POTONGA NEILSON has dogged determination to make things right and to keep the ancient meeting house Nga Paiaka in Papatupu lands at Waitotara.
His fight now is to save Nga Paiaka from further flooding and to relocate Waipapa Marae from beside the banks of the Waitotara River up on to a piece of flat land that looks out to the ancient pa site of Poronui and over to Mt Taranaki.
"Waipapa and Nga Paiaka will remain within Papatupu on the only flat land available and affordable that the Maori Land Court has approved."
The piece of land is surrounded by 141.64 hectares, and Mr Neilson's dream is for the people to return to live there one day.
He said that some of the people have suggested they move Nga Paiaka and the marae to Waverley.
"I have argued strongly against this, because in the first place our people died to defend this little piece of land that we still own."
He said the people of this place they call Papatupu and Waipapa had to retreat many times into the hinterland, but they always returned to the hau kainga.
"Papatupu is our turanga waewae, our ahikaa roa, our maara, and many of our ancestors and whanau lie within Te Koopu o te Whenua in Papatupu.
"So we will not be moving our marae out of Papatupu lands." Mr Neilson said the old pa site had historical significance to the Aotea people.
"The great ceremonial adze Teawhiorangi was displayed to the people after it was found in 1887."
The adze belonged to Turi, the commander of the Aotea waka. It had been lost for many years and was found by a Nga Rauru woman named Tomairangi.
All the tribes gathered at Papatupu to view their ancestor's taonga.
"This is another reason Nga Paiaka should remain on this last little piece of land that we can call our own.
"The pepeha for Nga Paiaka is "Tuku iho te puhi o te whenua" ? and is another reason not to go elsewhere."
It further demonstrated the kotahitanga of all the local tribes, Mr Neilson said.
PICTURED: The interior of the historic meeting house Nga Paiaka, which was moved to its present site in 1942. The tahuhu is believed to have been carved with an adze. Nga Paiaka was dismantled during the Taranaki Land Wars and buried to save it from marauding colonial soldiers who burned down meeting houses.
The carvings were never discovered. The whare was rebuilt in 1891 on the banks of the Waitotara River and was believed to be half its former size.
Mr Neilson plans to carbon date Nga Paiaka to establish its true age.
Nga Paiaka was moved to a new kainga when a road was put through and then to its present location when the marae was named Waipapa ? a term that described the regrowth of the forest after a fire or other forms of destruction. In this case it was a new beginning for the people after the wars and epidemics.