Hospitality is a cornerstone of Māori culture but ageing facilities have made it difficult to look after local whanau and guests at Rangitahi Marae in Murupara.
The marae’s wharekai (dining hall) is over 40 years-old. Plumbing is starting to fail, cooking facilities are inadequate and there are no health and safety protections in place. So Ngāti Hui (of Ngāti Manawa) are working to raise a significant sum amounting to over $1 million to refurbish the facility.
Marae chairman John Toe Toe says the dining hall (named ‘Kuranui’ after one of the wives of a Ngāti Manawa ancestor), has stood the test of time. But it now requires an extensive makeover to modernise and equip the building so it’s capable of hosting and looking after future generations.
“It’s really important for Ngāti Manawa to provide very good food to visitors every time they come to a function that’s held on our marae,” John says. “We regularly have birthday celebrations, weddings and tangihanga here. Our youth are bereft of our language and our customs and so we regularly host wananga to grow our culture, language and identity. Local award-winning tourism venture, Kohutapu Lodge, is also bringing people to our marae to look at modern Māori practices in an authentic way. Sometimes we have overnight stays with different tourist groups so providing a meal is really important.”
Providing More For Less
The facility can seat up to 300 people at a time and the marae is looking to purchase the very latest cooking equipment so fewer people are required to cook for large numbers.
“Back when I was young, whenever there was a function, everybody went to the marae to help, whether they worked or not. Every employer understood what was happening. But you can’t do that nowadays. So we need to streamline the process while still catering for large numbers.”
Multi-cooker ovens, induction cooktops, large chillers, double-door fridges and dishwashers will all be purchased in the coming months. “Everything will be modern because we’re looking toward the future. This is a large amount of money and we don’t want the equipment we buy to date too quickly,” John explains. Eco-friendly and energy efficient options will be installed wherever possible.
BayTrust is granting $156,105 from its Community Amenities Fund towards Kuranui’s refurbishment – part of which will be used to buy new tables and chairs.
“Our tables were big and heavy and have been used for so long they’re starting to break down. The chairs we had were not easy to store or stack. If you took them to use outside, they would actually sink into the ground. So we want to get tables and chairs that we can use both indoors and outside.”
Another big ‘wish list’ item the marae can now afford thanks to BayTrust is a solid roof shelter over all pathways that link the wharenui (meeting house) with Kuranui.
“We’re getting more inclement weather but the sun is also really strong. The people that we’re trying to protect are our elderly, our kaumatua and kuia, because to us they’re real treasures and we don’t have many of them. So we’ve got to make sure they are protected from the elements.”
John says the marae and project management team are “over the moon” to receive BayTrust’s financial support. “You wouldn't believe how happy we are. When we spoke about the money coming in from BayTrust there was amazement. We hoped that we would get some money but the amount they gave us… well, there was so much happiness and gratitude.”
Eye On The Future
John says the refurbishment is “steaming along” and he hopes it will be completed by March 2024. “We’re trying to get it done as quickly as possible because our marae means so much to us. We’ve got a very good team of builders, plumbers and electricians. They’re working really hard.”
Once it’s re-opened, Ngāti Hui hopes to attract more people to Murupara and generate some income for the marae by hiring out Kuranui for private functions. “We’ve got the biggest marae in the area and it gets by far the most use. We can seat 300 people at a time but we’ve got a space outside now so we can put people there. We can cater for thousands, they just can’t all eat at the same time! We’ve got to come up with creative ways of using our marae and have more things happening because there are a lot of great things about Murupara.”
John says tourism numbers are slowly creeping back towards pre-COVID levels. Four or five buses a week currently pass through Murupara and he’d love to host more international and domestic tourists once the refurbishment project is complete.