The Forest Bridge Trust Visit to Te Aroha Pā Marae

An invitation from Ngāti Rango, of the Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara iwi to spend the day on the Te Aroha Pā marae, had staff members of The Forest Bridge Trust feeling both excited and apprehensive.

Originating from all over the world, many of our staff members had never been onto a marae and they were nervous about making mistakes due to a lack of understanding of Māori protocols. However, a light-hearted pre-visit rehearsal session with Rewana Walker from Ngāti Rango allayed all trepidation and on the morning of 18 March, The Forest Bridge Trust whānau assembled in the marae car park eager and curious to learn more about Māori culture.

Hosts: Haahi Walker (kaumatua), Rewana and Rita Walker with the help of te reo tutor Bruce provided the Trust with a culturally enriching experience that was at all times, educational, informative and fun.

The Forest Bridge Trust were welcomed onto the marae with a pōwhiri and karanga before removing our shoes and taking our seats for the speeches and waiatas (Māori songs).

Tris Bondsfield our Community Liaison Lead made a special effort with the koha offered by The Forest Bridge Trust ensuring that there was something included from each of 6 nations that our staff originate from (NZ, Chile, UK, Russia, Japan, Switzerland), as well as a beautifully written letter of thanks that was read out on the day.

The warm welcome we received during the formal start of the day was only amplified as we were invited to join our hosts for morning tea. Over a wonderful spread and hot drinks, both parties got to know each other, and connections started to form.

The day continued with an illuminating session on Māori history, traditions, and customs from Haahi Walker followed by an invigorating dance practice in the sunshine that had us all laughing. Splitting into two groups we then went on to learn about Māori rongoā (native plant medicine) and took on the games and a verbal workout with te reo tutor Bruce that saw us all learning our Māori vowel and consonance sounds.

Lunch was yet another cultural experience and a special thanks must be given to the catering team who treated us to a traditional hangi accompanied by more songs and guitar performances.

The visit to Te Aroha Pā marae was an unforgettable cultural experience for all. TFBT whānau approached the visit with a willingness to learn and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the traditions and heritage of Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara and we were richly rewarded. Our host’s generosity, humour and steady guidance have forged a connection with the Forest Bridge Trust that will hopefully endure for many years to come.

CEO Craig Presland summed up the day “Our visit to the Te Aroha Pā marae has brought us closer in terms of our understanding and connection with Māori, including their proud history since Kupe arrived in Aotearoa way back around 1350, their beautiful language (te reo), and the evolution of Ngāti Whātua as one on Aotearoa’s largest iwi. The day was a huge success. Our tangata whenua (hosts), were outstanding. We have the opportunity to partner with Māori more strongly in future”.