Thursday, June 25, 2009

Takahanga - A Place By the Sea

Kaikoura. April 2009. Ajr
When you walk through the old whale ribs onto Kaikoura’s Takahanga Marae it’s hard to know which comes as the bigger surprise – the laden apricot trees, the wafting scent of roses, the sight of agapanthus and dahlias rubbing shoulders with cabbage trees and olives, or the giant Neil Dawson feather sculpture swirling in the sea breeze. Sited on an historic pa site above Kaikoura township with panoramic ocean views, the marae and its eleven acres exude a welcoming sense of ‘homestead,’ of inclusiveness. And as you walk through Chris Booth’s geranium-clad stone archway onto a Michael Smither’s stone path, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d entered a sculpture park. In front of the main meeting house a cluster of gigantic totara sculptures created by Maori carver and sculptor, Cliff Whiting and the late Bill Solomon, provide a formal welcome. There are the pottery footsteps made by sculptor Bronwyn Cornish, the screen gifted to the marae by Lyttelton artist, Bill Hammond and inside, a collection of photographs by Wellington’s Ann Noble.

Kaikoura. April 2009. Ajr
On a site that has been occupied by Maori for over 800 years, it’s an unexpected break from tradition. That says Cliff Whiting, was always the intention.
“Back in the 1970s Ngai Tahu recognised that no new marae had been built for a long time and they saw the need to develop their cultural identity. Once the site had been agreed upon with the NZ Historic Places Trust, an archaeological dig was carried out, confirming that the original site was very close to the new plans in development. When it came to developing the garden, the local Ngati Kuri people were very much guided by the presence and preservation of original pallisade mounds,” he says.

Kaikoura, April 2009. Ajr
In a unique departure from tradition, Ngati Kuri, under the guidance of the late Bill Solomon, recognised their shared histories and the fact that since the early 1880s, many of their people had inter-married with Europeans. “Bill got the idea of involving pakeha artists in the development of outside areas and everyone worked together in a very deliberate way to integrate that inclusiveness into the whole marae statement. It was the first marae to do that and while some of the ideas have since been incorporated into Awarua at Invercargill, it remains the quite unique,” says Whiting. (This is an extract from a feature I originally wrote in 2005, published in Urbis Landscapes).

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