On Saturday we opened our new Ngāti Rangiwewehi dining room, fondly known as one of our kuia Te Aongahoro, at Tarimano marae in Awahou.

The opening started in the dark with a karakia at 6am and there was a formal pohiri later in the day.

This was attended by many dignitaries, including well-known koeke from other marae and Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick before we invited them into Te Aongahoro for the first of many meals.

Our new wharekai is a beautiful building and the culmination of a lot of hard work completed by too many people to name.

However, mention must be made of Dennis Thompson and the marae committee, project manager Louis Bidois, Gayleen Bidois, Dylan Thompson, Moffat Haehae, Te Ururoa Flavell, the Rika whanau, our various kaumatua, minita and the many other people who attended working bees and made various anonymous contributions.

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I invite you to take a drive to Gloucester Rd in Awahou to have a look at our new dining room and the changes made that will enable us to host more visitors more efficiently at the centre of our Ngāti Rangiwewehi universe for decades to come.

Among many other aspects of Ngāti Rangiwewehi life, the new wharekai provides Ngāti Rangiwewehi people opportunities to practice Ahi Kaa.

Ahi Kaa is the burning fires of occupation or a title to land through occupation by a group, generally over a long period of time.

About 100 people gathered at Tarimano marae for the opening of Te Aongahoro, the new wharekai. Photo/Tahnee Ormsby
About 100 people gathered at Tarimano marae for the opening of Te Aongahoro, the new wharekai. Photo/Tahnee Ormsby

The group is able, through the use of whakapapa, to trace back to primary ancestors who lived on the land through their military strength and successful defence against challenges, thereby keeping their fires going.

As a child, I remember fires burning in our old wharekai down by the river.

There were big pots hanging over the fires containing all kinds of delicacies such as watercress and wild pork.

They were huge pots and the fires were always warm and welcoming.

Our most recent wharekai also had a fire which was used to heat the hot water as well as warm up the kitchen to keep our ringawera and manuhiri warm.

The concept of Ahi Kaa is more than keeping the fires going and keeping everyone warm

Ahi Kaa is also about keeping our marae "warm" through the presence of our people.

It was during my time living away from Rotorua that I learnt the true meaning of Ahi Kaa and the importance of keeping contact with my whānau, hapū and iwi.

Building our new wharekai has come at a cost.

During the build, we were unable to host manuhiri for hui such as tangi, weddings, birthdays and kapa haka.

We will, therefore, always be grateful to our Ngararanui and Parawai cousins and others such as Tamahou and White Haven Funeral home for supporting our people through those difficult times.

Aroha Yates-Smith, left, Di Hohaia, Rona Larsen and Nan Thompson at the opening of Te Aongahoro. Photo/Jasmine Waerea
Aroha Yates-Smith, left, Di Hohaia, Rona Larsen and Nan Thompson at the opening of Te Aongahoro. Photo/Jasmine Waerea

As mentioned earlier, our new Wharekai makes it possible to host more visitors more efficiently and improves our ability to look after our elders.

The building, our kuia, truly is a thing of beauty.

She is enhanced by the people you will see returning home to the marae to keep the home fires burning as they outwork ahi kaa.

Unlike the previous wharekai, there is no actual fire in the new dining room other than the pilot lights on the new gas appliances.

However, Ahi Kaa was never just about the fire.

So, hopefully, you are keeping your winter home fires burning at your place too, so people in your whanau are welcome home at your place at any time with their kids asking if they are nearly there yet, whether you have a fireplace in your home or not.

Ngahihi o te ra Bidois is an international leadership speaker, author, husband and father. To find out more about him view his website on www.ngahibidois.com