New generation

By Lin Ferguson

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It was the end-of-year assessment for the six students in Patea Area School's marae catering course, the heat was on and being turned up as the day progressed.

The teens have been cooking and preparing food every Monday since the beginning of the year and last week it was show time.

They had to cook a three-course meal for the 12 teachers from the school, who would assess the students on preparation, service, cooking, demeanour and marae protocol.

The menu was a collaboration and each student had specially allotted tasks.

School principal and course tutor Te Aroha Mackintosh said the course focused on the students gathering their food and getting in their own resources.

The boys had collected paua and kina from the local beach then headed for the river to catch eels and whitebait.

All the students had gathered fresh watercress and puha.

"Everyone has their own special places for gathering food. For most of them there are special family places to go," Mrs Mackintosh said.

The foundation of the course was family and marae traditions, she said.

Maori tradition, heritage, history and protocol were all integral to the understanding of why marae cooking and catering was sacrosanct, she said.

The course began under a 2009 Government funding scheme, He Kakano, which was set up to help secondary and area school leadership teams to improve the achievement of Maori students.

It was set up in about 100 secondary and area schools over three years, Mrs Mackintosh said.

"The marae catering course is all about the needs and culture of young Maori students.

"It builds relationships and partnerships that include whanau, hapu and iwi to support these learners in their school performance."

For Patea Area School it has meant that during the past two years 12 senior students have completed credits towards a National Certificate in Marae Catering.

Mrs Mackintosh, who was born and brought up on Whenuakura Marae, said students got "a deeper understanding of the marae because they are immersed in the traditions and the history of its people".

It was all about linking the students with their culture.

"Its about learning who they are."

A huge gathering of food resources involved everyone from the marae once a year.

They would leave and for months go and live in a temporary settlement at the beach, Mrs Mackintosh said.

"They would gather paua and kina, go eeling, fishing and everything would be carefully preserved in the storehouses.

"They brought in crops from the huge community garden of vegetables including potatoes, pumpkin and kumara and store them as well.

"It was very important part of marae life."

Earlier this year the catering students fulfilled their biggest task to date.

They catered for 60 people staying on the marae for three days and did all the cooking - breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.

"They were just incredible and the food was wonderful."

These students have not only become well versed in the food, the cooking and the traditions of their people; they have also studied the notable leader of the South Taranaki district, Riwha Titokowaru.

Titokowaru (1823-1888) was a Maori leader in the Taranaki region and one of the most successful opponents of British colonisation anywhere, Mrs Mackintosh said.

The historical record says he called for peace and diplomacy between the British and Maoridom, practising his own message and demonstrating great tolerance. In 1886 he was part of a peaceful occupation of land near Manaia. Titokowaru and nine others were taken to Wellington and, after being held in jail for two-and-a-half months, were tried and sentenced to jail. He died shortly afterwards.

"It is important for our young people to know their history and to identify with everything about our Maori people."

Mrs Mackintosh said teaching history and the ways of the marae and its people as a formal course had been a huge step forward for Maori students.

She pointed to a mature rata tree in a field beside the marae where houses once stood and families lived.

"That tree was beside the house where I lived. The petals (the remains of the umbilical cords that fall off babies' belly buttons) are all buried beneath the rata. It's a very special tree ... another part of a very strong tradition."

Mrs Mackintosh is happy with her students. "These are good young people ... all of them. They will do very well tonight."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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