‘Pakeke’ and club leaders at the Waihirere dress rehearsal in Gisborne last January: left to right, Bill Kerekere, Peter Kaua, Rongo Halbert, Arnold Reedy, Ben Brown, Henry Ngata, Leo Fowler, Heta Te Kani.
Bill Kerekere and Waihirere Club
There is an old saying, which is as generally true as most old sayings, to the effect that ‘no man is indispensable’. Bill Kerekere, President of the Waihirere Maori Club, and one of its founders, would be the first to agree that it's a true saying, but you wouldn't get much support from the Club for the idea that it applied to Bill. Not as far as the Club is concerned at any rate.
Bill Kerekere and the Waihirere Maori Club have been one and indivisible ever since the Club was formed over 12 years ago. It was formed at Waihirere, a small kaianga of the Aitangaamahaki tribe, about eight miles from Gisborne, and originally it was merely the nucleus for a haka group to represent Wai hirere in the newly formed Gisborne Annual Maori Competitions.
Since then the Club has gone a long way, gained a lot of experience and some measure of reputation, culminating in its recent honour of representing Maoridom in the entertainment of Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at Waitangi.
The Club moved its headquarters from Waihirere to Gisborne in the first year or two of its existence. Since then it has been open to any Maori (or any pakeha for that matter), and over the years the membership has included people from almost every tribe in New Zealand. While it did not set up specifically as a youth club, most of its members have been young Maori people who have come to live in Gisborne from the country.
The Club has not had an easy time. Until recently it met in whatever rooms were available and during periods when the Club was practising for competitions or for concerts, or for some Maori function, it has had to fall back on the homes of its members. Yet it managed to keep going, winter and summer year after year. Occasionally like all clubs, it had periods of doldrums when interest flagged and it was kept going only by its core of older and regular members.
There were times when the response was disappointing. You could only get a scattering of people, a handful, and the older members wondered if it was worth the trouble, the time and the worry. At other times, when there was a trip in the offing, there was a rush of old and new members. Looking back over the years it has been well worth it. There must be scores of young people, scattered over the
country, who have at one time been grateful to the Waihirere Maori Club for providing a place where they could foregather with young people of their own age and keep alive their interest in Maori cultural activities. Many of these young people have married and returned to Gisborne. Today they are bringing their own youngsters along. In fact the primary and junior sections are almost entirely children who have, you could almost say, been born into the Club.
There has been, since its foundation, a small core of members whose enthusiasm has never faded. It would be invidious to mention names, but they would be the first to agree that the source of inspiration and encouragement was their President Bill Kerekere, ably supported and encouraged by his wife Mihi and a few stalwart enthusiasts notable among whom are two other foundation members, Bub Wehi, the Chairman of the Club, and Bub's wife Nen.
About a year ago the Club had the opportunity of taking over the lease of a large cabaret right in the centre of the city. The price asked for the goodwill was extremely high, and the rent presented a further obstacle, but the older members got together, formed the Club into an Incorporated Society and undertook the liability. They've worked very hard, and managed to meet their obligations. Most of the money they've raised has come out of their own pockets, and certainly from their own efforts. There has been no outside assistance from any source.
They have had their reward in seeing the Club's reputation established and spreading. Their concert tours, their appearance on maraes in many parts of the North Island, and their two successful records, have made the name of the Waihirere Maori Club widely and favourably known.
They have played a prominent part in the Maori world of their own city and district. When a Maori welcome for visitors was desired, whether for Governor-Generals, Ministers of the Crown, or overseas sports teams such as the Lions, the Springboks, the Australian Rugby team and the Indian and Fiji hockey teams, there have been few occasions when the Club has not turned out to assist those organising the functions by giving a true Maori flavour to the entertainment.
It is this long and unbroken period of keeping their Maoritanga alive, and of affording to so many young people the opportunity of acquiring and perfecting a knowledge of traditional and modern Maori entertainment, which not only led to their being offered the honour of providing the Maori entertainment for Her Majesty at the recent Waitangi Celebrations, but which made it possible for them to accept the offer. They accepted it with humility and some misgivings, knowing that they were being given the honour of representing Maoridom and that the mana of all the Maori people was in their keeping.
Having accepted the invitation the Waihirere Maori Club set to with determination—and the term ‘grim’ determination was very often an apt one. Three to four nights a week, three to four hours a night, sometimes longer they practised. All their old members within the district rallied round and their practising average was between a hundred and a hundred and twenty. There were new songs to be learned; new tunes specially composed by Bill Kerekere for the occasion, new words, new actions. The choice of the Club to represent Maoridom at Waitangi was not, at the time perhaps, a very popular one for many reasons. But those who remember the fine presentation they made before Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh and who know that such meticulous presentation can come only from hours and hours of arduous practice, from the shelving of other interests including a good deal of family life, from inspiration and devotion, will agree that, if it was not the only choice, it is a choice that has been fully justified by events.
Various aspects of Maori health are being studied in a survey being undertaken by the Wellington Hospital medical unit survey team at Tikitiki, about 90 miles north of Gisborne, among people of the Ngati Porou tribe.
The unit's aim is to find out more about different aspects of Maori health, looking particularly at problems related to nutrition, heart disease, gout and diabetes. A similar survey was undertaken at Ruatahuna in the Urewera country last year.
The Committee responsible for arrangements at Tikitiki comprises the Reverend K. Paenga, Mesdames T. Taiapa and Hine Weka, and Messrs S. Goldsmith, L. Waikari and M. Karaka.