Kete o te wānanga: Introducing University Kaumātua, Tamati Tata

24 September 2018

Kaumātua Tamati Tata

It is a beautiful winter’s day when Kaumātua Tamati Tata welcomes us onto his tūrangawaewae at Huria Marae, home of Ngāi Tamarāwaho.

The wharenui, Tamatea-Pokai-Whenua, is bathed in sunlight. The sound of tamariki playing echoes throughout the marae-ātea and tui dance in a nearby pūriri tree. The surrounding sights and sounds could be distracting if it weren’t for Matua Tamati’s compelling gift as a manu kōrero (orator) as he shares the whakapapa (genealogy) and pūrākau (legends) of his people, Ngāi Tamarāwaho in Tauranga Moana.

As mana whenua of the land on which the University’s new Tauranga CBD campus is being built, Ngāi Tamarāwaho and Tauranga Moana iwi play an important role in its development. The University is privileged to share in the land of the hapū’s historical home, and Matua Tamati’s knowledge, guidance and wisdom in his role as Kaumātua for the University in Tauranga.

His relationship with the University of Waikato began in the early 1990s when he was working for the former Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, teaching te reo and tikanga; and where he helped deliver the University’s Te Tohu Paetahi (Māori immersion programme) to students. But Matua Tamati’s ties with education run much deeper due to the influence of his relative Dr Maharaia Winiata. Dr Winiata was a distinguished educator and community leader from Ngāti Ranginui in the Bay of Plenty, whose passion for education and bettering the lives of Māori was a lifelong commitment. He was the first Māori to gain an overseas PhD as a Nuffield Scholar studying at Edinburgh University in the 1950s.

The influence of Dr Maharaia Winiata

“Maharaia promoted education big-time,” says Matua Tamati, “to people from home and throughout Aotearoa. He encouraged a lot of Māori students to train to be school teachers, to get degrees and pursue higher tertiary education.”

But that wasn’t his only influence. While Maharaia was a staunch proponent for the opportunities education created, holding onto Māoritanga was just as important.

“Maharaia always said we need to be able to meet this new wave of learning head on. Learn everything you can, go as far as you can, but once you have done that, make sure to come back to your marae and learn who you are, learn your people, learn your culture, learn your waka. Go into the world but don’t forget to come back home.”

Dr Maharaia Winiata
Dr Maharaia Winiata

Dr Maharaia Winiata’s work with Māori in the Waikato region saw him form lasting bonds with the Kīngitanga movement, including joining the council of the then Māori King Koroki. In 2010, Māori King Tuheitia opened a new University of Waikato and Bay of Plenty Polytechnic partnership building on Windermere campus in Tauranga. The building was named Maharaia after Dr Winiata and embodied his desire for collaboration and the provision of quality education for all New Zealanders.

For Matua Tamati, Dr Winiata helped set him up in a teaching role at a Hawkes Bay primary school before he too went into the world, travelling overseas before returning home to pursue his calling.

The importance of identity

Matua Tamati returned to education and went to MIT and AIT, before going on to study a Bachelors and Masters at the University of Waikato. But it was a different kind of learning that was most important.

“Knowing about my own culture and everything about what whakapapa means, that appealed to me more than anything else. When I saw my uncles doing karakia and whaikōrero on the marae – that was the way I would follow.”

Dr Maharaia Winiata's kōwhatu whakamaharatanga (memorial stone)
Dr Maharaia Winiata's kōwhatu whakamaharatanga (memorial stone) at Huria Marae

At Huria Marae, Matua takes us around the wharenui, sharing the stories of his ancestors. Outside Tamatea-Pokai-Whenua is Maharaia’s resting place, above which stands an impressive kōwhatu whakamaharatanga (memorial stone) by renowned Māori carver Arnold Manaaki Wilson. The warrior-like figure is faceless, describes Matua, “his view was, you put your face there. The patu is held in the non-battle hand, the left, and in the right is the kete, the basket of knowledge – telling us we need to go and seek that knowledge and fill your basket up with knowledge and understanding.”

He pauses outside the wharenui – “what kind of building is this? It’s a historical place, a place of learning, knowledge and understanding. Our history in there tells us where we came from and how we got here. When we go inside, it’s like looking inside yourself.”

Like Maharaia before him, Matua Tamati is an ardent advocate of education and is driven to better the lives of his people. As Kaumātua, he describes his role as helping people to have a better understanding of who they are and where they come from.

“All of these stories here in the wharenui make us who we are and enrich our lives. That’s why Maharaia said, you go to university and learn all those things, but then you come home to this university and learn all about these other things which are yours.”

Matua Tamati is a consummate orator, but his humble nature deflects the attention. “Really it’s not about me, it’s about them (our ancestors) that makes us who we are and because of them - because of him (Maharaia) - we have all of this, we have this marae, we have a lot of our kids moving through education, graduating with doctorates and the like, just like him.”

Kete o te wānanga

Currently, Matua Tamati, in collaboration with the University’s Tauranga Moana Advisory Committee (comprised of Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi, and Ngāti Pūkenga) is helping guide a team of artists to weave pūrākau (legends) and kete o te wānanga (baskets of knowledge) into the University’s new home in the Bay; developing a cultural narrative for the new campus.

The creative works will give the campus identity and breathe life into the new building. The cultural narrative will reflect the significance and historical importance of the campus’ physical location; the relationship with mana whenua Ngāi Tamarāwaho and also Tauranga Moana and Bay of Plenty iwi, relationships with education partners in the region and the diverse cultures that will make up the campus community.

“What has come out (in the art works and cultural narrative of the new campus) – those are the right stories, because in there you will find the hidden messages. The stories are rich and they reflect everyone, not just Māoridom.”

Kaumātua Tamati Tata
Kaumātua for the University of Waikato in Tauranga, Matua Tamati Tata.

As he has warmly welcomed us into his marae, Matua Tamati will play an important part in welcoming many more into the University’s new home. The new campus will help provide a sense of home away from home for students – a tūrangawaewae.

Home is a key word for him, “we are home people, that’s the community lifestyle we live in. And I think that’s what makes us stronger as a people.”

“There’s a proverb to do with your horizons, ko te pae tawhiti whāia kia tata, ko te pae tata whakamaua kia tina … so when you do your search - your quest for pursuit of excellence, knowledge and understanding - and look further afield, don’t forget where you come from. Don’t leave that behind … get back home to your marae and learn everything about what the marae concept is all about, which is community and people.

But, still, go and learn – just don’t forget where you come from."

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