Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 27, September 1983
HOST HISTORIC REUNION
By HOHA SULLIVAN
(This article appeared in the Thames Valley Gazette 24/2/83)
Throughout the duration of the recent Anniversary Day weekend, Jan. '83 the rural settlement of Tirohia, just south of Paeroa, and located alongside the Waihou River, was the historical venue for the first-ever reunion of members of the Ngati Hako people, reputed as the earliest recorded tribe in this area. The Te Whaka Kotahitanga Marae hui huinga stretched welcoming arms to a staggering record of more than 500 descendants representing many of the original families and encompassing three and four generations.
Naturally this figure was just the tip of the iceberg, the majority of the families were barely represented, and consequently the figure could rise dramatically. In the not too distant future a bigger reunion is envisaged and this was a trial run to test the response and check the organising expertise of the planning committee. The families who were able to attend represented: the Mita, Bain, Peni, Hennah, Clarkin, Tipa, Rikirangi, Wilkinson, Wani, Nicholls, Sarsfield, Pakinga, Carter, Johnson, Witika, Harrison, Morehu, Tuwhakaraina and Paraku.
PRIVILEGE. From an observer's view, it was a privilege to be present at this very old marae, mingling with old friends, making new friends, and reviving memories of loved ones. Right from the start the early arrivals settled in and immediately manned key positions. Everyone present acknowledged the mammoth task that the chairman and his committee achieved for the overall planning of this hui huinga. Provisions were made for extra sleeping, cooking, dining and ablution facilities.
Tents and caravans surrounded the eastern side of the marae and the main activities centred on the official caravan and large marquee. The caravan was manned by an administration team, who were responsible for recording registration fees and donations, and issuing name cards with relevant tupuna details, and name stickers for the children. The team were Mrs Alice Fleming, Mrs Nellie Hemara, Mrs Alicia Shaw and Mrs Marie Woolley.
The marquee provided extra sleeping quarters at night and during the day was used for various activities. A tarpaulin extension to the existing dining room housed trestles and forms, and the meals that were served each day, without exception, were superb. With Mr. Harry Tutaki and his team outside, Mrs Winnie Hutchinson and her team inside, and Mrs. Jan Iraia and Mrs Emily de Thierry in charge of the stores, the meals just had to be good. The use of a mobile freezer unit was a valuable aid and a great asset to the chefs.
ACTIVITIES. The purpose of the weekend was aimed mainly at the children and naturally all the activities revolved around them. There were: impromptu ball games, jazzercise, two disco evenings, a talent quest, films and television programmes when the adults were not watching the cricket. A mobile shop opened only at certain times found favour with the delighted children. Saturday morning was filled with nostalgia, when a bus load of adults and children led by one of the senior lady kaumatuas and local resident, Mrs Nellie Bain, climbed aboard the "Settler", moored near the Puke Bridge.
As the boat chugged along and steamed full ahead up the Waihou and back to the marae, our kaumatua pointed out all the flax mill sites, family homestead sites and other places of interest. Cameras were clicking and what a fantastic sight when the "Settler" came round the last bend, and the marae complex came into view.
THE KARANGA. Almost simultaneously, Mrs Vera Rakena (nee Mita) gave the karanga or traditional welcome. It was a glorious sight, with all the people scrambling for better vantage positions and littering the banks right down to the river's edge, where the boat passengers exchanged places with the second group. This time they were led by our second lady kaumatua, Mrs Harriet Clarkin. They too, enjoyed their trip, and before the bus left Paeroa it took them down memory lane to Princess St. where some of these families once lived.
The afternoon and early evening was spent in a more relaxed manner. The children had ball games, swimming and jazzercise led by Mr and Mrs. Bruce Mita, and the adults watched the cricket, and after tea moved into the meeting house for talks covering various topics. The local hall, not far from the marae, was the venue for the reunion social. It was "Saturday night" and the children danced, stomped and whirled to the foot-tapping disco beat until just past midnight.
The chefs had provided a sumptuous supper but because they had earlier dished up a superb barbecue dinner, very few could cope with the supper as well. Only the threat that breakfast was indefinite soon had their appetites revived, good humouredly of course.
SERVICE. Sunday morning was the start to another full day's programme, beginning first with a special dedication church service, which appropriately enough was conducted by the patron of this marae, Mr Ron Tyrrell, an Anglican lay efficient and local horticulturalist. He was joined and assisted by kaumatuas Mr D. Rakena, Mrs A. Marsh and Mrs J. Tuwhakaraina. After the service some of the families moved into the meeting house and set up copies of their whakapapas around the walls and it was not until later in the afternoon that they were able to explain and introduce family groups, as well as make reference to photos of the tupunas permanently displayed. Talks covering topics of marae protocol and local history were given by local and visiting kaumatuas.
Finally, the highlight of the whole weekend, the Hakari or special dinner. Here the planning committee was spot on. A huge hangi had been prepared and tables were set up in front of the marquee allowing the men to carve and the women to serve more conveniently. The dining room workers, led by the Paraku sisters, had earlier transformed the marquee and it was absolutely beautiful. The table settings were an artist's dream and for the weight watchers, a nightmare.
REUNION CAKE. Pride of place on the main table was a very big reunion cake, baked, iced and appropriately decorated for this occasion by the chairman's mother-in-law. It not only looked good, it tasted good, because the next day very little was left. Mrs Vera Rakena gave the karanga or welcome to the guests as they made their way to the main table. The guests were either special visitors or members representing all the main families present.
The two people chosen to have the privilege of cutting the cake were our two senior kaumatuas, Mrs Nellie Bain and her niece, Mrs Harriet Clarkin. They spoke eloquently in both languages, both warmly praised the chairman, his committee and his workers, for their fine efforts to make this occasion a wonderful success. Both acknowledged that this was a very special occasion, the very first Te Whaka Kotahitanga hui huinga.
"As your kaumatuas it makes us both very proud to have this great honour". They further endorsed each other's comments, that everyone present must continue working together, supporting each other, and in conclusion, they both made a plaintiff plea to hold the next reunion very soon. Both these dear aunts carried out their duties with warmth, dignity and humour, and it was obvious they were loved and adored. The afternoon concluded with the Peni family entertaining with a song composed by Mrs Nellie Hemara to mark this event.
TREES The menfolk planted several native trees within the grounds and the "whakapapa sessions" continued in the meeting house. The final evening catered for all the young ones with another disco and talent quest session until the wee hours of the morning.
The adults entertained themselves in several ways, as well as singing all the old songs and agreeing that the past few days were just the greatest. This marae with its rural setting poses no problem, when happy sounds and good music fill the night and the early hours.
Te Whaka Kotahihanga hui huinga, come again soon.
A video coverage captured all the highlights and main events, and before most of the people disbanded, it was very emotional to watch the replay, and perhaps relive these few days, but this time instead of having just memories, we now have a video record, thanks to Mr Andrew Gray.
Because reunions simply mean families meeting one another, this little verse handed to me by Len summed up what this weekend meant to one of the 500 descendants:
My family is my pride and joy,
And I do love them so.
I hope that we will never part,
Because if such a thing should be
There would be no more of me.
Because my family is my pride and joy,
My family is my life.
Len Christian (nee Hannah)