Tapairu Muriwai mural with mataora inspires youth

By Tamati Tiananga

A prominent ancestral female figure of the 1860s from the eastern Bay of Plenty Iwi, Te Whakatōhea, which comprises six sub-tribes, is the newly painted image that greets arrivals to Te Whakatōhea Trust Board's main office.

Artist "Mr G" Graham Hoete said, “It was a beautiful result and it was a powerful moment and powerful night -we had a lot of positive feedback.”

The mural, which was commissioned through Te Puni Kōkiri's programme called Tumanako, which is a rangatahi suicide prevention fund that aims to bring tumanako, or hope, to rangatahi in small towns affected by suicide.

"I’m trying to inspire rangatahi because I know what it’s like to be in a dark place and it was a very real place for me". 

Ōpotiki District councillor Loui Rāpihana, who received his mataora almost eight years ago, was asked to give feedback to the Te Whakatōhea Māori Trust Board on the matter and said despite some objection the board voted for the project to go ahead.

“There was a bit of raruraru at the time, so I was asked to come in to give my whakaaro and view on the kaupapa of Muriwai. With that, we came up with a final mural,  which everyone was in agreeance with.” 

Full mataora

The mural depicts well-known Te Whakatōhea wahine leader Tapairu Muriwai with a full mataora. Mataora is generally known to be reserved for men only but Hoete learned it was not only the men of Te Whakatōhea who received mataora. A carving in one of the oldest ancestral whare of Te Whakatōhea exhibited in the Ōpōtiki Museum Illustrates Tapairu Muriwai with a Mataora and Pūhoro.

Artist "Mr G" Graham Hoete said, "To see that carving in person and to see a portrayal of a full face mataora on Muriwai. I was told it was because of her strength and her mana.”  

"For me, it's a matter for us to decolonise ourselves, and thinking Māori when it comes to our tipuna and how we portray them. For me, this is in no way disrespect to wahine. If anything it is to whakamana wahine,” Rāpihana said. 

Te Whakatōhea Māori trust Board Chairman Robert Edwards said at a board meeting it was important women had input into the final decision making. Dawn Te Hererīpene Hill, who is originally from Ōpotiki but now resides in Kawerau, understands the responsibility of wearing moko kauwae. She adds the living have a responsibility to uphold the mana of Tapairu Muriwai.

Hill met  Hoete to raise concerns from local Whakatōhea descendants. She said on further discussion with Hoete at her home in Kawerau, she agreed to support the project.  The project was a collaboration with  Hoete and a group of aspiring rangatahi artists. 

"We need to remember the kaupapa was about giving hope to our rangatahi. If the rangatahi are looking to Tapairu Muriwai for strength that’s a great thing. They could’ve drawn anything, but they looked to our tupuna,” Hill said

Hill received her moko kauwae in 2015 in remembrance of her late husband Micheal Hill and father Mervyn Hikuroa.