It's all go at the pa

Labour of love.

Labour of love.

The ancestral house Te Poho o Rawiri is an active work space, studio, classroom and gathering place for whanau. It is undergoing a restoration project of its whakairo (traditional carvings) and tukutuku (woven panels). Pictures supplied by Te Poho o Rawiri Marae
Elizabeth Kerekere is leading the restoration project to restore one of the largest and most iconic wharenui in the country.
Never too young to do work at the pa, three-year-old Jamie Rewiri is doing her bit by helping her mum Jasmine Rewiri clean the whakairo (carvings).

For the past few months, the whanau of Te Poho o Rawiri Marae have been “going to the Pa” in their free time to clean the taonga of their beloved wharenui. This is no chore, rather it is a labour of love and a chance to get up close and personal with the treasures and history that rests upon the walls of their whare. Shaan Te Kani gets an insight into the restoration project taking place inside the famed ancestral house, which celebrated its 88th birthday this week.

It has been all go at “the pa” lately. There have been builders, diggers, cranes and concrete layers — Te Poho o Rawiri Marae is a live construction site, and one for all to see.

Nestled in the heart of Kaiti, at the foot of the ancestral mountain Titirangi (Kaiti Hill), the marae is undergoing a major redevelopment project.

It includes the rebuild of the wharekai (dining hall) Te Poho o Hine i Tuhia, a new toilet and ablution block, a new retaining wall, and the outdoor covered area named Papawhariki (after the original name of Sponge Bay) is getting a spruce up.

But what isn’t so visible from the roadside, is what is happening next door in the ancestral house.
While contemporary work is happening outside with the rebuild, a restoration project of the whakairo (traditional carvings) and tukutuku (woven panels) is happening in the whare.

Named after the Turanga chief Rawiri Teeketuoterangi and affectionately known as “Poho”, the whare celebrated its 88th birthday this week. It is the third meeting house by that name, and its current home is its third site.

Build was led by master carvers

It was established under the guidance of the late Ngati Porou leader Sir Apirana Ngata, and the build was led by master carvers Pine and Hone Taiapa.

The building was completed in 1930 and since then it has played host to numerous auspicious occasions — often used by the region to welcome dignitaries, and as a venue for key hui and events.

The recent birthday milestone was more of a humble and intimate affair. The hau kaenga (home people) celebrated last Sunday with a shared lunch and cake, and shared stories of the marae history as well as providing an update on the rebuild and restoration projects.

The dining hall is on track to open later this year, and when it does, the whanau want to ensure that the meeting house is shining for the occassion.

Elizabeth Kerekere is leading the restoration project to clean every carving and tukutuku panel in the house. She says it is a privilege to help restore one of the most iconic wharenui in the country.

“When my cousin and chairperson of our marae Charlotte Gibson asked me to come and do this project, I was really proud to.

“You don’t often get a chance to work on a project like this. This is one of the biggest wharenui in the country.

“But it is also home. While growing up, my family lived away from here, and when we’d come back, we’d stay here. This is home.”

‘Once in a lifetime experience'

Elizabeth is an artist and her favourite type of mahi (work) is tukutuku, the woven panel boards that are on the walls of the house.

She was trained in conservation techniques at Te Papa Tongarewa, The Museum of New Zealand and has also received advice from Heritage New Zealand on how to clean and repair the tukutuku panels, and clean the carvings.

“We are preserving something because we want this whare to be standing in another 88 years for our mokopuna (future generations).

“It has been a long time since these taonga have been cleaned so we are taking away 20-30 years of dust and grime that has soaked in.

“It’s a detailed process and we use non-invasive techniques. Whanau are taught what to do when they come here, and we have all of the gear and equipment needed for the job.

“The tukutuku has a three stage process — vacuum, wet clean, repair. We’ve had to take several panels off the wall and re-weave sections because they are damaged.

“For the carvings we do a dry clean and then a wet clean. We are also focusing on the paua eyes, by cleaning them with a gentle solution as well as removing damaged eyes and replacing them.

“As much as these are taonga (treasures), this is also a living whare that people will touch. But over time there has been damage.

“At the moment we are just focusing on the tukutuku and whakairo to be ready in time for the opening of our wharekai, and we will focus on the kowhaiwhai (painted rafters) later.”

Hours of intense labour

To clean a house as large as Te Poho o Rawiri requires many hours of intense labour. To ensure the mahi gets done, a core group of whanau members have been giving up their free time to give back to their pa, through either cleaning or cooking kai for the workers.

“Thousands of hours of work are involved in this project, and we have had a solid crew of our whanau come in each week.

“We’ve had weekend wananga and we work week nights also. As well as being intensive work, it is intensive learning and it is rewarding work. We have our aunties come in, we have our nieces and their kids involved.

“Sometimes you’ll see the kids going hard, cleaning with their parents. Even some of our three-year-old babies. It’s a beautiful sight. When they get older they will be able to tell their kids that they were involved in this.

“It’s great because whanau have an ownership in this mahi, and they get the chance to be part of something much bigger. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, that is spiritual and emotional.

“While we’re in here we’re talking about the whare and the stories behind it. I will say to our whanau, ‘listen to the whare and it will tell you the stories’.”

The wharenui holds the whakapapa and the history of the people, but it can also hold things for the future, says Elizabeth.

“When we come into our whare we’re not only talking about the history. Stories evolve to reflect whats happening in our lives now. Plus, doing this mahi gives us a chance to whakawhanaunga (strengthening family bonds by spending time together).

“We’re catching up and chatting with people we haven’t seen for a while. We talk about what’s been happening, we have a few laughs and discuss our cleaning techniques. We’re all brought together by a common purpose. So while we’re giving life back to the whare, the whare gives life back to us.”

Elizabeth said there is plenty of work still to do with half of the house now complete.

“We welcome anyone to come and be part of this project. It’s rewarding work. It’s meticulous. So if anyone has called you fussy or a perfectionist, this is for you. But most of all, if you want to be part of something special, to ensure the future of our whare, come along.”

For the past few months, the whanau of Te Poho o Rawiri Marae have been “going to the Pa” in their free time to clean the taonga of their beloved wharenui. This is no chore, rather it is a labour of love and a chance to get up close and personal with the treasures and history that rests upon the walls of their whare. Shaan Te Kani gets an insight into the restoration project taking place inside the famed ancestral house, which celebrated its 88th birthday this week.

It has been all go at “the pa” lately. There have been builders, diggers, cranes and concrete layers — Te Poho o Rawiri Marae is a live construction site, and one for all to see.

Nestled in the heart of Kaiti, at the foot of the ancestral mountain Titirangi (Kaiti Hill), the marae is undergoing a major redevelopment project.

It includes the rebuild of the wharekai (dining hall) Te Poho o Hine i Tuhia, a new toilet and ablution block, a new retaining wall, and the outdoor covered area named Papawhariki (after the original name of Sponge Bay) is getting a spruce up.

But what isn’t so visible from the roadside, is what is happening next door in the ancestral house.
While contemporary work is happening outside with the rebuild, a restoration project of the whakairo (traditional carvings) and tukutuku (woven panels) is happening in the whare.

Named after the Turanga chief Rawiri Teeketuoterangi and affectionately known as “Poho”, the whare celebrated its 88th birthday this week. It is the third meeting house by that name, and its current home is its third site.

Build was led by master carvers

It was established under the guidance of the late Ngati Porou leader Sir Apirana Ngata, and the build was led by master carvers Pine and Hone Taiapa.

The building was completed in 1930 and since then it has played host to numerous auspicious occasions — often used by the region to welcome dignitaries, and as a venue for key hui and events.

The recent birthday milestone was more of a humble and intimate affair. The hau kaenga (home people) celebrated last Sunday with a shared lunch and cake, and shared stories of the marae history as well as providing an update on the rebuild and restoration projects.

The dining hall is on track to open later this year, and when it does, the whanau want to ensure that the meeting house is shining for the occassion.

Elizabeth Kerekere is leading the restoration project to clean every carving and tukutuku panel in the house. She says it is a privilege to help restore one of the most iconic wharenui in the country.

“When my cousin and chairperson of our marae Charlotte Gibson asked me to come and do this project, I was really proud to.

“You don’t often get a chance to work on a project like this. This is one of the biggest wharenui in the country.

“But it is also home. While growing up, my family lived away from here, and when we’d come back, we’d stay here. This is home.”

‘Once in a lifetime experience'

Elizabeth is an artist and her favourite type of mahi (work) is tukutuku, the woven panel boards that are on the walls of the house.

She was trained in conservation techniques at Te Papa Tongarewa, The Museum of New Zealand and has also received advice from Heritage New Zealand on how to clean and repair the tukutuku panels, and clean the carvings.

“We are preserving something because we want this whare to be standing in another 88 years for our mokopuna (future generations).

“It has been a long time since these taonga have been cleaned so we are taking away 20-30 years of dust and grime that has soaked in.

“It’s a detailed process and we use non-invasive techniques. Whanau are taught what to do when they come here, and we have all of the gear and equipment needed for the job.

“The tukutuku has a three stage process — vacuum, wet clean, repair. We’ve had to take several panels off the wall and re-weave sections because they are damaged.

“For the carvings we do a dry clean and then a wet clean. We are also focusing on the paua eyes, by cleaning them with a gentle solution as well as removing damaged eyes and replacing them.

“As much as these are taonga (treasures), this is also a living whare that people will touch. But over time there has been damage.

“At the moment we are just focusing on the tukutuku and whakairo to be ready in time for the opening of our wharekai, and we will focus on the kowhaiwhai (painted rafters) later.”

Hours of intense labour

To clean a house as large as Te Poho o Rawiri requires many hours of intense labour. To ensure the mahi gets done, a core group of whanau members have been giving up their free time to give back to their pa, through either cleaning or cooking kai for the workers.

“Thousands of hours of work are involved in this project, and we have had a solid crew of our whanau come in each week.

“We’ve had weekend wananga and we work week nights also. As well as being intensive work, it is intensive learning and it is rewarding work. We have our aunties come in, we have our nieces and their kids involved.

“Sometimes you’ll see the kids going hard, cleaning with their parents. Even some of our three-year-old babies. It’s a beautiful sight. When they get older they will be able to tell their kids that they were involved in this.

“It’s great because whanau have an ownership in this mahi, and they get the chance to be part of something much bigger. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, that is spiritual and emotional.

“While we’re in here we’re talking about the whare and the stories behind it. I will say to our whanau, ‘listen to the whare and it will tell you the stories’.”

The wharenui holds the whakapapa and the history of the people, but it can also hold things for the future, says Elizabeth.

“When we come into our whare we’re not only talking about the history. Stories evolve to reflect whats happening in our lives now. Plus, doing this mahi gives us a chance to whakawhanaunga (strengthening family bonds by spending time together).

“We’re catching up and chatting with people we haven’t seen for a while. We talk about what’s been happening, we have a few laughs and discuss our cleaning techniques. We’re all brought together by a common purpose. So while we’re giving life back to the whare, the whare gives life back to us.”

Elizabeth said there is plenty of work still to do with half of the house now complete.

“We welcome anyone to come and be part of this project. It’s rewarding work. It’s meticulous. So if anyone has called you fussy or a perfectionist, this is for you. But most of all, if you want to be part of something special, to ensure the future of our whare, come along.”

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