9 Aug 2014

The river is calling me home

2:26 pm on 9 August 2014

I have a confession to make: I don't go home to my marae often enough. This dawned on me while I was at Rānana Marae, which is my marae on my mother's side, at my tribe's Treaty Settlement signing on Tuesday.

 Ranana Marae

Ranana Marae Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

I have been living in Wellington for the past 10 years and although I go home to Whanganui to visit whānau I seldom take the 60 kilometre trip up the long winding road to the remote area where my marae is based.

When my photographer colleague Diego Opatowski and myself arrived at the gates of the marae, I knew that because I was there for work I would have to separate myself from being a tribal descendant and put on my journalist's hat, be professional and remain impartial - which made this quite a challenging assignment.

Before the pōwhiri outside the gates I met a finely dressed and dignified elderly gentleman who introduced himself as Rangi Wells - the lone Māori voice on the Whanganui District Council.

Mr Wells revealed that he was related to the Takarangi and Metekingi families and I told him that my great grandmother Pare Tinirau's (nee Blackburn) sister had married a Metekingi and he shook my hand again and said, yes, we're definitely related.

After the pōwhiri I met one of my grand uncles, Bobby Gray, who was ever so delighted to see me. I said to him, "Uncle do you remember me? I'm Eddie's son."

He looked at me, smiled, and gave me a big hug.

He said, "My nephew how is your dad?"

I told him that he's good, and still lives in a flat in Gonville.

My uncle hugged me again and said, "My nephew, you must come up to Pipiriki and stay with me, for a couple of months."

While that was happening my mother's first cousin John Haami was standing next to him and said to us, "Gosh, by the time you two finish talking it'll be next year!"

Uncle Bobby said to him, "But he's my nephew!" and Uncle John said, "Well, he's my relative, too!" And they both laughed.

I felt so happy to be there among my own people.

Te Manu Korihi reporter Eruera Rerekura, to his left his relative Adrian Te Patu

Te Manu Korihi reporter Eruera Rerekura, to his left his relative Adrian Te Patu Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

While we were waiting for the next lot of visitors to arrive another relative Adrian Te Patu came and sat next to me. We started talking about our whakapapa, our genealogy.

He told me that my Ngāti Rangi people who are based near Mount Ruapehu would stay at Rānana in the winter time.

Adrian gave me information about "who was who" of the Whanganui River and about three Scottish family names that are common along the river including the Wallace family, the McGregors and the Mcleods and how their descendants arrived there in the 1800s via Turakina, a hamlet just south of Whanganui that has a strong Scottish identity.

The next lot of visitors were now standing at the marae gates ready to be welcomed on, and to my surprise I noticed the Maori king and his entourage were waiting there.

I was trying to guess why he was here and realised it made the occasion an extra special one.

During the speeches I was reminded that Waikato and Whanganui had strong whakapapa links with the Kīngitanga. I also learnt that one of King Tuheitia's daughters who attended had been fostered by my people of the river.

The Maori King, Tuheitia arriving at Ratana Pa.

The Maori King, Tuheitia arriving at Ratana Pa. Photo: RNZ

The second pōwhiri started. The karanga or call rang out from the women and then they all launched into a familiar haka chant that brought back memories from secondary school.

I was starting to get emotional.

The young men then roared into the haka "He Mangu Mangu Taepō". I was almost in tears knowing that this was my tribal haka and the young men were performing it with such kaha, such vigour. I felt so proud of them.

If I wasn't there working as a reporter I would've easily jumped in and joined them, but I had to hold back and behave as a spectator at my own marae. It then dawned on me that I needed to come back and spend time around my own people.

I feel like I have neglected that side of me. I need to go back for wānanga (learning workshops) and reacquaint myself with some of the tribal chants and waiata to which I had forgotten the words.

Whanganui River young warriors performing their tribal haka "Mangu Mangu Taepo) during a powhiri (welcoming ceremony) on Ranana Marae.

Whanganui River young warriors performing their tribal haka "Mangu Mangu Taepo) during a powhiri (welcoming ceremony) on Ranana Marae. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

It was a very moving event and probably the largest gathering my marae has ever seen. More than a thousand people had come to bear witness and also sign their names on Te Ruruku Whakatupua - the Whanganui River Treaty Settlement.

I will always be proud to be a descendant of the river: Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko - I am the river and the river is me.

Follow Eru Rerekura on Twitter @EruRerekura