The Marae Trustees committee meeting opens with a short mihimihi and karakia by the Chairman. The agenda is followed, and the meeting progresses until the financials when the Treasurer wants it noted that Wiremu Morehu still hasn’t paid for the use of the Marae from his father’s tangi two months ago and now he wants to book it for his daughter’s 21st in three months time. A committee member interrupts the treasurer adding that not only has he not paid the koha to the Marae for the tangi but apparently they didn’t clean up properly after themselves and the Marae cleaner is complaining about it. There’s also missing toilet paper and cleaning product and a large expensive pot walked out the door after the tangi and hasn’t been seen since.
As the day progresses the wharekaii is decorated to the nth of its possibilities. The tables are looking perfect with their white starched tablecloths, black and red napkins, all the best cutlery and glasses are polished and gleaming on the tables, the candles are ready to be lit and the overhead lighting has been muted by removing a few of the fluorescent lights. Rangatahi and University friends of Hinerangi have decorated the cavernous room with love under the guidance and growling of nga whaea Kimi and Nadine. Red, black and gold balloons festoon the ceiling. A large glittering sign over the top table reads: HARI HURI TAU KIA HINERANGI 21st
The Chairman, Tamati Morehu, a respected kaumatua in the community glances around the meeting table, noting a smug look here, and a quickly hidden smile there. He’s sick of being embarrassed by his nephew’s behaviour, who must be getting on for 40, where were his manners. He tells the committee he will speak to Wiremu and sort it out.
The meeting moves on to other business and concludes with Tamati’s closing karakia. After the meeting there’s some banter and a few laughs, talk about the local rugby, the All Blacks and other Marae small talk. Meantime,Tamati’s frustration with his nephew is growing. He’s already asked him once to pay the Marae koha and Wiremu had ignored him. Tamati looks at his watch. For once the committee meeting hasn’t dragged on for too long. He decides he’ll visit Wiremu tonight and have it out with him.
At home, Wiremu is outside splitting wood for the fire. He’s thinking about the pig he caught that morning, how he had to sew up his best hunting dog’s guts that had been ripped out by the big boars’ razor sharp tusks. He isn’t worried about the dog, he’ll heal in time.
Wiremu’s wife Rima is inside, she’s watching TV while cooking dinner. Rima’s careworn and 38 with four kids, the oldest three, 20-year-old Hinerangi, 19-year-old Lewis, 17-year-old Brian, and their late arrival, three-year-old Tipene. Rima is one of life’s tragedies. She grew up in a violent home and married a volatile man who has never loved her. She is a bit confused about him these days, because it really hurts her pride when she’s watching Dr Drew and Dr Phil and the other daytime American or British psychobabble reality shows, which have convinced her that Wiremu is abusive and she is a battered woman. He calls her names whenever they argue, which is becoming more frequent. Names like you fat,lazy,stupid,dopey bitch,and threats to kick her back to where she came from. But oh, how she still loves him and he hasn’t acted on his threat yet. She is sure it’s because of Tipene, and she is thankful for her little late arrival. Like many marriages, in the early years Rima and Wiremu had an active sex life. But since Tipene’s birth, there’s been hardly any of that because Wiremu isn’t interested, except when he’s drunk or stoned and it’s just a quick fuck. Lately he’s getting more vocal about the state of the house and her appearance. She’s constantly thinking, “I should make an effort to get a job; tidy myself up; clean the house; get up early; go for a run; practise some of those recipes I’m always seeing on the Food Channel.” But, as the hours tick away and the TV takes her concentration, time runs out. In the early afternoon the phone calls from her demanding sisters and mother start and by 4:30 pm she is sometimes frantically wondering what they’re going to have for tea and where the day has gone. At other times she is resentful of the inattention from Wiremu and she sits and has thoughts about him having an affair for hours and smokes heaps. She can never quite bring herself to accuse him without proof. She isn’t that stupid. Her sisters are constantly telling her that he must be having an affair, otherwise what man could go without a root for more than a week? Not that any of them are rooting on a regular basis, Rima is the only one of five girls (hence her name) who has a husband let alone a regular sex partner. Her four sisters all have kids and are all on the Domestic Purposes Benefit, the fathers of their kids either in jail or Australia. As soon as Rima got pregnant at 18, Wiremu dropped out of university. They married hastily at the Registry Office in Manukau City and moved back to the old homestead much to everyone’s shock on his side and surprise on hers. There hadn’t been a marriage between the Morehu’s and the Kereama’s for two generations.
Wiremu often reminds himself about what his Nanny had said about the Kereama women, long before he got Rima pregnant. When one of his Uncles wanted to marry a Kereama she had absolutely forbidden it and bewailed that the Kereama women were nothing but stupid lazy cows from a long line of herds of stupid lazy cows. The Morehu’s were a very well educated family: a couple of lawyers, a handful of teachers, a member of the clergy and a member of parliament, as well as being successful in business and the civil service. They travelled and got jobs in the cities, then came back to retire. The Kereama’s were all blue collar people, or beneficiaries of the welfare system in some form or other, with a few Mobsters for close relatives, and they rarely left home. But that is changing. Rima’s young brother has just finished his B.Ed in Maori at Waikato University at the age of 35. To listen to him you’d think he’s fluent in the
Wiremu’s incomplete three years studying sociology and psychology at Auckland University has changed his thinking. Writers like Freud, Jung, Freire, and Marx changed his ideas about contemporary Maori society and its ideology. This thinking manifested itself into him wanting an end to tribal snobbery and what he perceives to be the inherent arrogance of the Rangatira families. That’s one of the main reasons why he married Rima, to practise what he was preaching. Wiremu was well known for his lack of respect for his Uncle whom he viewed as vain, arrogant and a pathological liar. Wiremu was his Nanny Keita’s favourite and knew his Uncle Tamati was jealous of the fact. It was first made public by Tamati’s attempt to succeed to the land that had been left to Wiremu by his Nanny, who had partitioned land from the main land block for Wiremu when he was 15. This caused a rift between the two surviving brothers, Tamati and Tokomana. The partitioned block included the homestead built in the 1950s by the Maori Affairs Department and where he and Rima had lived these past 21 years. It was where his Nanny had raised him from the age of two when his mother Hinemoa had died of leukaemia. No, he would never respect his uncle.
Another thing Wiremu had made up his mind about was the Rangatira status of his whanau. It was a thing of the past, no-one left worthy to carry the mana of that word any longer. Wiremu knew how a Rangatira should be; he’d seen it in his Nanny and at times, his father, but not in anyone since her death. Wiremu is 40, a fluent speaker of Te Reo, a holder of knowledge about whakapapa and the whenua passed to him by his Nanny and the tipuna before her. But Wiremu will never lay claim to being a Rangatira, which is a word that slipped off the tongues of many of his relations like they were wealthy European royalty, when in fact they lied and deceived most of the people all of the time to bolster their own inflated egos and to line their pockets with Iwi money flowing in from the Government through Treaty of WaitangiSettlements.
When it came to the modern day Treaty Settlement process where all Treaty of Waitangigrievances were given a time limit to be heard and settled, there was no longer a requirement for Tokomana’s type of skill and expertise, knowledge of old sacred places, knowledge of traditional fishing grounds and tribal land boundaries along with genealogies going back 52 generations. These things had all been captured by modern day technologies and were available on the internet, found in PhDs and Master’s Degrees. There were courses on it available at all the Universities around the country. These days tribes needed lawyers and businessmen to resolve the settlements quickly and say where the money would best serve the beneficiaries Ð as Maori were now called. Younger Maori were more qualified and quicker thinking. So Tokomana the eldest brother and acknowledged head of Ngati Ti had been sidelined and Tamati, the teina, fresh out of Harvard business school, rose to the top of the Ngati Ti hierarchy in a flash. Tokomana’s work and commitment to iwi were overlooked by the modern day Treaty Settlement approach imposed by the government. Tokomana had spent his final days arguing for a greater slice of the Treaty Settlement money to go into the development of youth, the revival of Te Reo Maori, the unemployed, and women who were sorely in need of some upskilling, direction and leadership. However, most of the monies had gone into developing big businesses in forestry and aquaculture who then hired the “beneficiaries” for minimum wages.
Wiremu feels a growing desperation and internalised pressure building. He’s unhappy in his marriage, angry at the loss of those who were closest to him, confused and unsure about the future.
Tamati Morehu drives his car up the gravel driveway toward the old homestead set at the top of the hill overlooking the Bay in the distance. He can see smoke coming out of the chimney, all the house lights are on — typical, no money, but waste power. He wonders if Rima still smokes cigarettes at $15 a pack. The lawn is unmown and his mother’s once beautiful rose garden is all overgrown and choked with weeds, he can see it in the moonlight. There’s a car wreck on the front lawn. There’s a small child’s plastic ride-on and other toys scattered around. The kikuyu is climbing up the fence and in the paddock beyond he can see that ragwort and gorse have overtaken the whole field. Visions of the homestead in days gone by drift through Tamati’s mind. The once pristine white State Housing home with its blood-red roof and matching woodshed and outbuildings is looking in desperate need of paint and Tamati’s anger towards his nephew and his slovenly low-life wife builds because he knows that inside will be no better, probably worse.
Wiremu is sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of tea. The dishes are still not done, Jesus, he has to do something about Rima, he’s made up his mind to kick her out this weekend, he resents her, and his resentment has become almost palpable since the death of his father. He’d been talking about divorcing her when she told him she was pregnant with Tipene. He knows he is in the wrong and that he is responsible for what is happening to him now and that only he can change it. He had married her for the wrong reasons, and he’s been deluding himself for years.
Well he can’t do it any longer.
Of his four children, his daughter Hinerangi is closest to him and has been since the day he held her in his arms at the cowshed where she was born. Rima went into labour and delivered her in 30 minutes, a record time even for the Kereama women. His two eldest sons are a bit of a worry though. He suspects his son Brian is being prospected by the Mongrel Mob, he’s seen red t-shirts and bandannas lying around the house, and a few “Zig Heil’s” and dog barks emit from his son’s mouth, along with other bad language, and he’s seen a number of badly hidden home-made tattoos. All the signs are there. Wiremu can cope with the foul language, he’s no better himself. But the gang thing, he’ll have to kick Brian out very soon before it becomes absolutely apparent and trouble comes to his doorstep in the form of a red mobster car or a white police car. His second son, Lewis, is doing okay as an apprentice mechanic in town, but Wiremu thinks that dope is Lewis’ main driver, and that he’s growing it. Wiremu and Rima are infrequent social users, don’t grow it and never pay for it. If it’s there, they’ll smoke it, unlike his wife’s aunties who are in their 60s growing, buying and smoking it on an almost daily basis. What can he say to his son with all those role models around? You just shut up and accept it too.
Something has to give.
Tamati cuts the ignition and emerges like a sleek cat from his late model Toyota Landcruiser. The vehicle is one of four owned by the Ngati Ti Trust, brought with Treaty Settlement money after the successful first year of operations of Kaimoana Enterprises, the Trust controlled seafood export business of which he is CEO. He removes his expensive jacket and silk tie and Blackberry and lays them on the leather seat next to his briefcase. He now wishes he had been able to change out of his CEO gear and into something less likely to piss Wiremu off as soon as he sees him. He glances at himself in the wing mirror and pats his moustache. His highly polished leather shoes tap lightly on the ground as he follows the path past the sad garden. He’s waiting for a call from his mistress, the delicious 39-year-old Financial Accountant for Kaimoana Express. He’ll get this thing over and done with Wiremu quickly, then he’ll whip up to the Langham Hotel in Auckland where she will be waiting for him. He’s got two days with her before he has to get back to his wife.
Tamati is a fine looking man at 60. He is fit and healthy, doesn’t smoke and drinks only moderately. He learned early in life that to gain respect and admiration from this lot of plebes all you have to do is to portray yourself in all your finery and espouse your knowledge of
Tamati raps loudly on the back door leading to the kitchen. He can see Wiremu sitting at the kitchen table. Rima opens the door and the odour of fried eggs, fried fish and cabbage wafts out the door assaulting sensitive nose. Rima greets him with a lazy smile and looks him up and down taking in the crisp white shirt with white cotton singlet underneath. The silver belt buckle on a black leather belt, tied around a slim waist, holds up black trousers with knife edge sharp creases. The leather shoes gleam under the porch light bulb. Tamati’s salt and pepper hair is slicked back with expensive-smelling product.
“Kia ora, Unc, haven’t seen you since dad’s tangi.” Rima runs her hand through her greasy hair and straightens up her skirt.
“Tena koe e Rima, is Wiremu home?” Tamati can barely conceal his contempt for her.
“Ae, he’s here, having a cuppa, come in…’scuse the mess, we just finished kai.” Rima isn’t scared of Wiremu’s uncle, he’s a powerful Rangatira, but she’s been shunned by the Rangatira whanau around here all her married life and she doesn’t care for them as much as they don’t care for her
Tamati walks in and takes in the kitchen and lounge with a sweeping gaze. Rima clears one of the kitchen chairs of washing she was in the middle of folding and moves the dirty dinner dishes into the already crowded sink. She gives the table a quick wipe. He folded washing of five people for three days lies in piles on the floor from the kitchen into the lounge. The expensive plasma TV is on Sky Living Channel. Tamati is thinking to himself that they can afford Sky and a plasma TV but can’t pay the Marae koha? Typical! Tamati doesn’t bother to remove his shoes at the door as tradition dictates. Why should he? The place is a pigsty, and he won’t put his socks on that paru floor for anyone. He doesn’t know whether he’s more disgusted with her or his nephew.
Wiremu stands and greets his uncle in the traditional way, hongi, clasping forearms, closing eyes, pressing noses, patting shoulders, finish. Tamati flicks some crumbs off the seat offered to him and sits down.
“Rima, make Uncle a cuppa, you still have it black Uncle? No sugar or milk eh, that’s how you stay trim and looking like a young fulla.” Wiremu pays his uncle the only compliment he will for the rest of the night.
Tamati leans back in the chair and looks at his nephew. Wiremu is big, 190 cm and broad-shouldered. He’s muscled up from his work on the forestry as a break-out crew supervisor for the Ngati Ti owned Rakau Forestry Company, of which Tamati is a major shareholder. Wiremu would be quite good looking if he had a shave and a haircut. He’s wearing a holey old football jersey with wood chips all over it and through his unkempt bushy hair. His track pants are dirty from the day’s work and his thick rugby socks don’t match. Tamati cringes inwardly, a slight sneer crosses his face and Wiremu catches it. Wiremu’s anger rises. He’s angry at himself for not taking a shower before kai tonight, like his Nanny would always insist before being allowed to eat. Dammit, he was turning into a slovenly pig!
Rima sets two cups of hot tea in front of them and returns to folding the washing. As the men drink their tea, Tamati asks about Hinerangi and the boys and slowly moves the conversation to the Marae and how it needs money for a new kitchen, new ablutions, a total repaint and the carvings in the wharenui are in need of repair, replacement of missing pots and pans…on and on the list goes. Wiremu is well aware they have the big pot from the Marae sitting on the bench and he’s been reminding Rima to return it. Christ she goes past the Marae to gossip with her family every other day. Tamati drinks the last of his tea and sighs audibly.
“Listen boy, I’m here to tell you to pay the Marae koha for Tokomana’s tangi otherwise you can’t book it for Hinerangi’s 21st. I know that you got thousands of dollars in koha before and after the tangi, so there’s no excuse. It’s rather embarrassing that I should have to come here, your uncle, the Chairperson of the Marae Committee, the CEO of a large company and Rangatira of this whanau and everything else to tell you to pay your debts. Everyone’s talking about you and sniggering, which affects me deeply.”
“Is that right Uncle, is there anything else?" Wiremu’s hands tighten into fists. The figures $14,656 and $13,500 spring into his mind, the higher figure being the cost of the tangi, the lesser being the koha received. Tokomana was a respected kaumatua and many Iwi came from far and wide by the busload to pay their respects. Rangatira and kaumatua from other tribes had lined the paepae and spoken at great length about his accomplishments in their whaikorero over the three days of the tangi. The kuiaand wahine dressed in black, performed the traditional karanga and waiata tawhito and wailed loudly, all a mark of respect to Ngati Ti and Tokomana. The cost of such a large tangi was something that had to be borne by the Morehu whanau, but his Uncle Tamati had not yet given him anything toward the expenses, and he knew Wiremu would NEVER ask him to.
Tokomana’s main work had been with the Ngati Ti Maori Authority, established in the early 1980s when the New Zealand government finally recognised the Treaty of Waitangi as a valid and binding document and set up the Waitangi Tribunal to hear Treaty claims from the tribes of New Zealand dating back to 1840. Nanny Keita and Tokomana were part of those heady exciting early days of the Maori renaissance and active in the political arena leading up to this moment in New Zealand’s history.
Tamati continues. “Yes, and another thing, you haven’t returned some damn expensive Marae pot, and that bloody Charmaine Kereama’s been moaning about it to the committee and they were talking about it at the meeting tonight. It’s so embarrassing boy, it’s always you who puts the Morehu name to shame, it’s got to stop boy!”
Tamati’s heart rate has gone up slightly, and a bead of sweat has formed on his forehead and upper lip, but he is still in control, sitting up straight with one arm resting on the kitchen table, looking Wiremu in the eye.
“Uncle, don’t call me boy, I’m not a boy.” Wiremu says menacingly. His Uncle had always called him boy, but it always sounded like a recrimination rather than a compliment to everyone within earshot.
“It’s just an expression, Wiremu, I’ve always called you “boy”, how dare you talk to me in this way, what the hell is wrong with you eh?” Tamati can sense Wiremu’s anger, but he won’t dare turn on him, will he?
“As for returning pots, and paying the Marae a koha for dad’s tangi, the pot’s there on the bench, take it when you leave. You can pay the fucking koha uncle from the money you got for the kauri logs you stole from here and that you’d agreed to pay for after I found out, tell those bastards on the Marae committee that Uncle&rdquo.; Wiremu is standing, shaking with anger, eyes round as saucers.
“Those logs, Wiremu, they belonged to me! They were never yours! They were lying on the ground for 150 years before you were born, cut down and buried in the swamp until I found them and dug them up! They were mine before they were yours. I gifted them to the Marae for the carvings in the wharenui as a koha from the Morehu Rangatira!”
Tamati is standing, his heart racing and his arm tingling, sweat is pouring from his face and neck.
“Is that right, Uncle? Well it’s funny isn’t it, that when it suits you koha is given to the people, but how many times have you taken without the people knowing and only for me to find out later it’s for your fucking self and nobody but you is entitled to it or benefits from it! Prime examples, Uncle, are the fishing quota, the forestry shareholdings. You sold the kauri logs to the Marae through a deal with the Rakau Forestry. Don’t give me that bullshit. Now, get the fuck out of my house that you also tried to steal before I fucking well throw you out, you greedy old bastard.” Here it is, the final blow-out.
“How dare you, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Tamati clutches at his heart and starts hyperventilating, there’s something really wrong with his arm. His eyes roll back in his head and he collapses.
Wiremu rushes to his side, Rima is standing in the lounge clutching a towel she’s folding, looking startled at this turn of events. Wiremu screams at her, “Don’t just stand there with your mouth open, call a fucking ambulance, you stupid bitch.”
Wiremu is leaning over his uncle, ripping his expensive shirt open and lifting his white singlet above his chest. He commences first aid, all the time speaking in te reo, reciting karakia and saying to his uncle:
“Uncle, forgive my disrespect, I’m sorry, get up Uncle, get up, don’t leave me, I can’t lead the people, I’m not ready, Nanny’s gone, Dad’s gone, Mum’s gone, there’s only you left, Uncle, get up, get up…”
There’s seating for 300, plus 15 at the top table. In the centre of the top table is a huge cake in the shape of a pair of ruby red shoes, just like the ones in The Wizard of Oz. The movie has been a favourite for three generations now, Hinerangi’s, her father’s secret favourite movie and Nanny Keita’s. Next to the cake is a carved representation of a 21st key carved by a talented cousin on her mother’s side. Bottles of red and white wine are on the tables for toasting.
At 6pm the guests file in led by Hinerangi and her father at the karanga of the kuia and the haka, “To i a Mai” performed by the rangatahi. The people move to take up their places at the tables but remain standing. The whanau minister opens with a short mihimihi and karakia, followed by the famous Maori himene “Whakaria Mai” sung to the tune of “How Great Thou Art.” The voices of the assembled iwi, hapu and whanau lift and rise in harmonious unison as the song ends. “Amine.” Everyone sits down.
On the back wall is a large projected Powerpoint image of Hinerangi at her graduation with Nanny Keita embedded into the background as if she is looking from a faraway place at everyone in the room with great pride. Nanny Keita’s moko on her wrinkled smiling face is highly visible, she looks like the Rangatira she was.
Rima sits at the opposite end of the table to Wiremu; they’ve been apart for three months. She’s been living at her mother’s, she’s miserable, but has made an attempt to pretty herself up for the evening, hoping to attract Wiremu’s attention. She’s been seeing a counsellor in Hamilton who has diagnosed depression.
Wiremu sits comfortably in his seat at the top-table. He looks relaxed in his button-down, open-necked shirt, well cut jeans and new boots all chosen by his daughter on his once a year trip to Auckland. He’s clean shaven, and his hair has been cut in a modern style, very suited to the occasion. Hinerangi has seen a change for the better in her father since she came home to help organise and coordinate her 21st. For a start, he’s cleaned up the yard and spread compost onto the garden and mowed the lawns while she has been cleaning the house, doing household jobs her mother neglected in her marital misery. Tipene sits next to Wiremu dressed in a tuxedo which his mother chose for him for the occasion. His big sister has her arm around him in a protective and loving manner. Lewis sits in a trance next to his mother and his girlfriend, a young Pakeha girl from a good family in town. Brian isn’t here. He disappeared shortly after Uncle Tamati’s tangi and hasn’t been home since he joined the Mob. The earthy smell of hot hangi fills the air.
Wiremu rises, taps the side of his glass with his knife three times and begins to speak the words of the Tipuna handed down through the ages. “Tihei Mauri Ora…”
As the day progresses the wharekaii is decorated to the nth of its possibilities. The tables are looking perfect with their white starched tablecloths, black and red napkins, all the best cutlery and glasses are polished and gleaming on the tables, the candles are ready to be lit and the overhead lighting has been muted by removing a few of the fluorescent lights. Rangatahi and University friends of Hinerangi have decorated the cavernous room with love under the guidance and growling of nga whaea Kimi and Nadine. Red, black and gold balloons festoon the ceiling. A large glittering sign over the top table reads:
HARI HURI TAU KIA HINERANGI