Marae hums as overseas visitors, locals and helpers enjoy day

Denise Houghton, holidaying from the UK, with waka paddlers Billy Harrison (left) and Kaipo Brown. Photo / Dean Purcell
Denise Houghton, holidaying from the UK, with waka paddlers Billy Harrison (left) and Kaipo Brown. Photo / Dean Purcell

There was calm at Waitangi's Te Tii Marae yesterday with some locals going as far to say that things were "pretty tame and chilled".

The marae, which hosts powhiri for the country's major political parties before Waitangi Day, was yesterday humming with visitors from near and far.

Some had come to air their concerns about environmental issues, some had work to do at the marae and others, including many tourists, just came along for a look and to see what was going on.

The Herald spoke to five different people - including a couple from England who arrived in New Zealand recently and had no idea their visit coincided with the day preceding Waitangi Day.

We asked them for their thoughts about the day.

Denise and Peter Houghton, 60s, Bedfordshire, England

The Houghtons, who are holidaying in New Zealand, had no idea their visit to Waitangi coincided with the nation's most historic day.

"It wasn't until we told some friends that we were visiting Waitangi that someone mentioned 'you do realise it's Waitangi Day?'," said Mrs Houghton.

"I said 'what's that?"'

The Houghtons said they were unaware of the significance of the day.

They were awed by the powhiri at Te Tii Marae for visiting dignitaries, the kapa haka performance of local boys and girls and their athletic kaea (leader), who wielded a taiaha.

They say the day was one they are unlikely to forget.

"And we have learned a bit about New Zealand history ... it has been amazing."

Mihipati Nelson, Maori warden, 73, originally from Te Kao

Maori warden Mihipati Nelson said it was a busy and "awesome" day.
Maori warden Mihipati Nelson said it was a busy and "awesome" day.

Mrs Nelson says the 50-odd wardens who help with the smooth running of the marae had been briefed to possibly expect some trouble during proceedings at Te Tii yesterday.

But it was from an unexpected quarter.

"We were told to expect some gang members from the South Island," she said.

"But they never came and even if they did we would have just treated them the way we treat everyone else."

Mrs Nelson said the day had been "awesome".

It had also been tiring for the wardens, most of whom are at least 60 years old and were on their feet for hours on end making sure their guests knew where to go, finding the parents of lost tamariki and maintaining the dignity of the marae.

"Welcoming wave after wave of guests is hard and making sure they're safe on the marae is a lot of work," Mrs Nelson said.

Alistair Reese, kiwifruit/dairy farmer, 64, Te Puke

Mr Reese is at Waitangi for the first time in nearly 50 years since his last visit as a teenager.

He has simply never got around to coming back - and he's kicking himself because of that.

The 64-year-old who also teaches theology says all New Zealanders need to experience the day and engage with their heritage.

"I would say, in simple terms, bring your family here and don't be afraid. Don't be put off by the media highlighting political events because those things are such a minority.

"This is a place where you feel something unique and special about being here," he said.

"I think it's a wonderful thing - you see a real cross section from the high-ranking dignitaries to people who represent a different part of society.

"Then there's the hospitality of the local people who have allowed us to come and experience the day here on the marae, it is very special."

Gordon Banfield, retired engineer, 72, Paihia

Local Gordon Banfield has been coming to the celebrations since the early 1980s.
Local Gordon Banfield has been coming to the celebrations since the early 1980s.

Gordon Banfield has been attending Waitangi Day celebrations since the early 1980s.

He said the day preceding Waitangi Day had been "lovely as usual". He seemed at peace on the marae and the locals certainly knew who he was.

He has no Maori ancestry but says he has whakapapa to Waitangi and Te Tii Marae.

The hau kainga (locals) treat him as one of their own.

He donated timber to the marae that has been used in 10 carved pou that feature outside the area that is used as a campground by holidaymakers over the summer.

"I am a European but I have whakapapa to here. I am from here."

- NZ Herald

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