Wero is a competition category in the senior kapa haka at Te Hui Ahurei a Tūhoe. The kaiwero for Te Waimana Kaaku mimics a lizard as he approaches. Waimana will host the Ahurei in 2020. Image: Jason Renes

Coming home to Tūhoe… wherever it may be

Every two years Te Hui Ahurei a Tūhoe invites Ngāi Tūhoe descendents to come together and celebrate their unique reo and culture. But how do urban Tūhoe express their Tūhoetanga when they live away from the lands of their tīpuna? Jason Renes attended this year’s festival to find out.

There is mist around Rotorua on the first morning of this year’s Te Hui Ahurei a Tūhoe. It isn’t the same dense and murky cloak that embraces the whārua of Te Urewera but it has materialised, here and there, despite the warmth of the morning. Spectres sit in the dells of paddocks around Awahou, and a thin web of haze hangs halfway up the summit of Ngongotaha. It is seen by Tūhoe travellers as they enter Rotorua, this town that sits outside their tribal lands yet is also host to their festival. The fading streaks of kohu are taken as a good sign.

When it was first announced that the Ahurei for 2018 would take place in Rotorua the reaction from many Tūhoe was mixed. Depending on who you spoke with the response could vary between cautious optimism or pure incredulity. Some saw no sense for the biennial event to be anywhere other than te rohe pōtae o Tūhoe. Others acknowledged the wider factors that led to hosting duties being handed to Rotorua. There was a perceived relief of burden upon the hapū of Rūātoki, who had hosted the festival almost continually since 1973 (except for a period in the ’90s when the Ahurei was held in Ruatāhuna and Waimana). The central location also offered a degree of convenience for rōpū travelling from Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and other areas all over the country.

But perhaps most compelling was the desire from Tūhoe living in Rotorua to have a hand in presenting the event. A desire so strong they made their request during the performance of their kapahaka group, Mataatua ki Rotorua, at the previous festival. Tied to this reasoning is the fact that the Ahurei, in its current format, was first held in Rotorua.

Gatherings of urban Tūhoe had already begun around the late 1960s, and were primarily sports tournaments between teams from Auckland and Wellington. The games were moved to Rotorua in 1971 and were based at Mātaatua marae – the only Tūhoe marae built outside Te Urewera at the time. Kapa haka was also added to the event, and it was seen as the key for young, urban Tūhoe to retain their unique Tūhoetanga. Especially in the face of the despondency which seemed to be growing among these Tūhoe – the result of urbanisation and government assimilation policies.

Two of the younger members of Te Hono a Te Kiore from Waikato. The first day of the Ahurei saw nine teams perform in the junior kapa haka competition. The overall winners were Te Kura o Tāwera from Rūātoki. Image: Jason Renes

Ruatāhuna Kākahu Mauku shared the overall championship with Ōhinemataroa in the senior kapa haka competition. Image: Jason Renes

Nearly 50 years later and Te Hui Ahurei continues to unify Tūhoe, despite the misgivings that arose when Rotorua became the venue. This year around 13,000 visitors passed through the gates and 85,000 people watched the livestream on Facebook. A sign perhaps that no matter where the Ahurei is it will always be Tūhoe.

Pou Temara is Chariman of Te Manatū Ahurea a Tūhoe, the governance committee for the Ahurei. He is clear on why the festival will always draw the people.

“The sense of kinship. The sense of meeting one another every two years and cementing ties. It’s about talking Tūhoe. Joking with one another, singing with one another and competing with one another.”

Temara says the Ahurei is also an important vehicle for the over 80% of Tūhoe who live outside their tribal lands to express their Tūhoetanga. Something that was not such an issue for him and his generation.

“We were lucky in that we grew up in Tūhoe and left Tūhoe when we were older to seek our fortunes away from the tribal area. We didn’t need to be reacquainted with our Tūhoetanga, we actually took our Tūhoetanga with us and lived our Tūhoetanga.

“For myself, there’s four generations of us. Me, my children, their children and I also have great-grandchildren. [Te Ahurei] is for them. It gives them the chance to familiarise themselves and to reaffirm their ties to the lands where we, their parents and their grandparents, are from. It also takes them back into the history of Tūhoe and the pride of identity.”

Wandering around Te Ahurei it isn’t difficult to meet Tūhoe who actively express their Tūhoetanga, even if they reside outside of their kāinga.

Annie Te Urupiua Te Moana sits on the grass, eating mandarins. A group of half a dozen children are with her. They have all been checking out the sights of Rotorua and have just returned to the Ahurei venue in time to watch the performance of the Te Tirahōu seniors. She is from Rūātoki but has lived her life in South Auckland. She talks about how Tūhoe in Auckland maintain their kinship ties despite being far from home.

“We know where we come from – Rūātoki, Waimana, Ruatāhuna, Waiōhau. But our marae for us Tūhoe living in Auckland is Te Tirahōu in Panmure.

“We have wānanga at Te Tirahōu, for our tikanga, for mau rākau. Just to keep our whakawhanaungatanga, our matemateāone alive within us. And if there are tangihanga, birthdays, hui back home, our first port of call is Te Tirahōu. To try and go as one. Go together to tangihana or birthdays back home.”

Annie Te Urupiua Te Moana and her daughters. “Seeing our Tūhoe people together in one place no matter what town it is, what whārua it is. It doesn’t matter where we are as long as the wairua of everyone being together is there.” Image: Jason Renes

For Te Moana and the contingent of Tūhoe from Auckland, regularly coming together, with Te Tirahōu marae as the central hub, is how they express their Tūhoetanga for themselves and to eachother.

“We’ve got our marae back home, and our safe haven in Auckland – Te Tirahōu marae. That’s where we grew up, and our matemateāone [blood ties] and bonding came about there.”

Temara also touches on matemateāone. While he accepts the concept is about kinship ties between people, there is a second element that creeps into the equation. An element that will perhaps ensure that while this year’s Ahurei in Rotorua has been very successful, the festival can never remain away from the lands that gave birth to the people it celebrates.

“It’s to do with land. Land from which you sprung. It is kinship that is tied to the land. It is blood within the land. It is something that we yearn for, and ought to yearn for. It is something that is us.”

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