Old ways inform the new for iwi under lockdown

Kayne Peters leaves his Auckland home to spend the lockdown in his whanau bubble in the King Country and help look after those most in need.

Ka mate kainga tahi. Ka ora kainga rua.

“One dwelling place is overcome, but the second is secure”

This whakatauki or proverb well describes the effects of Covid-19 on our world today. Or, dare I say it, our new world.

The lockdown is evening out social divides and age groups, with everyone following the call to “Stay Home, Save Lives”. It has also highlighted an apparent paradox – the power of staying connected digitally and the chance to go back to living off our natural environment.

As the country began slipping into lockdown on Wednesday March 25, I suddenly felt the need to evacuate from my beloved city of Tāmaki Makaurau and head back to the lands of my tūpuna (ancestors) in the King Country.

And it’s here I have discovered how we are going to make it through this outbreak.

I knew none of my whānau were infected by the virus and I wanted to be there to awhi (support) them in case the lockdown lasted longer than four weeks. So I decided to join my whānau bubble in Taumarunui.

What was about to happen would only confirm for me that we are now in a new era. An era for which we were unprepared.

I headed to Pak’n’Save in Māngere on my way out of Auckland to pick up groceries for my whānau. I was shocked by how packed the car park was, and I felt sorry for the line of people stretched around the building, all the way to the footpath outside the car park.

So I carried on south to Papakura. The line here was a little shorter. Only then I realised we now have to line up outside supermarkets to be let in individually by security. For how long? Who knows.

 Coundtdown Papakura on the eve of Covid-19 lockdown.

I immediately felt like panic shopping, so I filled up my small trolley and was quickly back on the road on a quiet Highway One. It felt eerie, even a bit scary, but I was heartened to see Uenuku beaming in the sky sunset as I made it to where the Ongarue and Waimiha streams meet. Signalling I was now in the heart of the King Country.

Uenuku (God of Rainbows), Ongarue - King Country.

I made it to my whānau bubble and found myself amongst kōrero (discussions) of how our iwi, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, was looking to deliver kai to our kaumātua (elders) living around our rohe (region). A delivery was coming to my marae, Kauriki Pā, in Ngāpuke just outside of Taumarunui to deliver supplies to kaumātua from five Ngāti Tūwharetoa marae around Te Rohe Pōtae (King Country region). The iwi was organising to deliver kai parcels to kaumātua from 35 marae around our tribal territory.

Shane Heremaia, CEO of the Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board, told me, “Our ariki (paramount chief) Tā Tumu te Heuheu called for all of Tūwharetoa to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. And in particular he has asked Tūwharetoa entities to work together to help our people.”

Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board, Tūwharetoa Settlement Trust and Ngāti Tūwharetoa Fisheries collectively identified at-risk groups within the iwi, in particular kaumātua and others of the iwi who are financially vulnerable. 350 supermarket vouchers were sent out to the iwi’s kaumātua living within the rohe, and the food parcels were another initiative to immediately help these groups at risk.

On the day the delivery truck went out to marae across the iwi, 25 boxes of secured food were delivered to Kauriki Pā. Eight members of our whānau worked together to sort through the kai and ensure there was enough going out to our kaumātua across the King Country region. An aunty was also there on behalf of Civil Defence, to ensure we were all keeping the kai and ourselves safe.

Whānau at Kauriki Pā preparing kai parcels for kaumātua.

Overall, we identified 42 kaumātua as being in need of kai in our rohe. So we divided the kai and then planned three delivery routes. Petrol vouchers from Te Kotahitanga o Ngāti Tūwharetoa Trust Board was divided up. Then we all headed out.

I thought of our tūpuna during the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak and wondered what they must have done to manaaki (care for) our people during that time.

I accompanied my uncle and aunty on a delivery route that covered Ngapuke, Hikairo, Kakahi, Manunui and Taumarunui. It was exciting and we all felt honoured to be helping our iwi and our kaumātua in this way.

My uncle was the navigator and my aunty the driver. I had the task of carrying the kai parcels to the doorsteps of our kaumātua. If asked, I would place the kai in the freezer outside the house.

Delivering kai parcels to Ngāti Tūwharetoa kaumātua.

Along our route we stopped at a farm in Hikairo, 20km south east of Taumarunui, where I met Koro Jim (Jim Ham) and Uncle Steve. I was amazed to find that Koro Jim was 89 and still fit and working his thousand-acre sheep and cattle farm.

Koro Jim’s farmhouse on the Whangaipeke land block in Hikairo.

I introduced myself as an uri (descendant/relative) from Kauriki Pā and asked if I could interview him for Newsroom. He immediately leaped to a memory about becoming a champion rodeo rider.

“I’m the only man in the world that’s ever won everything at one rodeo.”

In 1957, Koro Jim won the bull riding, saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding and bulldogging divisions at the Waimarino Rodeo in Raetihi. The competition included cowboys from the United States, Canada and Australia.

 Jim Ham saddling up in the 1950s.Caption

Koro Jim said that, to this day, no one in the world has yet won all four riding divisions at a rodeo again. He was recently nominated to be inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.

“We started riding at home, where we built our own bucking-out shoots,” he remembered. “I reckon it’s the number one sport. It’s man against animal. You don’t know what the animal is going to do when he can get out and buck. You can’t read him until you’re out there.”

That fighting spirit keeps Koro Jim optimistic about getting through the pandemic. But he believes the Government had a chance from stopping it from coming to New Zealand. “When it started in China, they should have stopped everyone coming back here.”

But he also acknowledges the Government for the steps taken to fight the virus and ensure the safety of our most vulnerable. “It’s good if they can save them eh, especially older ones.”

He added, “That’s why I stay out here. Plenty of fresh air. I hardly go to town.”

Jim Ham at home in Hikairo.

Jim Ham at home in Hikairo.

Koro Jim’s freezer is stocked with home kill, and he also has his maara kai (food garden). But he knows some other whānau are struggling. “Some people have been doing it really hard because there’s a lot with no work.” He commends the support all iwi are providing for whānau in need.

The next step for Ngāti Tūwharetoa is to deliver supermarket vouchers to kaumātua from the iwi living outside the tribe’s boundaries. This means the iwi would have spent $120,000 by Easter to help their most vulnerable.

As Shane Heremaia said, “The plan going forward is to work with entities across Ngāti Tūwharetoa to help our people now and going into the future.”

* Made with the support of NZ on Air *

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