Labour of love to restore Aotearoa Marae
Living up to its name, Aotearoa Marae is a beautiful place. Situated amid rolling South Waikato farmland, it is far from any town and sits surrounded by majestic trees, both native and European. From it can be seen several of Waikato’s prominent peaks including Wharepuhunga, which the marae is associated with.
Aotearoa Marae’s buildings are also looking splendid these days due in large part to the efforts of the chairman of the marae trust board, John Kopu. John is a Methodist minita-a-iwi and last month received a certificate of acknowledgement for the 10 years he has served the church.
In recent times John’s church work has taken a back seat to his role as marae kaumatua. Through his organisational skills plus his own hard work and that of his wife Rangikura and son Albert Aotearoa Marae has a new kitchen and dining hall, new covered seating area (paepae) for guests, new mattress room, new toilet block, and a fully restored and redecorated meeting house (Whare Tupuna).
John says Aotearoa is a Ngati Raukawa marae and it has strong links to the King Movement. A large totara tree stands next to the marae’s dining hall and under this tree the second of the Maori kings, Tawhio, once had a house. It was Tawhio who gave the impetus to construct Aotearoa marae.
“We will have the work finished by the 10th of March when the Queen will be here for her poukai. We have done fundraising through sports days and we had a lottery grant in 1999.
“Over the past year we have been working on the Whare Tupuna. It is more than 100 years old and was falling over when we started. We have lifted all the floorboards and repiled it with concrete runners. We have reset the walls and we have added vents along the base because there weren’t any before. And we have reinforced the poutokomanawa (end poles) with steel bands and concrete.”
Currently John and Rangikura are finishing the work on the woven tukutuku panels in the interior of the Whare Tupuna. Although they were given some instruction on how to do them, they have done all the work on the panels themselves. This includes harvesting the kakaho (toitoi) rushes used to make the backing and the kiekie used to weave the panels.
John says Aotearoa Marae has always had a strong association with Te Hahi Weteriana. Work on the marae is itself a spiritual endeavour. The day begins and ends with karakia (prayer) and karakia are offered when major projects are begun and finished.