By Niki Partsch
Amongst the many stories of heart-breaking loss and damage following Cyclone Gabrielle there are stories emerging of the impact on marae and the communities they are central to.
When Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Deputy Chief Executive and Kaihautū, Dean Whiting, and Pouārahi Central Region, Darran Kerei-Keepa, drove up to Ahuriri Napier last month they were responding to requests for specific assistance. They stopped along the way to purchase as many of the much-needed materials as they could fit on the back of their utility vehicle.
Their first stop was at Ōmahu marae, near Fernhill. Here the urupā is particularly affected by the flood and it was understandably a very difficult time for the many whānau who were present.
Amongst the damaged homes and buildings, they had come together to do what they could to protect the place where for generations, their loved ones have been laid to rest. Whānau quickly made use of timber and large tarpaulins from the ute to cover and protect areas that were exposed.
“We had spoken to the Ōmahu whānau prior to leaving Wellington and they had requested certain items that were no longer available in the region because of the supply demand. We were only too happy to support them where we could,” says Darran.
Later they drove further on, to Tangoio marae which lies about 20kms north of Napier.
As they arrived, a solemn ceremony was underway outside their whare tīpuna Punanga Te Wao, which has been yellow stickered. Whānau, including many who are displaced from their red stickered homes nearby, were gathered in the open. Extreme flooding had driven mud and silt up to the windows, through the door and right inside this beautiful ancestral house. Umbrellas, hats, and raincoats drooped in the steadily falling rain while the people themselves were overshadowed by huge mounds of silt, some more than two metres high.
Dean and Darran were invited inside to make an expert assessment before the precious whakairo and tukutuku panels were taken down for careful cleaning and storage. Darran was struck by the scale of the flooding.
“The mud and silt and debris were everywhere outside. When we went inside the whare, mud was higher than my knees. They had used shovels inside to cut a track so that we and the whānau could walk through. It was sad because at the time we were inside, the whānau were still outside, but we had been asked to come and do an assessment and provide advice, and so we did that.”
They inspected the condition of the taonga inside the wharenui and were able to provide advice regarding cleaning methods and storage. Removing the panels was much easier than expected.
“It was ingenious how the panels had been put together using a method so perfect that only a few nails were used in the whole process, it made removing them so easy,” says Darran.
Despite the incredibly difficult situation at the marae and at nearby whānau homes, Dean says “We were just so overwhelmed by the manaakitanga shown to us by the whānau of Tangoio Marae.”