Marae refreshes bond during family reunion

By Lawrence Gullery

Websites and social media technology are handy tools for families to keep in touch, but when Tom and Sophie Karena lived in Fernhill more than 50 years ago, it was their beloved Omahu Marae that was the glue keeping the whanau together.

The value of marae living was just one of the lessons the 140 descendants of the two well-known Hawke's Bay kaumatua learned at their family reunion at the marae last weekend.

One of the organisers, Shona Jones, said she remembered her grandparents as people who "lived a clean-cut life" and devoted their time to the marae.

"They both passed away during the mid-1980s ... but one of Tom's wishes was to have someone from our family carry on and represent us on the marae," Ms Jones said.

"It is something that's been lacking, but we have been working to see who might be able to come back and keep our name there. We've got one or two people who have got the language and could fill that role," she said.

Ms Jones said she remembered her grandfather talking about life in the early days in Fernhill and around Omahu Marae. Tom and Sophie had 10 children and Tom delivered most of their babies himself.

"It was real rural living. Tom grew up there and Sophie was from up north and came down to Hawke's Bay with a Hawaiian dance troupe," she said.

"They met at MAC [Maori Agricultural College] and that was it. He must have seen her in the dance troupe and thought, 'yep, she's the one'."

Tom lobbied government agencies to build new houses at Omahu and Fernhill for the community, probably during the 1950s, Ms Jones said.

"He was also a union rep at the [Whakatu] freezing works for many years. All 10 of their children grew up in Omahu and there are two left now, one lives in Hawke's Bay the other in Wellington," she said.

Those were just some of the stories shared inside the wharenui and Omahu Marae during the reunion, as well as a workshop by Hawke's Bay historian Pat Parsons tracing the history of the family, its hapu links with Ngati Kahungunu.

"It's important to know where we fit in as a hapu, especially with treaty claims coming to an end. But also it's about reconnecting our children and grandchildren to the marae so they don't lose touch with where our family started," Ms Jones said.

Organising the reunion was hard work, with people coming from around the country as well as Australia.

"We are looking at remaining connected with each other through Facebook and there's a website and now database for our family. People are talking about another reunion in five to 10 years," Ms Jones said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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