A small band of enthusiastic workers is striving hard to preserve a piece of living Maori heritage in Feilding — a heritage that will have a real place in the community of tomorrow, particularly for the Maori people.
This heritage lies at Aorangi, a small settlement about two miles from Feilding, for here is the Aorangi marae. The Aorangi Marae Committee needs funds for renovations on the marae, and staged a mammoth Polynesian festival in Feilding on August 17 as part of a drive for finance.
The Aorangi marae has played an important part in local Maori culture, and can continue to give impetus to the direction of Maori and Pakeha culture in the future. Some measure of its value to the community is found in its history.
Having travelled down from Waikato around 1830, the Ngati Kauwhata people eventually settled in the Awahuri area, close to the Oroua river. Here they established a settlement and took an interest in clearing land for agriculture.
In the late 1880s Te Rama Apakura and his wife Hurihia (also known in Pakeha circles as Mr and Mrs Robert Durie) moved from from Awahuri to Aorangi and began farming family land there.
With them went other members of Ngati Tahuriwakanui, a sub-tribe of Kauwhata, and they built houses as land was cleared. They also moved their meeting house, Maniaihu, which had previously stood on the Awahuri side of the Oroua River. How the house was transported is not known nor is its exact age on record. It was, however, in good repair when it was re-erected on its present site around 1890.
A small settlement of Ngati Tahuriwakanui grew up around the meeting house, which served as a much-used cultural centre for the various families living there. Today only one of the original homes still stands but even in the 1940s four or five other homes were located adjacent to the marae.
The marae boasted its own bakery and blacksmith and a Maori-owned store was in operation by the turn of the century. Other signs of permanence including a burial ground appeared a few hundred yards away.
In later years as the Maori population moved towards Feilding, the marae saw many alterations. The bakery was no longer needed and the store had been replaced.
By the 1920s much of the responsibility for the marae had been assumed by the late Mr Mason Durie and his wife Kahu, who were farming the surrounding land. They were to spend a lifetime continuing to develop the marae and were largely responsible for the national prestige which became associated with Aorangi.
From its beginning the marae was closely involved with the Anglican church and it became the centre of the Maori mission in the Manawatu-Rangitikei pastorate. The meeting house itself was used as a regular place of worship for many years and frequent large church gatherings were a distinguishing feature of the marae.
Later, after World War II, another building was added — St Luke's Chapel. This had been constructed by voluntary labour when the Rev. M. Bennett (now Bishop of Aotearoa) was pastor in the area. Each month services in Maori are still conducted in the chapel.
Other improvements included a new dining room and the establishment of many native trees.
The links between Ngati Tahuriwakanui of Aorangi and the other sub-tribes of Ngati Kauwhata have always been strong and there has been close co-operation between the three Kauwhata maraes.
At Awahuri a large meeting house, Te
Iwa, was built and was used extensively until the last 1930s. At Kai Iwi a large marae had developed with its elaborately-carved meeting house, Kauwhata. This marae has remained a focal point for Ngati Kauwhata as a whole and its links with Aorangi are strong. The meeting house is a particularly fine example of Maori carving and decoration.
Apart from its connection with Ngati Kauwhata, Aorangi has other close bonds with neighbouring maraes. Through marriage, strong affinities have developed with Te Hiri (Kakariki), Te Rangimarie (Rangiotu), and other Ngati Raukawa maraes. Such bonds are evident whenever functions are held at one or other of these maraes.
The meeting house at Aorangi, Maniaihu, takes its name from an ancestor of the Ngati Kauwhata people. It is about 65 ft long and 25 ft wide. In contrast to the house at Kai Iwi, Maniaihu is not carved and lacks the ornate lines seen in many houses. The only decorations are the rafter patterns painted on the ceiling. These kowhaiwhai patterns were originally simple and repeated throughout the house. Recently some fresh patterns have been added and some of the old ones repainted.
While the meeting house may not conform to the popular image of a Maori meeting house, its beauty lies in its quiet dignity and simple lines. The present committee has no plans to alter the basic character of Maniaihu and many feel that the addition of elaborate carvings would be inappropriate. Maintenance work has often been carried out over the years, but the house itself has been in constant use. Even during the recent renovations it has been available for various tribal functions.
Immediate plans for the whole marae include landscaping and the planting of more native trees. A driveway and car park are to be constructed and a store room is being built. The store room is a scaled-down version of the meeting house and may include a den for the Aorangi Rovers Scout crew.
A major project will be the erection of a new kitchen and ultimately a larger dining room. The old corrugated iron cook-house was demolished earlier this year and a new kitchen has become a matter of some urgency. The final cost of this block could be more than $15,000.
Over the past two years more than $4,000 has been spent on the marae and many hours of voluntary labour have been given by friends. An ablution block was opened last year and fence lines cleared.
A number of fund-raising efforts have been held, including golf tournaments, a film premiere, an open day on the marae, charity football matches and numerous raffles. As in the past the marae has received much help from Maori and Pakeha supporters. The last major fund-raising effort was the Polynesian festival, and money raised from this should be used to get the kitchen at least under way.
The future of the Aorangi marae seems secure if the enthusiasm of the present committee is any guide. They feel the survival of Maori culture depends essentially on the preservation of the marae system since it is through the marae that a sense of continuity with the past is achieved.
Priority use of the Aorangi marae will always be for times of bereavement when, as in the past, families will gather to farewell their loved ones.
There will be other uses too, occasions when Maori and Pakeha can mingle together and learn from each other. For Ngati Kauwhata however, Maniaihu, along with its companion house Kauwhata, will continue to be the cultural and family centres and the sources of strength for the future uncertain years.
S. A. Stewart.