Pa­nia’s dream re­alised

Aotea marae’s big day ar­rives

Kapi-Mana News - - FRONT PAGE - By ANDREA O’NEIL

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.

Pho­tos: ANDREA O’NEIL

Pride of place: For­mer marae man­ager New­ton Craw­ford’s photo over­looks the meet­ing house he never saw opened.

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