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Joe Pihema (Photo: supplied, additional design: Tina Tiller)
Joe Pihema (Photo: supplied, additional design: Tina Tiller)

ĀteaFebruary 17, 2022

A good manuhiri: The Māori living away from their tūrangawaewae

Joe Pihema (Photo: supplied, additional design: Tina Tiller)
Joe Pihema (Photo: supplied, additional design: Tina Tiller)

Joe Pihema of Ngāti Whātua spent two decades away from his tūrangawaewae before he felt the call back home to Tāmaki. He tells Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes about the importance of being humble when you’re living on the land of others, and how Māori on his home turf can support mana whenua. 

Who we are, where we’ve come from, who we stand for when we speak: this is all encapsulated in the concept of tūrangawaewae. It is more than just physical and spiritual connection: tūrangawaewae is tied to mana whenua and mana moana; having tribal authority over those particular areas.

It encompasses a sense of belonging and obligation to uphold the customs and practices of that particular iwi. It is also, therefore, not a term that can be adopted by non-Māori.

Joe Pihema grew up with his waewae firmly planted in Tāmaki Mākaurau, his tūrangawaewae, where he was surrounded by his people, his culture and customs.

“This is my papakāinga, this is where I became who I am,” he says.

He’s back home in Tāmaki now, but he has spent much of his adult life living away from there. And it was when he fell in love that his life path took an unexpected turn.

Te Tairāwhiti: a home away from home

In the late 80s, Pihema met Te Wā Huia Tangira, from Te Aitanga-ā-Māhaki and Te Whānau a Apanui. Having captured his heart, the couple made the move to her iwi rohe: Tūranga Nui a Kiwa in Te Tairāwhiti.

This was the beginning of a new chapter for Pihema, and meant learning to navigate the intricacies of living among Māori from other iwi.

“When you go into a world that is so rich in culture like Te Tairāwhiti, you quickly learn to be very humble, and very quiet, and very small — eyes open, ears open.”

With an abiding interest in historical narratives, and out of respect for hau kāinga, Pihema made it a priority to get to know the local knowledge holders.

“When you move into another region, you’ve got to have an attitude of gratitude, a healthy respect. You have to respect tangata whenua of that region. You have to apply yourself to learn the history of that land. You have to find out about those narratives so that you can coexist there comfortably.”

Fortunately for Pihema, due to his upbringing and his familial connections he was able to integrate seamlessly into his new community.

“I developed a healthy appetite for the histories of Tūranga. I’m quite proud to say that, as a rāwaho, as a hunaonga, I tried to know the kōrero, or at least have healthy knowledge of the local kōrero. No point living amongst Te Aitanga-ā-Māhaki and not learning anything about them,” he says.

A map showing the rohe of Te Aitanga-ā-Māhaki (Image: Creative Commons)

A recent graduate at the time, Pihema quickly secured a teaching position at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Manutuke. He found community in the legendary Waihirere cultural group which would become an enduring 25-year relationship.

“I wasn’t a great singer, I wasn’t a great haka person, but people took the time and took an interest in me to say to say, ‘hey, come and be part of our whānau and we’ll help you to learn who we are, and one you might feel a sense of belonging’, which I did.”

Over the years, he witnessed other rāwaho who married into Tūranga, but who didn’t pay any attention to the narratives, styles or customs of the region.

His guidance for other rāwaho is, “Be humble, be humble, and be humble.”

Tāmaki Makaurau: the calling of the kāinga

Over the years, watching his iwi from afar began to wear on Pihema.

“I’d been away for a really long time. Just watching my iwi on television, on Marae or Te Karere, or Māori Television, it was really hard for me.

“The emotions were quite high when I saw major events, like the signing of our settlement in 2012, and other kaupapa, and having to watch them on television was quite tough.”

In the years following, Pihema was elected as a board member of Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei Trust, a pivotal turning point in his homecoming.

“People had voted for me and had probably taken a punt that I could contribute at a governance and strategic level, but I felt it wasn’t good enough for me being a remote dial-in, or fly-in board member.

“It was important to be accessible to my people, and to be a part of these events and the rebuilding stage, which we are continuing to do, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

He was later joined by his whānau, and says it’s been a wonderful return.

“I come back with the value of the knowledge and experience, the mātauranga and knowledge that I was a part of in terms of wānanga in Te Tairāwhiti.”

Pihema acknowledges those Māori who keep the fires of occupation burning around the motu, ahi kā, who remain on their own lands throughout their lives. However he also highlights the value of travelling to other regions to get a feel for what other iwi are doing, to see what’s working and what might be applied back home.

“Being a person who had to try and contribute to a range of activities in my hapū, it was important for me to bring a number of experiences and views to the table, which I think I do only because I lived in the Tairāwhiti.”

Tautoko i te mana whenua — support mana whenua

Tāmaki Makaurau is a melting pot of culture and diversity. It’s one of the three main centres in the country and has the highest concentration of Māori. Of the over 775,000 Māori in Aotearoa (as of the 2018 census), a fifth live in Tāmaki Makaurau.

As tangata whenua, Ngāti Whātua have to navigate this context while maintaining their mana. Pihema points out that taura here living in Tāmaki should strive to retain their tribal ways and narratives.

“Hold fast to your tikanga. Be true to yourself. However, within your residence in Tāmaki, be cognisant that there are tangata whenua who are there to maintain their traditions over that region.”

That’s how taura here and rāwaho can become people with whom local tangata whenua can find some natural alignment and alliances: by not becoming a burden, not becoming a barrier to tangata whenua carrying out their responsibilities, but keeping eyes and ears open, striving to learn the local history and context, and ultimately, remaining humble.

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