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  • Writer's pictureArohaina

IS A PEPEHA A MEMORY AID?

Absolutely it is! My pepeha is the short version about me. Not many people realise that a pepeha is a great memory aid; each line in a pepeha is a prompt for a much bigger story. So if you are interested, here we go with the bigger story.


My pepeha tells you about the spiritual and physical landmarks of the place that I regard as my ancestral home. It is the place where our ancestor who led our people to the South Island found safety from "the troubles" in the North in the early 1800s. His birth name was Te Whawhai, which means The Fighter. He was our brave chief with the skills of leadership and management he led us to a place of refuge. A place which was free from war. At some stage he became a Christian and was baptised with the name of Rihari or Richard. His other name was Tāhuaroa, a name which many of my cousins have been given.


So where exactly is our fabled "homeland"? It is on the big island that is on your right if you sail on the ferry from Wellington to Picton. As you enter Tory Channel (Kura Te Au), the land on the right hand side is Arapaoa Island. We say it is tapu because it is sacred to us, it is very important to us. The papakainga or home place is Onauku or East Bay, just across from Ship's Cove where Captain Cook anchored in 1769. Our chiefly ancestor and his wife, Rōka, are buried near this place in our Urupā or cemetery at Umukuri which is a little bay in the larger bay called East Bay.


Our waka has now been preserved and can be viewed at the Canterbury museum. This is the waka that took Te Whawhai and our people across the ocean called Raukawakawa or Cook Strait.


Our iwi is Te Ātiawa and we are all descended from Awanui-ā-rangi the great Ngāti Awa chief who sailed from Hawaiki to Aotearoa. You may have heard of the Ngāti Awa of the Bay of Plenty. Yes, you would be correct in thinking that we are connected to them. The Tokomaru waka eventually left the Bay of Plenty sailed around the top of Te Ika-ā-Māui and finally arrived at Ngā Motu or New Plymouth. The people on the waka eventually became Te Āti Awa.


Our group of whānau became the Puketapu hapū. Today we are a very big hapū spread from Taranaki to The Hutt Valley and Wellington and across to the top of the South Island. Most of us today did not grow up on Arapaoa but we are very aware of its importance to us. We still have a little land there, most of the land was bought by Edwin Gibbon Wakefield and his New Zealand Company at a ridiculous price.


The Waitangi Tribunal has recognised that our people were ripped off and have compensated us as an iwi with less than 1% of the current value of the land. The Te Āti Awa people of the South have a trust board which was instigated by the government and its Office of Treaty Settlements. This trust board is supposed to represent the interests of the beneficiaries of the trust. There are many issues facing the descendents of Te Whawhai today.


Nonetheless, we the beneficiaries remain ever optimistic that soon we may get our little piece of land on Arapaoa back so that we can maintain our ahi kā me te tūrangawaewae. This last phrase basically can be interpreted as our connection to the land to keep the home fires burning.


You may have noticed that there is no marae in my pepeha. That is another long story. Suffice it to say that we haven't built one at Onauku yet. Why haven't we built one? Well, the reason is that the land was taken and we were displaced and our diaspora took us to other places. Very soon we will have 0.5 hectares returned to us. Yay! That is when we will have many hands to build a new marae for us where all future descendants can return to. It will be a place for connecting, for knowing who we are, where we belong and where we can learn our history, tikanga and reo.

So, is Arohaina my real name? The answer is yes. That is my middle name on my birth certificate. It is a very special name to me and has always been in my consciousness. Many of my relatives know me as Johnnie, John or Hone. My friends and colleagues mainly know me as John. Like my ancestor I am very comfortable with all of my names.


In the Māori world there is a lot of tikanga around the naming of offspring just as in any culture. My mother's father changed his name from Tuteuruoho to Riwaka when he got married. There is now a very large Riwaka whānau around NZ and Australia.


What about your whānau name, you ask.? Now that is a transliteration of my father's name. My fathers name was Thorpe but his ancestors' name was de Thorpe of Normandy, France. They were originally Norsemen from the North of Europe. When they arrived alongside William the Conqueror in 1666 to invade the island now known as Britain, they became just plain Thorpe. Yes, my father was an Englishman. He travelled to Aotearoa as a young man and as happens found a beautiful Māori woman who became my mother. Our father got into the Māori language and culture. He helped to keep it alive in our whānau. Our mother's whānau welcomed him into the Māori world with lots of manaaki Māori, or Māori hospitality. He adopted the cultural practice of greeting people with the hōngi, hence they named him Hōngi. Hōngi married Mere Tahiwiwaru in the Temple at Ratana Pā near Wanganui.


Well, that's enough for now, maybe some other time when we meet we can share our stories and pepeha.


Phew! I bet you have similar stories from your family culture and like us Māori you probably have a memory technique or two to remember your story. Na reira, kia ora e hoa.

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