Thursday, 14 February 2013
The house that Wepiha built
In my ignorance I wanted to hate the Mataatua wharenui.Resurrected on the old Telecom site in Whakatane it felt like an intruder in my neighbourhood but that was before I understood.
Standing in the dark on the 17th of September, 2011, I listened to the voices intoning the ancient karakia as the house was unveiled for the second time and I was completely unprepared for the wave of emotion that was about to hit.I remember stepping from the darkness into the light and the majestic beauty as it swept over me. I looked up at the carved versions of the tipuna that link all of the people of the Mataatua waka and finally understood why the house was built and the reason it was so important that Ngati Awa got it back.
And so it is with great sadness that I approach the subject of this post.The return of Mataatua wharenui should have been a great triumph; it should have been a reason for Ngati Awa to be proud, it should have given us the momentum to create a revenue that may have been able sustain our people.
Instead the wharenui has become a battle-ground and the scars are still raw.Many of you may know my cousin William Stewart. With a background in tourism he was a consultant employed by the runanga to help get the visitor experience at the wharenui up and running.
And while there are going to be those of you who will question my ability to remain unbiased in a subject that I have a heavy connection to one side, I ask that you bear with me and listen to my cousin’s story as best as I can tell it so that hopefully you will be able to see the point I am trying to make.According to William the brief, from the board to the consultants, was to build a world-class tourism product using the wharenui so that it could generate income to maintain itself.
The runanga had already spent at least $6 million on restoring and establishing the wharenui at the Te Manuka Tutahi site and according to an interview on Maori Television’s Te Kaea with runanga chief executive Enid Rātahi-Pryor the wharenui cost the tribe almost $170,000 to operate last year.With this in mind it had already been identified by the board that the Mataatua wharenui would have to be able to sustain itself so that it did not draw on iwi funds any further.
The runanga committed almost $1 million in a bid to achieve this and using some of the best technology available the light show, Hiko, was created to tell some of our most significant stories. Imagine the Wairere waterfall spilling from the windows in the whare to illustrate the tale of the landmarks that guided Toroa and the Mataatua waka to the land that would become Whakatane.It was outstanding and the hopes were that it would draw that all important Tourist dollar.
In the past Whakatane has struggled to compete with places like Rotorua and Tauranga as a tourist destination but with a world class cultural experience to complement Whakatane’s already iconic White Island Tours there was every chance that those looking for an authentic New Zealand experience may want to take the path less trod.And the key to it being successful, my cousin always said, was the Maori notion of manākitanga.
So guides were selected, trained and then employed on a casual basis to institute that belief. When they officially opened for business in June 2012 my cousin believed they had created a world-class product and this was reinforced by a number of New Zealand tourism leaders who heaped accolades on the product.However a mere three months later, Mrs Rātahi-Pryor announced the runanga was reviewing the “commercial expectations” of the wharenui in this article.
She was reported as saying that the visitor numbers had not been what had been predicted.“Consultants don’t always get it right and in this case the projections were a bit optimistic.
“We were trying to be financially prudent by placing a financial model over Mataatua.“Unfortunately, a commercial framework over a whare taonga simply doesn’t work.”
As the only Whakatane-based consultant, William felt he was left with no other option than to submit a public right of reply in this article.In the end the experience was never cancelled and Mrs Rātahi-Pryor claimed at the AGM that the Whakatane Beacon had got it wrong but the public fall-out ensured that William would not continue with his role at the wharenui and two of the guides were without a job.
There was also a change in focus.Rather than concentrating on attracting overseas tourists, Mrs Rātahi-Pryor said there had been a gradual increase in the number of community organisations visiting the wharenui and gave the impression that this would become the target market despite the experience winning a national award as seen in this article.
However because he believed in the product that he helped create William offered the runanga a compromise and I hope to tell you about it tomorrow in part two of this post.
But for now I want to leave you with a comment that had been left on a previous post. The author of the comment chose to remain anonymous but I was so impressed with their words that I wanted to share it with you, just in case you hadn’t seen it.
“Kia Ora Karla
“It is with interest, we have found ourselves becoming avid readers of your weekly posts, since the inception of the Tu Mai Te Toki blog, It is a relief to know that many individuals both near and abroad are recognising the incompetency of our Iwi leaders and we as a collective unit, are seeking answers to a number of irrational judgements and decisions which have occurred over recent years.
“If we can take a step back and fully explore the times and reasons as to why the Mataatua Whare was built then perhaps we are able to gain some perspective and strive to seek positive outcomes for a more unified and prosperous Iwi, spiritually, culturally, physically, financially etc.
“Lets begin to break this down where we can form a foundation for us to work upon..and start to look at this issue logically...some common motives or reasons why any person would build a house, is to provide shelter and security for their family unit and loved ones. This house will become a sanctuary, a place of nuture, growth and rest, a physical setting where families can share, laugh, learn, cry, teach, and enjoy one another, a physical safe haven from negative external influences, conflict and hostilities.
“Bearing this in mind, It is truly my belief that these were the exact motives and reasons the Mataatua Wharenui was erected and built by our tipuna, Wepiha. Remembering that during this time, Maori were facing the effects of colonisation, the injustices and cruelty endured by many generations enforced by external parties, tribal warfare where often, loss of life was inevitable and sickness which had horrific consequences as you have stated above. Wepiha, realising without a doubt in his mind that these events would have a severe negative impact on his people, went about to construct this amazingly carved whare to provide a calm setting amongst the chaotic disorder for the people of Mataatua, where amongst the adversity, whakapapa would sumount and bind his people together ensuring unity and strength in troubled times.
“A whare built to create unity and strength for the people of Mataatua who had suffered immensely due to external forces.
“So observing the progressive journey of the Mataatua Whare, the history the story, the tears, the hurt, the betrayal, the battle endured to ensure this whare was returned to the people of Mataatua, and how it is valued and treated today, I cannot seem to comprehend the justification and the absolute abysmal exploitation our Iwi leaders have elected to utilise and treat this whare. Unconsciously it seems our Iwi leaders have failed to remember the very reasons and motives why this whare was built in the beginning, instead opting for financial opportunities at the expense of the fundamental aspects to which the whare was constructed.
“I fail to see unity, I fail to see strength, I fail to see equality as an Iwi.....but what I can see is the oppressor and the dictator now has a brown face.”