Monday, 13 July 2020


Past is honoured and future embraced at Te Pōwhiri 2019

An estimated 2,000 strong crowd gathered in glorious sunshine at Wharekaho on Friday for an historic coming together of the people of Te Whanganui o Hei - Mercury Bay that’s been 250 years in the making.

Through the sharing of words, music, gifts and food, Te Pōwhiri, which commemorated the first positive encounters between Ngāti Hei and the crew of the HM Bark Endeavour, was carried out in magnificent surroundings beneath the Wharetaewa pa at the southern end of Wharekaho beach. In what both Joe Davis of Ngāti Hei and Coromandel MP Scott Simpson described as “a significant and important day,” the focus was firmly on a shared future paved by important lessons of the past.

A sense of anticipation began earlier in the day as busloads of people, from children as young as three to older residents in their eighties, arrived at the northern end of the Wharekaho to witness the final arrival of the replica Endeavour, Spirit of New Zealand, waka hourua Hinemoana and the R. Tucker Thompson heritage ship. Then, with the crews of 2019 to the fore, the gathered crowd began the deeply symbolic 1.2km hikoi along Wharekaho beach, retracing the steps of Captain James Cook, the Tahitian chief Tupaia and their crew back in 1769.

With the air pierced with emotion and the tall ships hovering calmly in the background, Maori Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis, then answered the call to lift the first of three offerings of peace laid down by the kaiwero (challengers) before a rousing haka welcomed the visitors onto the meeting grounds. During the formal speeches, Endeavour replica Captain Frank Allica presented a token to Ngāti Hei constructed from wood and ropes from HM Bark Endeavour. “The two ropes represent our two cultures and the seizing of the ropes represents Tuia 250 which has united us. We hope that through our shared strengths that we will work together for a harmonious future,” he said. Seizings are a class of stopping knots used to bind together two ropes. A treasure box was also presented by the Taihitian delegation commemorating their chief Tupaia’s role of guide and interpretor in the first encounters 250 years ago. The Tahitians had composed a special song which they performed during the exchanges referencing how people are unified by the oceans and bound together with waka traditions. The words were written and placed inside the treasure box.

In his speech, Joe Davis of Ngāti Hei acknowledged all of our ancestors who have gone before us, as well as the children present who he described as our leaders of tomorrow. He extended greetings to all the delegations from various parts of the world who had gathered at Wharekaho, a place which he said had welcomed all who had come over the past 250 years and would continue to do so in the future.

One of the most poignant moments of Te Pōwhiri came with the unveiling of a specially commissioned plaque that for the first time officially marks and acknowledges the site of the first encounters of 1769. The plaque also recognises the hurt experienced by Māori and the desire of both cultures to never revisit the mistakes of the past. “History is history, and there are some harsh truths we must face up to, but it is by acknowledging the past that we can move forward together as people of the Coromandel and Aotearoa,” Mr Davis told the gathering. “These young people we see here today are looking to us. We will not forget those who have come before us, but in doing so we must also look to the future and that of our tamariki - our future together as two cultures of this one nation,” he said.

The revealing of the plaque with a special karakia (prayer) was followed by the traditional hongi between the leaders of the host and visiting tribes before visitors were invited to enjoy food and entertainment, no longer as visitors but as whanau. Kapa haka performances which had been in preparation for many months were delivered with passion and pride by students of Coromandel’s schools, from Whangamata in the south to Colville in the north.

Coromandel MP Scott Simpson paid tribute to the courage and generosity of Ngāti Hei in embracing the opportunity presented by Tuia 250. “I can recall vividly when we were first talking about these commemorations around four or five years ago and we wondered how it would all be possible. Being here today and particularly seeing all these young people who are part of it is really inspiring and makes me feel really optimistic for future,” he said. “Tuia 250 has allowed us to start what were for some pretty difficult conversations about our history. But the learning and the understanding that has come from that has been powerful and I think we are an example to the rest of New Zealand in that regard.”


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