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Book Launch: Tuahine Sisters of Porangahau

Book Launch: Tuahine Sisters of Porangahau

Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party

Saturday 10 November 2007

If I was a singer, I would start today with one of the waiata from Tangihaku, the work created by sisters Rangitunoa and Whirimako Black, along with their mother, Anituatua.

Their poignant lyrics take us on a journey back through generations of Ngai Tuhoe and of Ngati Kahungunu – along with Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Ranginui, Te Whakatohea, Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Te Arawa, and Ngati Awa.

Just as he taonga puoro talks to the acoustic guitar, the poem connect the days gone by with those of today and tomorrow.

It is such a song that rings out from Tuahine, Sisters of Porangahau.

Songs of sadness, of exhilarating joy, of miracles and misery.

Debutante dances, hopscotch on the dirt road, potato patterns on paper which were dipped in cochineal.

Kapa haka or haka boogie at the marae; gin and tonic at the House on Pooh Corner; preserved beetroot and salted green beans.

Memories which burst forth from the pages of a book I simply couldn’t put down.

Tuahine, Sisters of Porangahau, has everything and more that we would expect our sisters to provide.

For me, the memories of my own sisters – my cousins Rebecca, Girlie and May, came pouring back as the sisters of Porangahau came alive.

I thought of the way they protected me, standing up for me at school to establish our place in the playground battles of the day. They nurtured me from harm, taking their role as tuakana so seriously that to this day I know they watch over me.

Our tuakana are the ones who remind us of our rangatira legacy, the whakapapa which bears our tribal memory, our history.

For Ngati Kere and Ngati Manuhiri that legacy lingers through the influence and mana of the Ropiha sisters, Hirani and Keita.

Their portraits – both in finest European clothing but Hirani wearing her taonga, Keita beautiful in her ta moko - express the strength, the dignity and the presence that has clearly come down the line.

Their legacy is evident in the words and memories of their descendants, but also, uniquely, in the ancestral house of Te Poho o Kahungunu II. Piri Sciascia describes this legacy with the words ‘he tohu maioha, he karanga mateoha’ – the embrace of love that calls to succeeding generations to fulfil their proud tradition.

Tradition, legacy, the past wrapping itself around the present, also comes streaming through the stories of the Sargisson sisters and the three beautiful Sebley Sisters, as their lives tell us of the magic of Porangahau in the late nineteenth century.

The tales of the Sargissons are tinged with tragedy - the early death of Eva through epileptic convulsions; the loss of brother Ric who died from the wounds of Gallipoli in 1915; the struggle to survive both before and during the Depression.

The Sebley girls, Doris, Kath and Mavis also had their fair share of tribulations including the death of two brothers from the war and the 1918 flu, and hints of a husband having trouble with the drink.

But what unites both the Sargissons and the Sebleys to in fact all the nineteen groups of sisters in this wonderful book, is a very simple plaque which rests on the grave of two of the daughters of Doris, Joan and Barbara. It reads, No Porangahau raua - they are from Porangahau.

We move into the twentieth century with the arrival of Maymorn, Roma, Raina, Pat and Kere Ropiha who lived within what they describe as ‘a community of kids’ – cherished by aunts who were the providers of ‘goodies’; going to the beach and camping, the races and party mates.

Out of the pages come the Kuru and the Hutana cousins; the chore of separating the cream from the milk; proper table etiquette, national representative hockey tournaments; the wonder of the Elna sewing machine, polishing and grading the eggs, the Sitrling sisters from Bluff, Hukarere, golf, tennis, and the bustle of community devotion.

One wonders how there was ever time to sleep with the service dedicated to the Country Women’s Institute, the Maori Women’s Welfare league, the Anglican Church and all that was involved.

But the world also extended past Porangahau; beyond Waipukurau to the Great Wall of China, to Canada, California, Rome, Hawai’i and the opening of Te Maori at San Francisco.

The Stoddard Sisters brought the world of Scotland back to Porangahau – Peg, Gina, Isabel and Agnes recounting with delight the wonder of the wee house on Cook’s Tooth Road. No electricity, little money but a sparkling kitchen, using a darning needle to clean between the floorboards and black-leading the stove.

Those were the days of dancing in the Hall; New Year at Porangahua beach; the Mangaorapa Social Club at the woolshed – complete with badminton, table tennis and indoor bowls.

The stories of the Douglas and the Cutbush sisters start from the 1920s and tell us of lives full of work – hauling water from the creek, chopping wood, milking cows, scrubbing the house, doing the laundry, cooking - a roster of outside jobs, inside jobs, daily jobs, weekly jobs, fortnightly jobs. It made me tired just reading!

Reading about baking day was agony in words – coconut buns, butterfly cakes, sultana and coconut cakes, kisses, blackberry picking all described with glee. Those were the days of great resourcefulness – Gwen plants potatoes from the peelings; rag dolls made of calico; knitted golly wogs.

The Drower Sisters and the Hobsons take off in the thirties – letting off steam from wartime days by a good gallop over sand hills and to the beach, boarding days at Iona, dressing up in tartan skirts, berets and off for a highland dance, complete with a chook’s feather.

Hilary and Pam Dean reminded me of the challenge of the long drop festooned with spiders (Big Ones). Pony club featured large in the memories, gymkhanas, A and P shows, the rolling hills, bush, scrub and river of Tangaruhe.

And then we meet the Sciascia sisters. I loved the passion of life according to Marina, Janice, Judy, Ana, Bonza and Raina.

Marina describes her theory at the time on race relations – a theory I thought I might have to share with my Kahungunu colleague, Pita Sharples. There were three races in New Zealand – Maori, Pakeha and “us who were neither”. Part of the challenge of ‘fitting into the box’ was the ‘Italian blood’ which at that time gave them plenty to fantasise over.

The days glow as the stories unfold from Rongomaraeroa – their love for waiata, poi and haka fostered by the talents of leaders such as Anaru Takurau, George Tuhiwai and their aunty Raina.

Meanwhile the Willis Sisters were busy with hula hoop and a plate that spun on a stick, broken up by non-stop cricket – and more chores, catching lambs for docking, or mixing up the milk and cordial for everyone at school.

As I read the story of Mitarina Wakefield, it all came together for me why we love our sisters so dearly. In talking about big sister Cilla (Pirihira) she says,

“she envelopes you in her wairua and love when you visit her in her home. She makes you feel like a princess and kills you with her yummy food and hilarious conversation”.

And isn’t that what it’s all about? Food for the soul, a lift to our spirits, the inspiration that comes from being loved.

The Macdonald sisters were spoilt for choice – nine girls in the family with Mum and Dad juggling between the roles of referee, umpire and dispute managers.

Isobel and Horiana Ropiha shared the tragedy of the loss of their darling baby brother, Ieni and sister, Rita – and that is how this incredible book flows - one minute you’re crying with laughter, the next your tears are of such sorrow but throughout all, the love of family is constant.

The Wakefield Sisters lead us off from the fifties with the song of Porangahau – where ‘there’s plenty of paua and kinas and the crayfish walk into your hands’. I tell you – what’s not to love about a place in which every meal is described as a feast!

The McLean sisters remind me of my connection, through Gwitha Spooner and our whakapapa along the awa right through to Otaihape and Waiouru.

The stories weave to an end, past Kentucky Palace and Princess Keri and Kim, and the challenges and crisis that come with cancer, and with the tragic death of brother Earl.

And we finish in fine style with the Ferris sisters. I absolutely loved the story of dishes after tea – the imaginary race against the Wakefield, Thompson and Steffert sisters, and later the more sophisticated routine based around Ka Panapana, the Ngati Porou haka of all haka (well so my Ngati Porou friends would have me believe).

I could never do justice to the wonderful stories in this book – but I hope that these ‘wee morsels’ will tantalise you all into investing in your own lifelong collection.

I want to really mihi to Marina Sciascia and Hilary Pedersen for your vibrant, dazzling record of days at Porangahau. You have captured and captivated me with stories that make my heart beat all the faster, my eyes fill with tears, my own memories wander.

Raina Ferris shares in her story, the message that keeping a whanau together takes effort.

E hara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari, he toa takitini e. Whanaungatanga, our collective strength as family, is indeed the vital key to our survival as people.

Over this last month, our tribal nations particularly the Tuhoe nation, have been badly wounded by the words and perceptions that have been created around terrorism.

In the midst of such heated debate, I acknowledge all of those whanau who have kept together, through the hard times.

They have been able to sustain themselves through the traumatic ordeal of these past few weeks, by standing strong and tight to the values and philosophies that have carried them through the generations. Whanaungatanga has been the key to their strength.

And I acknowledge the symbolic challenge provided by your Ngati Kahungunu kinsman, Moana Jackson, in standing down from his prestigious role of patron at the Police College.

He has done so with the support of Kahungunu behind him; making a stand which tells us all that the actions of the State and in particular the police in the village of Ruatoki must not be forgotten, and must never happen again.

In much the same way, I salute you all, for your leadership in sharing the stories that come through Tuahine, Sisters of Porangahau. And I mihi also to the art of Sal Criscillo who has enabled us to all have the privilege of accessing a cherished family album of memories and of people.

This publication will stand for all of your descendants, to remind them of the challenges, the pain, the hard times along with the sheer vitality of life of Porangahau.

And I want to particularly recognise the courage you have all shown, in telling the story as it was, as it is, rather than what we might have wanted it to be.

It is always so challenging, when sharing the stories of our past, that we only bring out the testimonies of success and achievement, relegating the more difficult moments to the shady recess of history.

You have enabled the full story to be told and I congratulate you all for the honesty and the integrity that required.

It is, in its every essence, a story of the love of whanau.

We come to love the sisters, the sisters-in-law, the sisters who have that unique bond with us through friendship rather than blood; the sisters of our soul, the sisters of our heart.

I thank you for the honour of allowing me to share this wonderful day and truly celebrate with you all, the passion and power of Porangahau, for now and all times.

As the Sebley Sisters, said: No Porangahau raua - they are from Porangahau.

Ends


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