Wairarapa Moana – Stories about a lake and its people

Wairarapa Moana - Stories about a lake and its people

Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art & History May 2011

By David Famularo

It’s been a watershed year for Maori in the Wairarapa, chiefly because in June the Waitangi Tribunal released its report on the Treaty claims of iwi and hapu of the Wairarapa ki Tararua district.

While the timing of the report and this exhibition is largely co-incidental, the connection between the two is non-the-less profound.

While local Maori lost ownership of nearly all the land stretching from Palliser Bay (Kawa Kawa) to southern Hawkes Bay, the spiritual values associated with Wairarapa Moana remained close to their heart.

The report and exhibition will undoubtedly be the first time many non-Maori will have encountered the rather painful facts behind the sale of Lake Wairarapa to the New Zealand government.

I personally was unaware of even the remotest facts regarding Maori attempts to maintain its historical rights to the rich food sources provided by Wairarapa Moana till very recently.

While this exhibition is not just about the relationship between Maori and non-Maori in regards to Wairarapa Moana, this relationship is as impossible to ignore as the 14.4 metre waka taua (war canoe) Te Heke Rangatira, the centrepiece of the exhibition.

The history of this canoe is as complicated and in parts as controversial as ownership of Wairarapa Moana itself, starting with questions over the origins of its name and ending with its long term future.

The tension between commerce and ecology is the other primary subtext of the exhibition, Lake Wairarapa being described as “verging on being an ecological disaster.”

Each “story” in the exhibition is a doorway into a whole other field of exploration, such as the significance of Cape Palliser as one of the sites of earliest human settlement in New Zealand, and diversion of the Ruamahunga River away from Lake Wairarapa in the 1960s, reducing its size considerably.

The introduction to the Waitangi Tribunal Report highlights a number of moments in the nineteenth century when the Wairarapa offered an alternative approach to development that left the report’s researchers pondering what might have been.

Perhaps a new alternative is once again in its germination phase with what appears to be a strong desire on the part of all parties with an interest in the future of Wairarapa Moana to work together for the greater good.

Last night I enjoyed a lovely view of Lake Wairarapa at dusk. It’s one of many views one can enjoy of the lake.

Similarly this exhibition provides multiple views of Wairarapa Moana. Each view is different but there’s nothing to stop the visitor from appreciating them all.

As an adjunct to this exhibition I would recommend the Waitangi Tribunal report Wairarapa ki Tararua which is available from Masterton Library and online at www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz

Far from being a dry read, it’s very reader-friendly and undoubtedly will be a massively important resource in years to come.

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