16 Apr 2019

Watch: Vapnierka

8:00 am on 25 April 2019

Vapnierka a documentary about the power and legacy of a name.

Vapnierka is the story of Vapnierka Kupenga, passionate and dedicated to the advancement Māori, Vapi, as she was affectionately known, created a reputation of being a champion of Māori rights. But the first question everyone thinks is ‘Where does the name Vapnierka come from?’.

The documentary explores the story behind her name, a journey that leads Te Raumawhitu Kupenga, the only son of Vapnierka Kupenga, to their granduncle Pourāmua Nihoniho.  For the last 74 years, the details surrounding his death were unknown to the whānau.

Pourāmua Nihoniho, aka Robert Tuhura, enlisted as a soldier in WWII. He fought in the 28th Māori Battalion, however, two years into the war he was captured and spent the rest of his wartime in POW camps across Europe. Just weeks out from the end of the war on a Soviet train bound for Odessa to repatriate allied soldiers, Pourāmua was shot by a Russia guard and left at a train station in the small town of Vapnyarka, Ukraine.

Upon hearing the news of his passing Pourāmua’s parents Pakanui Nihoniho and Heni Nohaka were devastated. Te Rau’s mother, a mokopuna to Pakanui and Heni, was the first child born in the wider whānau after Pourāmua’s passing. Pakanui asked Vapi’s mother if he could raise her and named her Vapnierka in memory of the place where Pourāmua was buried. Before he died he gave Vapi an ōhaki, a promise, to one day visit the place where Pourāmua lies.  Ko te ohaki “kia kite te wahi I mate ai taku tama”.

In her life, Vapi, like many women of her generation, the daughters of these WWII soldiers, assumed many leadership roles. Through political activism, education, social policy and undying love for her iwi, Ngāti Porou, Vapi created a reputation for being a stalwart of the Māori renaissance. Throughout her life she often spoke of fulfilling the ōhaki, and Te Rau promised to do it with her. Unfortunately in 2013, she passed suddenly.

Te Rau is now on the journey to honour that promise, to go to Vapnyarka Ukraine. Joining him is his aunt, Kuini Moehau Reedy, considered as a sister to Vapi. She too wants to fulfil the ōhaki for her grandfather, Pakanui Nihoniho.

This is their powerful and inspiring story – an intricate braid of intergenerational love, honour and sacrifice that brings about the legacy that is carried in a name.

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