Story: Wellington region
Page 14 – Māori buildings and marae
At Ōtaki, the Ngāti Raukawa tribe’s wharenui (meeting house), built in 1936, is an example of traditional carving and decoration in modern materials. Nearby, Rangiātea Church symbolises the synthesis of Māori and European spirituality.
Church of the phoenix
Rangiātea Church was the shared vision of Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha and early missionaries, especially Octavius Hadfield and Samuel Williams. Completed in 1851, with carving and tukutuku (woven panels), it was one of New Zealand’s finest Māori churches. In 1995 it was burnt down by an arsonist. The local people raised funds to build a replica, which opened in 2003.
In Waikanae, the Whakarongotai meeting house blends colonial architecture and traditional Māori design. Nearby at St Luke’s Church, a stained-glass triptych shows St Luke flanked by Waikanae’s 19th-century chief, Wī Parata, and the missionary Octavius Hadfield.
There are marae at Ōrongomai (Upper Hutt) and Waiwhetū (Lower Hutt). The meeting house at Waiwhetū, known as Arohanui Ki Te Tangata (‘goodwill to all people’), was opened in 1960 on Te Āti Awa tribal land. It was the fulfilment of the leader Īhaia Puketapu’s vision that a meeting house be built there to symbolise reconciliation between the races. The building held ornate carvings from the meeting house at the 1940 Centennial Exhibition at Rongotai.
Takapūwāhia marae in Porirua is on the Ngāti Toa tribe’s land in Elsdon. It features the ornately carved meeting house Toa Rangatira. There is also an intertribal marae, Maraeroa, in eastern Porirua.
Opened in 1974, Tapu Te Ranga marae in Island Bay was Wellington’s first urban marae. It was founded by Bruce Stewart to cater for homeless and unemployed young Māori. Here they learned work skills and Māori customs. Up to 10,000 people visit the centre each year. Many are school children, experiencing their first contact with Māori culture.
By the end of the 19th century there were no traditional marae left in Wellington city. A group called Ngāti Pōneke (Pōneke is a transliteration of ‘Port Nicholson’, the early name for Wellington) was the first to build a centre that was akin to a marae. This multi-tribal group was formed in 1929 to provide for the welfare of local Māori. In 1937 the Ngati Poneke Young Maori Club was formed to promote Māori culture in the city. It acquired a hall in Thorndon, where it held dances and taught tikanga (Māori cultural traditions). In the early 1970s an official replacement for the hall was planned. Called Pipitea marae, it was built in Thorndon in the 1980s, below the site of the original Pipitea marae.
New Zealand’s first university marae was Te Herenga Waka, opened at Victoria University of Wellington in 1986.
These complexes reflect the determination of local Māori to keep their culture alive. A contemporary marae at Te Papa, the national museum, extends Māori design with new materials and colours.