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Te Uru Taumatua: Tūhoe's whare

10 April 2014
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Tūhoe moumou kai,

moumou tāonga,

moumou tangata ki te pō.


Tūhoe wasteful of food,

Wasteful of treasures,

Wasteful of people to the night.

When I was growing up, I always heard the whakatauki or proverb above about Tūhoe being moumou of food, treasures, and of their own people to their deaths. It talks of our generosity and our willingness to fight. Tūhoe moumou tāonga, meaning wasteful of treasures or resources is not the case with our new whare, Te Uru Taumatua.

Last month I went back to Tūhoe for the opening of the whare, in Tāneatua, near Whakatane. Self-powered and self-heating, it is considered Aotearoa’s first and only “living building”. It has one of the largest solar panel systems on any building in the country – so much so, that any surplus will be fed back into the national grid. Tūhoe are also investigating options such as subsidising people who employ sustainable practices, like solar power, when building their homes.

Building materials were sourced locally, creating jobs for my people - Tuhoe people. They located timbers like totara, matai and rimu found within the Ruatoki and Ruatahuna rohe, or forests. Such a forward approach, demonstrated by taking on the Living Building Challenge goes hand-in-hand with the radical nature of my people; who have in the past been labelled rebels, and recently terrorists.

The earth from Te Urewera was used make bricks for the building. Earthbrick-making courses were offered to my people who learnt to turn clay into bricks; the initiative was run by seven Tūhoe leaders who became teachers during the project. As a way of leaving something of themselves behind, brick-makers often scratched pictures, symbols, their names or their marae names onto the handmade bricks that are now paved into the office walls, marked side up.

What moved me most was seeing my uncles, aunties and cousins working on site ... all taking great pride in their mahi and leaving a legacy behind for the future.

Te Uru Taumatua is also the name of Tūhoe’s post settlement body. Their head office is now based inside our new whare; that is for want of a better label, a cultural centre. It has a gallery, an interpretation centre, an archive, a public library, a café and a large tribal chamber for large functions and hui. It's landscaped to take advantage of the existing trees and has an outdoor amphitheatre. 

Costing close to $15 million, some of my own people have questioned the cost of the whare, and fair enough when Tūhoe’s homeland has some of the most socially and economically deprived parts of Aotearoa. Some may say the whare is moumou or wasteful or extravagant. But I’m not here to korero or talk about the cost of this whare, I’m here to korero about the value of it. 

This whare is a celebration of the many taonga of Te Urewera, our home. In terms of our matauranga or knowledge, this whare will offer a place for us to archive these taonga. A new type of whare that won’t have the traditional constraints of a marae, but also a place so radical in its design that it will challenge its users and hopefully encourage innovations, and build the knowledge base that will benefit Tūhoe and ultimately all tangata whenua.

What moved me most was seeing my uncles, aunties and cousins working on site, laying instant lawn, planting trees, hosing down the concrete and adding the finishing touches off to artworks - all taking great pride in their mahi and leaving a legacy behind for the future.

“The whare will build the people,” said Tūhoe chief negotiator, Tāmati Kruger, before construction began. This rang true on small and large scales; with the majority of workers on site being Tūhoe; in an employment black zone, this opportunity not only presents much needed work, it offers new skill-training and career options for young Tūhoe people.

Which kind of leads on to the last part of the proverb above which says, Tūhoe moumou tangata ki te pō. Translated to say wasteful of its people unto to the night. Traditionally te pō or the night was a time of potential and a time of creation, it could also mean death. If it’s the creative potential type of pō we are talking of, than I am all for wasting a few people on a big hit of potential and creativity.

Growing up, when anyone came over to visit our home my mum would always serve up the best food we had, and likewise, when we went to visit our other relations. So you can imagine the kai required to feed the 3000 or so people who came to the opening of our new building.

Tūhoe, while being a traditionally conservative people, are willing to adapt to new ideas that are compatible with our philosophies and beliefs. The building is a place of potential, a place for us to dream big and make big.

Like the material that was used to build the whare, the kai came from all over Te Urewera. Tūhoe marae and hapu gifted beef, mutton, lamb, venison, wild pork and eels to go with the kamokamo, the kumara, watercress and pikopiko that was gathered or grown by whanau. Actually, there was so much meat that it snapped the axle of a trailer my brother was towing down the main street of Whakatane. I even helped load the back of a ute full of rēwena bread! Picture that, a whole back of a ute full of rēwena bread! I know, priceless.

As the building demonstrates, Tūhoe, while being a traditionally conservative people, are willing to adapt to new ideas that are compatible with our philosophies and beliefs. The building is a place of potential, a place for us to dream big and make big. It’s our public face to the outside world, and is the northern waharoa or gateway into Te Urewera. While an exciting time for Tūhoe, we must remember the actual human costs that have brought Tūhoe to its present state.

From the 1860’s Tūhoe were subject to land confiscation, war and famine. Up until the early 1900’s people in parts of Tūhoe like Waiohau and Te Houhi lived in a state of famine. From the land wars, the pursuit of Te Kooti, the arrest of Rua Kēnana at Maungapōhatu, to the terror raids of 2007 -  some would say Tūhoe have paid a heavy cost. But things like this new whare are a new beginning. With the recent Treaty settlement almost finalised with the Crown, things like the return of Te Urewera and the long term goal of Te Mana Motuhake o Tūhoe, building up our education system, health, housing and financial independence are challenges we now undertake. The solutions might be helped with the whare.

So while some may be critical of the cost of this whare, the true value is immeasurable. I mean how do you measure the value of Tūhoe’s first public library? And how do you measure the value in seeing people have pride in their work? If this a demonstration of how we are a moumou, or wasteful of food, tāonga and people, then in some ways I reckon we have already paid for it 10 times over. The true value of Te Uru Tamatua can only be measured with time. So if you are ever driving through the eastern Bay of Plenty, stop off in Tāneatua during business hours and visit Te Uru Taumatua, Te Kura Whare. 

Follow the project and see more photos and footage on the Facebook page.

This content is brought to you with funding assistance from New Zealand On Air. To view the original article by Ati Teepa you can visit The Wireless.


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Blog Post Te Uru Taumatua: Tūhoe's whare
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