Ngā Hau e Whā (the four winds) National Marae, is tucked away behind a palisaded fence, back from Pages Road in Bromley, Christchurch. You could drive by and not even notice it. For Matariki though, Ngā Hau e Whā opened its doors each night and welcomed visitors with a light show that highlighted many of its beautiful carved features. Given that the marae complex has been used for criminal court hearings since the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, it was a good chance to head along and enjoy the buildings at a quieter time.
Opened in 1990, almost 30 years after the idea was first discussed, Ngā Hau e Whā takes the concept of the urban marae further – rather than being the multi-iwi meeting place characteristic of urban maraes developed around New Zealand from the 1950s on, it welcomes all the people of New Zealand, regardless of iwi affiliation, religion, geographic reference or ethnicity. It is the only marae in New Zealand to be founded on this model.
Construction of the marae began in 1981 and wood carvers and weavers worked from the Kokiri Centre of Māori Crafts that was established on the site. It’s interesting to note that much of the marae work was carried out by inexperienced people who were trained on the job under Government-subsidised training programmes. Carvers worked and trained under Master Carver, John Rua; and weavers who pproduced the tukutuku panels were led by Ramari Brennan. Te Amorangi, the striking carved gateway (above and below), was completed in 1982 and officially opened by then Governor General, Sir David Beattie.
The main wharenui is Aoraki and its multi-cultural focus is represented in its carvings. On the outside, the tekoteko (top image), represents Maui, to whom all tibes whakapapa back to. He is symbolically pulling all people, represented by the two waka on the maihi. The central poukaiāwhā on the verandah represents the two Waitaha ancestors, Waitaha (with feathers on his head) and Rakiura, the Waitaha leader who settled Stewart Island. There’s also an impressive Pouhake [totem pole] (central images), which was erected in memory of Māori servicemen and women who fought in the world wars. It was carved by George Edwards of Wairewa and is the focus of ANZAC memorial services each year.