The pōhiri at Gisborne, at Tūranga, began with the longest walk I've ever seen: from close to a kilometre away the manuhiri were called on, advancing under a wero so ferocious, the warriors right up in their faces, close enough to spit, close enough to strike with a mere.
Behind them, ranks of other warriors withdrew, circled round, advanced again. And on the visitors came, the crews of three magnificent twin-hulled sea-going waka hourua, all there to pay homage, and the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and her ministers, the President of French Polynesia, the British High Commissioner, hundreds with them, hundreds more waiting on the paepae. The hot sun and keen cold wind on their faces, on their bodies, the karanga keening through it all, the waiata, and screams like a bird, grief and pride and glory rippling all through the crowded tangata whenua. Rows of empty white plastic chairs for the manuhiri, blown into a raggedy pile.
The first speech tore the voice from the orator and wasted him. On this day, in this moment, they were recognised. After 250 years, it was acknowledged and it was known: when James Cook arrived in Aotearoa, the first thing he did when he came ashore, his first act on meeting the people who lived here, was to shoot dead their chief.
Tuia 250 commemorations kick off in Gisborne
Emotional welcome at Tuia 250 commemoration in Gisborne
Tuia 250: Emotions running high as flotilla, including replica of Cook's Endeavour, nears Gisborne
Cook was the scientist-explorer of the age. The people he met had a history of seafaring every bit as audacious and skilled. That's who we are and that's what we have to build on.
The pōhiri was magnificent, on both sides. Piri Sciascia, first respondent for the manuhiri, speaking for the GG, was thunderous: you don't need to know a language, and I don't, to know the depths of honour and respect summoned by great speechifying.
The commemorations of Tuia 250 were launched in Tūranga last weekend, hard on the heels of the Government announcing New Zealand history will become compulsory in schools, which is a thrilling advance for all of us.
National leader Simon Bridges warned it would have to be taught "warts and all", but he did not say what he meant. He's right, and there's nothing to suggest it won't happen. Certainly, the official recognition that Cook killed people exposes a wart most of us had forgotten or simply never knew.
The plaque on the Cook statue, the new one, on the foreshore near where he landed, carries the kind of inscription you don't see often. Cook, it says, was "a fine seaman, an outstanding captain and an honest man". Who thinks to assure viewers of the honesty of their subject?
It notes his great contributions to science and global discovery, and says that when Cook and others went in search of food and water, "Māori chief and English greeted one another. When traditional challenges were misunderstood Māori were killed."
The old statue, known as the Crook Cook, is now in Tairāwhiti Museum, where it's considered an "historical artefact". It doesn't look like Cook and the uniform he's wearing isn't from the Royal Navy. Admired and defaced for years, now out of the way, the best explanation is that it's a copy of a copy by a not very good artist, made in Sydney. Another wart, perhaps.
Dame Jenny Shipley, one of the co-conveners of the whole commemoration, calls Tuia 250 "a beginning". Is she right? The media focus was on the arrival of the replica Endeavour three days later. But the arrival of those waka and that pōhiri on the Saturday, that was the heart of it for many.
The old town of Gisborne is nestled on the confluence of three rivers, with green parks along their banks, bridges everywhere to join everyone up, a great sweeping beach and handsome colonial buildings on the city streets. There are even painted bike lanes, and some charming off-road bike trails too.
Those buildings speak of the city's strength and weakness. Because they're still there, the city has the bones to become once more a delightful, thriving urban centre. But the reason they're still there is neglect. Gisborne has been abandoned by enterprise for so long, there's been no demand to pull them down and build something bigger. Abandoned by enterprise means abandoned by employment, by capital, by young people, by hope.
Tuia 250 implicitly suggests that should change. The Provincial Growth Fund says it rather more bluntly. Roughly $200 million has been allocated to Gisborne to date, for roading improvements, market gardens and other food initiatives, wood research, railways and other projects. It's so important.
A country challenged to save its provinces. That's one of the things we are now, too.
Last weekend also saw the opening of the inaugural Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival, not part of Tuia 250 but sitting alongside it. On the Friday night Jacinda Ardern stood in the foyer of the newly rebuilt Lawton Field Theatre and spoke of the importance of the arts and of history. Tama Waipara, festival director, local boy who went away to make a career in music and now he's back, spoke of everything the festival and Tairāwhiti itself meant to him.
They were both moving speeches, but the high moment of the evening came with the waiata, with Waipara, who could be the musical director for angels, he's that good, slipping into the back row to join in. Complex harmonies, arresting melodies, such haunting tones. So beautiful.
The next night it was the turn of Witi's Wahine, the world premiere of a play created by Nancy Brunning based around characters from the works of that other local boy, Witi Ihimaera: The Whale Rider, The Matriarch, Bulibasha and more.
There it all was, Ihimaera's remarkable ability to shuffle history and myth, serving up the richness of culture and the wonder of people, with all their warts, with all the laughter and the singing and the pain. Lifting you up to ride on the back of a whale and insisting, also, that you learn how to deal with death.
Four women and a guitar on stage. I don't mind saying I was utterly wrung out by the end, and felt blessed for it. This, again, is who we are and what we have to build on.
Brunning, who is very unwell, was there watching from her wheelchair. She has given us a great, great work. It will tour. Watch for it.
The festival continues till October 20. Theatre, music, visual arts, movies, dance, community arts. The NZSO is calling in, the chamber choir Voice New Zealand will join forces with Warren Maxwell, the Aretha Franklin tribute show seen in the Auckland Arts Festival will be there too, featuring Annie Crummer, Ria Hall, Jackie Clarke and Bella Kalolo. There's a lot more.
Tūranga is growing, in heart and soul, and perhaps in every other way too. But it could do with help.
PGF Minister Shane Jones is quite right to rail against Air New Zealand for its attitude to the provinces, although perhaps he could do something about that himself. The cost of flying to Gisborne from anywhere is so high, it's a scandal for a national carrier.
Waipara's festival is aimed primarily at locals, but as it blooms over the coming years, will the city and the region bloom with it? Arts in the city and that big old East Coast to explore? What's not to like?
He and Maisey Rika have a lovely song called Under an East Coast Moon. You just know from the title that magic is afoot. And so it is. So it could be. This is who we are.