A new book about urupā

Stan Pardoe has almost finished writing a book that he never expected to begin.

Matene Simon and Stan Pardoe stand before a window looking at the camera.
Matene Simon (HNZPT Pou Whaihanga) and Stan Pardoe (Author, Historian). Photo: HNZPT.expand/collapse

‘I have been blessed with a good memory,’ says Stan, and he isn’t joking. At 84 Stan Pardoe (Rongowhakaata) has extraordinary recall of people, places, events and time. Over breakfast at the Poverty Bay Club in Gisborne he shared urupā stories in back-to-back bite-sized chunks. The detail is nothing short of amazing. No matter the questions or where the tale meanders to, his pauses are almost insignificant, lasting at most just a few seconds as he quickly locates neatly ordered information catalogued in the vastness of his mind.

Stan is one of 20 recipients of our Mātauranga Māori Grants. The funding will enable him to complete his book project about the urupā associated with five Rongowhakaata marae on the East Coast of the North Island.

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga received a portion of the Government’s Te Awe Kōtuku funding ($2 million) for a work program to support revitalisation of vulnerable mātauranga Māori within two areas: ancestral landscapes and Māori built heritage. Read more here.

Stan was reluctant to start this book even when encouraged by Sir Derek Lardelli. Stan said ‘Who the hell wants to listen to stories about urupā? Maumau taima (waste of time).’ He later reflected on the idea over a coffee with Pam Bain, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Director of Regional Services. Further encouragement from her led to him kick-starting the project.

The book has given Stan a place to record decades of stories and information about people and where they are buried. Many of them, long since passed, he knew well. He often spoke at their tangi and dug the holes where they would lie. Some he never met but he knows something about who they were. Some of what he knows was passed down to him through the oral histories of his elders, often directly from his grandmother or through stories shared and discussed on the pae (orator’s bench). Stan is clear about the value of these relationships and the opportunity to hear their stories, ‘the knowledge of who people are is important, their connections are important.’

Sometimes Stan has had to bury people who have been buried before. During decades of farming Stan saw ‘plenty of bones’ exposed through erosion or other activities. He took them away ‘by the bagful’ and re-buried them at the urupā.

Stan has noted changes through time. Many trustees live far away from the urupā and are disconnected from the land. Stan questions this logic: ‘It is the local people who are taking care of the urupā, they dig the holes.’

This is Stan’s fourth book, he has more to write and can’t wait to get this one finished.

- Niki Partsch