Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Karaka Experience by David Bell

MONDAY, the third of November, was cool and damp in the Waikato. This was a bit of a worry because a special event had been planned, an event that came out of the blue with an email to Denise Blyde about an event at the Waikeria Prison south of Te Awamutu. It was here that Peter McGruther (Mac) Bell worked for many years as a Maori carving teacher, and it seems he left his mark. Some prisoners whom he taught whakairo had spent the whole year after his passing creating a magnificent carving in his honour. This was the day for its unveiling. Denise was invited to attend along with any of Mac's children and close relatives. Being a prison, security was tight so numbers were restricted and a list of guests required.
The ceremony was scheduled for 11:00am and the guests began turning up about fifteen to twenty minutes early and either waited in their cars in the car park or braved the light drizzle to stand outside the gates of the Karaka unit where the carving was erected.
The main gates, Waikeria Prison
When we looked through the heavy mesh fence it became clear that this was going to be quite a big affair; bigger than we expected. A whole troop of about forty or more inmates had assembled with prison staff, uniformed officers and other dignitaries including Maori men with carved walking sticks all sitting very formally under a canvas pavilion set further inside the gates. A special one for the manuhiri (guests) sat empty just inside the entrance facing the hosts' pavilion. One look at all this and my heart began to race. I had been warned a few days before that as the oldest male relative of Mac I would be required to speak on behalf of the family. It was at this moment I asked myself where Colin was when I needed him! He's the new family chief but he was thousands of miles away in Australia.
The invitation from Waikeria made no mention that a family representative was to talk so I fully expected to be nothing more than a happy spectator. But a friend well versed in tikanga Maori insisted it would be a Maori ceremony and I would be required to speak and I should prepare an appropriate reply, meaning a mihi and a speech. Consequently, I hastily prepared a mihi that I could cope with and set about memorizing it. I next put together a short history of Mac's life (which was easy because, thankfully, I had earlier written a brief history on him) and put the two together. All the way to the prison in the car I revised and committed to memory the mihi and talk, all the while hanging on to the hope I wouldn't have to use them.
One look through the netting on the gates at the crowd inside, the two warriors ready to challenge the manuhiri as soon as the gates were opened, and those old Maoris with the walking sticks, told me my goose was cooked.
     As the manuhiri (guests) filed through the gates I tried to be as
     inconspicuous as possible and slid quietly to the far right. I can
     be seen hiding at the left of this picture. It didn't work, the
     warrior came right for me!
     extracted from my hiding place and having never done this before,
     I was unsure how long to hesitate before picking up the fern frond.
     After the warrior's repeated thrusts with his taiaha at the frond, I
     finally get the message and picked it up, the signal for the manuhiri
     to move onto the marae.     
The gates were duly opened and we walked through. The warrior issued the challenge and put the fern frond at my feet. I don't know how he knew I was the one because I was doing my best to look as inconspicuous as possible. Eventually, I got the hint and bent down and took the token and we all trooped in and took our seats in the munuhiri pavilion.
  The prisoners, many who were Mac's students, performing a
  welcome haka. 
   The manuhiri taking their seats in the guest pavilion
Once seated the speeches (in Maori) began with a welcome given by the prison officer in charge, followed by a kaumatua. Then, the kaumatua representing us replied. I believe the prison authorities who organised the unveiling realised none of us were very knowledgeable in tikanga so they helped us out by asking an elder to represent us. They didn't know we would have someone of our own prepared to speak for the whanau. I have to say we were very grateful to our representative because he knew the protocols and said and did things in te reo I could not possibly handle; like addressing mac's monument and other matters of protocol.

                               Above: the welcome speech from the prison authorities
                               Below: Our manuhiri speaker giving the reply on our behalf

As he spoke I was feeling more and more off the hook, but when he took his seat I felt the strongest urge that I must get up and speak. The heart in me felt Mac telling me to man-up-and-stand-up. The brain in me reminded me that I had prepared well and it would be stupid and bad form to not get up and deliver my speech. With these two voices ringing in my ears I leaned across and asked our elder if I could speak now. He looked a little surprised and glanced across at the other pavilion with a gesture in my direction. I take it he was letting them know I wanted to speak. With a smile he nodded his head and I stood up and walked boldly out to my execution.

Strangely, once I hit the tarmac I wasn't as scared as I thought I would be. The mihi came out well - by well I mean I remembered all of it - and the speech (in English) also went well enough. The mihi was a simple one and went thus:
Tihei mauri ora!  referring to the sneeze of life. As a new-born baby sneezes to clear its airways to take that first breath, so the speaker cries tihei mauri ora to clear the way to begin his oration.
E-nga mana,
E-nga reo,
E-nga marae,
E-rau rangatira ma.
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.
This was a simple recognition of the mana (authority, power, dignity) of the occasion, the words spoken, the marae or ground upon which the occasion is set, and the notable folk in attendance. Tena koutou katoa means greeting to all. 
Tihei mauri ora!
Ko waka te Tainui,
Ko Pirongia te maunga,
Ko Nakuawhia to awa,
Ko Ngati Hikairo te iwi,
Ko Pohepohe te Tupuna,
Ko Waipa te whenua,
Ko Mac Pohepohe Bell te tuakana mo kaumatua,
Ko Rawiri Pere David Bell ahau.
It was certainly a basic mihi and I hope it did the job. No-one jumped up in protest so I suspect it was acceptable for a beginner. There's always a first time and now that it is over I think I can learn a lot more and do a better job next time - which I hope is a long time away.
Upon concluding the mihi I gave a brief history on Mac's life and whakapapa and his work with carving and teaching at Waikeria. I was also sure to express the family's immense appreciation for such a wonderful tribute to Mac, for by this time, I had come to fully realise just what was going on and how influential Mac had been at what he had dedicated himself to for so many years. It was also testament to the love and respect he had earned from some of our society's most unfortunate citizens. 

At the conclusion of the speeches the manuhiri were invited to leave their pavilion and cross the marae to hongi (press noses and share breath) with the hosts, the hongi symbolizing the full acceptance of the manuhiri to the marae  and the two parties (hosts and guests) becoming as one.

                               Above: The hongi; the mingling of mind and breath symbolizing
                               acceptance on to the marae.

                               Below: Denise, Mac's eldest child and family kuia, thanking the
                               official responsible for the occasion and who gave the welcome
After the speeches we had the opportunity to go across and examine the pou which was set up on the west side of the compound inside the main gates. We all saw it there but didn't realise it was actually what we had come to unveil; possibly because it didn't have a veil over it as an unveiling would suggest. While we were looking and talking about the pou the man who carved it, Aaron Forbes (actually a Kawhia relative), came over and gave a detailed explanation of why the men wanted to create a memorial to Mac, how it was carved, and the meaning and symbolism of every image and item on the pou. It was a thoroughly informative and enlightening session that was appreciated by all present.
The pou is in two parts, one facing the East to greet the rising sun and the other (Mac's), facing the west to farewell the setting sun. The two carved boards are held together in the centre by a pole fixed into a concrete base, the whole presentation being set on a circular pavement with a koru design working its way through the paving stones to the base of the pou. 
Above: Denise, David and Barry looking at Mac's memorial.
Below: Mac's side of the pou facing west.
In a pamphlet provided for the occasion, Aaron Forbes wrote the following about the pou. I have written it in its fullness so you as the reader can better understand the purpose and meaning of it.
                                                  Te Whitinga ~ The Rising
Facing east, the pou welcomes the rising sun and each new day.
The Karaka experience begins as we enter through the gate and transition from old ego states into the therapeutic community. 
The Special Treatment Unit Rehabilitation Programme and Dependency Treatment Unit are represented on the amo as supporting pou of the unit. The roof we live under is the maihi - the welcoming arms adorned by birds. In Karaka we all belong to groups named after native birds like kereru, karearea, tui or korimako. The koruru at the centre depicts
Mason Drurie's Te Whare Tapa Wha model depicting the balance of tinana, hinengaro, wairua, and whanau (body, mind, spirit, and family).
The upraised hands of the figure above grasp the hook which is a symbol of knowledge, showing our readiness to and preparation to enter treatment  within the community of change.
Tane-nui-a-rangi climbed the ake vine in search of the three baskets of knowledge, while Tawhaki ascended by way of the spider web on the same quest. The web and vine then combine to become the rope we hold firmly to as we learn and develop future skills.
Eventually we reach our zenith and the point of clarity, understanding or enlightenment. We call it what we may, but it is this self-awareness and knowledge that we will use beyond the wire and into the future to the benefit of us and our families. 
And so we rise,
Rise to the challenges.
Rise to the opportunities
To make different choices~
To make change.
                                                    Te Urunga ~ The Resting Place
Facing west the pou farewells the setting sun, honouring those now departed as Hine-nui-a-te-po draws night over us once more.
Tainui te waka
Pirongia te maunga
Nakuawhia te awa
Pohepohe te tupuna
Ngati Hikairo te iwi
Purekireki te marae
The main figure represents Mac Bell, celebrating his life-long work  as carver and tutor for many years to the men within these walls; a resting place for our memories, wairua and aroha he had for us. Also the wealth of knowledge he shared. "E-pa, takoto tonu mai koe i-roto, i-nga ringa ringa o-oo tupuna. Takoto mai."
At his feet are stylized purekireki - the swamp grass his marae is named after. The puhoro on his legs resemble bars and the path he walked through the three wings of the main prison.
He holds a toki-pou-tangata as a rangatita and a carver, while his moko signifies his Maori whakapapa. Flanking his head are kaitiaki of both Maori and Pakeha heritage. The topknot echoes Mac encouraging us to break from the straight, rigid line and form. The paua third eye denotes knowledge, both worldly and esoteric.
The taiaha depicts a warrior at rest The tewhatewha is used by rangatira to direct his men, and the crescent moon, known as Whakamarama, is a symbol referring to him being a kaitiaki of Pirongia maunga.
Uenuku, the rainbow god and Tainui tribal deity, is shown above. The uppermost face pays tribute to the setting sun as the last rays touch it, returning us to the quiet night, a time of learning, a time of rest and repose.
E-tau ai taku moe,
E-tau ai taku moe.
Aaron Forbes
Perhaps a little bit about Aaron Forbes would be in order at this point. He was good enough to tell us something of himself, and being the creator-carver of this incredible monument I think we should all hear what he told us - as far as I can remember.
Speaking to Aaron, a part Maori of about forty or younger, one was struck by his boundless enthusiasm about the Karaka wing and the work involved. The wing is set away from the main prison and is for medium to high risk prisoners; particularly those being prepared for parole or release. The motto is, Karaka Unit, A Community of Change and there are two programs operating; one is called the Special Treatment Unit Rehabilitation Program and the other is the Dependency Treatment Unit for those working on substance abuse issues. Aaron appears to be one of the senior inmates and heavily involved as one of the leaders in the program. He said he would be out in about six months and would not be back because he finally has the attitude and skills to keep his life straight from now on. He attributed much of this to his association with his cousin Mac. He said that in a conversation with Mac on the eve of  an earlier release, Mac told him bluntly that he would be back one last time. He gave it no heed but sure enough, a short while after his release, he found himself back behind bars. However, far from this being a setback he viewed it as a positive thing. This time he would get the specialised treatment he needed (the Karaka unit having only evolved over the past year) and begin a special mission; the carving of the pou and its memorial to Mac, his great friend and mentor.
Aaron was quick to point out that he was not a whakairo tohunga (carving expert) but just a humble worker. But when you see his work on the pou you would tend to disagree. It is mind-boggling in its detail and skill, the symbolism is incredible, and the whole carving is just beautiful. It's plain to see that Aaron is highly pleased with his accomplishment as well he should be. He believes the skills he has learned as a carver will give him an occupation on the outside as well as a purpose. I truly wish him well. He has done a great thing for my brother Mac.
After Aaron's session at the pou we went to the main dining hall for lunch. It was  hangi food, the hangi having been put down by the prisoners earlier in the day. We shared the hall and the hangi with all the other prisoners and prison staff. I was quite impressed by the relaxed atmosphere; it was good that everyone was able to mingle so freely. This was in line with the Karaka unit as a therapeutic-community programme; an intensive long-term course for inmates to learn community skills for reintegration into life outside the prison.
After the hangi it was time to leave. It had been a long but inspiring and uplifting day. We arrived at 11am and left at about 3pm. My only regret is that more of the family couldn't have witnessed and experienced what we did.   
                                Mac's pou facing west to farewell the setting sun.
                      Left to right: Jan, David, Glenda, Winnie and Miriam standing with 'Mac'


Below: The front page of the Te Awamutu Courier, Tuesday, November 18 issue about the        unveiling of the pou at Waikeria Prison. For a clearer reading go to


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