Up to 70 people have been regularly attending Te Arawa tikanga wananga aimed at preparing them to fill cultural roles within the iwi.
The latest Te Pua Wananga o Te Arawa live-in, teaching whakapapa, karakia, waiata, te reo, and other aspects of Te Arawa kawa (protocols) and tikanga (customs), was held at Waiariki Institute of Technology during the weekend.
Kirsten Rei (Ngati Whakaue) said many of the participants had attended between six and 12 wananga each year since they began in 2009.
"We have returned from Wellington, Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, and even Australia, to partake of the menu of waiata and korero on offer from some of our finest repositories of knowledge within the iwi," Ms Rei said.
Many were motivated to keep attending with the knowledge that they were contributing to the survival of Te Arawa rituals which they held most dear.
"This was perhaps uppermost in Te Ururoa Flavell's mind when he started these wananga, to continue the legacy of the likes of Hiko Hohepa and Irirangi Tiakiawa," she said.
"The importance of supporting our paepae [orators' bench] can't be understated. Our ability to embellish the paepae with appropriate karanga, waiata and karakia is surely an indicator of our health as an iwi. For us, it's about passing our health check so that the things we treasure most can survive beyond us."
Mrs Rei said those who regularly attended the wananga made the most of the time; persevering together, sometimes into the early hours, reciting karakia and whakapapa. "After three years, the repertoire of waiata, karakia and whakapapa that we have within our collective memory is now growing, but there is still so much work to do. The view is that there is at least another decade worth of material to revise and revive," she said.
Bryce Murray (Ngati Whakaue) said the recent inclusion of a te reo component within the wananga would help participants take up the challenges being faced by the iwi with an ever-decreasing base of knowledgeable and proficient speakers of the language.
"If we subscribe to the notion that 'Ko te reo te mauri o te mana Maori' [The language is the life essence of Maori existence], then we have an obligation to ensure our marae are places where our reo thrives."
He said it was great to see a growing number of younger, first-language speakers of te reo Maori going to Te Pua Wananga with their parents.
"The hope is that they might pick up the mantle of responsibility alongside us, so the burden can be carried by more than just our koeke [male elders] and kuia. We cannot continue to rely on the same ones to carry our marae," he said.
The next Te Pua Wananga o Te Arawa will be on May 17.