Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Re-Visiting Papawai

When I was travelling through the North Island a few months back, I made a stop at Greytown to visit Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa’s Papawai Marae. I hadn’t visited Papawai since my three sons were small boys (it’s the marae they are affiliated to) and I was keen to seen the changes brought about the major renovations of the late 1980s. It was a brilliant sunny morning in May, tuis were flitting in and out of the totara trees and all was quiet in the little row of houses across the road from the marae. I stood under the beautifully restored waharoa (gateway) and admired again, the totara whakairo (carved figures) that form the pallisade around the marae. Those figures by the way, both male and female, represent famous individuals and unusually, they face inwards to represent peace between Maori and Pakeha, rather than looking outwards to confront enemies in the traditional manner. (I’ll bring you some photos of those another time).
Ngati Kahungunu is the third largest tribal group in New Zealand and Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa is one of their three main sub-groups, with others centred in Wairoa in Eastland and Heretaunga in Hawke’s Bay. Papawai was established in the 1850s when the government set aside land for Maori settlement near Greytown. The marae played an important role in Maori history when it became the focus of the Kotahitanga, or Maori Parliament movement in the late 19th century. Papawai hosted numerous iwi (meetings) to discuss, among other things, the protection of Maori land; and chief of the time, Tamahau Mahupuku, played a key role in hosting meetings to record the history, whakapapa (genealogy) and customs of his people. He died in 1904 – it was he, who planned the pallisading of the marae, which was created and put in place after his death.
The Hikurangi meeting house was also built in Tamahau’s time. It opened in 1888 and was followed by the construction of several other buildings. By the 1940s though, Papawai had fallen on leaner times. A number of buildings had been damaged by winds and earthquakes and many people had moved away from the settlement. It wasn’t until the 1960s that restoration work began on the rotting whakairo figures. The gateway has also been restored and today it forms a stately entrance to the marae complex.

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