Marae, Maps and a Māori-boy

Oromahoe Marae4
By all accounts I am a pale-skinned, Māori farm-boy from the Bay of Islands, Northland. Divided by State Highway 10, intersected by a handful of metal roads, and accentuated with the smell of bush, cowpats and fresh air, Oromahoe is one of New Zealand’s many blink-you-miss kinds of places. My childhood here was spent almost exclusively on the paddocks that flanked all sides of the Oromahoe marae. At the time, marae were just another part of life. Their existence: implicit. They were an assortment of buildings on neatly-kept pieces of land that served as the backdrop for social catch-ups, welcomes, nose-presses, kisses, tears, laughter, ashtrays, debates and meals.

Back then, whether just up the road to our marae at Oromahoe, or any other marae in the area, the drive would be spent looking out the car windows at the banks of dusty metal roads searching for Waewae-koukou to make our tawa (mourning wreath). If not combing the outside shrubbery, we’d be thinking of a response for when our father would ask “he aha a tātou nei waiata?” – what’s our song? (Never a particularly enjoyed trivia amongst us children).

As is typical in the north, stepping inside the meetinghouse entailed an almost immediate barrage of kisses and hongi from vaguely familiar aunties, uncles and wider relations who knew us more than we knew them. The onslaught of affection was followed by boredom. Despite our basic household training in mihimihi (oration) and te reo the affairs of the house were foreign to us native children. Following Dad’s mihi and our song, us children would hastily duck outside – heads bowed – lest we be caught by the next kāranga. From there on we’d try to create some sort of entertainment with cousins in a ‘pre-device’ world. The grassy strip to the side of the courtyard hosted games of bull-rush and touch rugby. The concrete-sealed spaces outside the dining hall were the domain of hand-ball or the locally-invented ‘footsy’ in the absence of a ball. Inevitably this ‘fun’ would be interrupted by a summons to prepare tables, serve tea and wash dishes.

Understanding came with age. It was not until I moved away to Auckland to go to university that my marae, and marae in general, moved from implicit to explicit – perhaps because they were no longer ‘next door’. Now, nine years later, Auckland has become Dunedin and getting home is a far more deliberate endeavour. A three-hour jump-in-the-car and drive now follows a $300 (return) flight, requiring purchase weeks in advance. One that not only puts me out-of-pocket financially but exacerbating pressures on study deadlines. I realise today that I, like those before me, are part of the majority of Māori university students that live away from their marae. Or perhaps I am a minority of kin-connected Māori youth who are still drawn to the idea of returning to their papakāinga. I also realise that as I am likely to pursue a career within academia, I will probably have to live away from Oromahoe for a significant part of my life, returning as time, finances and research projects allow.

Enter Māori Maps seeks to respond to an emerging crisis: Māori cross-generational dislocation, assisting Māori in reconnecting, or more simply, locating their home marae-communities. Over eight years Māori Maps has mapped almost all tribal marae of Aotearoa – including GPS data, information, photographs and associated taonga. My role with the project began as a graduate researcher in 2010. Since 2013, I, led by kaihautū Peter Dowling have driven research, marae communication, archiving and content management of the website data.

In the summer of 2014, I joined Paul and Ike Reti (senior advisor, chef, wharekai assessor and man of infinite stories and connections) on the final marae mapping trip. We covered over 9000 kilometres from the Far North east coast; through to the Waikato river-mouth, the western bays of Lake Taupō, back roads of Taumarunui on to Whanganui and Foxton. In total we visited 26 marae that had been missed from previous mapping trips. Many of these marae were isolated from towns at the end of steep, dusty, muddy, gravel and clay roads hidden in beach coves, lakesides or along rivers. At times we were required to roll up the shorts to cross rivers – holding camera and GPS equipment well above the water.

Two marae, for example, in relative close proximity to each other, featured wharenui, kauta, or churches that had existed for over 100 years. One of the marae was surrounded by a modest, yet humming community. As we pulled up, a caretaker on a quad hurtled down the road with a bunch of youth in tow. Instantly we were taken on a full tour of the pride of their papakāinga. Another marae, only a few kilometres away stood by itself, quiet in a paddock, hidden from the road and in much need of attention. To find it we asked locals living nearby, the majority of whom hadn’t heard, seen or knew of it.

These 26 marae, although only a small sample, told a common story. Remaining hau kāinga expressed a concern over the lack of returning descendants – lost to urban centres. Others described the ongoing challenge of surviving in a state of resourcelessness as they confront tribal politics with iwi organisations over funding grants. And so, while some communities appear to be doing well, many continue to face a challenge of staying relevant to their descendants.

Exit PhD. My current doctoral research recognises that marae have been a continuous focus of tribal values for over 800 years in New Zealand (and 3000 plus years in the Pacific), but continue to feel the impacts of land alienation and Post World War II urbanisation. With this background I therefore ask ‘what will our marae-community look like in 100 years?’ in an attempt to find some cross-generational solutions for the next band of Oromahoe-street rats.



    1. Maihi Barber

      Certainly connected with the taitokerau way of rolling especially the whole marae styles. Time has moulded our marae and continues to. My hope is that the futuristic marae will retain our essence our intuition and our knowledge. Hoino he mihi nui tenei ki a koe e Hirini mo te roanga o tou ara matauranga.


  1. Amber Nicholson

    I envy your small-town marae-based childhood. The knowledge, community, and spirituality inherent with that environment is so tangible. It is the stories that emanate from the ancestral landscapes that shape us all, more so those that know and revere their turangawaewae. Your PhD mahi is important in helping to find ways to retell those stories and establish those connections (no pressure).


    1. Hirini Tane

      Thank you for the feedback! Thanks Dara, unsure re: Musqueam, will have to ask Jordan and Terry. I know their GIS work with c̓əsnaʔəm is a great platform to build into this space. Maorimaps was great as a space inherently interested in tribal richness and diversity yet removed from the everyday tribal concerns – thus allowing us to service marae more nationally. E Maihi, e tika ana! ko tāku, e mau tonu ana nga marae me nga pā-kāinga i o rātou ake tikanga, ake reo, ake matauranga i ahu mai i a ratou whenua. No reira tēnā ra koe mo aau kupu. Thanks also Amber, there is such a variety of experiences of being ‘Māori’, as is the case of my home, the majority of descendants live non-locally. What are new/old ways that marae and ahu whenua trusts can (re)engage their descendants and vise versa.


  2. Linda Pikari

    Hirini, my name is Linda Pikari. I have recently found myself involved with the wai claims for Ngati Toro, in particular, Umawera and Waihou areas. I would appreciate any information you could provide if you have any. Thanks.


    1. Hirini Tane

      Tena ra koe e Linda,
      Thank you for your message. I understand Hokianga have gone through Tribunal hearings most recently. We have ours on the East coast coming up in July. I’m not sure if I have anything that will be of help but Ill be happy to assist in any way I might be able to. What kind of information are you seeking? Nga manaakitanga. Hirini


  3. Ripeka August

    Koia kei a koe. I am touched by your purakau as it triggers memories for me growing up in a small rurual town in and around my marae with whanau, hapu and iwi. Aue, he is talking about me! I moved to the big city and oh how I missed my turangawaewae returning every chance I could get to the familiar surroundings; people marae river, and toku maunga. I would slip back into the life style very different to my city life style. The funny thing is that there would be this whole new hapu; new generations – Crack up. The visits home have become less and less. I hopefully make up for this by keeping in touch with whanau and marae matters through face book and other media. My tane feels very strongly that this happened to him and is on his journey to reconnect with the lost years, lost opportunities as he calls it. I cannot wait to hear more of your fascinating korero espicially around the dislocation of Maori.I wish you well in your mahi. He mihi tino nui tenei ki a koe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hirini Tane

      Tena ano e Ripeka. Tenei taku e mihi atu and thank indeed for sharing. Such is the quandary that we must negotiate. Like yourself getting home is refreshing and gives me perspective. I am thankful to have had exposure to this environment growing up, and privileged to have found a pathway that I might be able to contribute back (in form of PhD). Maorimaps on the other hand has been an opportunity to be of service to not only marae-communities, but also their descendants. While we realise there is no ‘single anwer’ it is perhaps a good start. The book ‘Maranga Mai’ edited by Merata Kawharu was the companion publication to this.


  4. joanne murray

    Kia ora Hirini
    be keen to see if you mahi extends to the Far North West Coast, growing up a city slicker in the big smoke of Whangarei. But loving our return holidays back in Whangape, now a resident working with local, iwi, hapu, marae, kura and kohanga through connecting with our taiao, history and kinship


    1. Hirini Tane

      Tena koe e Joanne,
      Thank you for your message! Whangarei was the big smoke for me too. Whangape is such a beautiful part of the country. Part of our research involved working with Te Kura Takiwa o Manganuiowae (Broadwood Area School) looking at marae connection and te reo (ā-marae) (Whaea Pani and her team are supporting some great future leaders). The resulting publication of the research was ‘Maranga Mai: te reo and marae in crisis?’ edited by Merata Kawharu. We also run another website on knowledge pertaining to Tai Tokerau. We look to extend our service further we more projects in the future. Hoinoo, nga manaakitanga.


  5. Abigail McClutchie

    Kia ora Hirini, I like your prose style of writing. What an awesome vision for yourself and your marae. I encourage all people to have at least a 50 year plan and work today to fulfill that vision. Our old people used to do it and some of us have forgotten to plan that far ahead. I love too how you’ve brought the past ways our people planned and added the modern technological advances of google maps making it a compelling story. Thanks


    1. Hirini Tane

      Tena koe e Abigail, thank you for your kind message. I am excited by the prospect of our communities moving in a deliberate, pro-active mannor, beyond responce and reaction, as perhaps has been the case for over 175 years. There are certainly tools out there that can assist in decision-making, and navigating uncertainty. Hoinoo, Hirini.


  6. suzdunc83

    Reblogged this on 7point8kms and commented:
    A great blog post by a fellow PhD student that relates to the Finding My Feet series. I will pick up on some of these themes in later posts including, finding ways to re/connect to marae & hau kainga communities, the role of memories & what Hirini terms “minority…kin-connected Māori youth”.


  7. Kallua Ashby

    Kia ora Hirini. Ko Kallua Ashby taku ingoa. Ko Jack Asbhy raua ko Elizabeth Herepo toku tupuna. Ko Awatere Ashby toku koroua. Ko Alfred Ashby toku papa. Ko Oromahoe toku marae.
    I spent my childhood growing up in Huntly & currently live here. As you have said we move away from our marae & whanau for many reasons. When my father died 27 years ago we returned him to Oromahoe as with all of his brothers, sister & their mother. My siblings & i have learnt many things over the years. The main reason for my korero is that I have been studying te reo maori for the last three years. At the moment my assignment is on the marae. I would dearly love to write about my own whanau marae, Oromahoe. Not having any other whanau to help I would dearly like to know if you could share some knowledge and stories/history of the buildings at Oromahoe Marae. In advance my thanks for making information available & proud to be your whanaunga. Nga mihi Kallua.


    1. Hirini Tane

      Tena ra koe e Kallua, Nga mihi mo tau nei paku korero mai. Thank you for message, and sincere apologies for the delayed response, I hope I am not too late. Actually, I have not long returned from Oromahoe after the week long Waitangi Tribunal hearings on our marae, some of the resources from these hearings might be of use to you. I would be more than happy to share some of the korero with you. Please contact me directly on my email and we can start a conversation. Privileged to connect with you. Hoinoo, Nga manaakitanga. Hirini


    1. Hirini Tane

      Kia ora Maureen, thank you for the message. If I’m not mistaken, Hirini was the brother to Hori Poutawera Tane, who is my great grandfather. I take my name from my uncle Hirini, who was named after Hirini Pakinga Tane. Great to connect.


  8. AnneTAU/Paratene

    Wow! Just wow! Had me in tears at times, because I was reading my life through your writings.
    Hirini this is genius written, do you mind if I share this?

    You truly nailed this korero with the what your Dad said: “he aha a tātou nei waiata?” – what’s our song?” just like my Daddy x. And for me being the oldest child, I have to think very fast! My Dad put me on the spot in Tainui just recently at the Iwi Chairs Forum, in front of all these amazing Maori leaders I had to think of a waiata, my heart was pumping so hard but with the support of our Kuia and Kaumatua, it went well.

    Naida Glavish ended the dinner night with Iwi Chairs and then asked Ngapuhi to stand, as soon as I saw my Dads eyes (I shouldn’t have looked at him haha) I knew I had to lead and sing “Nga Puawai O Ngapuhi” 🙂

    Oh, thanks again for this beautiful korero that I fully relate to and yet you write it in such an academic language but have it pulling on my tangiweto strings.

    Mauri Ora

    Anne TAU


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