On 25th June 1862, the Canterbury Provincial Council decided to temporarily set aside Settler’s Corner (now known as Little Hagley Park), as a Maori Reserve. Although a map was drawn up, the project was never started as talks for a planned land swap with the Ngai Tahu never eventuated.
This was one of many examples of struggles the Ngai Tahu had to cement their place in the European Christchurch. From the 1850’s, a Wharenui (big house) had been promised as a resting house for those Maori travelling through or visiting Christchurch for trading. As many of the original Maori resting places (like the protected Cabbage Trees at Burnside High School) were now owned by the crown, there were very limited options available. A few even slept in the deserted Canterbury Association store that once sat on the banks of the Avon, later known as the site of the ‘Oxford on the Avon’ before its demolition due to earthquake damage.
It wouldn’t be until 1940 that the interest in a Wharenui was addressed again – publicly. Led by Te Aritaua Pitama, a petition was sent to the Government requesting a Wharenui to be gifted to the South Island as part of New Zealand’s Centennial Celebrations. Pitama wanted a place where there could be a revival of Maori art, culture and traditions, a place of education for schools and tourists, and a place where the Maori’s South Island history and genealogy could be preserved. Where would this Wharenui go? Why not Little Hagley Park like originally planned?
Although enthusiastically backed by the C.C.C (Christchurch City Council), the Ngai Tahu still seemed to have problems securing their place in the city. With concerns over the cost of transporting the already-built Wharenui from Wellington, the very project raised objections from a wide range of groups with little interest shown by the general public. The Wharenui was put into storage.
An unsuccessful attempt to secure land was made in 1948 and it wouldn’t be until the late 1970’s that the project was again picked up. With the support of the C.C.C, four acres was set aside. Sadly, to ensure that the building of a Marae would go ahead and, with the requirements to illustrate the need for such a building in Christchurch, many of the original hopes and the very historic definition of a Marae had to be passed over. Once dreamt of being a place to honour the Ngai Tahu elders and tribal members who fought in both World Wars, Nga Hau E Wha National Marae was considered by some to be nothing more than a common public community hall.
Opened in May 1990 at 250 Pages Road, the Nga Hau E Wha National Marae, despite being a century in the making, continues with the historic values of any Marae: welcoming friends – from all races – inside to experience Maori hospitality at its best and a cultural taste of Pre-European Canterbury.
“Nga Hau E Wha National Marae is ‘a meeting place for all peoples from everywhere’ and this inclusive and welcoming environment has become a hub for the community with multiple agencies and services working together in the common interest.” – maatawaka.org.nz (http://maatawaka.org.nz/about-nga-maata-waka/)