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Huarahi Hou: Pathway to Treaty based multicultural communities - The Experience of Noho Marae in Migrant Settlement

The sun was shining generously on the morning of Saturday 28 October, warming and energising the excited and curious crowd that had gathered at the back of the Orongomai Marae complex to prepare for an immersive weekend of Maori culture, history and storytelling. Huarahi Hou is an initiative in support of a Treaty-based multicultural New Zealand by connecting migrants to Tangata Whenua through cultural immersion and storytelling, and has partnered with Orongomai Marae to pilot their first Noho, sponsored by Te Muka Rau Charitable Trust (formerly Think Tank.) Widespread interest from around the Wellington region confirmed the interest and demand was there, with a huge response from the Chinese community swelling the numbers to more than 30 on the day.

The working team, made up of volunteers from the New Zealand Federation of Multicultural Councils, Upper Hutt Multicultural Council, Orongomai Marae and Hui E!, lead the attendees through some Marae protocol including basic Tikanga (customs), Te Reo (language), Karakia (blessings) and Waiata (songs) in preparation for the Powhiri. Once inside the Wharenui (meeting house) an inclusive multicultural New Zealand was already demonstrated in the Manuhiri (visitor’s) Waiata which included Te Reo, Chinese and NZ Sign Language. 

Everyone sat down together for lunch before beginning the day’s programme which included a powerful Kapa Haka demonstration and talk on the history of traditional costume including Moko (female chin tattoo), feathers and Piu Piu (flax skirt), and an introduction to the traditional elements of the Marae by one of the Marae Kaumatua (elders). It was interesting to note that it was not only the migrant attendees who were transfixed by the sharing of this knowledge – there were clear gaps in Pakeha knowledge of the Tangata Whenua as well!

Afterwards, every person present was humbled by Joy Bullen’s honest narrative around the Treaty of Waitangi and the Tangata Whenua’s journey to fight for their culture, bringing our Chinese interpreter and several attendees to tears as she translated Joy’s words for the group. After a wonderful dinner from the Marae kitchen we were able to see the full effects of the experience as everyone sat together on the floor of the Wharenui (meeting house) to recall stories of home, both personal and legendary, to share songs, and jokes, and games. Dawning on them all was the realisation of a truth they had perhaps already known but not yet experienced regardless of where they came from, how they spoke, or what they looked like, that everyone was there on the same journey, part of the same story. It was a beautiful thing to watch unfold.

The next day, well rested, the group got to try their hand at Poi-making and Raranga (flax flowers), led by one of the Marae’s very talented Rangitahi (youth) Jamie Martin which was lots of fun and very rewarding. The last workshop of the weekend was led by the UHMCC and NZFMC President Pancha Narayanan that gave the group an opportunity to reflect on what each of them had contributed to the community in New Zealand and what New Zealand had offered. After lunch the programme was wrapped up with some words from the facilitators and attendees, many heartfelt acknowledgements, and an award ceremony presenting each attendee with a Certificate of Participation. The Marae gave everyone a traditional Poroporoaki (farewell), and sent everyone on their way feeling more connected to the land, culture and people of New Zealand.

“We can and must do better in understanding the challenges and barriers for migrants in being able to participate fully in New Zealand society and to recognize their economic, social and cultural rights.

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