Kai Ika grows to meet urgent demand but more help needed

By D'Angelo Martin

Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae is struggling to keep up with demand for its fish. The marae is running a partnership with Legasea that provides fish parts that were once considered by commercial fishermen as waste.

But the economic hardship caused by Covid-19 means the popular kai ika initiative can't meet all the needs.

The remains of the fish are one man's waste and another man's dinner but the operational side of things is run on an oily rag and the marae is struggling. "The days are longer, the lines are longer - we're probably needing a bit more resources and more tools to do it more efficiently," Papatūānuku Marae's Lionel Hotene says.

Because Papatūānuku Kōkiri marae services were classed as essential, it was still able to feed the community during both lockdowns. "It's been overwhelming, you know, we never get enough food for our whānau. The indicator is that the car park is full and there are cars outside the marae waiting for fish heads."

Hotene's two sons, Carlos and Puna, assist with picking the fish up from the commercial distributors, the most recent being Moana who came on board to tautoko the kaupapa.

Stealing vegetables

"Our partnership with Moana Pacific has allowed us to feed more people and allowed us to strengthen our connection with more marae in South Auckland. Manurewa marae, Ngā Hau e Whā marae just to name two, are recipients of this kai."

Hotene says this is the sad reality the community now faces. 

The remains of the fish, such as the head, the frame and the wings are considered a delicacy within te ao Māori - and nothing beats boiled fish heads with onions. But as the demand for this kai increases daily, Legasea's Sam Woolford is concerned that they can't keep up.

"People are desperate, so desperate for food there have been reports of people at night time jumping over the fence of Papatūānuku Marae and stealing veggies from the garden. Stealing food at night from a marae that is busy giving out food during the day."

"Our philosophy is based on hua parakore and one of the founding principles is manaaki and whakapapa. S,o when you understand the whakapapa of ika, then you understand the atua, who is Tangaroa."

Despite the hardship and difficult times, Hotene encourages people saying that by holding on to the principles their ancestors lived by, they will soon see the benefits.

"When you see this desperation within our community it's an indicator that we need to hold on to our Māoritanga. And this platform, the kai Ika project, is just for us to unify and elevate one another."

Papatūānuku Marae will continue to feed those in need but will also look at seeking more support from the community.