Monday, August 8, 2011

A Day at Onuku Marae

I've visited Onuku Marae, near Akaroa many times and every time I roll down the hill to the shoreline, I'm struck again by the beauty of the divine little church that sits on a small rise, overlooking Akaroa Harbour. Te Whare Karakia o Onuku was built in 1876 and had its opening in 1878. It sits across the road from the main marae buildings and the cluster of kaik houses that snuggle under giant walnut trees.
When it opened in 1878, it was the first non-denominational church in New Zealand and the opening ceremony was attended by Maori from iwi all over the country. In 1939, it was restored to its original state in time for Akaroa's 1940 Centenary service, which was attened by over a thousand people. As the number of families on the kaik diminished, it closed for services in 1963 and is now primarily used for baptisms, weddings and funerals. The poupou standing to one side of the front of the church is Tumuki, a gift from Te Wai Pounamu Old Girls Association in 19978. It was carved by Pere Tainui.
Across the road from the church, the marae buildings huddle under a backdrop of bush-clad hills. There are two main structures - the Whare kai, Amiria Puhirere, which was opened in 1990. It was named after Amiria Puhirere, who  lived on the kaik and was admired and loved by generations of Onuku whanau. She was the daughter of Mere Whariu and Karaweko and was over 100 years old when she died in 1944. The second building is the handsome wharenui, Karaweko, pictured above.
In the early planning stages of the wharenui, a carving committee led by Pere Tainui, was set up to research the whakapapa and history that would be represented in the house. Master Ngapuhi carver, Eric Korewha was commissioned and he was helped by a group of carvers that included Simon Rogers, Hono Fleming, Hone Taiapa and Carl Wards. They spent four years carving West Coast totara.  Ngai Tahu paramount chief Te Maiharanui is represented in the tekoteko, which stands on the top of the wharenui.
Inside, a series of beautiful tukutuku panels in olive green, gold and black mirror the colours of the Onuku landscape. these were produced by Ngai Tahu weaver, the late Cath Brown of Taumutu, working with a group of Ngai Tahu weavers.
The wharenui was officially opened and blessed at dawn on February 5, 1997.
It was the first carved house to be built on Banks peninsula for over a hundred years.
The marae is homebase for the Ngai Tahu hapu of Ngai Tarewa and Ngati Irakehu and Onuku is a place of historical significance for the fact that it was the first of three South Island locations where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

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