The following article was published in the March 2000 Nati Link.
Ruatoria’s Uepohatu Marae is the centre of Ngati Porou activity, according to Tame Te Maro. Based in the thick of the town’s action at Whakarua Park, Uepohatu was built under the guidance of Sir Apirana Ngata as a memorial to the two great wars. It is believed to be the biggest house to be built under Ngata’s leadership, he says.
The 10-acre Whakarua Park was a centre of sporting activity with a pavilion and grandstand in place before Uepohatu was constructed during 1944-1947. As Whakarua Park Board chairman, Tame Te Maro says that when the pavilion was built, the district’s young people approached their elders and Sir Apirana for “something for the young people. The hapu in Ruatoria needed a centre.”
Tame Te Maro knows the Uepohatu house intimately. He was one of six young men to be taken out of school to help master carvers Pine and John Taiapa and Rua Kaika in its construction, under the leadership of Apirana Ngata. The carvings were created in the existing pavilion andother sheds on the park. The tukutuku were created by both men and women under the guidance of Apirana Ngata, who also took part in the tukutuku work.
Uepohatu was opened on September 14, 1947 at which time the legendary rugby player George Nepia played fullback in a celebration game on the Whakarua grounds. The Ngarimu VC hui in 1943 and the opening of Uepohatu were the biggest hui held there although the 1999 NPC Third Division final may have come close.
Uepohatu’s simple European exterior belies its rich carved, tukutuku-panelled interior. Uepohatu recognises the old people and the leaders including Rutu Manutawhiorangi (whose descendants, Pehikuru Awatere, the Te Wera whanau and other elders of the area including the late Pene Whaipooti, ara atu. It also recognises Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu, the only Maori to win the Victoria Cross, who died in battle in 1943.
The name Uepohatu originated from when Maui fished up the North Island and Hikurangi emerged from out of the sea, he toka!, Kohatu. “They called the people Iwi Kohatu, of which we are all descendants. In time this became known as Iwi Pohatu and from there Uepohatu originated.Part of the title of Hikurangi is Te Papatipu o Uepohatu, or the rock foundation. The main kuia of the house was Rutu Manutawhiorangi, who is represented in the tukutuku panelling.”
First cousins Umuariki, a champion chief, and Tahitorangi – both descendants of Uepohatu – are also represented in the panels. The dining room complex, Te Poho o Nga Uri, was built in the mid-1980s and dedicated in March 1997.
“Uepohatu is one of the main centres of Ngati Porou. That’s where we commenced our countdown for the Year 2000, when Ngati Porou won the NPC third division championship. East Coast needed that win to be on the map. “I saw and heard Sir Apirana Ngata during its construction. I picked up the history and the korero. I feel it’s my duty to the old people to be involved with whatever goes on with the tribe, with the people. “The most exciting part in that development is what has been done at Uepohatu. It has been a major development from the 20th century to the 21st century.”
In the few months since October 1999 much redevelopment has taken place. The kitchen was extensively upgraded with new benches and appliances to make it more easily operational. Newdrainage around the marae and dining room complex allows the water to run away from the buildings. New spoutings were installed to take the roof run-off into large tanks. The areas in front, between and behind the meeting house and dining room complex have been cobblestoned.
“The next job is a new roof and some repairs to Uepohatu, which is now over 50 years old.” Whakarua Park has three rugby fields, an active bowling club and kaumatua flats. The six tennis courts have been dismantled and will be reinstalled once the reconstruction work around the marae, dining hall complex and grandstand area is complete.
The Whakarua Kohanga Reo also operates from a building within the park.In Ruatoria’s heyday, there were about six rugby teams, two tennis clubs – Ruatoria and Horouta – and a strong hockey competition throughout Ngati Porou.
“Saturdays would be taken up with hockey up until lunchtime, junior rugby would run from about 1pm, then senior rugby would kick off at 3pm. Ruatoria was a busy place then but it’s coming up again with the rugby and touch rugby. Today, there are three rugby teams – Hikurangi,City and United.
Marae workers’ contribution to breakfasts appreciated
The champagne breakfast held at Uepohatu Marae was 10 years in the making. Ten years in which most of the marae around the Ruatoria area took turns to prepare the breakfasts each New Year’s Day. Whakarua Park Board chairman Tame Te Maro says the breakfasts were part of the build-up to the Year 2000 celebrations.
“It’s not easy to get people to do the champagne breakfasts every year since Christmas and New Year belong to the whanau. So we owe all those people who were involved our thanks and appreciation,” he says.
Each year different teams of marae workers worked behind the scenes to ensure a successful champagne breakfast took place at Uepohatu. The Runanga has been principal sponsor of thebreakfasts. Gisborne winemakers and the Ruatoria hotel have assisted with the sponsorship ofwine and other beverages, and this year the New Zealand Millennium Office provided sponsorship via its funding for the Hikurangi Maunga Dawn Event.
Up to 1500 guests were expected for the hakari, but about 700 people attended including 60 international guests from the Hikurangi Maunga Dawn Event and the general manager of the New Zealand Millennium Office, Sharon Van Gulik.
The coming-together of the marae for this occasion is important, Tame says. “It means we are moving forward collectively into the Year 2000. It doesn’t take away the right of each individual marae to make decisions on their own issues but when we come to big issues, it’s important to come together for our area and have a consensus of opinion.”