In the century and a half since Parliament has been housed in Wellington, there have been no obvious visual signs of Māori culture nor physical recognition of the mana whenua, Te Āti Awa Taranaki Whānui, for anyone entering the grounds or buildings to see… until now.
A dawn ceremony was held today to unveil Te Kāhui Mōuri on Parliament’s forecourt. It has three main features: pou (two tall, carved posts that flank Parliament’s steps), pare (a carved lintel around the main entrance into the Beehive) and several mōuri (or vitality) markers illuminated on the forecourt.
Parliament’s Tumu Whakarae (or Principle Advisor Māori), Kura Moeahu, led the project and admitted it’s been a long time coming to have such taonga established prominently at Parliament like this.
“With these particular taonga, it just shows that there is a strong lean to cultural expression here in Wellington, and particularly our local narratives.
“When I look at those two big pou out there, it relates to the guardians of our harbour, Ngake and Whātaitai, they were actually part of the freshwater lake. The names were actually the pathways that they took to freedom. They complement each other. It reminds us of the importance of duality. Male and female. Spirituality and physicality. But also, there’s process and there’s protest.”
The funding for this project came from Budget 2021 which allocated funds to increase public recognition and acknowledgement of the impact that Māori culture and leadership has on the nation.
And it’s also a response to last year’s large summer protest and occupation of Parliament grounds, which caused extensive damage on the precinct - both physical and social. Te Ātiawa leaders expressed how distraught iwi were over the treatment of their whenua during the three and a half week occupation.
“For them, the occupation was a very disturbing event on their whenua,” local MP Grant Robertson explained.
“During the period that we had the occupation here, we started having some conversations about better recognising the relationship between Parliament and Te Atiawa. So it’s a very moving day.”
“It’s the behaviour that we’re not favourable on,” Moeahu said of events during the occupation, emphasising that the Te Kāhui Mōuri installations at Parliament also sent a message that Te Ātiawa supports the concept of protest.
“So it’s about duality. Parliament has a process. People also have a right to protest.”
Independent MP Elizabeth Kerekere was also on hand. She pointed out that Te Ātiawa has been here a lot longer than the Parliament.
“The culture of course is of this land and it’s ancient. So to have these pou here and the [pare] going into the executive wing, it's powerful, but also it’s ethereal, it’s beautiful.”
Asked why she thought it had taken so long to get something like this installed at Parliament’s main face, Kerekere said it was a matter of understanding the cultural importance of the relationship.
“It’s not just good enough to pay lip service to the fact of who the mana whenua is. Practical, tangible things need to be in place.”
The MP said it was joyous to experience karanga and karakia ringing out across the Parliament forecourt this morning in recognition of the ancestors of this place.
Te Kāhui Mōuri was a collaboration involving cultural designer Len Hetet and master carver Sam Hauwaho.
For the first time Parliament looks like it's actually located in this country, rather than any old corner of a former colonial empire.