A woman stands, seemingly alone, her arms stretched outward, her hand wavers, shimmering in the sunlight. Her eyes are warm, and her voice, melodic, proud and purposeful, reaches through the ages, beyond the boundaries of cultural differences, to the visitors standing at the gate. She is not alone. Behind her, carved into wood, are her ancestors, supporting her with their silent presence.

The small community of Pūtiki was named centuries ago by the renowned explorer Tamatea-pōkai-whenua, who, as legend tells, tied his hair into a topknot (a pūtiki) with a type of harakeke called wharanui, so that when he was welcomed by the people of Whanganui, he would be recognised as a rangatira (a leader or a chief). And he was.

Regardless of who is being welcomed, whether it may be women and children displaced from Parihaka, the Queen Mother in 1966 or a bus load of American tourists, the people of Pūtiki have always opened their arms in welcome. They always practise manaakitanga, the art of hospitality.

On Waitangi Day, February 6, 1928, a composite cultural performance group from Pūtiki and Kaiwhaiki took part in the opening of 2YA radio station in Wellington. Their performance was described as "an elaborate pageant of Māori history, song and story". This essentially was the beginnings of the Pūtiki Māori Club. The club went into a recess during World War II.

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Museum Notebook
Museum Notebook

In 1952 the Reverend Kīngi Īhaka arrived in Whanganui to take up a post as vicar at St Paul's Memorial Church in Pūtiki. He quickly saw that the local teenagers were at something of a loose end, due to the lack of activities they could join.

He resurrected the performing group. It was named the Young Anglicans, later becoming the Pūtiki Youth Club. As members grew older and moved through the ranks and new younger members joined, it became the Pūtiki Māori Club.

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Īhaka was a real live-wire, so my grandmother Maudie Reweti told me. It was his talent and his drive that put Pūtiki on the map. He was also a very orderly man. He was very strict, according to Marama Dey who joined the Pūtiki Māori Club in the late 1950s as a teenager. The dress code at Pūtiki was of a high standard and still is. Shoes polished, hair brushed, you wore your Sunday best. Manners impeccable.

The uniform, worn by the wāhine (women), comprised a black dress with a tāniko (woven) bodice, a korowai (cloak) and a tāniko head band.
The uniform, worn by the wāhine (women), comprised a black dress with a tāniko (woven) bodice, a korowai (cloak) and a tāniko head band.

The waiata then were soft and gentle, never aggressive, and were sung in four-part harmony. Everyone in the club was expected to be able to sing those harmonies. A guitar was never used. At that time the club was an a capella ensemble. Īhaka followed the traditional ways.

The club found itself in great demand at many public functions in Whanganui. Its highlight performances were for the 1960s Rugby Lions Tour, a reception for the Prime Minister of Thailand, several Governor-Generals, British royalty and famous sports people such as Jesse Owen.

The club also performed in the Hui Aroha, a competition of waiata (songs), waiata-ā-ringa (action songs) and haka between the missions of the Wellington Anglican Diocese.

At one time the club had a membership of around 50. Numbers dwindled over time and the Pūtiki Māori Club was disbanded in the late 20th century.

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Reverend Kīngi Īhaka is seated in the second row.
Reverend Kīngi Īhaka is seated in the second row.

On that day Reweti and Huia Kirk closed the club accounts. There was a little bit of money left in the kitty and the ladies treated themselves to a day out and about in Whanganui, culminating in a visit to the Botanical Gardens at Virginia Lake and a cup of tea and a piece of cake at the café.

• Lisa Reweti is public programmes presenter at Whanganui Regional Museum.