Hohepa's pain finally subsides

By Laurel Stowell, laurel.stowell@wanganuichronicle.co.nz


There was soft singing and light rain amid the surrounding green hills as descendants of Whanganui River man Hohepa Te Umuroa unveiled his gravestone yesterday.

It was an historic ceremony, because Te Umuroa died of tuberculosis in an Australian prison in 1847 and his remains were not returned to his own country until 1988. The unveiling rituals at Roma Urupa (Cemetery) near Hiruharama/Jerusalem included Catholic prayers and poipoi, a recitation of genealogy set to the rhythm of poi.

The poipoi is something only performed on special occasions and Whakataumatatanga (Bernard) Mareikura, who led it, recalled the same group doing it at the 40th anniversary of the Maori Queen's coronation, and again at her death.

No photographing or filming of the 10-minute-plus recitation was allowed. Eight women with poi, each representing a canoe, began each list, punctuating it by swinging and stopping their short poi. A larger group, gathered from the top to the bottom of the river, joined them to chant a string of names that stretched back to the time of the Great Migration of Polynesian people to this country. Each was linked to Te Umuroa.

It was a privilege to be there at this solemn ritual, one of those taught in Whanganui's tribal house of learning at Jerusalem and carried on to the present day by chosen people.

Te Umuroa was 25 when he died of tuberculosis on Maria Island, off the coast of Tasmania, in 1847.

He and six other warriors had travelled south to Porirua in 1846 to help Ngati Toa leader Rangihaeata resist European settlement. They were captured and accused of rebelling against the Queen's authority. They were tried in an English-language court martial, and five were sent to an Australian penal colony.

Te Umuroa died there the next year, and it was not until 1985 that his lonely grave was researched and his story discovered.

A team - including the late Ohakune tohunga Matiu Mareikura, George Waretini, Nohi Wallace and Joan Akapita - went to Tasmania to exhume

True hero to the people

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: George Waretini (left) and Nohi Wallace helped bring back Te Umuroa's remains. PHOTO/ BEVAN CONLEY 140113WCBRCRI03

and recover his remains in 1988. They were brought back to Jerusalem for burial.

Te Umuroa was the father of one son, Rukuwai Paneta, before he left the Whanganui region. Numbers of his descendants, and the descendants of his warrior companions, were among the 200 people at the unveiling.

The youngest was one-year-old Rhythm Reeve, a seventh-generation descendant.

Descendant Aarena Allen lifted away the cloak covering the new tombstone and Bubs Rerekura, also a descendant, gave a small speech.

She said Te Umuroa was a courageous servant of his people, who stood against the tyranny of his time. He was wrongly imprisoned, and he and his fellows were later pardoned by the New Zealand government.

It was only much later that he was exhumed by his descendants, "who heard the pain of his longings".

"Escorted, returned and welcomed home to the tears of his people. Te Umuroa now finally rests in peace, in this, his final resting place."

The unveiling made for a big day for people of the river. At 9am visitors were welcomed on to Jerusalem's Patiarero Marae, where participants in the Whanganui River's annual Tira Hoe Waka spiritual journey had stayed the night. The crowd then travelled up Aorangi Rd to the small cemetery for the 10am unveiling, which was led by Turama Hawira and Father David Gledhill.

Everyone then returned to the marae, where Te Umuroa's family were called into the meeting house, Father Gledhill said some final prayers and people spoke to acknowledge what was achieved.

After that came a hakari (feast), with entertainment from participants in the Tira Hoe Waka.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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