Hawke's Bay's treasured Opera House is currently in lockdown, but when it reopens, there's a very special and sacred treasure waiting inside.

After a six-year renovation the venue, now renamed Toitoi, had its life force unveiled in its new setting and rededicated by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in February.

Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Inc Chairman, Ngahiwi Tomoana said the mauri stone was carved onsite at an exhibition called Te Mata in 2005.

"Indigenous artists from around the world converged on Hastings at that time and we had open workshops in the front of the gallery here and in front of the library.


"We had composing workshops, poetry, writing, carving and performing arts workshops. This mauri stone was carved by Glen Skipper.

"The stone itself comes from Tuhua, or Mayor Island. Tuhua is the only stone that can cut pounamu. They are lovers and they are divorcees - pounamu and Tuhua.

"But it talks about the cut-through that art can bring to this world.

Tomoana echoed the words of his predecessor, Charles Mohi, who 30 years ago said the arts are the soul of the people.

"Mauri. If you broke the word down, ma-uri, it is for the descendants, for those not yet born, for those to come in 100 years, in a thousand years time.

"Just at Mākirikiri, shingle in the stream below, was once a rock and it fragmented into a million parts, and each of those parts has that mauri.

"So everyone that comes through this building will take away a mauri. For ngā uri whakatipu, ma-uri, for the children not yet born.

"If it took a million years for that stone to break down to mākiriki, then in a million years time that mauri - life force - would remain in us and our children, in our children's children, and in their children not yet born."


The Prime Minister unveiled the mauri stone alongside kaumatua Jerry Hapuku and spoke about the long relationship she has with Hawke's Bay and its people.

"I was the bridesmaid at Jerry's son's wedding, so we know each other from many moons ago," she said.

"This is one of my second homes. I come here to ... relax isn't the right word, I come here to 'enjoy' the recreational side of just being in this beautiful part of the world. And so I have gotten to know it a little bit over the years.

"That means I have a sense of the longevity of this project, that since 2014 you have been working to reinstate what is a taonga for your community."

Toitoi is currently closed due to the Covid-19 lockdown, but has bookings on hold for its eventual reopening.

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