Nga Mahi o Nga Tupuna …
THE WORK OF
Greetings! Greetings from Oparure!!!
Let us hear a story that shows a revival of the old community spirit.
It All Began when our youthful and versatile schoolteacher, together with his bride, took over our school of sixty-odd Maori children and two Europeans. Filted with amazement at the lack of Maoti culture among his pupils, he immediately began to ply his school committee with such questions as: ‘Could you find someone who would volunteer to come to the school once a month to teach the correct pronunciation of Maori place-names? ‘Could you find someone who would volunteer to teach the boys haka - and the girls poi?’ ‘Could you find a woman who would volunteer to come to school and teach the care and cutting of flax, and the Maori Arts?’
Finally, the children were all happily engaged in learning haka, poi, and action songs, their 'teachers' often going out of their way to get to the school for these short periods of practice. Our energetic schoolteacher, far from being satisfied, then proceeded to sponsor a ‘Youth Club’ run by a committee of our high school children. He has a Junior Red Cross class, which meets with the District Health Nurse once a week, and a singing class, where, for half an hour, the children learn to harmonise.
The senior classes are taught Maori Arts and Crafts for an hour every week by a young mother with seven children of her own, and it is quite common for her to arrive at school with Junior in the pram, and a bundle of flax on top; but that is another story.
The children have now taken part in two New Year carnivals, performing on suitably decorated floats, and at a Queen Carnival,
hence, when a discussion on the Queen's visit came up, the children were asked to perform. What a joy! What an honour!
Then a serious question arose! What about costumes? For up to this time the children had been using rather make-shift costumes and ‘quick-way’ piupius.
As is usual when working out any problem, a meeting was called — haka teacher, poi teacher, arts and crafts teacher, school committee; a real gathering of the clans. As a result of this meeting, the old pa is now ringing again with the rhythmic stamp of many young feet. Maori maidens of various sizes, whether engaged in small duties, or going off to school, or returning the cows to the pastures, can be seen nimbly twirling ‘tiny poi’. Smoke is issuing contentedly from the old kauta (cook-house) chimney, from Monday till Thursday.
There is not a great deal of activity on the marae — the weather is against it, anyhow; just the arrival of an odd mother with familiar kete (kit) containing perhaps a fresh loaf of rewena (leaven) bread, or perhaps a dozen golden fried scones. Maybe two or three mothers, complete with baby snugly on the back; but inside the closed doors of the old whare kai (dining house) a large group is working with great concentration. Some are weaving. (They take one strand, miss three, turn the next back under first, and whatu (weave) the first, then second, then third, then draw fourth back over first and whatu.) There are the feather artists, carefully sorting into colour groups the feathers of kaka, cock pheasant, pukeko, etc. (Place two feathers together evenly and hold firmly in left
There is the muka (fibre) party, almost ankle-deep in discarded green backs of flax, the muka or topside having been removed with a makoi (shell), a tricky process calling for much patience and a good strong left hand.
Splice flax almost halfway up, and then beginning from splice, hold topside of flax firmly against makoi with right hand braced on right knee, draw firmly and slowly over makoi with left hand, gaining in momentum as root end is reached.
In a day or two a huge pile of flax will have disappeared, and in its stead rows of snowy white muka hang along the rafters of the old kauta to dry. Then begins another tricky and tedious process—that of miro-ing (two-plying) the muka into the various thicknesses required, first head and tailing strands for even thickness. Whenu (foundation strands) thick, aho (weaving strands) very thin. So the work goes on, interspersed with sometimes gay banter, sometimes in more serious vein, sometimes broken by a visit from one of the menfolk, which never fails to bring forth much teasing and laughter. Then, perhaps, supplies in all fields become low, and the eyes of the ‘lady in charge’ will look over the little groups, a few quiet words, and two or three renowned ‘cutters’ will leave the premises. Then an ancient truck of questionable model can be seen laboriously making its way up a side road and grunting and snorting its disapproval, as it disappears into the hills, to return surprisingly soon, with a load of fresh, green, rustling flax, and the ‘cutters’ with happy, smiling faces. Another day they may step into a bright blue V8, or a classy little Austin, but the cargo is invariably the same — flax, flax and more flax, and why not? Is not the goal in sight? Ten more piupiu, twenty-eight more tipare (head gear), and two more tateka (wrap).
One of them is for a pakeha girl, because she's just as good at poi as our girls! And so the work goes happily on. It's not easy, pro-
Tatou, tatou, iroto i te whare kotahi!!