THE OTIRIA MEETING HOUSES
Situated close by the railway station at Otiria Junction, on the North Auckland railway line, is the Otiria Marae. Here, for some years now work has been going on steadily in the building of meeting-houses for the Ngatihine Tribe of the Bay of Islands. All is done by voluntary Maori labour, from the felling of logs, and the cutting at the saw-mill on the site, to the erection of buildings—all is managed and carried out by Maori tradesmen.
For the initial planning of this undertaking we owe much to the late Mr William Cooper of the Maori Affairs Department, Auckland, who had been Consolidation Officer for the district from 1935 to the time of his death, in 1950.
Pita Kiingi, leader of the Ngatiteara tribe, made a gift of the marae to the people, and also began to work timber from the bush with his team of bullocks, but his ill-health and subsequent death left this work hardly started.
The Keretene brothers, both closely related to the Kiingi family, took up the work, and it can be said that the work really started then.
It was a tremendous undertaking for those unused to such work, and there were many difficulties to be met and overcome, one being
The planning and construction of this and the carved meeting-house is in the hands of Whare Hauraki, of Motatau, who has been a carpenter all his life. The people have been very fortunate to have his services.
Work of this nature and importance requires the best experience. In this respect, there could not have been a better choice. Whare Hauraki has built several meeting-houses in the district. One of the more important ones, built some years ago for the Mormon Church at Pipiwai, is the Paraima Hall.
The carving operations now in progress are in the hands of Miha, from the Bay of Plenty district.
A pupil of the old Maori school of carving, Miha does all his casting from memory. Younger generations of carvers are being taught to transfer designs and figures from paper, but, like the artist of old, Miha's only book is his memory. In true Maori spirit, he has come all this way to do this very important and valuable work for no remuneration except the honour of doing it.
This system—we call it “taha Maori”—calls for sacrifice in material and work from those who have made it their self-appointed task to carry out.
One is reminded of the words of Mr Churchill during the battle of Britain, when he said something to the effect that “never have so many owed so much
to so few”. The people of Ngatihine and Ngapuhi generally, owe much to the few who are doing so much to build these meeting-houses for the use of all.
Built to cater for and accommodate our distinguished visitors—Land Court sittings, tribal gatherings, weddings, tangis—these buildings are destined to play their part in the social life of the district. And, as Sir Apirana Ngata said, the “Whare Whakairo”, or carved house, will instill into the young Maori pride of race and self-respect.
The dining-hall after completion was called Tangariki Hall, after the ceremony of opening. This name is taken from an old Maori saying, which is still in use, and which goes to show how closely the eastern district was associated with Hokianga in the west. It tells of two springs, one in Hokianga, one in Otiria: “Te puna i tangariki te rere i Tiria.” There are other interpretations, but the one generally accepted refers to myriads of small eels that come up the rivers and streams in the late spring. These tiny fish, hardly three inches long, veritably climb up the Otiria falls, and continue their way up-stream in spite of all obstacles.
It may be the Maori version of one of Solomon's proverbs in the Scriptures that refers to the industry and determination of the little ant. Who knows?
When the carved meeting-house is completed, then another building will be added to the few of this kind of house in the North—one at Waitangi, and another at Mangamuka.