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Memorial Seats For Two Icons Of Wellington’s Takatāpui Rainbow Communities

Two icons of Wellington’s Takatāpui Rainbow communities - Chrissy Witoko (1944-2002) and Carmen Rupe (1936-2011) - are to be honoured with memorial seats in the heart of Wellington’s Rainbow Precinct.

Located on the corner of Cuba and Vivian Streets, the seats are a collaboration between PrideNZ, the Chrissy Witoko Memorial Trust and Wellington City Council’s Cultural Heritage team. Gareth Watkins from PrideNZ says “The Cultural Heritage team have placed the seats perfectly - in the heart of where Carmen and Chrissy worked, lived and loved.”

Mayor of Wellington Andy Foster has personally backed the project and will attend the gifting event on Saturday 1 October 2022. Gareth Watkins says “Mayor Foster’s endorsement demonstrates the long-standing and ongoing support from Wellington’s civic leaders for our Takatāpui Rainbow communities.”

The gifting event coincides with Mental Health Awareness Week. This year the theme is “Reconnect - with the people and places that lift you up, hei pikinga waiora.” Roger Smith from PrideNZ says “It was important for us to create seat plaques that not only honour Chrissy and Carmen’s legacy, but also affirm and support members of Wellington’s Takatāpui Rainbow communities today.”

For many Takatāpui Rainbow people, it is in Community where they find their whānau and history. This is reflected in the quotation on Carmen’s plaque, “It is your ancestors, your tīpuna, that give you the strength to survive today.” The quotation comes from respected artist Ariki Brightwell (Rongowhakaata, Te Whānau-a-Ruataupare, Raukawa, Rangitāne, Tahiti).

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Chrissy’s plaque contains the whakataukī/proverb “Hurihia tō aroaro ki te rā tukuna tō ātārangi kia taka ki muri i a koe. Turn and face the sun and let the shadows fall behind you.”

Both seat plaques display the contemporary term Iriwhiti Takatāpui. Gareth Watkins says “We sought guidance from Gender Minorities Aotearoa and their transgender language glossary. While Iriwhiti Takatāpui is a term that Carmen and Chrissy would not have necessarily heard in their lifetimes, it resonates with many nowadays and creates a strong connection between past and present.”

Chrissy Witoko (Ngāti Kahungunu) was born in Hastings and moved to Wellington in the late 1950s. She worked in many clubs and cafes before establishing the Evergreen Coffee House in the early 1980s at 144 Vivian Street (a short distance from the memorial seats). The Evergreen became a home-away-home for many in the Takatāpui Rainbow communities for almost two decades.

144 Vivian Street was also the location of one of Carmen Rupe’s coffee lounges.

Originally from Taumarunui, Carmen Rupe (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Hauā, Ngāti Heke-a-Wai) moved to Wellington in 1967. In just a thirteen year period she established at least twelve businesses in the city – including coffee lounges, massage parlours, a night club and a curio shop. Many of the businesses were located in the Cuba/Vivian Street area.

Reflecting on Carmen and Chrissy’s legacy, local resident Avon Tautuhi says “They helped create the vibe, community, acceptance and diversity that Wellington still thrives on.”

Further details about the gifting event will be released closer to the event date. 

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