Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Meet the People - 18

Kahungunu Marae, Nukaha, Eastland. May 2009. Ajr
Another in the Series Meet the People – Contemporary Maori Doing Ordinary and Extraordinary Things – Cairo Otene (Ngati Kahungunu) did not want me to take her photograph (she was shy) but she was quite happy for me to write about her and my lovely experience at her home marae, Kahungunu in Nuhaka, Eastland. Cairo and her husband live just across the road from the marae and act as caretakers. I had pulled up outside and was taking a photograph out my car window, when Cairo came out of her house and told me to park my car and “come in and have a real look.” I was delighted – especially as earlier than morning I had been told to “go away” when I stopped at one of the marae at Tokomaru Bay. It was the only unfriendly response I had had at a marae in all of New Zealand but it had left me feeling uneasy and disappointed. Cairo Otene soon put all that to rest as she unlocked the mare door to reveal a spectacular interior – one of the largest wharenui (meeting houses) in all of New Zealand in fact. She turned on all the lights and told me I was welcome to take some photographs. I was almost overwhelmed by the scale and the beauty of the place and feel sure my photographs do not do it justice.

Cairo (named after an uncle who served in Cairo during WWII), was born in Nuhaka and grew up there. “As a child I learned to skate on the concrete courtyard in front of the wharenui,” she laughed. She told me that if I promised not to take any photographs, she would take me inside the Whare Te Poho o Te Tahinga – the small ancestral house to one side of the wharenui. I agreed and she darted off to get the key.

Nuhaka, Eastland. May 2009. Ajr
Once inside, she took me around the room ‘introducing me’ to her ancestors. Their photographs were hung around the walls of the small, quiet room. “I was one of 13 children,” she said. “I had nine brothers and three sisters. There are ten of us left and we have a very strong sense of family. We have a family reunion every three years.” She pointed out the five generations of her family on the wall. I was most taken with an old photograph of Ihaka Whaanga (1808-1875), Cairo’s great-great-grandfather – a handsome fellow with full facial moko, who was a respected military leader and said, in some accounts, to have had three wives.. He was painted by artist Gottfried Lindauer and photographs of him are in the collections of Alexander Turnbull Library and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Another famous face on the walls of the Whare Tahinga was Maori All Black, George Nepia. The rear wall was a memorial to local soldiers of the 28th Maori Battalion who lost their lives in the Second World War. I lingered there awhile while Cairo went about the business of vacuuming; and then I wandered back into the magnificent wharenui. The timber floors glowed. I stood there a while, wondering what stories that intricate tukutuku panels could tell. (I’ll bring you photographs of them another time). www.kahungunu.iwi.nz www.kahungunu.com

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