Pākehā farmers learn Te Reo and build pā on farm

By Mare Haimona-Riki

Photo: Stuff

Jane and Damian Roper are Taranaki farmers, who despite having no Māori ancestry, have not only learned Te Reo Māori but have even built a pā on their farm.

What started as an effort to simply pronounce Māori place names correctly, has developed into an interest to learn more about Te Ao Māori, which Damian Roper says, was a natural progression.

“All those values of looking after the land, and the waterways, soil, the trees, and how everything is connected, and inspired us to build the Tuwatawata Pā.”

The pā was built with close to 4000 round fence posts, with their tips shaped to sharp points, and cost the couple $60,000.

It contains two whare, Rongo-marae-roa, which houses native seedlings, and Tane Mahuta, where the plants grow for an additional three to four years.

"When the plants are about three to four years old we will plant them out on to our farm and also gift them to the community," Damian says. 

Tūwatawata Pā. Source / Facbook 

The Taranaki farmers were sure to involve local hapū, Ngāti Ruanui and rangatira in Paatea, to seek guidance on how to go about the construction and customs of building the pā itself, and it was blessed on March 27.

“They’ve been so supportive. And this area is just full of so much history and it’s wonderful that we’ve been back to bring back some of that history to life.”

The couple says the aim is to use the whare in the Pā to ramp up production of natives, including swamp maire, totara, kahikitea, tawa and rimu, which they’ve been growing in their farm workshop.

In terms of their Reo journey - Jane and Damian take lessons once a week and try to use as much as they can within their day to day lives.

“We were becoming more and more aware that we weren’t saying the names of local places correctly and we thought, let’s get on the journey,” Jane says.

“Our family and the community are very supportive and excited to follow us on our journey,” Damian says.