How We Belong: Te Parawhau and the Mangrove Tree
This post considers the connections between a native tree and a Northland hapū through the naming of one of their community buildings. It explores the importance of the local natural environment and its role in shaping an architectural metaphor.
Te hana ‘the radiance’ o te rau manawa ‘mangrove leave’
© Rangihīroa Panoho and PIHIRAU PRODUCTIONS Ltd, 2018. No part of this document (text or imagery) is free to be copied, plagiarised or shared for publication or for uses neither intended nor agreed on by the author without his or the Director of PIHIRAU Production's express permission. Details for writing to PIHIRAU are as follows: firstname.lastname@example.org The opinions expressed are mine and not those of former employers or industry colleagues.
Tangihua te maunga
Kaipara te moana
Te Parawhau te hapū
Tirarau te rangatira
Te Aotahi te kāinga
E ngā pihirau o te manawa raki, e ngā paiaka e whakamarumaru ana kei raro i te ātārangi o te maunga Tangihua. Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā rā koutou katoa. Kia mahara ki ngā kupu aumihi a tā tātou matua Kōwhai Tito. Kua whakatakototia te rangatira ki te pūtake o te kaupapa ātaahua nei, arā ko te wānanga pihirau. Ka tupu te kōrero whakarite no tana mātakitaki o te uru manawa me ngā pihimano hā e tupu ana kei raro i ngā kāpuhipuhi o ngā manawa Kaipara. He rākau kōwhai kākāriki he kōhanga o ngā ika tini, ngā manu maha me ngā ngārara nui. He aha te kaupapa aweawe o te karere nei? Maaku e ki atu, e wha ngā meanui: te mauri o Te Parawhau, te hau o Kaipara, te mahi a te uri whakatipu me te meanui he whakawhānaungatanga hoki. Heoi rā, hei whakaaroaro mā tātou. Titiro ki te matahua o te hapū. Kei te mohio koutou ki te mōmona o te waipuketanga o ngā pehu e toru; ko Te Aotahi, ko Piritaha, ae Māreikura hoki. Titiro ki te puanga o te uru manawa: e pihi ana tēnei, e pihi ana tēnā, e pihi ana tērā. Ko ēnei ahurewa hei whakapapa me ngā hononga o te mahi a te tamariki, ngā mokopuna me te uri whakatupuranga. E tupu ana, e tupu ora. Kia tupu tonu Te Parawhau, ake, ake! Tīhei mauri ora.
Mangroves are defined by the presence of trees that mainly occur in the intertidal zone, between land and sea, in the (sub) tropics. The intertidal zone is characterised by highly variable environmental factors, such as temperature, sedimentation and tidal currents. The aerial roots of mangroves partly stabilise this environment and provide a substratum on which many species of plants and animals live. Above the water, the mangrove trees and canopy provide important habitat for a wide range of species. These include birds, insects, mammals and reptiles. The soft substratum in the mangroves forms habitat for various infaunal and epifaunal species, while the space between roots provides shelter and food for motile fauna such as prawns, crabs and fishes. Mangrove litter is transformed into detritus, which partly supports the mangrove food web...Due to the high abundance of food and shelter, and low predation pressure, mangroves form an ideal habitat for a variety of animal species, during part or all of their life cycles. As such, mangroves may function as nursery habitats for (commercially important) crab, prawn and fish species, and support offshore fish populations and fisheries Aquatic Botany, volume 89:2, August 2008:155
noun: ‘shoot, sprout’
verb: ‘to spring up, to begin to grow.’
Names have power. Names have meaning. Names define ngā tangata whenua ‘people of the land’. Names are tapū. Māori employ and bestow ngā ingoa ‘names’ not simply to define or to honour the ancestors and their taonga tuku iho but also to encapsulate the hau ‘essence’ of a place, ngā tūmanakotanga ‘the aspirations’ of its people and to whakamana ‘empower’ an important object or form. Every important building, every waka, every special landscape feature and every precious structure in Māoridom has a name. But who would feel inspired by a sign written name that sits upper case atop this Te Parawhau building – in a small isolated Northland community? In response an anthropologist might well extol the importance of the emic approach, of being a participant in a community and of having access to greater insight into the values and aspirations shared within a group of people. A local might simply talk about tūrangawaewae, tapū and mana whenua.
Attending a tangi at Tirarau mārae in 2017 it was somewhere in the 27 metres that separate the meetinghouse Tirarau and the Pihirau whare kai behind it (see above image) that nomenclature was disclosed in six words. One of my uncles – Te Ihi Tito – called out to me, ‘Hey, you know the story behind the name…’ And out the kupu spilled – like a silver bellied tuna slipping softly out of a supplejack hīnaki.
It was given by Kōwhai Tito. [I remember seeing his portrait with family inside Tirarau. Now the shoots started popping up. One here. One over there. And then another. And the whole wānanga started coming alive].
Mark Adams, Pihirau te whare kai, ko Tirarau mārae, Tangiterōria, 13 January 1994. Referenced in chapter entitled Te Hana ‘the radiance’ (MAORI ART: History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory, Batemans, 2015: 58).
On the surface Pihirau is a half-round barn. Aesthetically it might be read as a rather pragmatic structure. It’s form was popularised by the English in their air force training huts during World War II. In turn it was borrowed widely throughout Northland from the 1960s onwards for farm hay barns and vehicle, implement storage and workshop spaces on rural and sometimes in town industrial areas. Maximising the use of internal space it is a building type whose redefinition in this mārae context has always fascinated me. It is the same old ancestral kaupapa and values that have always informed the landscapes, the architecture and the artforms of the indigenous north.
I actually love PIHIRAU’s beautiful combination of abstract shapes and the bare minimal functionalism of the half round corrugated iron barn with its two enormous upright rectangular doors and the voluminous interior. It does its job. I also was delighted in the 1990s to see prints of Vincent Van Gogh’s sunflowers lining the interior. I like the McCahonesque rendition of text that sits slightly oversized atop the stark geometry of the half circle. I accept it’s an art historian talking here and the accompanying sensibility places me in the minority as Te Parawhau is currently considering an overhaul of both the design of the meetinghouse and of the whare kai. Hei aha. Whatever shape or form the final building takes, for me, the important issue is the hau, the ‘essence’ of the building; its name PIHIRAU, its giver, its history and the wider botanical, geographical and anthropological significance of this ingoa tūturu ‘authentic name’ are maintained. It is these areas, and ngā tikanga ‘customary values’ that underpin them, that form the heart of this essay and help define how we, as Te Parawhau and as Māori, belong to the landscape and to the natural environs.
Leading senior Māori artist Cliff Whiting, in his work with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, once remarked he experienced some difficulty convincing his pākehā colleagues in the New Zealand Historic Places Trust that these kinds of ideas emerging out of the aspirations and sensibility of grass roots communities were actually of primary significance.
He once noted fundamental differences in Māori and pākehā perceptions regarding mana ‘prestige and power’ in the buildings and historic sites his organisation was charged with protecting through their identification and conservation. He, and others like Ngāti Porou leader Apirana Mahuika, understood it was not solely or wholly a matter of size, grandeur, or historicity. Instead they rightly highlighted the less tangible legacy of the mana in a name, an individual or in an event as of supreme local value. All of these areas of ancestral importance were understood as enhancing the prestige and the treasured wānanga ‘narrative’ of a particular site.
In its naming the humble wharekai PIHIRAU at Tirarau mārae, Tangiterōria fits into this kind of paradigmatic shift that leaders, across the indigenous world, make in their references to landscape, buildings and history.
The true reference in the dining hall name is to the thousands of pneumatophores that push their way up through the mud, intertidal silt and leaf debris of the mangrove forests that line pehu on the Kaipara waterways and its voluminous delta. That image of shoots pop, popping up here and over there is an evocative one. In its wider sense the Te Parawhau kupu pihirau meaning ‘hundreds of shoots’ is a word picture referencing the hundreds of acres of mangrove forest that capture the hau of the Kaipara waterways (one of which sits alongside the PIHIRAU dining hall) and indeed typify inter-tidal areas around the whole Northland takiwa. Hundreds of shoots, hundreds of possibilities.
PIHI ...pencil-like roots that stick up out of the dense, wet ground like snorkels. These breathing tubes, called pneumatophores, allow mangroves to cope with daily flooding by the tides. Pneumatophores take...oxygen from the air https://www.amnh.org/explore/science-bulletins/bio/documentaries/mangroves-the-roots-of-the-sea/what-s-a-mangrove-and-how-does-it-work/
As a vigorous coloniser the mangrove has often fared badly in the nineteenth and twentieth century New Zealand psyche regarding perceptions of its usefulness and its central role in estuaries. The manawa is often wrongly cast as a scourge to development and as a troublesome, undesirable plant to both the New Zealand farm and to a real estate industry obsessed with uninhibited coastal views that involve water. Less known and less understood is its enormous botanical wealth, its central role in the seafood chain, its breakwater, storm and earth stabilising properties and its natural beauty and charm. Manawa grow and colonise where the tide take their seed pod. Where the fruit wishes to turn and to drop its roots to settle appears to be an intuitive decision.
Pihirau resonates many other connections with te ao tūroa ‘the natural world’, mahinga kai ‘food gathering areas’ and with te whakareretanga a ngā tupuna – ancestral legacy. Indeed pihirau, in its natural state, cannot be separated from any of these areas. This is why Kōwhai Tito’s employment of the metaphor is so compelling. The leader’s kōrero whakarite is a richly layered one connecting the numerous oxygenating roots of the manawa with the complex umwelt ‘the environment’ of the mangrove (i.e. an organism’s unique sensory world).
Matua Kowhai’s metaphor concerning the growth and the fertility of the uru manawa has the propensity to say something profound about the fecundity of Te Parawhau but also quite possibly about human identity. Might the central tinana ‘trunk’ of the manawa, for example, be thought of as akin to the central line of the whakapapa with the hundreds of roots that radiate outwards (a number of times beyond the tree canopy) the many tātai that flow and feed back into the rākau?
In the link between mangroves and the haumako ‘fertility’ of ngā mahinga kai the connection with food and abundance is simply extravagant. Uru manawa host the life cycles of many other insects, birds and fish that in turn have historically sustained and provided for Te Parawhau. Mānawa are sea gardens and home to the karatī (baby tāmure), parore, kopīpiro, ngāoheohe, kātaha, mohimohi, kokowhāwhā, kanae raukura, pepe mango and tuna kawari ‘spotted mud whelk’, tuangi ‘cockle’, werewere ‘barnacle’, parore tio ‘oyster’, papaka and the karahu ‘sea snail’. In and amongst their canopy live many birds: the pōpōtai, riroriro, piwakawaka, matuku moana, pīpīwharauroa, matuku-hūrepo, kōtuku ngutupapa, pūkeko and the kawau tūī.
The birds take the locations of their homes very seriously. In the early evening just before the sun would set behind Omokoiti I have observed the kāhu flying back through South Kaipara valleys to their nests out in the Kaipara mangrove forests. Uru manawa are then vibrant symbols of whenua papatupu. By this I am broadly referencing Te Parawhau land and intertidal sites involving food provision, mahinga kai/mahinga ika and places for the cyclical nurturing and the growth of numerous organisms, plant materials (swamp paru hei ngā tae), birds and fish used by tūpuna.
Oyster-studded roots of the mangrove yield no finer feast of silver bellied eels, and sea snails cooked in a rusty can Hone Tuwhare,‘Friend’, Small Holes in the Silence, Vintage,2016:44
The genus and local essence of matua Kōwhai’s image then is botanical. Long misunderstood the Te Tai Tokerau manawa is in fact unique to northern New Zealand (i.e. north of Ohiwa-Tai Rawhiti and Kawhia Tai Hauauru – see earlier Google map) and to the world. Avicennia marina: subspecies – Australasica is the only one native mangrove that grows here and is the southern-most edge of mangrove forestation in the world (a family that includes around 70 species). More importantly, for this essay, the manawa is a feature of Northland’s harbours and estuaries and in particular – the Kaipara. Since 2010 it has been acknowledged as a protected native tree.
It is difficult to get across how special these inter-tidal rākau are, in their forest setting, without physically seeing them from the water. En masse they rise up majestically 4 or 5 metres above the Kaipara waterways and in other harbours further north like Whangaroa they have a very domineering appearance over their surrounds. Who hasn’t felt overwhelmed by these sombre, deep green forests as one quietly passes by them on open water? Ihenga, a Te Arawa ancestor visiting whānau in the North, once complemented his hosts and extolled the value of the roasted para ‘king fern root’ as kai and as the essence of the region. However, when out on the water one cannot avoid seeing the hau manawa, the vitality of a mangrove forest, unimpeded by farmers or by developers and growing freely as they should, as today ‘the essence’ of Kaipara itself. The manawa really does belong to Kaipara and to Te Tai Tokerau.
Mark Adams, mangrove forests banks and mouth, Ōtamatea, lower Northern Wairoa, Kaipara, another aerial image taken 27 October, 1998. According to Northland Regional Council estimates Kaipara, as with four other major Tai Tokerau harbours, has around 1000 hectares of mangrove forest. Manawa perform an essential role in helping filter the harbour system, in retaining and making use of mobile sediment, in stabilising tidal fluctuation and in protecting against, absorbing and nullifying the adverse effects of breakwater, floods, storms and coastal erosion and in providing spawning grounds for important Kaipara species. The scale of the forestation in sites such as the Kaipara Harbour can be seen in Adams image taken from the air. Simply through their sheer ability to survive a rapidly changing deforested and even urban environment demonstrates in itself the way they continue to play a very important role in New Zealand’s coastal and estuarine ecosystems.
Returning to Whiting’s view of taonga the value Māori place on treasured forms relates not simply to what you think you see in the empirical, the scientifically verifiable cosmos in front of you but rather to the entire natural world in which the little things seen immediately are more broadly related. The ‘intangible’ is rarely what a satellite camera, or what a Mark Adams large format analogue camera can pick up. The ‘other’, in relation to a building such as PIHIRAU, is a different world entirely accessed and received through kōrero, ritual, whakapapa, long-term trust and through familial belonging. Let me, though, entertain this tangible area a little longer here to further explore this kaupapa.
Expectations of easy, accessible knowledge are both public and global. The Google Earth search engine promises, for example, ‘to explore the far reaches of the world, right in your browser’. Request ‘Tangiteroria’ (i.e. the location of the Pihirau building) and a globe will spin away from Africa and South America out into the vast blueness of the Pacific ocean and then down to Aotearoa, down, down further still into the North Island and then Northland closer and closer until…It tantalisingly hovers, stuck in the clouds, somewhere over the tiny Tai Tokerau settlement. Here buildings and ground features become a blur. Without paid access, to further cameras and greater detail, there is no more photographic information.
There are however limitations to what Google can offer. Here’s what the net search says. Tangiterōria lies 179 kilometres away from Auckland by road. It involves 2 ½ hours travelling time north of Tāmaki. It is 3.02 pm. It is early July 2018. It is the day after Matariki ‘Māori New Year’. This, appropriately for this discussion, is a time Māori traditionally made plans and envisaged the future. A reading tells the searcher a temperate 13 degrees celsius has been reached. It is mid-winter weather typical of this time of year in Aotearoa. There is further local information regarding broken cloud that can be seen covering, obscuring parts of the region.
Through the patchwork of cloud Google allows a searcher (if one knew what one was looking for!) to roughly sight the Tirarau mārae complex, the river that it sits beside and further structures that sit downstream. One can follow mapped coordinates. A tiny nineteenth century Anglican church is positioned alongside a Te Parawhau urupā. The Pihirau building is a part of this eclectic group. The rough layout is useful. It provides a plan view of the mārae and surrounds documented (i.e. from the ground, by boat on the Kaipara waterways and from the window of a hired plane) in images throughout this essay. From the height of the satellite one can make out the layout of the orange roof of Tirarau meetinghouse with its porch at the front and with its grey lean-to (that holds its paepae of ancestral leaders) at the rear. The pale brown rectangle of Pihirau dining-hall is discernible along with the urupā and small whare Mihinare (lower right) 250 metres downstream on Pukehuia Road running parallel to the meandering brown upper Northern Wairoa River and the fertile oxbow of Piritaha opposite. Speeding towards Dargaville across the bridge (a little further upstream) spanning the upper reaches of the Northern Wairoa River on State Highway 14 (the grey straight road that doglegs upper centre) one might also easily miss Tangiterōria altogether. The place it is that small.
Here is the point in all this detail. One could read this technical, geographical information, provided 244 metres in the air via the satellite camera and not be any clearer regarding the cultural significance of the view. The more comfortable Māori way of dealing with this obfuscation would be to weave this bricolage of ancestral sites into the broader whakapapa and family to which these buildings and wahi tapū properly belong.
This belonging involves the intangible, the invisible, the spiritual, the cosmological, the ancestral and is a constantly referenced co-existent tūrangawaewae ‘place to stand’ in Māori thinking and kōrero. The ‘other’ map that Google doesn’t reference, that I am outlining here, is one frequently referenced by Māori in ngā kōrero whakarite ‘metaphors’ and ngā waitohu ‘symbols’. The primary purpose of applying these philosophical constructs is whakawhanaungatanga or making the taonga belong within its family context. This might be a botanical family, an ancestral family, an architectural family and/or a language family. In the Māori world everything must belong.
3 Google maps, 2018 (above): Tangiterōria. Detail (top) showing Tirarau mārae (est. 1958) and the wider context with State Highway 14 crossing the upper northern Wairoa at Tangiterōria half-way between Dargaville and Whāngārei (middle). The Te Parawhau leader Te Tirarau’s pā (established 1838) sat on the edge of the oxbow which carries the same name Te Aotahi (upper right in the middle image above). The lower map stops at Raglan (i.e. near Kawhia) on the West Coast of Waikato rohe and this is recognised as the southern boundary of the great manawa forests passing across to the East Coast (not described) towards and including Ōhiwa harbour just south of Whakatāne.
In terms of people belonging to their landscape the manawa helps one belong. It takes the map somewhere else. Further, the central role of maharatanga ‘memory’ and whānau networks, as they pertain to ancestors renders Tangiterōria, perhaps surprisingly for some, a richly layered site through a broader web of interconnections with other rivers, tūpuna, taniwha and terrain.
Long before satellite cameras were sent into orbit or even cameras from balloons were first employed for military reconnaissance during the Napoleonic era (Franco-Austrian war 1794) our tūpuna conceptualised the land from the air. Te Parawhau, and speakers from many other northern rohe, have traditions of orators skilfully employing the aerial view – what I will describe as the vantage point of the manu karere ‘messenger bird’. This keen awareness of geographical context, the conceptual layout of the land goes well beyond early Māori excursions into cartography (i.e. see Tuki – Ngāti Ruamahue, Wainui, Whangaroa – map of Aotearoa drawn for the Governor of New South Wales in 1793) and back to our proto Polynesian ancestors and their discovery of land in the Pacific. Ngāpuhi regularly use the Te Tai Tokerau region to spatialise te whare o Ngāpuhi composed of key iconic mountains that encircle the rohe.
The Māori map, as with all Polynesian spatialising of the Pacific, esteems broader family connections. These are relationships and networks, not cartographical in nature, that avoid the isolation and the weakness of singular components. It is the Polynesian hero Māui who is celebrated in Aotearoa as using the magical jawbone matau of Muri-ranga-whenua to fish up the North Island of Aotearoa from his vessel – te waka a Māui ‘the South Island’. Many of the landscape features of the North Island, as with many islands throughout the South Pacific, are read as the distinctive body (i.e. mouth, tail, spine, fins and so on) of a living form that relates back to those who originally discovered the lands. In the case of Aotearoa it is an ika ‘fish’ or te hutinga-a-Māui that is referenced in a number of our origin stories. Māui is not just a mythical hero, Māui is made to belong. He is both an ancestor and he claims the land – that is ancestral.
As part of his evidence, presented by Te Parawhau at a Waitangi Tribunal sitting, matua Te Ihi Tito employed this kaupapa in his whaikōrero. Sometimes matua is the manu karere ‘messenger bird’ that soars above his vantage point to swoop down over parts of the tribal region he wishes to pick out. During the tribunal kōrero he is also (i.e. in terms of shared whakapapa) the water that starts from within the mists that starts to rise from our shared cosmology (i.e. te wehenga o Ranginui rāua ko Papatūānuku) and the rain that falls as the tears from the skyfather. Empathising with the mamae of Tane’s forcing the primal parents apart matua moves on to the water that wells up from within Papa and our local matapuna, that collects in our watersheds and that courses through the network of waterways that broadly and more deeply establish our kotahitanga ‘unity’ throughout our Te Tai Tokerau rohe.
At various points in his gathering of these waters matua refers to links between Te Parawhau, Te Uriroroi and, in the wider tribal sense, to te whare o Ngāpuhi. The land is a tinana with arteries pushing around the blood that connects its tāngata whenua. These estuarine lands, historically not quite land not quite water, are lungs inhaling and exhaling; tai pari, tai timu. They, the pukapuka ‘lungs’, are named. They are the vast marshlands of Hikurangi and the tide of Rahiri, our northern eponymous ancestor. The mention of the latter ancestor hints at tapū sites like the impregnable pā of Whīria connected with both the eponymous tupuna but also with occupation as far back as our proto Polynesian ancestor Kupe.
Mentioning the wider highways of water also alludes to the passage of ngā tūpuna between northern affiliations like Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Manu, Ngāti Ngiro and Ngāti Ruangaio and back to the inner reaches of the Hokianga, to Ngāti Hau of Ōmanaia. This is a landscape alive, bursting with lifegiving properties, with mana, with hau and with mauri. It speaks with the language of memory; te maumaharatanga o te waiheke and of tātai ‘plans and ancestral lines’, of whānau and of begetting.
There is a fluid movement between the spiritual and the physical landscape (i.e. Google map). There is here a mahere pae tukutuku ‘site map’ brimming with taniwha and portents that inhabit waterways. Listening to the kai kōrero the listener sees what these beings see. The listener sees the portent of Rangiriri – the frightening black tōtara log that punches against the violent tidal shifts and undertows of tidal Northern Wairoa. The taniwha on whose branch a kawau ‘shag’ quietly sits. The listener experiences the mountains the log quietly passes, and nearer the graveyard at the meetingplace of Kaipara’s five rivers the listener hears the awe-inspiring rumble of Te Moana tāpokopoko-a-Tāwhaki.
In this taiāwhiotanga o ngā whenua ‘encircling of the land’ recounted in Te Ihi’s wānanga one witnesses all these geographical components operating as part of the breathing pneumatophores of matua Kōwhai Tito’s manawa. The waterways and the ancestral pathways are the oxygen that provides sustenance for the central growth of the tinana ‘the body’ of the manawa. What else does one need to breathe and to belong?
Ka moe a Mangakāhia, ka moe i te Wairua, ka puta ki waho ko te Wairoa me tona mana a Hoeroa, ko Pokopoko, Kahukura ngā taniwha ā ko Rangiriri te rākau whakangautai...Ka rere te tai tapu ki Waihīhī kei raro ngā maunga Whatitiri, Tangihua, Tūtamoe, Tokatoka, Maungaraho, Maunganui, me o rātou whakataukī e... Te Ihi Tito, kaumatua, Te Parawhau
Hamish McDonald, logo design for PIHIRAU, 2008