Ko Tarakoa te maunga
Ko Tohoratea te awa
Ko Ruataupare te whare
Ko Te Whānau a Ruataupare te hapū
Ko Whitireia te maunga
Ko Parirua te awa
Ko Hongoeka te marae
Ko Ngāti Toa Rangatira te iwi
Ko Ngāti Te Maunu te hapū
When asked to write a blog with a Tiriti kaupapa, I thought I could write about some common themes I’d researched or found out about over the years, however, there’s plenty of information published about these online and in books. Therefore, I decided on a more personal approach: I would write about my dad’s life. I always knew my father had an interesting upbringing from the stories I heard growing up, and his childhood seemed worlds apart compared to other parents of my generation, including my mother’s.
He momo: a way of life and kai
Kerehi Waiariki Grace grew up in Tupāroa, a once thriving seaside village near Ruatoria, during the depression. From a very large family, they didn’t have much in the way of money or personal possessions and there was, and still is, no power from the grid. But they always had plenty of food. Sheep, cattle, and pigs roamed freely and were shared communally or bartered. They also shared their large gardens with the whānau whānui, the extended whānau. who helped. And, there were plenty of communal fruit trees, and the bush also provided. They lived off the land and sea and they rotated kai gathering to different spots for sustainability. They were kaitiaki of these areas. They knew the best times to gather, they studied weather patterns, and our dad used to use the maramataka Māori, the Māori lunar calendar, for fishing and gardening.
We had a family reunion in Tupāroa once, when I was in my teens. Everyone woke at dawn and went gathering kai for breakfast. I went with an older cousin, who grew up there, to get crayfish. He knew all the spots, and in just-above-waist-deep water, armed with only shoes, a glove, and a pair of goggles would feel the ‘crays’ with his feet, tell me what size they were, and then dive in to retrieve them. The sack, I was tasked with holding, was filled in no time. We then headed back to our camp, and before 8 o’clock my uncles and aunties were preparing conger eel, shark, fish, crayfish, kina, and pāua for our breakfast feast.
My dad enjoyed hunting and eeling. When he was growing up, his grandfather, Raniera, would often give him a gun and just one bullet — to ration their ammo — and tell him to come back with a kai.
During another time camping with whānau in Hongoeka, my father prepared us a stew, which tasted like steak, although a little tough. Afterwards we realised it was the rabbits and possums he had shot that morning; the carcasses were hanging on the fence.
Dad’s favourite kai was ‘kao’, or the Māori banana. These were the smallest kūmara from their kūmara pit, which were dried and put in the hāngi skin-on. He also loved Pākehā bread that his mother bought every so often from the store in Ruatoria.
Mahi and a healthy lifestyle
There was never a shortage of work and chores to do, and living off the land kept everyone busy. Horses ran wild in those days, and my dad and whānau would catch and take them to the sandy beach to be broken in. This was their main mode of transport.
My father was very fit and ate whole, natural, organic, and free-range food. He didn’t smoke and wasn’t a big drinker. My mother couldn’t believe he still had all his healthy teeth well into his sixties. I remember hearing that eating fern root was good for your teeth; this was part of dad’s staple diet. In fact, he once cooked some for us. I found it bland and chewy, but dad’s culinary skills were never the best anyway. They also tended gardens daily, collected firewood, and had many other chores. When he was old enough, he took over the role from his tuakana of ploughing with horse and chains. The way dad talked about this, it seemed like it was a kind of introduction to manhood.
Healthcare and spirituality
Their mother sometimes took them to a local tohunga, a kuia, when they were sick. The tohunga cured my dad’s sister’s sickness when the Pākehā doctors at Te Puia hospital didn’t know what was wrong with her. I based a story I wrote for the School Journal entitled The Tohungaon this kōrero under the pen-name Pōtiki. In those days it was illegal to visit a tohunga under the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907 (see the Te Ara website for more information on the act), and I think my dad had blocked it out of his mind because the visits were kept secret. I recall his eyes lighting up when I asked about visits to the doctors — it was as if he only just remembered about the tohunga after my prompt.
Once, when I was about ten years old during an aunty’s unveiling in Hiruhārama, I fainted, possibly from heat stroke. I woke up lying on the ground outside of the urupā to a very old kuia reciting karakia and throwing water on me. Reflecting on this later in life, I have no doubt that she was a tohunga. I’ve always felt a spiritual connection with Tupāroa even though I didn’t grow up there. I have fond memories of staying there with whānau who I rarely saw or associated with. There were always ghost stories — my dad had many — and wāhi tapu were identified. I heard of kaitiaki in the form of animal spirits, of which I won’t mention here, and learnt of signs/omens, which were observed, whether good or bad, and subsequent actions were taken based on these. My grandfather was a follower of the Ringatū faith and, on occasions, would be heard reciting karakia. On one occasion, through a sign, he found out a mākutu had been put on him by a local tohunga. This was confirmed when he confronted the tohunga at the pub who said a local lady had asked him to put the mākutu on him.
Schooling and education
My dad was a native speaker of te reo Māori — it was the language of the home. He didn’t teach us (his tamariki) much reo growing up. I remember waking up late one night and some of his siblings and cousins had turned up at home. All night they were conversing in te reo Māori, a language that seemed foreign but beautiful to me, and I wondered why I couldn’t speak it.
Dad attended Tupāroa Native School and was strapped on several occasions for speaking Māori. I recall a letter in a newspaper where someone stated this practice was a myth. Many people, including my dad, responded to the letter with their own experiences of being strapped. I found out later that, although this wasn’t written in law, it was the policy in native schools. Although he stated these were bad experiences for him in school, it seemed like he enjoyed school in general. Unlike Pākehā school curriculum — from what dad told me — it sounded like the main things they were taught in school were based on animal husbandry. He also said the whole school created a clay tennis court once, which they dug out by hand. He was excited by this and, I think, tennis was the first sport he ever played.
His parents liked their tamariki going to school because they wanted them all to learn English. My dad also said it was the in-thing in those days — everyone wanted to learn. In fact, random transliterations or English words were often heard on the marae on formal occasions to the delight of those gathered.
Dad must have done well at school and he and others received Ngata Scholarships to attend high schools. At age 13, he bragged about getting his first pair of shoes and a uniform — although it was the wrong one. He must have strived at high school, and on finishing, his mother announced to his surprise that he was going to be a teacher, and he was sent to Wellington for teacher training. After years of teaching at various rural schools, he became a principal in Porirua, where he advocated for bilingual schools and the rejuvenation of te reo. He then worked at the Department of Education in various roles, and he helped set up different kura and kōhanga. Dad was always grounded in, and a stickler for, tikanga Māori. He had grown up on the many marae around him. He took us for kapa haka as kids and encouraged us to learn the reo. He was a driving force in establishing many marae, kura, and kōhanga reo.
The effects of the loss of our taonga
I guess, where I’m going with this is that I can see that even in dad’s generation there was still a kind of communal style of living much like our tūpuna. They still retained many of their taonga and, I think, they had the best of both worlds.
Before the establishment of a government in Aotearoa, many iwi and hapū had good relationships with Pākehā. There were intermarriages that formed strategic alliances for the benefit of all. This resulted in thriving economies.
The confiscation of land and laws that consequently resulted in the alienation of Māori land over the years was devastating. The individualisation of land by the Māori Land Court caused much division amongst hapū and whānau, who traditionally lived communally. This was a major influence in the urban drift (encouraged by the government) of Māori seeking employment and a better life. In the larger cities a ‘pepper potting’ policy was in place, in which Māori families were purposely scattered to live surrounded by Pākehā families and not together. The loss of land, culture, language, traditional knowledge, whanaungatanga, wairuatanga, kaitiakitanga, and other taonga resulted in a loss of identity for generations of Māori. Colonisation and assimilation of Māori were deemed necessary by most Pākehā. This undermined the tino rangatiratanga of hapū and the rights of Māori to be treated equally to those of British citizens.
All these things combined had, and still has, a major impact on the health — te taha tinana, te taha hinengaro, te taha wairua — of Māori. Māori is still overrepresented in poor statistics for crime, education, unemployment, and health – even in this day-and-age with all the strategies developed by successive governments to combat this.
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