Helen Waaka remembers the special warmth and magic of the last Te Hā national hui – one of many writers events that have been held at Tapu Te Ranga.
When I found out the 2016 Te Hā National Māori Writer’s Hui was to be held at Tapu Te Ranga marae I registered straight away.
I’d heard about the marae but never been there. Not only would I be going to my first National Māori Writer’s hui with kaituhi I’d admired from afar, but I would be visiting Tapu Te Ranga for the first time.
The name, Tapu Te Ranga (a sacred rising), aptly described the marae – arising like a mythical wooden castle out of a hillside in Island Bay. It had been a place of gathering and learning for te tangata ō ngā hau e whā for many years.
The hui that weekend was everything I hoped it would be and more, with inspiring presentations and workshops from Anita Heiss, Witi Ihimaera, Patricia Grace, James George, Paula Morris, Tina Makareti, Te Kahu Rolleston, Robert Sullivan, Marama Salsano, Albert Belz and Agnes McFarland. I listened, absorbing their stories and writing wisdom, and I felt Tapu Te Ranga did too, the aged wood of its pou and walls breathing in the creativity and wairua of all who were there.
The interior of the marae with its carvings, stuffed deers’ heads, pot plants, rope-covered glass buoys, piano, hand-carved furniture, paintings and artwork (including a woven piece by my cousin, Diane Prince) provided the perfect backdrop for a stimulating weekend of whanaungatanga, kotahitanga and manaakitanga. There was no hierarchy, no-one trying to be better than anyone else. Within its walls we were all on the same level, there to share and learn from each other, maintaining the tikanga of Tapu Te Ranga.
The last session of the hui, ‘Where to from here?’ led by James George and Paula Morris, provided everyone with the opportunity to voice ideas and give constructive feedback on issues affecting us as Māori writers – and on one kaupapa we were listened to! The following round of Michael King writers’ residencies were reduced to two to four weeks duration – much more achievable for those with work and whānau commitments.
Tapu Te Ranga Marae was a tribute to the late Bruce Stewart, his whānau whānui and all who contributed to its unique structure and atmosphere. The fire in June this year, with the loss of the wharenui and all its artwork, was a tragedy for the whānau and for the many manuhiri who have had the privilege of experiencing its warm, welcoming space.
Waiho i te toipoto, kaua i te toiroa.
Photos courtesy of Trina Heke.