Tuesday, 6 December 2011

He waharoa

This morning, the community of Te Herenga Waka marae at Victoria University of Wellington, held a dawn ceremony for the new waharoa at the entrance. Carved by Dr Takirirangi Smith, tohunga kaiwhakairo and scholar who also carved the wharenui itself which was opened 25 years ago, the waharoa - a gateway - is a large, imposing structure which clearly marks the entrance to the marae which is accessed down an alleyway off Kelburn Parade.

I've heard about the opening through facebook today as people posted acknowledgements and memories of the ceremony, and through hearing about it directly from my Mum and sister who attended the ceremony in order to represent me (seeing as I would normally be there if I wasn't, well, here) and also in order to add to the tangata whenua (as in, Taranaki whanui) presence at the occasion. Just as the waharoa is the face of the marae, they were kanohi today as well. Mum and Megan both said the waharoa itself is amazing, but they also said the event was great: meaningful, well done, lovely. I find myself missing the marae today - often I miss Waiwhetu and Te Tatau o te Po, but today I really missed Te Herenga Waka - the feeling of being a part of the community of people around the marae - but also the buildings, the trees, the offices upstairs - all of it!

It has been a day of waharoa. A few months of waharoa. Seven years of waharoa, if you consider that it is seven years (perhaps to the day?) that I defended my PhD thesis before moving home.

So many waharoa.

The things about waharoa is that they are gateways that simultaneously draw us into the future/ beyond and root us in the past/ here. Waharoa bear histories that can tells us things about ourselves: how we connect to the place we are coming to, who the local people are; and even when they are illegible to us - when we can't 'read' the meaning carved in front of us - that also tells us who we are. Waharoa provide an opportunity to gather - to gather ourselves but also to gather with others - before moving through a process and across a specific space as a group.

There are quite a few waharoa in my life, a few gateways I'm considering at the moment, and tonite I find myself asking questions about them. Must one always enter or is it okay to look for a while and then keep walking? How does one read? Do we have a speaker and someone to karanga? Who carves? What is the connection between the waharoa and the marae? If we talk about people keeping a marae warm, does this extend to the waharoa; are waharoa warm too, or does their location leave them in a different relationship with the people?

The new waharoa at Te Herenga Waka marae, Victoria University of Welllington

I'm not the only person thinking about gatweways at the moment - people in my life today have been thinking about moving house, moving countries, embarking on new adventures, committing newly or more deeply to relationships, applying for jobs, preparing for interviews, getting ready for Christmas and travel; making decisions, standing on edges, looking through, thinking about whether to step further...

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