Restoring stars to the heavens

Kare Tipa delivers a karakia at the Matariki hautapu. PHOTO: RICHIE MILLS
Kare Tipa delivers a karakia at the Matariki hautapu. PHOTO: RICHIE MILLS
Mānawa maiea te putaka o Matariki

Mānawa maiea te ariki o te raki

Mānawa maiea te mātahi o te tau

Matariki allows us to reflect on whānau and experiences at a time when we welcome the new year.

It is also a time to farewell the old, the past year gone. Ko Kare Tipa tōku ikoa, my ancestry comes from many hapū of Kāi Tahu iwi. Recently, I was honoured to be part of the kāhui kairuruku, a collective of language and cultural practitioners, that delivered 13 karakia as part of the national hautapu ceremony on Friday, June 28. It was held 2008m above sea level, adjacent to the mighty ranges of Kā Tiritiri-o-te-moana, the Southern Alps, above the cloudlines on a picturesque mountain widely known as Treble Cone.

The hautapu, while celebratory, was bittersweet for the whānau of Anthony Hastings Tipa, or "Uncle Tony", who passed on just two weeks before Matariki. I returned to the ūkaipō in 2021 and quickly took on the responsibility of helping with and caring for Uncle Tony’s health journey. I became a fierce advocate for his treatments, medication and care. Uncle was whakamā, exhausted from so many experiences of being overlooked, profiled, and treated poorly. Because I was here, I became an ear, listening to all the inequities he had gone through interwoven in the stories of his colourful life.

Due to his deep whakapapa, he was a pivotal Kāi Tahu man from Moeraki. Uncle Tony was visibly Māori with dark skin — to look at him was to look at his father, his mother and his grandfather. He belongs to a whakapapa who aesthetically held onto their skin tone and features, and is the last of that generation that will ever be seen in the Otago region.

Uncle became a ward of the state when he was only 9 years old after a minuscule theft, which wound up in a larger misunderstanding that ended up in him being separated from his family and sent away for four years. He started in boys’ homes, then moved around foster homes. In one foster home, he thought his luck had changed when he arrived at a house in Masterton with wallpaper and nice furniture. But after the social worker left, he was thrown into an animal shed, left to sleep on hay and told to serve the main family as a slave.

These experiences perpetuated cycles of violence, distrust of the system, and eventually led to incarceration and time in correctional facilities. For him, all of these negative experiences stemmed from him being Māori. The pernicious legacy of racist legislation, such as the Native Schools Act 1867 and Tohunga Suppression Act 1907, compounded his difficulty connecting to and feeling proud of being a Māori male in his own tribal territory. Whakapapa here goes back hundreds of years, yet he was made to feel alienated in his own kāika.

So, when I returned after many years away, a proud Māori practitioner, working in mātauranga Māori, it was a shock to him. I was a kind of Māori that he had never known. In these past few years Uncle became part of the Māori collective pride of this generation, in which our family are active participants. He was proud to see articles by his grandniece, Gemella Reynolds-Hatem, in Te Ārohi, Critic. And he was always eager to hear about the wānanga I was doing, such as going to kapa haka regionals, giving keynote speeches at conferences and judging Māori speech competitions.

In mid June, Uncle’s health deteriorated and he had to return to hospital. His room was isolated, you had to go through two sets of doors to get to where he was. In one of my last visits to see him he told me, "this place feels like jail".

Even in his last week, Uncle was looking forward to the hautapu, seeing me on the telly. It gave him a sense of pride, a moment where he could see the storyline of being Māori as something positive, enriching and to be celebrated. We are in a time where his family, his mokopuna could return some joy and pride in being a Tipa and a Māori; it put a smile on his face.

Uncle didn’t get to see the hautapu, but his name was acknowledged in the ceremony. In some way for me, his wishes were realised — tē kitea e ia engari i reira a wairua.

Nā Kare Tipa (Kāti Hāteatea, Te Aotaumarewa, Kāi Tukē, Hinematua, Kāti Rakiāmoa, Kāi Te Ruahikhiki, Kāti Kurī, Kāi Tuahuriri, Kāti Wairaki)