: Anaru Luke

Te Pūkenga Atawhai comfortably takes people out of their comfort zones, and it’s a good thing. Each of us had the best part of a week to write our own mihi (greeting) completely in te reo māori. On the last day, each and every one of us got up in front of the whole group in the whare-nui, and delivered his or her mihi. The mihi was followed by a presentation of a taonga (treasure) by each person. Some people talked about their whanau at home, others spoke of their waka or another meaningful possession of theirs. Personally, I talked about my rhyme-book (I make Hip-Hop music) given to me by my Mother, and I thought that one of my conservation-themed verses would be appreciated by the group, so I performed a part of it after my mihi as my taonga. It has to be said that everyone did splendidly, with a task that certainly doesn’t come easily to non-speakers of te reo māori.

Ken Clarke joined us from the NZ Fire Service, here he participates in a role play activity involving the Treaty of Waitangi.

Ken Clarke joined us from the NZ Fire Service, here he participates in a role play activity involving the Treaty of Waitangi. Photo: Anaru Luke

When I went to the marae, I already possessed this disconnected vocabulary of te reo māori that I didn’t really know what to do with. I was like: “So when do I say ‘ka pai’?” or “Why do we always sing a waiata after someone has spoken?” or even just “Why do I have to take my shoes off at the whare-nui?” Well now I know about all of that, thanks to DOC and the Pou. I knew about some words, like tu meke, whare, ka pai etc, but now I actually feel comfortable integrating te reo māori into my everyday language. Good times.

Carving at the Marae front gate.

Carving at the Marae front gate. Photo: Sam O'Leary

Of course, I know some people who boo-hoo the idea, like: “Maan what a waste of money, I can’t believe DOC’s actually paying for you to stay on a marae with the Maa-reys for a week…way to spend our taxes bro!”

Te Pūkenga Atawhai though, is no holiday. We left with our brains bursting with both fresh and ancient information, and also with the knowledge that probably, we would  soon be putting this new information to use  in each of our roles. Since treaty settlements began, we’ve had more and more to do with Māori, and if you look across the Department, we probably interact on a near-daily basis. Most of our core business at DOC will involve Māori at some time, and Te Pūkenga Atawhai goes a long way towards the strong relationships we now enjoy with iwi right across Aotearoa.

A poupou depicting Kupe slaying the octopus he chased across the Pacific Ocean. This pillar is at Karaka Point, near Waikawa in the Marlborough Sounds. Photo: Sam O'Leary

A poupou depicting Kupe's struggle with the octopus he chased across the Pacific Ocean. This pillar is at Karaka Point, near Waikawa in the Marlborough Sounds. Photo: Sam O'Leary

Te Pūkenga Atawhai seems to me, to be a pretty unique thing. I don’t hear about many other employers sending their staff to learn about Māori culture and how to deal with and relate to tangata whenua, but I suppose there aren’t too many Government Departments and indeed businesses that work with Iwi as much as we do. If any of you out there have had some similar experiences either with DOC or with any other sort of organisation then let us know.  I’d be keen to hear about it, drop us a comment or any questions you’ve got.

Tou rourou, toku rourou, ka ora te Iwi.

(With your contribution and my contribution we will thrive.)

And cheers for reading 😀

The whare-nui through the entrance to the marae. Photo: Sam O'Leary

The whare-nui through the entrance to the marae. Photo: Sam O'Leary

 

 

One of the Pou Kura Taiao, Joe Harawira, jammin' in the whare-kai.

Pou Hapai Joe Harawira, jammin' in the whare-kai. Photo: Sam O'Leary

 

 

12 responses to Marae life: Education by immersion

  1. 

    Sweet!!

  2. 

    Kia ora Sam
    I had the privilage of co ordinating a blessing conducted by Iwi for the Surf Club building and lifesaving equipment at Whites Bay/Pukatea on Sunday 8/11.The building has been reclad and spruced up and with the help of our ‘main man’ Barney T it all went exceptionlly well with the club members saying how it really got the emotions pumping in the besy way possible.
    Kia Kaha Te Whanau
    Rob

    • 

      Hey Rob,

      Ka pai! Barney T is indeed the ‘main man’. This is a fantastic example of how we put this knowledge to use. Cheers for commenting Rob, and sharing with us.

  3. 

    Looks like good times O’Leary.

    No better way to conserve New Zealand’s historic heritage than empower people with knowledge and awareness.

    Seals FTW!

  4. 

    Hey Ken & Margot, thanks for commenting 😀

    Was an awesome week aye, really mint. One thing I forgot was to mention was the people from the marae, the hospitality was sterling and the kai was epic. An incredibly welcoming place.

  5. 

    A truly incredible experience, a permanent forge of true friendships, and the learnings of s truly unique culture. One of which I am humbled to have finally been educated in the most passionate and professional sharing of knowledge . Something Te Papa Atawhai can be justly proud of. Well Done!!

  6. 

    Kia Ora Sam! Great blog, agree with everything you said, especially that Te Pukenga Atawhai puts you out of your comfort zone in a comfortable way and that’s the best place to learn and grow. I’m using the learning from Pukenga most days and not just for work. Kia kaha!

  7. 

    Marae life – fo’ life!