Pania’s dream realised
Aotea marae’s big day arrives
Sunshine and rain, joy and sorrow formed a rainbow last weekend – Aotea’s new marae meeting house was blessed before dawn on Saturday and named Uenuku, rainbow.
The name is a tribute to an ancestor at Horouta ki Poneke marae, but could easily describe the colourful interior of the wharenui and the rich mix of cultures that came together to celebrate its opening.
A crowd of 800 gathered before dawn for the blessing of the wharenui, which had laid empty for two decades.
Politicians, the Maori royal family and kaumatua from the East Coast gathered for the momentous occasion. Thousands more iwi and community members arrived for a packed weekend-long celebration involving oratory, performances and a giant hangi.
As she stepped over the threshold of the Porirua marae she resurrected, tears began to flow for its manager, Pania HoukamauNgaheu.
Despite driving its restoration for two years, as a woman Mrs HoukamauNgaheu had not been allowed inside her wharenui until its blessing on Saturday.
She was given the honour of being the first to enter, stepping through the doors with her two young granddaughters as the sun rose.
‘‘ There’s no words to describe it. When I was inside, the tears just flowed,’’ she said. ‘‘ When I walked through those doors there were tears of joy, of elation, and that sense of content, that sense of, ‘Yes! We did it.’’’
In 2011, Horouta’s charismatic leader, Newton Crawford, died. In his last days he broke with tradition by handing management of the Aotea marae to a woman, Mrs Houkamau-Ngaheu.
Saturday’s rain was a sign from Uncle Newton, she said.
‘‘We see it tears of joy. He’s crying for us.’’ Mr Crawford’s photo now hangs in pride of place in Horouta’s meeting house, surrounded by its new carvings and painted beams, not to mention the carpet, insulation and paintwork Mrs Houkamau-Ngaheu had installed this year.
Despite holding down a day job with Work and Income and chairing Porirua’s Vikings rugby league club, Mrs HoukamauNgaheu has devoted thousands of hours to revamping her marae.
As well as transforming the meeting house, she has installed a new commercial kitchen in the dining hall, repaired crumbling walls, floors and roofs, and started a native medicinal garden.
‘‘We burned the midnight oil, and in the last week we burned the 3am and 4am oil,’’ she said.
With a zero budget, Mrs Houkamau-Ngaheu used her considerable charm and determination to barter much of the work. She convinced students from nearby Te Wananga O Aotearoa polytech to help carve and paint the meeting house as part of their course work.
‘‘The transformation has been nothing short of amazing. It’s been community- minded and community- spirited,’’ she said.
Horouta will now become a healthy and spiritual haven for Horouta’s 150 members, and a place to learn about Maoridom for everybody else, Mrs Houkamau-Ngaheu said. ‘‘It’s a place of learning, a place of sharing, a place of caring, a place of loving and a place of healing.’’
Whanau effort: With a zero budget, the sweat and tears of Pania Houkamau-Ngaheu’s family and community were essential to her project’s success. She is pictured with husband Tahi Ngaheu, son Nori (Chad) Ngaheu, and granddaughter Alaysha Ngaheu.
Pride of place: Former marae manager Newton Crawford’s photo overlooks the meeting house he never saw opened.