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No. 34 (March 1961)
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Mr Taylor, well-known to the Maori people, is Public Relations Officer to the Maori Affairs Department.

When The New Maori meeting-house Te Whatu Manawa Maoritanga O Rehua was opened at Christchurch on December 3, the South Islanders showed they knew all about running a Maori hui of this nature. This was despite the fact that it is more than 100 years since a carved Maori meeting-house in traditional style has been erected in the South Island.

The attention to detail, the overall finesse of all the arrangements and the strict observance of Maori ceremonial and traditions showed that the deep significance of the function was fully understood by the organisers who in turn successfully conveyed its meaning to all those present and indeed to the public generally.

It was a splendid combined effort. Maori and pakeha, South Island Maoris, North Island Maoris resident in the south, and the Christchurch Methodist Central Mission all worked together to produce a result worthy of the “once in 100 years” occasion.

Stormy weather conditions prevailed throughout most of the hui which was held over Friday, Saturday and Sunday, December 2, 3 and 4. However, the organisers competently coped with the situation and passed it off as a sign that the heavens were blessing their efforts.

The opening ceremony was performed by the then Prime Minister and Minister of Maori Affairs, the Rt. Hon. Walter Nash. The official guests and speakers included the then Minister of Forests and Associate Minister of Maori Affairs, the Hon.; Sir Eruera Tirikatene, and the Hon. J. K. Mc-Alpine, who represented the then Prime Minister-elect, the Rt. Hon. K. J. Holyoake.

Despite the adverse weather the opening ceremony was witnessed by over 3000 Maoris and pakehas, including representatives of all the major Maori tribes.

At the main meal of the weekend, the Saturday midday dinner, nearly 2500 people were served.

Maori visitors from tribes all over New Zealand visited Christchurch for the opening. About 650 came from the North Island, including more than 100—the largest representation from any tribe—from Waikato. Princess Piki, daughter of King Koroki, attended on behalf of her father.

The rites began at 6 a.m. on the Saturday with the lifting of the tapu by Waikato.

In his address of welcome to all visitors before the official opening, Sir Eruera said: “We trust that you will continue to send your sons here to join with our own in seeking the training that Rehua hostel offers. (The Methodist-run hostel is for Maori apprentices, mainly from the North Island, and is in the same grounds as the meetinghouse which is, in part, an extension of the hostel facilities.) From your store of Maoritanga, that of Te Waipounamu can be replenished. We will hold to this with tenacity and so command a hidden source of strength and security so that our Maori youth can gain confidence and competence in manipulating the fast-moving, complex, scientific western world by which we are encompassed. Let our children have the best of both worlds by using the academic and technical training which has been made available to them in such institutions as the Rehua hostel in which this meetinghouse, and all that it stands for, is an integral part.”

Mr Nash said the event was symbolic of the Maori cultural renaissance that had swept through the country in recent years. In the North Island he had been privileged to open a number of fine Maori community buildings in recent years. Now it was evident that the same trend, the same yearning to hold on to things Maori, was active in the South Island.

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The hostel and meeting-house, said Mr Nash, were helping the Maori people to adjust socially as well as economically. Pakeha as well as Maori had laboured on the project, both in the building of the meeting-house and in organising the opening ceremonies.

In this way the meeting-house had already brought Maori and pakeha closer together. The pakeha, along with the Maori, was interested in learning of Maori culture and in sharing its riches with the Maori people.

“The building of a Maori meeting-house can perhaps be the strongest peace-time force I know of for bringing Maori and pakeha together on terms of mutual respect, goodwill, co-operation and friendship,” said Mr Nash.

The new meeting-house is to be available for the recreational and cultural activities of residents of the Christchurch Methodist Central Mission's Rehua Maori Apprentices Hostel and as a centre for all Maori people.

The house incorporates the best of traditional Maori art forms, perpetuating the art of all the major tribes.

Although not traditional, there is a stage at one end.

The house stands on one and three-quarter acres in Springfield Road, St Albans, which have been planted with native flora, including such trees as totara, rimu and kauri.

The house is to be used as a Maori centre for all Maori people. Activities will include tribal and other committee meetings, Maori Women's Welfare League functions, welcoming important guests, cultural and educational pursuits, approved social functions, and Christian worship.

The Rehua hostel was established seven years ago to provide supervised accommodation and a Christian atmosphere for up to 50 boys. It was from the need for indoor recreational facilities that the idea of the meeting-house grew.

Now the idea is fulfilled.

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Maori Carvers at work in the new meeting house. Photo: Mannering & Donaldson