There was a time when Ngāti Rongomai was said to almost be extinct but that is now a mere myth.

After placing second at Te Matatini and the Te Arawa Games this year whānau members Moewaka Te Rangi, Ana Hona-Milner and Matehaere Te Rangi looked back at the evolution of the iwi.

In the late 90s Ngāti Rongomai was in its prime but a few years later Matehaere remembers the iwi becoming lost.

"That was 22 years ago and then after that it was nothing," he said.

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"Rongomai was quite unknown and at one stage could have been known as extinct but the kura has brought Rongomai to life and ever since it has just flourished."

Te Wharekura o Ngāti Rongomai was established in 2008.

Previously people had identified as Ngāti Pikiao when competing in competitions but once the kura was established, people started asking who they were and where they came from.

"Everyone just went away and lived their life. We didn't think to actually enter competitions until the kura had started.

"We went from the kura to Te Pikikōtuku o Rongomai, then we put a team into the Pā Wars and then we went to Te Arawa games."

Te Pikikōtuku o Ngāti Rongomai were placed second overall at Te Matatini. Photos / Te Matatini Society Incorporated
Te Pikikōtuku o Ngāti Rongomai were placed second overall at Te Matatini. Photos / Te Matatini Society Incorporated

Now Matehaere is the groundsman for the kura which his own kids attend and which the iwi now considers its headquarters.

"Our marae aren't up to standard at the moment because they are not open and not available for us to use as our headquarters.

"As an iwi we don't have anywhere to go at the moment to be as an iwi."

Hence the reason why trophies won at Te Matatini and the Te Arawa Games sit proudly along the wall in the school office.

Original kapa haka member Moewaka established the kura along with principal Tukiterangi Curtis and said she was brought to tears when her kapa reached the top nine at Te Matatini.

It was the group's third time at Te Matatini this year and the first time they had reached the top nine. They went on the place second overall.

"For me being one of the oldest performers, I can now stand back, hang up my pois and now my babies can step forward and take over," Moewaka said.

It was an easy decision for Moewaka to have the trophies on display at the school so all could enjoy the iwi's success.

"Because as you can imagine the marae are only used for tangihanga purposes so these taonga could be locked up in the marae but then no one would see them.

"It's nice to role model for our tamariki from the kura's perspective. If you can see what is happening outside the kura you take what you are learning inside and you practice that outside as an iwi."

Last year after a 10-year fight for recognition, Te Wharekura o Ngāti Rongomai secured stand-alone status, but it was the power of the kapa haka rōpū which made it happen.

The kura originally started at the marae and had just one class for new entrants all the way up to Year 8.

Enough was enough and Te Pikikōtuku o Rongomai challenged their manu motuhake though the regional competition early last year.

"We did a Mōteatea based on our kura kaupapa. We told our story form a kapa haka perspective and it was a pōkeka (chant), so we were making a statement," Moewaka said.

"It was our plan to take it to Matatini, because we use our kapa to fight our political battles.

"It worked though because in February was the regionals where we performed and then by November Tuki (the principal) got a phone call to go to the Ministry of Education office and they presented us with stand-alone (status)."

Currently, the school roll sits around 120 which includes students from new entrants to Year 13.

The wharekura had been a satellite of Te Wharekura o Te Kaokaoroa o Pātetere for a number of years but in August the Government announced the school would receive $10 million to help build a new permanent property.

To attend the kura you have to whakapapa back to Ngāti Rongomai which has now become a privilege to many.

"You have to know how you whakapapa back so it has actually made people learn.

"The kura's fundamental values are run on the same principles as are run in te ao Māori and as an iwi.

"Our kids here have the opportunity to live and breathe it in a textbook context and I wish for me that I was part of that growing up."

Moewaka said the kura provided stability for whānau and for the iwi but their recent successes was only the beginning.

"Have we reached our pinnacle? Absolutely not.

"I believe as an iwi we are always looking for innovate ways to do things. But as we as a whānau expand so does the resources and collaborative thinking.

"It's just about taking little chunks away as we are progressing."

Labelled the masterpiece behind Ngāti Rongomai's participation in the Te Arawa Games Hona-Milner agrees with Moewaka after placing second for the first time in 22 years.

"The Te Arawa games was a good way to interact with all their other cousins and Aunty and Uncles and get to know them and we weren't at a tangi, it was a positive environment."

About 70 per cent of the school was involved in the games creating a "sea of blue" from a total close to 200 from Ngāti Rongomai alone.

Hona-Milner said it was a complete contrast to last year when 12 people participated.

She believed Ngāti Rongomai was just a humble iwi that was happy to participate more than they were happy to win anything.

In fact when they won the Te Arawa Games trophy they almost left without it, only realising when someone called out to them.

"That just goes to prove we weren't there for the trophy, we weren't there to win we were just there to be there as one."