Monday, April 19, 2010

Overlooking the Ocean - A Kaikoura Marae

Takahanga Marae at Kaikoura in the South Island, sits on a high hill overlooking the village of Kaikoura and the ocean beyond. It's a beautiful spot and one that comes with a rich, layered history. The main wharenui (meeting house) [above]opened in 1992 but the marae occupies a site that has been home to Maori for over 800 years. In recent history - back in 1828 - there was a battle on the marae site, the buildings were burnt down and the whanau (occupying families) moved north to Mangamaunu. When the local Ngati Kuri (a Ngai Tahu hapu) decided to build a new wharenui on the site in the 1990s, they carried out an archaelogical dig and found the 800-year-old foundations of the old wharenui, over which they laid the new structure.

I spent this last weekend at the marae, covering a waka wananga (canoe workshop) for Ngai Tahu's TE KARAKA magazine and I was once again struck by the beauty and atmosphere of the place - all this enhanced of course by an astonishing collection of contemporary Maori carvings and artworks by leading New Zealand artists - Neil Dawson, Bill Hammond and Chris Booth to name just a few.

Some of my favourite works are the striking pouwhenua - above (Neil Dawson's "Feather" just visible to right) - that stand sentry in several parts of the large hilltop property. They have an aura about them, a strength and a magic that is almost tangible when you stand beneath them. It goes without saying of course, that if the grounds are so beautifully embellished, the interior of the new wharenui must be likewise - and indeed it is. Colourful contemporary carvings that depict the hapu's dramatic history and their whakapapa (genealogy) twirl and swirl their way up the walls and across the ceiling. We had our evening talks in the wharenui - everyone happily sprawled out on their sleeping mattresses listening to the speakers and looking up into the colourful intertwining of history elements and family histories. Hypnotic almost.

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