The Tangata family have achieved two notable firsts. They have honoured three remarkable ancestors (a father, a son and his daughter - Himiona Tangata, the Reverend Renata Wiremu Tangata and Mereana Tangata-Hattaway), in a unique way, by organising a special tribute exhibition in collaboration with Kaitaia's Te Ahu Trust Heritage Museum, including the exhibition of precious family taonga.
About 60 people witnessed the opening ceremony at the museum last week. They were called on by Mereana Ngaropo, with the response given by Te Whetu Nathan, kaumatua of Kauhanga Marae, Peria. The event was sanctified by Rev Canon Dennis Urquhart, museum trust board deputy chairman Haami Piripi extending the formal welcome. Te Whetu Nathan again responded for the Tangata whanau.
Curator Don Hammond then explained how the museum's concept of 'Honouring our Ancestors' had evolved and how the Tangata whanau tribute had developed. He then introduced the MC and family member John Folkard, who began by calling for a period of silence to recall those who had passed on.
Himiona's great-great-granddaughter Joy Stafford led the tributes by setting the scene, with Hutia Te Rito and family providing the waiata, and his great-great-grandson, Vincent Lendich, a Bible reading.
In brief, Himiona was a slave liberated by the missionary William Gilbert Puckey. He married Ngarahuihui, of Ahipara, in February 1835, and they had a son, Renata Wiremu Tangata, born in 1838. When Ngarahuihui died Himiona married Hopia Tiratahi, a widow of Awanui, on February 5, 1840, the day before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed at Waitangi. When the Treaty documents came to Kaitaia on April 6 Himiona signed beside others from Te Rarawa.
He was licensed as a Christian teacher in February 1841, and died in 1860.
The life of Himiona's son, Renata, was summarised by his great-granddaughter, Tui Gardiner. He worked alongside the missionaries Puckey and Matthews as they built and preached in a number of raupo chapels around the Far North. He was ordained in Auckland in 1869, and assigned to the upper reaches of the Oruru Valley, which he named Peria, after Beria (or Berea) in the Bible.
The wooden church there, St Barnabas, had been constructed by local Maori under the guidance of the retired priest, the Reverend C B Dunn.
Rev Renata preached in the Far North well into the 1880s. He then helped establish many churches in Northland, visited Norfolk Island, helped restore the faith of lapsed and angry Waikato tribes, and was present on Mokoia Island, Rotorua, when Tarawera erupted in 1886.
He married Tiareti Harata (Charlotte Gerrard), the widow of Rev Rota Waitoa, and they had a daughter, Mereana.
In 1887, Rev Renata ate some American bully beef in Parnell and died of ptomaine poisoning four days later, after returning to Mangonui on the SS Clansman. It had been reported earlier by the Church Missionary Society that "Renata Tangata is a model pastor, so wise, so gentle, and yet so firm; an eminently spiritual man and endowed with considerable preaching power."
The life of Renata's daughter, Mereana, was summarised by her granddaughter Joy Stafford, with Caitlyn Stafford, her great-granddaughter, providing a Bible reading. Mereana was born at Peria and trained as a nurse at Auckland Hospital, graduating in 1896, number 252 on the register, as Mary Ann Helena Leonard, probably the first Maori nursing graduate.
Her best friend during training was Emma Hattaway, and during a visit to the Hattaway family in Pakuranga, she met Emma's brother Vincent, whom she married in 1904 when he returned from the Boer War.
Mereana and Vincent raised six children of their own with another whangai child in the King Country. Vincent developed a freight business, while Mereana opened a nursing home in Te Kuiti, where she became the matron, and finally returned to Peria with her children. She continued nursing and encouraging Maori girls in their education, many to become nurses.
She died of bowel cancer at Mangonui Hospital in 1929 after a lifetime of service, never once complaining.
In closing, the story of Peria Church was recounted by Te Whetu Nathan and family members, and John Folkard invited visitors to speak. Canon Urquhart then blessed and formally opened the Tangata family exhibition and offered a closing prayer. Afternoon tea was then served.
The exhibition, featuring documents, images, the silver hunter pocket watch and communion chalice used Rev Renata Tangata and the massive family Bible he presented to Mereana in 1886, is now open to the public, while the museum is looking to other innovative collaborations.