My grandfather was raised in the wake of atrocities to keep the peace while holding tight to his Māoritanga – and he’s spent his life teaching others to do the same.
A teacher, a careers officer, the head of the department of Māori Studies at Pātea High School, a meat worker, a minister, a member of the Pātea Māori Club, a volunteer firefighter, a tikanga adviser for police, a celebrant, a justice of the peace and chairman of Pariroa Pa: My koko, Hemi Ngarewa, has worn almost as many pōtae as there are towns in Taranaki. Today our whānau celebrate his 80th Birthday on the very papakāinga he was born and bred, and the culmination of his mahi as recognized by the Queen’s Service Medal he received in the 2023 New Year Honour list for services to our community and education.
To fully appreciate Koko’s contributions, they must be viewed within the flux of the Taranaki tide as it has rippled through history with ongoing impacts. In 1869, his grandfather, Hohepa Ngarewa, was sentenced by the crown to be hanged and quartered alongside 74 other men. They were members of Te Pakakohi, a South Taranaki tribe involved in the fighting against the crown in company with the Ngāruahine chief Titokowaru. Hohepa is believed to have only been 14 or 15 at the time. Nevertheless, when his sentence was later commuted to hard labour, he would spend three years in prison in Dunedin.
In the end, Hohepa was one of the fortunate ones, returning to Taranaki, serving as a minister from Pariroa to Parihaka and helping to establish three churches alongside the members of his tribe as a symbol of their ongoing commitment to peace: Tūtahi at Nukumaru, Te Kapenga at Hukatere, and Te Aotawhi at Manutahi.
Far less fortunate were the eighteen uri of Te Pakakohi, including Hohepa’s father Iraia Tumahuki, who would die during their sentences from various illnesses, the prison conditions, the physical toll of their labour and the mental anguish of being separated from their whānau and their whenua. They were given paupers’ funerals at the Southern Cemetery in Dunedin and others have since been buried atop them.
The whole of this period is remembered in the waiata Nei Ka Noho, the last eight lines of which tell the story of the capture of Te Pakakohi and their time in Dunedin: Ka hoki Te Pakakohi ki te riu o Pātea
Ka tū te haki ma he whakawai nā Puutu
Ka mau i konei ko te tini o te iwi
Utaina atu ana ki runga ia te Taati.
Ka tere moananui atu ngā waka kei Ōtākou
Ka tū te rīpeka mahi nui mō ngā tau e toru
Matemate ki reira te tini o Ruanui
Ka hora te marino maungārongo e ii
Te Pakakohi returned to Pātea
A white flag was cunningly erected by Booth
Many were taken prisoner
And placed on the ship – Taati
It sailed for Otago
There, Christianity thrived for three years
Many uri of Ngāti Ruanui died there
And peace was declared ever after
When Hohepa married Waitohu Rangihaeata, another uri of Te Pakakohi, they would give birth to Ueroa Ngarewa. So strong was Hohepa’s commitment to peace that Ueroa like the children of many others including Tutange Waionui, one of Titokowaru’s kōkiri, and Ngawaka Taurua, chief of Te Pakakohi, were schooled with the children of the colonial soldiers their parents had fought against as well as the children of some of the settlers who petitioned that the tribe should not be allowed to return to Taranaki.
Ueroa thus became a bridge for our whānau, bringing together te ao Pākehā with te ao Māori, embracing western education and at the same time, clinging tight to his Māoritanga. Like many tauira Māori, Ueroa faced significant challenges in the kura of his time,especially given English was not the language of his home and te reo Māori was banned in the classroom. Still, he persevered, soaking in as much as he could from school while retaining his identity as Māori. He married Parewaho Tamaka and she gave birth to my koko, Hemi Ngarewa – at that time known as James Ngarewa. Being the bridge that he was and having faced the challenges he faced, Ueroa would give most of his kids English names, continuing our whanau’s commitment to peace in the face of enduring disenfranchisement.
Hemi would become a meat worker at the Pātea Freezing works. When it closed he retrained as a teacher. And so it was that Koko, born to the first man in our whānau to ever enroll in a school, a man unable to speak his own language in the classroom, became a teacher of that very reo and then the head of a department committed to imbuing all his tauira at Pātea High School with the gift of tuakiri: their culture, their language and their history. Koko being the man of vision he was, then moved beyond the classroom and did the same at every level of our hapori: in churches, in courts, in police stations, fire stations and on the very marae where he and his siblings were born not twenty meters from the wharenui, Taiporohenui – the same marae his koko had served on as a minister.
Today our whānau celebrate his life, his service and the fortitude of our tūpuna who have allowed us to stand as we stand today, secure in both our identity as Māori and our place in the world more widely. Rā Whānau Koko. Ko koe te pouherenga o tō tātou whānau.
This is public interest journalism funded through NZ On Air.