Guests at the dawn blessing for he unveiling of the memorial sculpture on 20 July. (Photo: Dean Carruthers/University of Auckland)

Ngā Roimata ō Ranginui: A memorial to pain, and to hope

Michael Steedman and Hirini Kaa on the layers of pain behind a new memorial on University of Auckland grounds – but also of hope, from Auckland to Christchurch to Parihaka,

Our University of Auckland community gathered early in the morning for the unveiling of a memorial.

Following Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei tikanga we gathered before light broke, in order to perform the takutaku to appropriately acknowledge the unveiling of the sculpture.

It was a beautiful clear winter’s morning, and we could just make out Matariki in the night sky. As people gathered it also provided an opportunity for the droll joke that were waiting for Dawn, both the time and the auspicious name of our new vice chancellor.

The memorial itself sat there under wraps, waiting for the ceremony to begin.

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As we all know, on March 15, 2019, a terrible event occurred in Ōtautahi (Christchurch). The mosque shootings left 51 dead and 40 seriously injured. Muslims were killed during Friday prayers, as they were praying for their communities, for their families, for the world. It was one of the saddest single stories in the history of this land.

Here in Tāmaki Makaurau, at the university, we were deeply saddened. We were also fearful. It was a time of unity, where we gathered around our Muslim whanaunga in solidarity. As a country we gathered the following Friday in our hundreds and thousands, to tautoko them as they gathered in prayer and grief. We can still recall the call to prayer on that day – haunting and beautiful in its call to sacredness.

Several days later we held a moving karakia in our Fale Pacifica, bringing together our Māori and Pacific, Christian and Muslim traditions to mourn and to give thanks for those whose lives had been taken. And at the conclusion of the karakia we presented and blessed a taonga to mark this event – a large piece of pounamu, engraved with the raukura. And a commitment was given from the university leadership to honour this taonga, and to give it a permanent, meaningful home.

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The raukura is a sign of peace. The feather has always been a sign in te ao Māori, and the albatross feather was particularly significant. The Taranaki community of Parihaka in the 19th century added to its meaning.

Parihaka was a place of peace, prosperity and prophecy. Established by the two great leaders Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi, it was a Taranaki refuge for Māori from many iwi. Parihaka brought together both the mātauranga of Taranaki iwi and a message of Biblical liberation. In this context, the raukura took on new layers of meaning, including peace, faith and love. The three feathers of the raukura came to symbolise the vision of Parihaka.

Sadly, in Taranaki though, settlers’ greed for land was not sated with the invasion of 1860. According to the Waitangi Tribunal, the settlers then embarked on a campaign of terror that lasted until at least 1881, when Parihaka was invaded. In Te Pahua, the men were exiled and illegally imprisoned under terrible conditions far from home, and the women subjected to a horrifying fate at the hands of occupying forces. It was an attempt to destroy this vision, and one of the most terrible stories in the history of this land.

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Tāmaki Makaurau was the place literally desired by many. Tāmaki Herenga Waka was the place waka met on their journey, exchanging gifts, knowledge and stories.

On March 20 1840, Apihai Te Kawau, chief of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei at the time, alongside Te Tinana and Te Reweti signed the Treaty of Waitangi at Māngere. Te Reweti was sent then to the Bay of Islands with an offer of land if they settled their colonial capital to the shores of the Waitematā. An initial gift of 3,500 acres was transferred and the populating of Auckland began. Following this more land was gifted (as a ‘tuku’ or gift whereby the giver retains interest in and responsibilities to the lands) over the next couple of years with the express purpose of establishing a new relationship with the Crown and its representative Governor Hobson.

Despite the manaakitanga displayed by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, the settlers were not satisfied. Their values of property rights, of land as a commodity, of possession, were strong for them. They did not listen to the generosity and vision of the mana whenua iwi. Instead they claimed what they saw as theirs, and coveted what belonged to their neighbours in spite of their professed Christian ideals. And as they did around the world, they would ensure their true values were embedded through force.

On a ridge overlooking the Waitematā was a place where Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei had traditionally held a pā tūwatawata called Te Reu Roa. It was a strategic positioning, with puna giving fresh water from different quarters, as well as the river running down the valley from Te Ako o te Tūī. It also overlooked the great landing place of Waipapa, where iwi would come ashore to trade and establish whakawhanaungatanga.

With a similarly strategic eye, the setters built the Albert Barracks over the top of this space. The Albert Barracks was a major military installation, built in the wake of the Northern Wars. These wars were where Northern rangatira pursued their rights as guaranteed under the recently signed Tiriti o Waitangi. The barracks could in theory (and in fake news) protect the growing settlement and soon the newly established capital of the colony from potential Māori attack. This included the setter parliament behind the court, across the road from the Government House, the real seat of power.

The plaque that sits at the memorial behind Alfred Nathan House. (Photo: Dean Carruthers/University of Auckland)

Several emails ago, pre-lockdown, there had been a discussion as to the placing of this memorial. It was agreed it needed to be both somewhere public and accessible, and also somewhere safe.

As is well known, in the wake of the terrible events of Ōtautahi here at the university we had several disturbing events. White supremacy reared its ugly, vicious head. Some classrooms became sites of fear. The public responses from the university were unsatisfactory for many. And meanwhile the New Zealand constant, where Māori and Pacific outcomes are inequitable, carried on, in education just as they do in health, in justice, in economics, in every sphere of New Zealand life. Unfairness prevailed.

Nevertheless, the university leadership maintained its commitment to the importance of this memorial, and there were concerns that its tapu be upheld. In particular there was a suggestion that it be sited in a specific place. This place was adjacent to the great historic monument on the campus. The monument was the last remainder of the Albert Barracks: the Barracks Wall. Seventy metres of a Heritage NZ-protected historic place. In the midst of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter, refocusing on the consequences and continuation of terrible histories, here was our university moment.

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So, as dawn arrived, we gathered for the karakia, standing in a patient, pensive circle, waiting to see how the tikanga would unfold.

We began with karanga from the mana whenua, calling us with our ancestors to join together. We had karakia tawhito, invoking the power and presence of ngā atua, our ancestors and the connection to Te Orokohanga, our creation stories. We called on our Christian tradition, focusing on calls for justice and true peace. We sang hymns from our Ratana revelation, the prophet who had held the Bible in his right hand and Te Tiriti in his left. Then we came and made the physical connection, each of us bringing our gifts to this gift.

The two artists, Anton Forde and Ngahina Hohaia, shared a beautiful kōrero of this vision and skill. The name of the memorial is Ngā Roimata ō Ranginui, the Tears of the Skyfather. Ngā Roimata are a remembrance of the tears of grief of the Skyfather as he separated from Papatūānuku the Earthmother at the creation. As Māori we cry and grieve at the loss of our loved ones and remember that grief. It connects us to our ancestors, and manifests both our pain and our memory.

Anton and Ngahina also shared their whakapapa from Taranaki and their connection to Parihaka. Within the stunning sculpture are both the tears and ngā raukura, the sign of peace from Parihaka. All of which come under the korowai of the mana whenua, the blessing of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.

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We have been reflecting recently as a nation on our monuments. From the horrifying tribute to Colonel Nixon in Otāhūhū – he who massacred women and children in the Waikato invasion – through to the name “Great South Road”, so named as the invasion route into Waikato.

Our thoughts have naturally enough been influenced and amplified through events in the US and UK, from Confederate memorials to hate, to Rhodes – who indeed must come down.

However, the mātauranga produced by this whenua is, as always, unique. Through a combination of tragedy, of whakapapa, of art, of bureaucracy and of kaitiakitanga, we now have something very special at the University of Auckland. Standing across from the Barracks Wall – a symbol of hatred and fear – is now a symbol of profound peace. Ngā Roimata ō Ranginui brings together Ngā Raukura – the whakapapa of Parihaka, and our Muslim whānau in their pain and in their presence here at the university. It affirms that we as Māori affirm our solidarity in suffering and in joy with our whanaunga. The memorial rejects the Barracks Wall and what it stands for. But rather than pull it down, let both stand. Tū tonu. Both will be judged by the thousands of students and staff of our university. We trust their judgment.

Michael Steedman (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, Te Uri o Hau) is kaiarataki in the office of the Pro Vice Chancellor (Māori) at the University of Auckland, and Dr Hirini Kaa (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongowhakaata) is kaiārahi in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Auckland.  



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