At Manawa Honey, Tuhoe leaders of the past are an immense source of inspiration for us in times of the coronavirus. Te Whenuanui The First was one who, ‘in Tuhoe’s darkest hour’ after military invasion and subjugation, mobilised his people not just to survive, but also to build Te Whai-a-te-Motu, ‘a huge, entirely carved meeting house’. An act of truly great leadership in that time.
The other day I was rebuked for my previous blog finding inspiration in Ernest Shackleton when we have alternative examples in the history of Maori, indeed of our tribe Ngai Tuhoe. Could I not have referred to these historical figures, especially since this provides an opportunity ‘to inspire and uplift our tamariki and mokopuna’ through our ‘many beautiful purakau/stories that showcase our perseverance, innovation and beauty’? It’s a good question that I certainly think fit to answer.
To do this, I turn to the history closest to us at Mataatua, our home, which is the last of a number of marae strung out along the Ruatahuna valley, at the heart of Te Urewera. It was here in 1874 that one of the great chiefs of Tuhoe at that time, Te Whenuanui the First, rallied his people.
At that time, there had been nearly 10 years of war with the colonial military in different parts of the country. The people of Ruatahuna had travelled out at different times in that period to support other tribes in defence of their lands and to support their causes. They had some of their number in these battles. But none of this compared to the suffering they would be forced to endure in what became the culmination of these wars.
In May 1869, the colonial forces had invaded Ruatahuna with three prongs of attack that were clearly designed to destroy all in its path. ‘Scorched earth’ was the policy – settlements ruined; all food taken or destroyed. Peacefully-dwelling people were killed; prisoners taken; others fled to the mountains in order to survive. The devastation was immense. Whitmore, the victorious general reported the “discomfiture of the Uriweras (sic) had been… complete and the demoralisation of the tribe … pronounced…”
Another invasion was executed in March 1870, then more sweeps were made into the region in April and following months. Tuhoe were clearly overcome. They were reported to be in genuine terror, too afraid to surrender in case they were ‘butchered’, or sent to prison, and lose their lands as had happened to others. Tuhoe sought peace but instead they were invaded yet again in January 1871, and again in May 1871. It was not until the end of 1871 that peace was finally forged, and the forces left the redoubt they had constructed in the centre of Ruatahuna.
The people of Ruatahuna were in a pitiful state. They were weakened by war and starvation, and were vulnerable to disease. Hundreds died from an influenza epidemic and other affliction. But despite these years of devastation, Tuhoe leaders lost little time. By June 1872 they had formed Te Whitu Tekau, a governing council for Te Urewera region to protect it from alienation. Then Te Whenuanui directed the building of a great carved house, Te Whai-a-te-Motu, as a memorial to the prophet Te Kooti Arikirangi, who had taken refuge in Te Urewera in the times of the wars. It was a great rallying point for Tuhoe. Te Whenuanui organised builders, carvers and the procurement of materials. At the time, the house was ‘the largest whare whakairo (carved meeting house) of purely Maori construction’ in New Zealand, standing at 80 feet in length and 36 feet in width. It took a hundred men to raise the main ridge-pole – this was clearly a massive undertaking. The project took a number of years to complete and the the house was finally opened in 1888. It stood then (as now) as a symbolic statement of Tuhoe’s mana motuhake (unbroken authority or sovereignty).
Tamati Kruger, now Chair of the Tuhoe iwi authority Te Uru Taumatua, put it this way:
“Who would have thought that in Tuhoe’s darkest hour, when the tribe has been thoroughly devastated by the Crown’s repeated military invasions and tactics of systematic destruction and subjugation, when the people were struggling to rebuild their houses and find food to survive that Tuhoe would have turned to the building of huge, entirely carved meeting house. It took a mastermind to think of such a move…”
As we ready ourselves to face the next set of challenges under Covid-19, we draw on the inspiration of Te Whenuanui’s legacy. In fact, we can do this every day, as it is right here at Mataatua, where this great house still stands, that we have established the office and operations of Manawa Honey…
We hope you find strength too for these times in this history or in one close to you. Kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui (Be strong; be brave, be staunch)! And, if you appreciate this blog then please share it with your networks and friends, and add comment about your sources of inspiration as you do.
Brenda Tahi CEO Manawa Honey, 8 June 2020
Photo Credit: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa