Te Ao Mārama marae host and kapa haka performer Annie Iere shares the story of Te Hana, the guardian spirit watching over her.
Te Hana is not just a place but the name of one of our ancestors, a beautiful maiden who was involved in a love triangle many years ago.
Betrothed to a local chief, Te Hana was wooed by another chief from a different iwi. He cast a karakia, a love spell, on her to fall deeply in love with him. Because she was under the spell, Te Hana left her people and swam across the Kaipara Harbour in search of this other handsome young warrior and they married.
But the chief she had been betrothed to in the first place found them. Her husband was killed and that tribe was sent packing; they now dwell in Taranaki. The spell was broken and Te Hana was welcomed home.
Women are very strong in this area; we carry everything. This pou kaitiaki of Te Hana is our guardian, giving us strength to get on with the mahi that needs to be done. We believe she not only watches over us but over the waterways leading down to the Kaipara, over those travelling by, and over the visitors who come through our marae. The pou was placed here in 2007 before a sod of soil was turned, to protect everyone on the site.
I've always been passionate about kapa haka and I can sing, so when I heard Te Ao Mārama was looking for staff, I auditioned and got in. We opened in 2010 and I've been here ever since, performing kapa haka, helping out in the bar and wharekai [dining room], and guiding tours through our [replica] 17th-century pā, explaining the function of a marae and showing how our people lived in pre-European times. I love doing school groups; the kids get a lot out of it. In summer, the cruise ships used to keep us busy, but since Covid we're lucky to still be here.
Many of the whakairo [carvings] in this area were hidden, for fear they would be destroyed by the missionaries. Unfortunately, many have never been recovered. The pou of Te Hana was created in our carving studio by master carver Louis Kereopa, who drew in a lot of our young people to help tell her story.
The pou has two sides — the physical, imagining what Te Hana looked like, and the spiritual. Abalone shells set into the wood represent the different sub tribes around this area. Two carved tails are the taniwha of the Kaipara, including our own tipuna, who dwells in a cave-like rock in the harbour and would warn our people that war may be coming by transforming himself into a magnificent light in the sky. The rock is where Te Hana left her korowai when she swam across the harbour.
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Te Ao Mārama was born from a dream, and it brought people together when times were hard and the community was struggling. Now it's helping us to dig deep and have hope for the future, and the strength to hold fast to that dream.
— as told to Joanna Wane
Annie Iere is a host, tour guide and kapa haka performer at Te Hana Te Ao Mārama marae and Māori cultural centre, an hour's drive north of Auckland. Next Saturday (July 31), the marae is holding a special event, "Taniwha, Kaitiakitanga & Kaipara Kaimoana", as part of the Elemental AKL festival (aucklandnz.com/elementalfestival). Opening at 11am with a pōwhiri, the programme includes a tour of the replica Māori village, a seafood lunch and a concert. For bookings, email email@example.com.