Wharenui opens after 40 years

By Kereama Wright
  • Waikato/Bay of Plenty

After forty years of abandonment, Rahurahu wharenui has been re-opened.

Hundreds gathered at Waimahana marae on the banks of the Waikato river, 40km south of Rotorua, to witness tribal history in the making. Marae chairman, Erueti Rakena, says it is a great milestone for the small tribe.

“We’re excited but also emotional due to the length of time it has taken to reawaken our ancestral meetinghouse. Rahurahu is the meeting house. He was a direct descendant of Raukawa.”

The whare, formerly known as Rahurahu Taua, was cleared in the early hours of Saturday morning with traditional Māori rites and Ratana blessings by Te Arawa and Tainui tohunga.

A public welcome and opening were held later in the morning. It was the first time in four decades calls of welcome and formal whaikōrero were practised on the sacred quart-yard of Waimahana.

The original meetinghouse was built in 1910. But Waimahana elder, Nana Boo Rakena says, after years of infighting and neglect, the building was eventually abandoned forty years ago.

However, with a new project manager and chairman, the marae was given another lifeline. In 2016, Rakena approached master restoration expert, Jim Schuster of Te Arawa, to guide the tribe in their desires to restore their meeting house.

“The carvings sat inside the meetinghouse for forty years. They were covered in bird faeces. Some were broken. That’s why they came to me for help,” he says.

“I taught them how to restore their own carvings so that in the future, they can teach their own people.”

The opening marks the end of a long journey. But Rakena says the work has only just begun.

“We are still working on the infrastructure of the entire marae. We don’t have flushing toilets. Our kitchen appliances are decommissioned, but we’ll carry on,” he says.