Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Memorable Visit

During the 2014 New Zealand Opera School, the Wanganui Opera Week Committee organised a visit to the historic and beautiful Putiki Marae on the banks of the Whanganui River. The marae is hundreds of years old and dates from the earliest times of Maori habitation when this area was where upriver Maori landed and smoked their fishing hauls from across the bar of the river before heading upriver to the 'fighting pas' with their catches. We were afforded a full welcome with the traditional challenge, speeches and waiata (songs) from both sides. Elder John Maihi was our guide for the ceremony.

For me, it was a journey of memories, for 51 years earlier I went to the marae and knocked on the door of a wonderful kuia who lived in a house that front onto the grassed meeting area. I was greeted by a beautiful senior woman, immaculately attired, who asked me what I wanted. "I wondered if you, Mrs Takarangi, could teach me some haka?"

I explained that I had been appointed the Officer in Charge of 24 boys, selected from all over New Zealand as representatives of The Boys' Brigade to travel to Scotland to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Brigade in that country, and we needed something NZ to take to that event. Today, it seems ludicrous that a team of NZ Europeans should be taking Maori culture to the other side of the world.

Mrs Takarangi, with true Maori graciousness, agreed and for the next year I attended regular lessons. When she thought I was proficient enough, she took me to the kitchen to say goodbye to Mrs Ngatoa, a 93 year-old aunt who sat cross-legged on the floor weaving flax. Upon arrival for my lessons, I had always visited the kitchen and greeted Mrs Ngatoa, who spoke very little English. On this final occasion, she presented me with 25 woven flax head bands – one for each member of the contingent – and, for me, a woven flax kite, which I still have. (You can see it in my hands in the accompanying photo.) I went on to teach the haka to the boys during our journey to Scotland on the P&O ocean liner Canberra

The visit to the marae and the magnificent Maori church of St Paul, as well as the entertainment and the meal, made this an occasion to be remembered and cherished. Thank you Wanganui Opera Week for arranging this visit.

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