“I will not be lost, I am a seed which was sown from Rangiātea - the whare is a symbol of planting your pou into the ground,” recited renowned Coromandel-based Māori artist, James Webster, from a whakatauki (proverb) at dawn last Thursday 26 May, at the opening of Mercury Bay Area School’s upgraded whare.
Just before sunrise as “everyday comes a new beginning,” rangatahi (young people), kaiako (teachers), whānau (family) and hāpori whānui (the community) gathered for the “unveiling” of the whare. Along with James, the artist behind the whare, kaitiaki/ rangatira of Ngāti Hei, Joe Davis, led a very moving gathering where karakia (prayers) were offered, waiata (songs) were sung, kōrero (discussions) were held and kai (food) was shared.
Joe welcomed and thanked all the guests for attending “this ritual of purification and renaissance of tikanga (the Māori way of being)”. “It is a tikanga that’s really been here all the time, but is now starting to return,” he explained. “Today is a spiritual and precious day. I mihi (thank) all who came to join us in this beautiful ritual that is about aroha (love) and wairua (spirit). As we takahi (trample) around this whare to our karakia, I ask you to impart your aroha and wairua to awhi (embrace) and tautoko (support) the whare here for our tamariki (children) and all those involved in taking them forward.”
Seen as “a rededication of dreams and aspirations of tipuna (ancestors) to establish kaupapa (Māori principles and values),” James said he felt “honoured” to have been given the responsibility of presenting his work at the gathering. “Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, lockdowns and mandates, the unveiling of the whare, which was first proposed in 2018, was postponed until this later date of completion, but we’re here now,” he smiled. “Over that period of time, many people helped out. I’d like to mihi them as well as my whānau, everyone who came out here this morning, John Wright (MBAS principal) and of course the tamariki.”
James explained that he has incorporated multiple different themes into the configuration of the artwork adorning the whare, which are presented in a variety of forms - symbols, colours, materials used and the positioning of each. The themes speak of Māori gods, history, whakapapa (line of descent), our connection to the whenua (land) and moana (ocean) of Te Whitiangao-Kupe (Whitianga) and their educational implications for the next generations. Some very specific features in the artwork are the pou and the presence of manu (birds) similar to the Manukarere pou erected at Taylors Mistake in the Whitianga CBD, a functioning 32 quadrant star compass accurately set to the four cardinal directions, a mauri (life force) stone, a mural that portrays the landmarks and local history of Te Whanganui o Hei (Mercury Bay), and carvings of Papa, Rangi and Tāne, all serving as kaitiaki (guardians). Along with this, there is a dominant blue theme within the artwork to represent Tangaroa (the god of the sea), “the long drawn breath of the ocean”.
James expressed hope that the artwork will be used as a “teaching tool” for tamariki and rangatahi. “One thing with this kaupapa is that we didn’t want to necessarily make it tapu (sacred) as we want people to come and engage,” he said. “Hence, we have created this particular configuration with the seats to enable a bit of a hub for people to ask questions, have kai and enjoy each other’s company.”
Reaffirming that, “This artwork is not just for now, but for the coming years for our young people, community and staff,” John Wright thanked the MBAS Board of Trustees and the Department of Internal Affairs for providing the supportive funds to make the project viable. “Everyone will come to this whare to look, understand and encounter the remarkable place of Ngāti Hei,” he said. “This was a very special day.”
Pictured is Mercury Bay Area School Te Reo Māori students at the upgraded whare at the front of the school.