Maori Village Makeover
Seamus Fitzgerald, PCC Islands Director and Aotearoa Islands Manager, explained that in Maori culture, “the meeting house is the most important symbol of our heritage.”
“The meeting house encompasses everything Maori. Its structure is Maori. The philosophy surrounding it is Maori. It’s the place in every community where our people strongly feel not only the presence of our ancestors, but it’s the place where we have autonomy — where we dictate what happens in our tribes based on our cultural beliefs.”
“The carving at the apex, the koruru, represents an ancestor, and the diagonal beams or maihi are the arms,” Fitzgerald said. “I love that symbolism of an ancestor with his arms outstretched. To me, that personifies Maori culture.”
“Whereas there are only a few meeting houses outside of New Zealand, including ours at the PCC,” he continued, “in my small hometown of Turangi, which only has 3,000 people, there are seven meeting houses — one for each sub-tribe. It’s estimated there are now about 1,000 Maori meeting houses in New Zealand.”
“Starting four years ago we began putting together plans for the redevelopment of the village and renewal of the carvings, with a major focus on the Meeting House.”
“Challenges quickly arose,” Fitzgerald said. “For example, it was impossible when we started in 2010 to find the same kind of wood for the carvings; but in time we had thousands of dollars worth of tōtara [Podocarpus totara, a highly prized endemic New Zealand hardwood] donated to the PCC. This was all leading up to us having the new carvings ready by our fiftieth anniversary in 2013.”
Fitzgerald explained that octogenarian Maori master carver Takaputai “Taka” Mete Walker, QSM, of Havelock North, New Zealand — who had worked on the original carvings in the early 1960s as a young man — agreed to pattern the new carvings after the original designs. He and his crew did most of the work in New Zealand.
“When he came to Laie in early 2013 we discovered that the two amo or carved vertical supports for the arms (maihi) weren’t as solid as we thought they were, so he went back to New Zealand for two weeks, then returned to the PCC to do those carvings as well.”
The name of the PCC Meeting House was another challenge.
“During our planning,” Fitzgerald said, “we also held meetings in the community with our kaumātua or elders and the families who had an interest in the house and its carvings.
He pointed out that in 1963, because leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which founded the PCC, didn’t want opposition from any tribes, it was not given the name of a traditional ancestor, as custom dictated. Instead, the entire marae or village enclosure was given the name Te Aroha Nui o te Iwi Maori — the great love of the Maori people, which many people assumed was also the name of the meeting house.
The original master carver, the late Sir Hone Taiapa, OBE, at one point indicated the house should have been named after Hawaikiroa, a Pacific island ancestor who as Hawaiiloa is also considered the discoverer of Hawaii.
Fitzgerald said that after deep deliberation, “we wanted to hold on to that name, Hawaikiroa, and when we told Uncle Taka, he added a hoe or paddle to the koruru, to show that it represented Hawaiki Roa, who was a navigator and a man of the ocean.” Fitzgerald also pointed out
two smaller carvings filling the gap between the koruru ancestor-carving and the maihi arms, further represent Hawaikiroa’s own ancestors.
The carvers, Maori villagers and families, and others came together for a special ceremony in November 2013, during which the new name was adopted. “Now the house is done,” Fitzgerald said, noting that each of the carved panels inside the house also has a small plaque listing who is represented and the carver.”
Other new features of the PCC Maori Village include an enlarged new area for learning tititorea, the stick game; as well as a new carved head for the family dwelling, and new landscaping and outside lighting.
“When our guests experience all these things and our daily programs, I always hope they’ll feel a connection to us, that we all have universal values of family.
I hope they come away from our Maori Village feeling uplifted; and I particularly love the fact that they hear a message of peace from a culture that’s often identified as warriors.”
“Of course, we all have our daily struggles, but when we finish our daily presentations, our main message is one of finding peace in your homes that can extend into communities and the world.”
Asked what’s on the horizon, Fitzgerald said he’s looking forward to the next Te Manahua Maori cultural arts festival, tentatively in July 2015.
Story and pictures by Mike Foley