1958 – Rua’s reflections

Rua’s grandchildren thought she was a taniwha, sometimes, with her fiery temper. Not that she was like a Pakeha dragon, breathing fire and smoke – she hated smoking, and no one was allowed to bring cigarettes or pipes into her house. She loved her mokopuna, but often became enraged, not so much with whanau, as with what she had just heard on the wireless, or read in the paper, or seen in the streets of Waiuku or Pukekohe.

The previous day, for example, her husband, Mawhero, had come back from Pukekohe and told her what had happened at the picture theatre. He had taken four of their mokopuna to town to go to the pictures for a special treat. When he went to pick them up, he found them sitting outside before the film had even finished. When Mawhero asked why, be was told that two of them had been told they couldn’t sit upstairs, even though they had paid for four upstairs seats, “because you’re Maoris – Maoris are only allowed downstairs.” The two mokopuna with fair skin refused to go upstairs without their cousins, and the four of them were so angry they decided to ask for their money back. The manager refused, so they decided to wait until their grandfather arrived to deal with him, which he promptly did.

Mawhero and Rua had heard rumours of things like this in Pukekohe, but because Mawhero had inherited his Pakeha father’s fair skin he’d never experienced such prejudice himself.

Rua was enraged. “What hypocrites! I read in the papers and hear on the radio that New Zealand has the best race relations in the world! So Pakeha say! And here in our own town, we have discrimination just like America, apartheid like South Africa!”

Rua was on her way the next afternoon to a Maori Women’s Welfare League meeting in Waiuku; she decided to leave early, and circle around Bald Hill Road, as she sometimes did when she needed to think. She knew her tupuna had lived there, and that King Koroki and Princess Te Puea always travelled via Whakaupoko when they visited Waiuku; it was a place of special meaning for her as mana whenua and as a staunch kingite.

She pulled in to the side of the road near the top of the hill, and looked towards the Waikato. It was silent up here – no bush for native trees to sing in – except for the wind, which swept the air clean, and flung the clouds over her head. Here she could allow herself to feel her rage, weep for the past and the present, and then dream again of ways towards a better future.

Some of Rua’s anger sprang from the prejudice and ignorance she still heard from day to day – like the persistent mispronunciation (..Mowk, Wyeook, Patty and Pooky..) of the beautiful names in her area, or, even worse, their replacement with meaningless English alternatives, such as Franklin. Who cared about an Englishwoman once carried on a stretcher, because she’d hurt her leg, from Manuka to Waikato for a missionary meting? Rua only knew because one of the stretcher bearers was a tupuna, and the story – with some amusement – had been passed down through her family. As for Bald Hill – what an insult to Whakaupoko and to her ancestors, whose pa had crowned this strategic hill for centuries.

But some of her anger was also from disappointment at the death of her dreams, the losses she had suffered, and the choices being made by some of her children and grandchildren.

Rua had not become a teacher, as she had hoped. Her grandparents had been finding the farm work too hard, so she left school to help them. But soon after, the farmer told them they would have to leave the farm cottage and make way for a younger family. So they moved in with Rua’s mother in Pukekohe, and Rua went to work in the Pukekohe market gardens. There she linked up with a handsome young man, Piripi, and had two children.

In 1914, England declared war on Germany, and the Government of New Zealand called for volunteers to go to the other side of the world and fight the Germans. Hundreds of young Maori responded. Many died in Europe or the Middle East. Rua’s husband had enlisted, against her will – “Why fight the Pakeha’s war for them?’’ she had asked him; but he was young, and thought it would be a great adventure, and his Pakeha rugby mates were all going too. Before long she received the dreaded telegram telling her he had been killed in action.

By the end of the war in 1918, Rua had no uncles left. The local marae was in disrepair and had no kaumatua to lead the whaikorero or manage maintenance. Her favourite brother was also missing, presumed dead.

Immediately after the war, when Rua was in her early twenties, there was a terrible influenza epidemic which killed many of her whanau, including her two young children and her parents. At least once a year, Rua went to Maioro where they had been buried. Originally, she walked, or went on horseback, but in later years she made the journey by car, and sometimes took mokopuna with her to tell them stories about their ancestors, and about their aunt and uncle who died so young.

Rua married again, this time an older man, Mawhero, who, before he had been wounded in the war, had learnt to drive and maintain army vehicles. By the time the Great Depression began in 1928, they had four children. He was able to find some work as a driver and mechanic in the vegetable industry, as well as working with Rua to grow food on a small piece of family land in Mauku left to him by his Pakeha father.

This was a hard time for both Maori and Pakeha. Money was even more scarce than usual, businesses closed down, and workers were laid off. Many young Maori returned from Auckland City, and families struggled to feed the extra mouths. Government projects helped some to survive. One was the planting of a state forest at Maioro – not that anyone asked local Maori what they thought of having a pine forest planted on their burial sites. Some of the older Maori men refused to work there, and some who did work there became sick.

Then, in 1938, there was war with Germany again. Rua agreed with Princess Te Puea Herangi, who urged Waikato men to refuse to enlist. Later, at her friend Apirana Ngata’s urging, Te Puea softened her stance, and agreed to support the men who’d chosen to join the Maori Battallion, as well as those she was already helping because they had been conscripted and forced to go overseas. Rua joined Te Puea’s food-growing and fund-raising efforts and became a mainstay of these activities around Pukekohe and Waiuku.

Because of reading, and, later, listening to the wireless, Rua had developed a wide knowledge of world affairs, and a keen understanding of what was wrong with society. She brought her four surviving children up to value Pakeha education, but also to value te reo and tikanga Maori, because she believed that Pakeha culture, while powerful and in many ways useful, had real limitations when it came to looking after people and the land. She was determined that her children and grandchildren should continue the struggle to maintain whanaungatanga and kaitiakitanga within their families and communities, and to encourage Pakeha to have greater regard for these values too.

Her older son and daughter shared something of her vision.

Her daughter Heeni had left school as soon as she was allowed, saying she didn’t want to go any longer to a Pakeha school that had no respect for her reo and her tikanga. She had always spent much of her time helping her mother and her aunties, and for a while she stayed home to care for her grandmother. After Nan die, she went to live at Turangawaewae to look after a great-aunt there, and became a valued member of the staff when big groups arrived at the marae complex built there by Te Puea for the Kingitanga.

Heeni was a quiet, gentle girl; and everyone who met her said how beautiful she was, in wairua as well as tinana. So no one was surprised when she linked up with one of the kahui ariki, and settled at Waahi with his hapu there.

Rua was always delighted to spend time with her and her growing family, especially as they were being brought up in the heart of kingitanga, with deepening knowledge of the old ways as well as the new.

Hohepa, Rua’s second child, had left school as soon as he could, too, and had gone to work on one of the Pakeha-owned market gardens near Mauku.

In his strengths, he was the most like Rua’s whanau. He grew lots of his own vegetables around his small house, as well as being a keen fisherman in his spare time. During the depression he helped to keep many of his hapu supplied with kai.

During the Second World War he went away with the Maori Battalion; his wife, a local Maori girl, Mere, helped Rua with the gardens and farm, and the other mahi to be done while the men were away.

Hohepa was one of the lucky ones who came home with his body relatively unharmed. Hohepa never talked about his experiences in the war, but Rua and Mere knew he had been changed by them. Often in the evenings at home he became very moody and silent, and he found it hard to talk to Mere or his children. He even shouted at them sometimes if they made too much noise.

He often went to the Kentish in Waiuku. The local drinkers there liked him – they said that after a few beers he would liven up and sing, and he had a fine voice. Mere knew these were the times when he could forget what he had seen overseas, so she accepted his absences. But Mere had confided in Rua that she wished he wouldn’t drink so much.

After the war, Hohepa had found a new job at a local garage – he had a natural talent for machinery – and he continued to be a good provider for his growing family. Rua and Mere agreed that, in spite of his drinking, he was still basically a good man – he never hit Mere or the children, unlike so many other Pakeha and Maori men, and he was becoming a stalwart of the local marae.

Whenever there was a hui coming up, Hohepa would be out catching fish for the hakaari. He dried shark and collected other kaimoana for the poukai and any special occasions. When he couldn’t go fishing, he often spent time at the weekends keeping the gardens at the marae tidy, and he was gradually repairing some of the old buildings. He still spoke Maori when he was at his parents’ place, and once or twice, on the marae, when a kaumatua had been ill, he had been told by his uncle, the rangatira, to mihi to visitors. Rua could see that in due course he would take his place on the paepae.

Rua’s younger children were different, though. They had both had some secondary schooling at Pukekohe District High School, and then left home. Tama had gone to Auckland seeking work, become a builder’s labourer, and then followed a young English woman to Christchurch after the war. There he married her, and established his own successful building business. Tama could still speak Maori, but he was getting more and more like a Pakeha, Rua thought, when he came home last for a tangi. And his children were hardly Maori at all, as far as Rua could see – they had very fair skins, they couldn’t speak te reo – even their names were English.

Her youngest daughter, Rona, was a very successful student in the eyes of her Pakeha school teachers. She stayed at secondary school for four years, then went to Teachers’ College. Soon after she started teaching, she married a Pakeha school teacher, and after they had done their country service they settled with their three young children in Whangarei.

Rona came home more often than Tama, but her children were just as Pakeha as his. They were keen on sports, clothes and the new American music that was played on the radio these days, and not much interested in the old people’s stories and songs.

“That’s the way of the future, Mum,” her daughter once said to her – “there’s no point in hanging on to all our Maori stuff – it’s English, and Pakeha education, that will get them jobs and make them happy now.’’ Rua sometimes thought that perhaps she was right. But then she read again the old diary of Tahi’s, which she almost knew by heart, or went to one of Te Puea’s hui at Turangawaewae and listened to the kuia there, and she knew she had to keep trying to save what was precious from her own culture.

“Pakeha need us as much as we need Pakeha,’’ she once heard her auntie say; and she knew that her knowledge of the land, her brother’s knowledge of the waterways, their family’s karakia and waiata, and the sayings and prophecies of King Tawhiao, all had a place in the future of Aotearoa.

The 1950s had become a good time for many Maori families – plenty of work, and good money to be made, thought Rua, as she prepared to leave Whakaupoko and drive on to her meeting in Waiuku. Having a car was a great help – walking, or riding horses, was all very well through bush and beside streams, but not so good through bare paddocks and on rough roads!

The downside to the growth of industries after the war was the number of young ones who had moved to Auckland or other cities for work, and who had children growing up away from their kui and koro. And with so many marrying Pakeha, it was hard to see how te reo and tikanga could survive into the next generation, except in a few families like hers, living in rural areas still, near marae.

As Rua gazed at the land spreading out from the foot of Whakaupoko, she couldn’t see how Maori would ever be able to prosper fully – spiritually as well as physically – without the return of the lands taken from them by the settler government after the Wars. The sales had been bad enough, but the confiscations had been devastating, both for the people and for the land. Jobs could come and go, as Rua remembered from the depression years. Only the land remained.

But in some places the land itself was dying. Even from here, she could see big fields left bare, scorched by sun and battered by rain. Once, Rua had flown to Christchurch to see her younger son and his family. It had been raining for several days all over the country, and she could see Papatuanuku bleeding into the sea along the coastline. The memory made her shudder.

In 1952, Rua’s inspiration and friend, Te Puea, had died. That had left Rua desolate, but also determined to keep working, through the Maori Women’s Welfare League, which had been established the year before. Although only seven years old now, the League already had more than 300 branches throughout the country, and nearly 5000 members, working to improve housing, health and education for Maori people. This year, at the annual conference, retiring national president, Whina Cooper, had been given the title “Te Whaea o te Motu” to honour her leadership during those first exciting years.

Rua found it hard at times to keep her dreams alive. But before she left Whakaupoko each time, she gathered her hopes for the future.

The League, of course, was a continuing source of inspiration and energy. The Kingitanga was celebrating its first century this year, 1958. These were two beacons of hope for the motu.

Some of her mokopuna were learning the old ways as well as the new; that was another.

Two marae were still well used, just north of Waiuku, together with others around the shores of the Manukau, near Pukekohe and Tuakau, and many in Waikato. In Pukekohe, there was talk of building a new marae to meet the needs of people from many different tribes who lived there now. These were positive things.

And even though most schools still taught only Pakeha things, there was a Maori school in Pukekohe which was supposed to encourage local tamariki to attend and do well in the Pakeha curriculum. The Tribal Committee had embraced the school, and had hopes it would build the pride of Maori students.

Rua had also heard positive comments about a Pakeha teacher at Mauku and a few in other schools who were showing some respect for Maori students and whanau, and encouraging all the tamariki to do well.

As for the government, and politics, at least, Rua thought, there were four Maori in Parliament. And for the Member of Parliament for Western Maori, Iriaka Matiu Ratana, Rua had developed a healthy respect.

Rua believed in the importance of the Maori seats in Parliament; one of her whanaunga, Henare Kaihau, had been elected to Parliament the year she was born, so she had grown up hearing about politics and the Maori politicians. As she grew older, though, she realised some of the problems Maori MPs encountered in the House of Representatives, such as the language barrier.

Rua had agreed with Te Puea in opposing Iriaka Ratana’s election to “Captain the Tainui Canoe’’. They both thought that, as a woman, and from outside Tainui, she wrong candidate for their electorate. But as years went by, Rua began to find she agreed with everything Iriaka was reported to have said in Parliament on the importance of the Treaty, for the Waikato-Maniapoto land schemes, and against further alienation of ancestral lands. Also, since 1951, Rua had met Iriaka quite often through the League, and found her a gentle and courteous woman.

So that day, on Whakaupoko, Rua prayed for Iriaka and her efforts to uplift Maori through Parliament, and government.

Since 1952, Rua’s hopes for the future had been nourished by Te Ao Hou, the Maori Affairs Department magazine. The subscription was only four shillings a year, and her husband had given her the first year’s issues for a birthday present. The magazine was filled with positive articles about Maori progress – she often felt, after reading and rereading an issue, that perhaps there was hope that Maori were once more becoming Treaty partners in Aotearoa, rather than second-class citizens.

With these reflections, Rua felt better. There was every possibility that her mokopuna would grow up into, and maybe even help to shape, a better future for Aotearoa. She said her great-great grandfather’s karakia quietly to herself, and drove down the hill towards Pukekohe, her wairua refreshed.