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A Personal Story of Sandi Ringham, descendant of Ngāti Kuri, and her whānau

A Personal Story of Sandi Ringham, descendant of Ngāti Kuri, and her whānau

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Auckland Museum has a long standing scientific connection with the land and marine environments of the Far North — the rohe of Ngāti Kuri. This goes back to the days of one of the Museum's early directors, Thomas Cheeseman, an avid botanist who keenly studied the area.

In October 2016, a very special wānanga was organised for a group of researchers and curators from Auckland Museum, NIWA, Landcare Research and Canterbury Museum to visit with Ngāti Kuri to set priorities for a mutually beneficial relationship, and help guide research in the area. The outcomes of the wānanga continue to manifest in many ways. Here, Sandi Ringham of Ngāti Kuri tells of her experience in taking part of the wānanga and why it was so significant for her and her whānau.

Day One: 26 October 2016

Kia ora koutou, ko Sandi Ringham toku ingoa, ko Ngāti Kuri ahau. My name is Sandi Ringham; I am of Ngāti Kuri descent. I am a PhD student studying at the University of Waikato and a member of the Ngāti Kuri Relationship Working Group. This blog tells of my experience as I take part in a special wānanga held at Wairoa Marae, Ngataki. The aim of this wānanga was to build positive working relationships with Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum, their team of researchers and other institutions who work or research within our rohe.

The wānanga brought with it an opportunity to return my mother, Caroline Hempel-Ringham, to her papakāinga, her home. My mother and I are uri – descendants, and this is an important journey for us both. She left Ngataki at a very young age, but her memories of Ngataki and her cousins are vivid, and her sense of loss runs deep within her core. With her leaving she had lost contact with her whānau and whakapapa, and had longed to return for the past 70 years.

While traveling from the Waikato to Ngataki we visited places where mum had lived. She told many stories of her childhood and what it was like growing up in the Te Hiku o te Ika – North Cape. Arriving at our destination, Ngataki, my mother began listing places she had remembered and whānau who she knew lived in the area.

This was the very first time we had been on this, our, marae. As we passed through the busy kitchen, the people we met made connections to our whakapapa, and welcomed my mother home when they learned of her story. For her, this began bridging the years she had longed to feel connected to people and place. It felt extremely healing to be standing on the paepae of our own marae with our whanaunga as we welcomed the manuhiri. After many years, we are finally tangata whenua.

My mother and I standing on our whenua

Image supplied by Sandi Ringham

After the pōwhiri and kai, time is set aside for whanaungatanga where we learn more about the manuhiri that are here. There are a variety of physical scientists from around the country as well as representatives from the Far North District Council, New Zealand Police and other institutions. The high level of respect each attendee held for others is easily apparent. Passion for the flora, fauna and the tangata whenua are expressed in many ways. This set the precedent for the entire wānanga.

For my mother, whakawhanaungatanga was a little nerve racking. She stood and said two simple sentences: “My name is Caroline Hempel-Ringham. I was taken from Ngataki when I was very young and I’ve come home”. Everyone attending was touched by her statement in some way. For me, her statement brought me to tears; her loss was my loss - the effects of colonisation are intergenerational. Through her experience, people could better understand why building relationships and moving forward was important collectively and personally. The theme was set for the wānanga - it was one of respect, sharing and aroha.

Day Two: Hīkoi o Te Hiku o te Ika

Convoy of vehicles travelling to Te Hiku o Te Ika

Sheridan Waitai

The terrain we travelled to visit the North Cape was rugged and remote. My mother and I were in different vehicles and I worried about her dislike of travelling the Far North roads – at each stop, I checked in on her asking: “Are you alright? Those roads are pretty rough!” Much to my surprise she was feeling relaxed and having a great time. In the past when we travelled home she would become fearful and lecture whoever was driving about the dangers of travelling Far North roads. Somehow being ‘home’ and with whanaunga cured her of her fear. It was heart-warming to watch my mother become free of her fears and find cousins of her generation that shared memories within the spaces of Ngāti Kuri.

Our first stop was Muri Motu. With a spectacular landscape behind them, our kaumātua began to tell our stories of whakapapa and our tupuna arrival to Aotearoa - New Zealand. Landmarks were noted along with relevant narratives that expressed our deep relationship with the whenua. They also shared their own personal experiences of growing up and working within the area. The history and stories told by the kaumātua ensured everyone knew the whakapapa that informs Ngāti Kuri mana whenua.

For me, this meant I had a deeper understanding of myself and my connection to this place. I felt extremely honoured and lucky to be standing in a place not many people get to visit. Aotearoa stretched south behind us while we gazed north watching the two seas meet – knowing that what lay before us was also within our rohe, to the northwest Manawatawhi (Three Kings Islands), and to the northeast Rangitāhua (Kermedec Islands) made me realise how important it was to establish positive relationships with institutions and researchers working within our rohe.

Looking south from the Muri Motu

Image supplied by Sandi Ringham

The image above is a photograph of the legendary Money Tree of Te Hiku o Te Ika and my mother. She remembered visiting the Money Tree as a child. She said my grandfather used to speak of it often and had taken her to visit the tree on several occasions. Kaumātua also told personal stories of this famous tree.

Caroline Hempel-Ringham revisiting the Money Tree

Image supplied by Sandi Ringham

Next we visited Hikūrua (de Serville Cliffs) which is a pūpūharakeke sanctuary. Here knowledge was shared about our taonga, the pūpūharakeke (flax snail). Kaumātua told how this highly prized snail protected our tupuna from being attacked. The pūpūharakeke would let out a squeal when trodden which alerted iwi to anyone trying to sneak up and attack Ngāti Kuri dwellings. Now the pūpūharakeke is protected in this space and they seem to be doing quite well. Ngāti Kuri are the kaitiakitanga of not only the land but also the flora and fauna.

Hikūrua (de Serville Cliffs)

Image supplied by Sandi Ringham

We were told that, hidden in the low lying plants, were the discarded shells of past pūpūharakeke. This information sent everyone off in different directions looking for the empty pūpūharakeke shells. It was quite a sight, iwi and scientist alike, bent over searching the ground for taonga. Kaumātua shared more knowledge of our tupuna in this place and how important it is for these stories to be acknowledged and honoured. Here the scientists also shared their knowledge.

Sharing knowledge - pūpūharakeke on Hikūrua (de Serville Cliffs)

Image supplied by Sandi Ringham

The area is also an important and unique micro forest not found anywhere else in the world. This uniqueness extends out into the moana where the kelp and seaweeds found are also endemic to our rohe.

Native Orchid

Image supplied by Sandi Ringham

We then moved onto Kapo Wairua (Spirits Bay) where we had lunch. Time was made for us to explore and enjoy the beauty of Maunga Piko and the beach. In the image above my mother and I stand at the foot of our maunga. This is a poignant moment for both of us, our first time here together, our first time here with our whanaunga of Ngāti Kuri.

Ko Maunga Piko toku maunga – Maunga Piko is my mountain

Image supplied by Sandi Ringham

Following lunch, we headed up to the urupa where more accounts of our tupuna were shared. These narratives articulated both our historical and contemporary struggles, conquests and relationships with other iwi and the Crown.

Te Renga Wairua

Image supplied by Sandi Ringham

Our final place to visit was Te Rerengawairua. Here, kaumātua told of how the place has been transformed to reflect our mana whenua. This has not been an easy task and Ngāti Kuri has negotiated many struggles and challenges during the process.

Our relationship with these land marks and the islands further out to sea were drawn to our attention. This was a theme that continued throughout the day ensuring that we and our manuhiri understood the deep connection and commitment Ngāti Kuri’s has to our whenua and our role as kaitiaki.

Tired and hungry, we returned to Wai Ora Marae to another beautiful and healthy meal. After the meal, the entire group was lucky enough to have a self-healing session with Atarangi Murupaenga. This was a fantastic opportunity to unwind, iron out the knots of stress and work related kinks while also learning more about mātauranga Māori.

Day Three: 28 October

This day was allocated to our manuhiri and was a time for them to share their knowledge and their passion about their mahi and/or research. Tāmaki Paenga Hira began our day with a beautiful video clip about the museum. Following that, David Reeves and Linnae Pohatu presented Tāmaki Paenga Hira’s mission and their commitment to building a positive relationship with Ngāti Kuri. To me, it seems the Museum is decolonising some of its spaces, and it was refreshing to know that they are committed and passionate about telling the multiple stories of Aotearoa. The Museum’s policy ‘He Korahi Māori’ communicates the Museum’s dedication to biculturalism – the document acknowledges mana whenua; manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga. During this kōrero, Museum whanau members Nicola Railton and Edwina Merito (whose own blog about the trip can be read here) also told us about their role within the Museum. The day was filled with speakers from around Aotearoa that kindly shared their knowledge and research. The topics they covered were diverse and complex.

Rarawa Beach

Image supplied by Sandi Ringham

Before the day came to an end we all gathered together and headed off to Rarawa Beach. Here are the nesting grounds of endangered birds. After a day spent inside listening and taking in so much knowledge this was a healing session in its own right – the sun shone as we dug our toes into the warm sand and the sea breeze cleared our minds. We returned back to Wai Ora marae for our final evening meal together.

Following dinner, Besty Young shared her knowledge about pingao with us and then taught us how to weave a putiputi (flower) from pingao. This was an opportunity for learning not only the art of weaving but also Besty’s expert knowledge on the growth and protection of pingao. Waiata (songs) were sung during the weaving and this was a fun and relaxing way to spend our last night together.

Day Four: 29 October

Day four; this is our final day. We were shown a short video clip of some of our taonga (in this case, flora and fauna) from Rangitāhua. This was beautifully presented and reminded us all of how important our wānanga has been.

We were then lucky enough to have a kanikani workshop with Romana Te Kaharoa Potts. His teachings were closely linked to the kōrero we had had over the past three days. We learned the dance of the manu - pukeko, ruru, huia and pīwaiwaka.

During our poroporoaki, our manuhiri expressed that their time at Wai Ora Marae was very poignant. They felt that they had learnt from the experience and the knowledge that was shared. The Mātauranga Māori’s and Ngāti Kuri’s traditional understanding of the environment was acknowledged as a valuable science. They also felt that they had made many friends and hoped that they would be able to return in the near future. Our poroporoaki concluded our wānanga on a very energetic and positive note.

Ngā mihi

Compliments and thanks must be given on the quality of the food that was presented to our manuhiri. Every meal had during our wānanga was not only nutritional but also extremely delicious. I would also like to thank Sheridan Waitai, Huia Murupaenga and Olivia Doyle for the huge amount of work they put in to make this wānanga the success that it was.

After thoughts

This special wānanga haerenga was a time for whakawhanaungatanga, sharing knowledges, and it was great to hear scientists acknowledge mātauranga Māori as valuable and scientific knowledge.

On a personal note, I have shared this journey with my mother, Caroline Hempel-Ringham. Our past has been fraught with colonisation and tribal separation. Our journey is raw, emotional and in some ways we have been left feeling vulnerable. The image below was taken at Rarawa Beach, a place deep within my mother’s memory that represents life before she was taken from her hapū at a very young age.

Through my academic journey I am able to not only learn more about myself, my iwi and my whakapapa, but I am also able to take my mother back to her papakāinga, her home. As we travelled through our tribal spaces I watched and felt my mother heal, I felt the years of oppression lift from her shoulders. No longer was she wandering this world a lost child; she was home, she was loved and she had whakapapa. A whakapapa that connects her to unique and special people and lands.

And here she is returned – her hair as white as the sand held in her memory – returned to her people, her whenua. And I am reminded it doesn’t really matter how much mātauranga Māori I think I do or do not hold, or how long I’ve been separated from my iwi. What matters is the journey home, what matters is the strengthening of our voices, what matters is our mana motuhake.

Kia ora and thank you for reading my blog.

Coming home, Caroline Hempel-Ringham, Rarawa Beach

Image supplied by Sandi Ringham


aroha - love

haerenga - journey

hapū - subtribe

hīkoi – trip

iwi – tribe

kai – food

kaitiaki - guardians

kanikani - dance

kaumātua – elders

mahi - work

manaakitanga - hospitality

mana whenua - territorial rights

manu - birds

mātauranga Māori – Māori knowledge

manuhiri – visitors

paepae – threshold of marae

papakainga - home

pingao – native plant

poroporoaki - farewell speeches

pōwhiri – formal welcome ceremony

putiputi - flower

rohe – traditional area

tangata whenua - people born of the land

tupuna - ancestor

wānanga - forum

whakapapa - ancestry

(whaka) whanaungatanga - establishing relationships

whānau - family

whanaunga – kin

whenua - land

urupa - burial ground

  • Post by: Sandi Ringham

    Sandi is a PhD student studying at the University of Waikato, is of Ngāti Kuri descent, and is a member of the Ngāti Kuri Relationship Working Group.