The Fifth Wind 

by Robert MacDonald

published (1979) by Bloomsbury / Hodder & Stoughton

extract from the chapter "Elders of the Coastline"
detailing how Robert MacDonald met Aunty Marj, and his unexpected visit to Parihaka.

FifthWindIcon.pngWHEN I LEFT Manukorihi pa I decided to phone one of New Plymouth's most remarkable personalities — Mrs Matarena Rau-Kupa, known by most people as Auntie Marj. (Auntie is an honorific, a term of respect and affection given to many women who are seen as kuia, or female elders.) Auntie Marj had spent much of her life trying to narrow the gap between the Pakeha and the Maori. During our phone conversation she told me that the following evening she would be attending an event in the coffee-bar of the New Plymouth Art Gallery, and that if I came we could talk after it was over.

So I turned up at the Govett-Brewster Gallery and found that a party of Tibetan monks of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition were being welcomed to New Plymouth, and that they were to lead a discussion on meditation and the spiritual life. A tall young man detached himself from the crowd when I entered the gallery, and introduced himself to me as Vivian Hutchinson. 'Auntie Marj asked me to look out for you,' he said. 'She'll be here soon. We're taking the monks to Parihaka tomorrow to spend the night there and we wondered if you would like to come too.'

I was a little surprised to find that after only a few days in New Plymouth I'd not only been given lunch at Manukorihi Pa by Aila Taylor but also been chosen by some mysterious fate to be entertained at Parihaka with Tibetan holy-men. But when we met at the end of the evening's meditation, Auntie Marj greeted me with a hongi, a pressing of noses.

'I believe in our Maori greeting,' she said. 'I would greet every being on earth with a hongi. It's a  sharing of inner breath with each other.' And truly the hongi does create a feeling of unusual closeness, a sense of real union between those taking part, quite unlike anything experienced during a Western handshake or a peck on the cheek. 'I'm having a bit of trouble about the visit to Parihaka,' she told me. 'I've got to get there early with the food, but I haven't got any transport yet.' With some trepidation I offered the services of myself and my mother's tiny car, envisaging large bags of kumara and other supplies. But the next day Auntie Marj and I fitted ourselves quite comfortably into the Riley Elf, with some baskets of provisions on the back seat and a large flax kit on Auntie Marj's knees. We hurtled off towards Parihaka at well under forty m.p.h., and Auntie Marj had plenty of time to point out to me places of interest en route.

The last time I'd been to Parihaka was with my father, and we were then outsiders looking in at a place which seemed mysterious  and foreign. This time I was very much on the insider's party, for  Auntie Marj was one of the Parihaka Aunties, a notable group of women who had worked hard to keep the spirit of the place alive. When we arrived in the village of peace I was introduced to three more of these renowned Aunties in the cookhouse. There was Mrs Ngahina Okeroa (Auntie Ena), open, impulsive and bluntly honest in her manner; Mrs Netta Wharehoka (Auntie Netta), more reserved and reflective by nature, and a good organiser; and Auntie Sally — Mrs Mana te noki Karena — aged seventy-five, with a long grey plait of hair which was still thick and vigorous, and great vitality in her eyes and voice. I was also introduced to Auntie Sally's grand-daughter, a handsome young woman who was called by everyone 'Little Missy'. She welcomed me not with the hongi, or with a shake of the hands, but with a warm kiss on the lips.


Aunty Marj, Aunty Ina, and Aunty Sally at Te Niho o Te Atiawa, Parihaka, 1977

These Parihaka Aunties were among the women who broke tradition at the Waitangi Tribunal hearings by speaking on the Owae marae of their knowledge of the coastline and of the marine lore of the Maoris. It was remarkable that, despite years of struggle to establish some space in the Pakeha world for the Maori view of things, they had nothing but warmth, friendship, aroha and good humour to offer me. Though Auntie Sally was to confide in me later that she did find it hard to get rid of her anger at times. They tell you to be patient. By heck, I've been patient enough already!' she cried.

The arrival of the Tibetans and their companions brought a temporary end to food preparations in the cookhouse, and there was a ritual greeting outside Te Whiti's large meeting-house, Te Niho-o-Te Atiawa — The teeth of Te Atiawa. This began with the Aunties giving a karanga, or call, to the visitors to come forward, which they did with their palms pressed together in respectful greeting. Inside the meeting-house there were songs in Maori and speeches in Maori and English, and after the welcoming was over Auntie Ena went to one of the monks and affectionately rubbed his skin. 'You are the same colour as us!' she remarked with surprise. Later, when she realised that these were all holy men, she expressed her regret for this forward behaviour. 'To us you are all very tapu,' she said. 'I touched you today and I am sorry if this was a wrong thing to do. I touched you because I  liked you.'

Indeed, all the Aunties were fascinated by the appearance and personality of the Tibetans, which suggested to them some close connection with the Maori people. 'I think your visit to Parihaka has really linked us to our past — the ultimate link with the ancestors,' Auntie Marj was to tell the monks at the end of their stay. And Auntie Ena was to confess: 'When I met you yesterday it was as if I had known you for years. That was why I went up and gave you a rub.'

For their part the monks seemed equally at ease in Te Whiti's meeting-house. 'We feel as though there is monastery energy with us in this room,' said one. 'There is great warmth here.' That evening, after the Aunties had sung them many songs and told many stories about Parihaka, the monks unwrapped from their protective cloths a number of Tibetan instruments including a  drum and bells, and sitting cross-legged on the floor of Te Niho-o-Te Atiawa, they began chanting and playing a type of music which had never been heard under that great roof before — rhythmic, solemn, but also joyful sounds which reverberated round the walls and must have woken the mighty spirits of that place from their sleep. The Aunties sat spellbound, as I did. It was as if a new force was entering Parihaka and mingling in the night air with Te Wairua Maori, the Maori spiritual world.


The Tibetan Buddhist monk Lama Geshe Sangpo and his translator Lama Chodeak visited Te Niho o Te Atiawa in 1984, in a visit organised by Roy and Caroline Gillett. The monks were founders of an Auckland Buddhist centre, the Dorje Chang Institute, which was based on the teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

At one point in the evening the Aunties fell silent for a while, and it seemed from their low asides to each other that something was troubling them. Blunt-spoken Auntie Ena broke the tension at last by announcing that there was a question she had to sort out with the visitors. 'We hear that you have taken two hundred and sixty-five vows,' she said, 'and one of these is that you will never sleep in the same room as a woman. We don't want you to break your tapu.' The custom in meeting-houses is for everyone to sleep together, laying out a bed-roll wherever there is space on the floor. The Aunties were concerned that this custom might embarrass their guests, and force them to breach their tapu. Auntie Ena made it clear that the Tibetans could sleep elsewhere if they wished. 'We will see that you keep to your vows. A vow is a bond.' But the three men urged the Aunties not to be troubled on their account. 'There is the rule you have mentioned,' they assured us, 'but our rules are not inflexible. Where it would be right to follow the custom of the country we can do so.'

And so that night we all laid out our mattresses in the large hall the monks being allowed a respectable distance from the rest of us, ranged along the right-hand wall. But before there was any  sleeping there was much talk about Parihaka and about the community which existed there when the Aunties were young.

Auntie Marj told of sitting out of doors in the winter to await the appearance of those faint stars the Pleiades, known to the Maori as Matariki, or Little Eyes. Their rising marked the New Year and the people would sing until they appeared and greet them with tears. 'There would be lots of voices calling to that star, and the men would do a haka. The elders could tell you what the stars said — whether there would be a barren harvest that year or plenty.'

On the edge of the marae at Parihaka there are some enormous rocks, and the Aunties recalled that a man, standing on these stones, would call out to the people at five o'clock in the morning to light their fires and prepare their hangi or earth ovens for the day ahead. 'They have gas hangis now and we waited five hours for that food to cook,' said Auntie Sally. 'The children took round the food and ate what was left on the stones,' said Auntie Ena. 'If you didn't have any it didn't matter, as long as you gave the best to the visitors,' said Auntie Marj. 'You couldn't tell that to our children today,' someone else remarked. 'Our people used to say, "Give us food for here,"' Auntie Ena commented enigmatically, tapping her heart.

The message of non-violence and universal brotherhood which Te Whiti preached at Parihaka is a powerful one, and is deeply ingrained now in the Te Atiawa community of Taranaki. He was a man who did great deeds in suppressing evil so that peace  may reign, as a means of salvation to all people on earth,' are the words engraved on Te Whiti's monument in the centre of Parihaka. `His emblem the Raukura, which signifies glory to God on high, peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind, he bequeathed to his people Te Atiawa.' This emblem of three white feathers is worn proudly by the Parihaka Aunties on special occasions, and in Te Whiti's meeting-house they told their Tibetan guests that Te Whiti's message of goodwill was for the Pakeha as well as the Maori.

'Te Whiti said, "Let the world come to you — call to the world," ' said Auntie Marj, and with all the Aunties this has happened.' Their views about welcoming the Pakeha to their bosom had brought them criticism at times, from younger activists who during the last five years had raised the call for Maori separatism. 'The young want to take over. They are more radical and more spendthrift,' said one of the Aunties. 'We look to the future and they look to tomorrow.' If words could kill we'd have all been dead long ago, remarked Auntie Sally. All the Aunties were a little shocked by the militancy shown by the younger generation of Maori women. 'They ask us if we believe in equal rights for women,' said Auntie Sally. 'I say no, it is not our culture. In the Maori way the men are first.'

`My generation liked to put dinner on the table. Some modern women would put an axe on the table instead,' Auntie Marj observed.

Talking about the loss of the language, Auntie Sally confessed, 'I'm one of those who wouldn't teach my kids Maori. The slaps on the hand I got at school for speaking Maori myself! I didn't want my son to go through that! But my boy now says to me, "Mum, why didn't you teach me Maori?" It's only the strong ones like us who held on to it. What use was it? It was trodden on!'

She recalled her son as a little boy saying to her, 'Mum, what am I? Pakeha or Maori?' When he grew up he went to university and joined a Maori Club, but he didn't know the language. And when he sought help from a teacher he was told, 'You have got the best teacher possible at home — your mother!' And Auntie Sally added, 'It was the first time I realised there was something valuable In Maori.'

As the night drew on in the Parihaka meeting-house the talk got more animated and at times all the Aunties seemed to be speaking at once. Auntie Ena said she could talk all night about fishing. `We went into the sea with clean hands, a clean basket, and with respect for the sea,' she told us. 'And when fishing we sent the first fish back to God. We wouldn't eat it. There was plenty more where that one came from. And at certain times of the year we put our oars up — that's preservation. We'd been taught that. There's a difference between the Maori way and the Pakeha way.'

I drifted off to sleep eventually, and the next thing I knew was that Vivian was standing in the doorway of the hall ringing a large handbell. It was breakfast-time. I took a walk outside after eating, and strolled to the edge of the village.

None of the buildings I passed was lived in. Parihaka was still in many ways a ghost town, a ceremonial centre, a place for pilgrimage and weekend gatherings. The bustling community of  three thousand people which once occupied this spot was gone, and there was little sense of the dramatic events that had passed in the peaceful village I strolled through. I passed a little wooden house surrounded by large clumps of arum lilies. Ahead of me was a marshy area with a stream, a thicket of trees and tree-ferns. Among the bushes I saw kingfishers and fantails, and pukeko strode ahead of me on their long red legs, flicking their white rumps. And I heard the oodle-ardle-wardle chatter of magpies in the pines growing on a little knoll to the right of the stream. Standing up high and clear ahead of me was Mount Egmont, its crown gleaming with snow in the morning sunlight.

In former times the famous carvers of Te Atiawa always  portrayed the peak of the sacred mountain in their images of human figures, placing the peak between the brows almost like the third eye, the life-force surging upwards into the spirit world. I saw as I returned to the meeting-house that the Tibetan monks, strolling meditatively round Te Whiti's monument, its glass-fronted reliquary containing his greenstone patu and ear pendants, were far  away in that spirit world themselves, so I did not interrupt their reverie. But I had time to explore the meeting-house itself.

There are many pictures hanging on the walls of Te Niho-o-Te-Atiawa. There is a photo of Te Whiti taken while he was in prison in the South Island, and another showing him with his daughter and her husband. And there is one taken at his tangihanga, his funeral ceremony. The prophet's body lies in a marquee and among the crowd of mourners are many white women, fashionably attired in white dresses and picture hats. Auntie Marj noticed me peering at these women and she remarked, 'The Maoris would be in black.'

There are a number of photos, too, which show Parihaka as it was, and a painting by the Maori artist Selwyn Muru of Te Whiti and Tohu with their enemy Bryce. The two prophets are pictured in mystic blue oils and with bright, strong eyes, while Bryce, the opportunist Pakeha politician, stands to the right of them, his figure tinged with red for anger and his eyes sinister slits. Then I noticed a photo of Auntie Netta's husband with Dick Scott, the author of the story of Parihaka, Ask That Mountain. I recognised her husband as the old man I'd seen at Parihaka during my previous fleeting visit with my father.

Auntie Ena sat talking to me as preparations were made for us all to say farewell. She told me that when parties of schoolchildren came to stay in the meeting-house they were sometimes startled by the custom of boys and girls sleeping in one large room together. Auntie Ena had to demonstrate to them how it was possible to climb into one's night-clothes in public while retaining one's modesty. The impact of this warm communal world on the town-bred youngsters was often overwhelming. 'I've seen children go out from here crying,' she said. I was not surprised to hear this. A little while later I felt a sense of loss myself, when our time at Parihaka came to an end. I pressed noses with the Aunties, and shook hands and bowed to the monks. Little Missy kissed me again. Auntie Sally gave me her telephone number and told me to call her. And I set off for New Plymouth with Auntie Marj and her now empty baskets.

'Nau te rourou, naku te rourou, ka ora te tangata' — 'Your food basket, my food basket, will give life to the people.'


Robert McDonald is a painter, printmaker and author living in Wales.
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