Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre is south of Eketahuna in around 900 hectares of native bush.
It’s a remnant of the 70-mile bush, known to Rangitāne as Te Tapere nui o Whātonga. Whātonga was one of the rangatira on the Kurahaupō waka and his grandson was Rangitāne, the eponymous ancestor of our iwi.
Pūkaha was given to Rangitāne as part of their Treaty Settlement and after symbolically holding it for one year, Rangitāne gifted Pūkaha to the People of New Zealand. The Pūkaha Board, which includes two Rangitāne representatives, had a vision of building an education centre with accommodation facilities. In consultation with their Rangitāne partners, they decided to also build a wharenui, hence the concept of an environmental and cultural learning centre. Input from the design to the opening was led by two of our Rangitāne kaumātua Mike Kawana and Manahi Paewai.
I was invited to attend the blessing of the new centre, on Thursday, July 13. This meant leaving Dannevirke at 3am. Dressed appropriately for this mid-winter excursion, a group of hardy Rangitāne o Tamaki nui-ā-Rua whānau met up with our Rangitāne o Wairarapa whanaunga for the dawn ceremony.
On arrival at Pūkaha three things stood out for me. First, despite weeks of continuous rain, the sky was crystal clear, the moon shone brightly and every star in the night sky was visible. A tohu, a sign that everything was right for the occasion.
Secondly, about 200 people gathered for the opening, including our extended Rangitāne whānau, staff and board members and friends of Pūkaha. Kaumātua Manu Kawana briefed us on how the blessing would be conducted.
Thirdly, the task of reciting the karakia was given to our rangatahi. Mike Kawana explained, “Us of Rangitāne need to be thinking about how to make space for those who are coming through, who are learning, who grew up in te Ao Māori so they can be leaders of our iwi.
“Despite the saying ‘leaders of tomorrow’, we want them to stand as leaders today.”
What a great job they did, we started at the tomokanga, entrance to the marae ātea, through the Wharenui, Te Whare Wānanga o Whātonga, to the Wharekai, Rere Te Waiwai, they continued reciting ancient karakia thus lifting the tapu of the complex, Te Whare (Wānanga) Taiao o Manukura. The name commemorates Manukura, the first white kiwi born in captivity.
Having completed karakia, we gathered in front of the wharenui where the hautapu ceremony took place. This involved lighting the fire, cooking then burying the kūmara, an offering to ngā atua Māori. Karakia to the seven stars of Matariki was then recited. As we move into the Māori New Year we remember those who have passed during the year, then we look forward to a year of abundance.
On the way home the rain started, a tohu, the tears of Ranginui the sky father, for his wife Papatūānuku the earth mother, to signify their agreement to a wonderful ceremony at Pūkaha.