Photos of tupuna — ancestors — were smashed off the walls of a Northland marae but the man who claimed to have done the damage fronted up as community members were in the midst of cleaning up the damage.

The incident has angered some in the Whangārei community while others are pleased the man turned himself in.

It's believed a fire extinguisher was used to smash through the front doors of Te Puawaitanga Marae in Otangarei between 9pm and 9.30pm on Monday.

It wasn't long before the news spread and yesterday morning a team of residents were at the marae and a clean-up operation was in full swing.

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Chairman of the Te Puwai Tanga Hou trust Zona May Heta said there was some anger in the community about the attack on the marae but relieve a person had turned up about 9.30am yesterday.

Heta said she understood the man was having a difficult time and while he had family links in Otangarei he did not come from there.

"He made a mess but at least he's owned up to it," she said.

When people saw the damaged, the three photos smashed off the wall, holes in the wall, and glass strewn across the floor, there was a lot of crying and anger, Heta said.

The glass in the main door was being repaired for free and it was hoped someone else would lend a hand to fix the walls. The photos would be reframed and hung again.

Heta said the community hoped to gather yesterday afternoon at the marae with the man to talk over what had happened.

Community leader Martin Kaipo said attacking a marae had the same implications as attacking a cemetery or a church.

"A marae is as sacred as you can get," Kaipo said.

He said the incident highlighted the fact some people did not follow the teachings of their elders and instead followed some other teaching.

He said the community had rallied early yesterday and some were anxious to get the marae cleaned.

Police confirmed a 23-year-old man was arrested and charged with burglary. He was released on bail to appear in the Whangārei District Court next Tuesday.