He Hīkoi Whakapono: A Journey of Faith

Published on 2nd Sep, 2019

Ngā Tangata o te Awa Tupua

I tēnei mārama ka rere tonu ngā kōrero mō ētehi o ngā Tāngata o te Awa e hono nei, e pūmau nei ki te Hāhi Katorika i te Awa o Whanganui. Ka rere tonu ngā kōrero mō Ngā Tāngata o te Awa hei ngā pepa e haere ake nei.

Ngā Tangata o te Awa Tupua

This month we continue with personal stories from some of the People of the River, who have longstanding connections with the Catholic Church on the Whanganui River. We will continue with more stories from the People of the River in our next issues.

Whakarongo ki Aunty Biddy – Raana Mareikura

‘Our day in Parliament was a truly momentous occasion. It was a day to remember’, says well-known and well-loved, Raana Mareikura – affectionately known as Aunty Biddy – of Maungarongo Marae, Ohakune. ‘We signed the iwi’s deed of settlement at Raketapauma in March last year where over 99.5 per cent of our people gave their approval so we were ready for this day and what a day it was!’.

Close-knit family trio (l-r): Aunty Vera, Aunty Biddy and Aunty Kay.

On Thursday 25 July 2019, Ngati Rangi descended on Parliament to witness the third and final reading of their Claims Settlement Bill – Rukutia Te Mana. ‘We gathered together as a people in big numbers. It was a time of sadness and also a time of happiness, when we remembered all those people who had gone before us, who had the vision and the foresight to look ahead; who did all the hard work and made all the sacrifices for the generations to come. We can never thank them enough, other than to ensure that the work still to be done is carried out as wisely and as carefully as they would hope. It has taken us 178 years to get this far but the journey is not yet over.’

The settlement includes financial and commercial compensation and gives Ngati Rangi the option to buy Karioi Forest. The Iwi is part of Te Waiu-o-Te-Ika, a joint management committee for the Whangehu River. In the settlement, important reserves, including the beds of the Rotokura lakes, were returned. It also received Defence Force land adjoining the Desert Road and symbolically gave it back to the Defence Force. Ngati Rangi is the first iwi in the larger Whanganui Inquiry Area to move towards a treaty settlement.

Aunty Biddy is a deeply loved and respected kuia of the many rivers, valleys and mountains of the central plateau, particularly of the Maramatanga Movement, a prophetic religious resistance movement which started in the late 1800s as a response to the huge land losses of the day. The Maramatanga movement drew inspiration from the early prophetic traditions of Te Ua Haumene, Te Kooti, Tohu and Te Whiti and Rua Kenana and others. These prophets and their teachings represented a continuity with their past and, in some way, insulated Māori people from the dramatic changes that were taking place around them. The Maramatanga movement was established by Hori Enoka who took the name Mareikura and attempted to sustain Māori values and independence in the face of overwhelming odds.

Aunty Biddy is also an important Kuia and leader of the Hui Aranga, the ‘Tirahoe waka, the Kohanga Reo movement, to mention a few organisations. Aunty Biddy’s is an extraordinary blend of Māori spirituality, knowledge and wisdom, which encompasses the role of leadership and authority that extends way beyond the Waimarino.

Speaking excitedly about the wonderful celebration the whānau experienced, welcoming Puanga, the star Rigel, part of the Orion constellation, at the beginning of the Māori New Year, Aunty Biddy said, ‘Our leader, Che Wilson, led our wananga on Sunday and talked about the star clusters of Puanga-Matariki and their significance at this time. We have been celebrating the Māori New Year for over 20 years and this year we invited the wider community. About 150 people turned up, including Kokohuia School from Whanganui. We were surprised and thrilled so many accepted our invitation. The morning air was brisk as we assembled at the edge of the mountain. The deep throaty tones of the conch called us together. The piercing karanga acknowledged the presence of ‘Koro’ Maunga o Ruapehu, followed by karakia and waiata. We remembered our dear ones who have passed, we named them all – over 60 of them – we sent them up to be stars in the sky, acknowledging our origins as being made from the stars. We saw a falling star and saw it as a sign that someone was making a connection with us. We then entered the dining hall and shared a meal. It was a wonderful experience’.

Aunty Biddy is a wonderful teacher, both religious and secular, and works alongside her sister-in-law, Aunty Vera Wilson and Aunty Kay. Together, these three are a formidable team. This small close-knit family, which could well be described as belonging to the tohunga and wairua class.

Toreheikura Madeleine Sophie Puketapu shares a little of her life

Toreheikura Madeleine Sophie Puketapu was born and bred at Ranana, a beautiful part of the River, situated 61km up-river from Whanganui. The people of this area are descended from Ruaka, the wife of Tamakehu, an ancestor regarded as the Father of the River. Ruaka and Tamakehu had three children, Hinengakau, Tamaupoko and Tupoho, considered to be the guardians of the River.

Seated in the grounds of Hāto Hōhepa Church, Hiruhārama, l-r: Sr Sue Cosgrove dolc, Toreheikura Puketapu, Sr Christina Otila Williams dolc (who passed away last year), Christina Tapa, Sr Luciana dolc and Rex Begley. Photo: WelCom

We have been home here in Ranana for nearly 20 years now after living in Stokes Valley for many years. I felt it was time to come home.

The Marae Atea is always neat and tidy and is dominated by Te Morehu, the meeting house, which was originally situated on Huriwhenua on the river flat but now stands proudly on the top marae. Located at the gateway to the marae, stands a memorial to the battle of Moutoa which took place on nearby Moutoa Island on 14 May 1864. Even today, this battle continues to raise serious questions about loyalty to family for many who took part in the battle were closely related. A contentious memorial at Pakaitore commemorates ‘the fanaticism and barbarism’ of this battle. Many supporters of the 1995 Pakaitore occupation would love to see this memorial removed.

Toreheikura and Buddy Puketapu with mokopuna Mahoney. Photo: Supplied

I was born here in Ranana on our home marae of Te Pou o Rongo. Our community was a very big one so Mum baked every day. Our house was always full of extended family, nephews and nieces and cousins. We had an open house. We looked after each other, there were always babies around. The church was full every Sunday as going to church was also a social event; getting together, sharing the news and bonding with our other families, the Marshalls, the McGregors, the Taiwhatis, the Scanlons, the Baileys, the Wallaces and of course my own family, the Tinirau.

The school and the convent were right on the marae so the Sisters and learning were a big part of our lives. The Sisters were everything to us ‒ Mother Melchior, Sr Mark, Sr Bonaventure, Sr Walburga and others. The Sisters lived in the convent and taught school during the week and went back to Hiruhārama during the weekend to be with the other Sisters. As well as reading, writing and arithmetic, they taught us such things as cooking, baking and preserving – practical, down-to-earth things. We had lots of fruits trees so we learnt how to preserve and store for the winter and for emergencies. My mother was the midwife for many of our mothers. These were the early days when Māori births were not registered. It’s only been of recent years that Māori babies have been counted.

The Marist priests were also a big part of our lives – Fr Riordan, Fr Caulfield, Fr Wall and Fr [Jim] Durning who was very strict. I remember my father who was a Ringatu got into a disagreement with Fr Durning who said people would be excommunicated if they sent their children to the public school. My father told Fr Durning he had no business telling us what to do. The school was sold by Fr Caulfield to the Education Department and is now called Te Wainui Arua School, which has 26 pupils. The Sisters left Ranana back in the 1960s and no longer live in Hiruhārama permanently.

Like most small, rural communities, a lot of people were forced to leave to go out to find work. The only jobs available were seasonal work, such as shearing, crutching, fencing – farms jobs as we have several farms in our area. When I was old enough I moved to Auckland with my cousin Sarah Tapa where we found work. I got a job in the Post Office and Sarah got a job at Sweet Acres. We lived in a hostel run by the Sisters of St Joseph in Shelley Bay. After two years I transferred to Wellington where I met my husband Buddy. We lived in Wellington and then later in Stokes Valley.

The Sisters left Ranana back in the 1960s and no longer live in Hiruhārama permanently. Sr Sue Cosgrove comes back now and again with different groups so we still keep in touch with the Sisters. On special occasions we visit the Sisters at Island Bay. These days we have Mass once a month, alternating with Hiruhārama. We are in the middle of repairs and maintenance on our church, which will be finished in the summer. The main part of the church will be painted. We have called a working bee.

The Marae at Ranana. Photo: WelCom

Christina Karaihi Tapa – Te Ahi Kaa

Christina Karaihi Brooks Tapa is a highly respected woman of Ranana and of the length of the Whanganui River. She has a deep knowledge of the River, its history and its people as has lived all her life on the River, particularly the middle reaches. She is matriarch to a large extended whānau and continues to live a full active life and centred around her whānau and community. She has a kind, gentle manner, is a good listener and there is an aura of calm about her.

Te Morehu, the whare tupuna of Ranana, which is very important to the people of Ranana. Photos: Supplied


My parents were Ngareta and Tui Brooks. I was born in Otukopiri-Koriniti and brought up in Atene and lived most of my adult life in Ranana. Fr Wiremu Te Awhitu married Winiata and me in the Sacred Heart Church on Te Pou o Rongo Marae in 1951. I have been a practising Catholic ever since. My husband belonged to a very Catholic family. They were good people so it was easy for me to be part of the Church. My mother-in-law, Mary, was a sincere and faithful member of the Church, so I carried on from where she left off. The family have a special relationship with the Sisters of Compassion as Mother Meri Hohepa, Suzanne Aubert, was godmother to Mary, nee Haami, when she was baptised as a baby.

Christian influences

The Whanganui River, however, has been a place where many churches have brought the Christian message of peace and love – Anglicans at Putiki, Anglican-Catholic at Kaiwhaiki, Anglicans at Koriniti, Catholics, Salvationists-Ratana at Hiruhārama, Ratana at Pipiriki, with a sprinkling of Ratana and Ringatu all along the River.

My father was a practising Ringatu. Many marae on the River have links to the Ringatu Church, including our whānau at Otoko. Ringatu hui were held in Kaiwhaiki and Koriniti. Te Kooti, the founder of the Ringatu Church, visited Kauangaroa and named their Whare Tupuna, Kimihia, encouraging the people to share the Word of God with each other.

Chris (r) with Sr Margaret Anne Mills dolc (l) tying a ribbon on Suzanne Aubert’s coffin, during her recent internment at Island Bay.

Community life

When I first came to live in Ranana, there were lots of families here, it was a hive of activity. Weekends and sports days were popular. We played tennis, netball and rugby and competition was fierce. I had nine children and they were in most things so I was always busy. My children started school at the Matahiwi Native School, then were taught by the Sisters here in Ranana. The old people from our Pauro and Haami whānau gave the land for the new school.

All my children attended Catholic secondary schools, Hato Pāora, St Pat’s and St Joseph’s. When there was something on at the marae, I would be in the kitchen, or on the marae as kaikaranga. Our kaumatua Pestle encouraged me to karanga but I was reluctant at first. You quickly learn to do everything. Later we established the Kohanga Reo. I have been involved in farming most of my life. At first we worked on the family farm, and then my husband worked on Morikaunui for a time as a head shepherd. Morikaunui Incorporation is owned by families from Ranana to Hiruhārama. When the new woolshed was opened a few years ago Tariana Turia of the Māori party was our special guest.

Hui Aranga 1959

In 1959, the Hui Aranga was held at Ranana. The Māori Missioner at the time was Fr Peter Conaghan who had misgivings about the isolation of the place and its ability to cope. The great problems of bringing such vast crowds to such an out of the way place, were compounded by doubts about the state of the weather, the state of the roads and the state of the finances. However, all our fears came to nothing and the continuing story of the Hui success closed another chapter. Hui Aranga 1959 in Ranana was a great success, due to the hard work of the local people.

Plans to dam Atene

During the early 1960s the government wanted to build a hydroelectric dam at Atene, where I grew up. In 1957 a special order-in-council was held in secret by the government of the time. The dam would have affected all the marae of the river as far as Taumarunui. A small group of men, including my father-in-law, Bob Tapa, Jim Wickham, and one of the priests – Fr Caulfield I think – went to Wellington to see if they could stop it. The ground was too porous and would never have held water. Of course, we would have told the authorities this but those were the days when governments didn’t consult the local people.

While investigating the possibility of a dam, the Ministry of Works built a road in 1959 along the ridgeline overlooking Puketapu Hill and is now an 18km walking track, called the Atene Skyline Track, a popular tourist attraction today. They also found a cave with skeletal remains. We now know that Tongariro was a much better place for a dam.

Te ahi Kaa

Several locals said that Chris has been their ahi Kaa for many years now. ‘Both her and Winiata kept the home fires burning for hui, tangi and different events. She has cared meticulously for the place and keeps an eye on everything. She is a wonderful Catholic and a great example to us. We are blessed to have her in the whānau. We appreciate everything that she has done.’ Another local said, ‘Chris also holds a special place in the hearts of the Sisters of Compassion. If they want anything done or to consult anyone from the River, they choose Chris, because she is the constant in their lives.’

I had the privilege of tying a special ribbon around Suzanne Aubert’s coffin before she was taken into the chapel during her reinternment last year at the Home of Compassion in Island Bay.

These days I walk 5kms a day. I exercise from my home to the main road and back uphill. It keeps me fit. My husband passed away five years ago, we were married for over 60 years. I continue to keep busy. I have thoroughly enjoyed everything I have been a part of. Ranana is a unique place.

Whanganui River near Hiruhārama-Jerusalem/ Photo: WelCom

Published in WelCom September 2019

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