Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud

Helen Leahy’s address at the launch of the new book ‘Footsteps of Uenuku’

 One of my favourite affirmations is a comment from African American writer Maya Angelou, “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud”.

It speaks to me of that eternal desire for a glimmer of hope to ride through any storm; our universal motivation to find the silver lining; to create our best plan moving forward.

Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu is thrilled to congratulate Ngā Pakiaka Morehu o te Whenua in this inaugural launch; indeed a world first in bringing some of the traditional stories from the Wairau to whānau within the area.

And it is so appropriate that this first book is motivated by a sense of place – Tapuae-o-Uenuku;  a love of the people – the story of Hinepūkohurangi, of Uenuku, of Te Hau, of Maukatere, of Hinewai – and most of all a story describing the significance of the rainbow. -

 
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The rainbow is one of nature’s greatest optical phenomenon.   It represents optimism and positivity; the sunbeam that follows every downpour; a symbol of joy; an outpouring of happiness.

Across the world, the rainbow has demonstrated the unique characteristics of its people.  

The Irish created the story of a pot of gold being hidden at the end of the arches; the Japanese tell of a story of the bridge that human ancestors took to descend to the planet; the Navaho tradition describes the path of the Yei – the holy spirit.

And for Buddhists, the rainbow is “the highest state achievable before attaining Nirvana, where individual desire and consciousness are extinguished.”

So when I first heard of the title of this beautiful book we launch tonight, I knew, instantly, that it would be a book I would want for my own.

But there was something precious; something special that also inspired me in this title, the footsteps of Uenuku.

And that was the connection that is shared with the whakapapa of my partner and our children….that of Ngati Rangi and their three main ancestors, Rangituhia, Rangiteauria and Uenuku Manawawiri.

Uenuku Manawawiri the female ancestor, is the pulse of the mountain. Her Uenuku, the full arch of the rainbow is only half of what we see. The rest of the circle goes underground it is known as Hine pou te āniwaniwa – the full circle.

Today then; is about embracing the opportunity to tell our stories.

They say that a people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture are like a tree without its roots.

In this launch of the footsteps of Uenuku, we are firmly embedding the culture of te ao Māori into the hearts and souls of the people.

We are learning how the mountain – Tapuae o Uenuku – came to watch over Wairau.

 
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And in doing so, we are learning about our own role as tangata tiaki – those who are responsible to care for and about our natural environment, the world around us and each other.  

How can we live up to the expectations of our ancestors?

How do we continue the proud legacy they have left behind while at the same time navigating the challenges of the contemporary world to be an active global citizen.

Nga Pakiaka Mōrehu o te Whenua not only tell us how – they show us.  

Through resources; through sharing tribal memories; through wananga; through arts and creativity; they are placing knowledge into place.

I want to congratulate the project coordinator, Keelan Walker; the artist extraordinaire, Tui Johnson; the historian Peter Meihana for his scholarly research on local iwi history; and all of those involved in Nga Pakiaka.

Your determination to reshape knowledge  into a format that can be read and enjoyed by a wide range of readers, from toddlers to the elderly is an inspired decision that will lead both to the preservation, and more importantly the revitalisation of your knowledge and stories.

In effect you are entrenching your own mentors and role models into the collective consciousness of your whānau.

This simple book provides a bridge between the past and present.   Stories are one of the most powerful tools you can use to engage your whānau; they allow people to connect with the message in a deeper, more meaningful way.

They are inspirational, entertaining, emotional, and educational.  

The purpose of telling stories is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon. To listen with curiousity.   To make sense of our world, to find meaning.   Stories become an instruction manual, an aid to memory, a moral compass; to listen for what’s behind the words.

In our own Ngati Rangi story, Te Kōpere ō Hine, we gain access to the adventures of Ruby and her half-sister of Hine.   Hine has suffered a serious illness since her birth, and she dies a few months before her tenth birthday. . Ruby attends Hine's tangi and creates a memorial garden for her back at home; influenced by the arch of the rainbow.  In doing so, this young girl starts to come to terms with the grief process.

In this story – Hine shows herself to those she leaves behind – through the dazzling brilliance of the rainbow.

In your story, the eternal romance between Hinepūkohurangi and Uenuku, is given form.   Like the best star-crossed lovers in the fashion of Romeo and Juliet; their love will always be immortalised now through memory and through the meaning we ascribe to this story.

“Their love joining them together with the land, growing out of the earth as a mountain rang until, tall and proud they become Tapuae o Uenuku.   Tapuae-o Uenuku still stands strong today; looking out at his people in the Wairau”.

Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu is absolutely overwhelmed with your commitment; your dedication; and your determination to tell your stories; to live up to your legacy.

Like Te Kopere o Hine; like the Shakespearian stories of this genre; the Footsteps of Uenuku demonstrate a powerful, all encompassing love that lifts us higher.

But what is not just distinctive, but unique, about the work of Nga Pakiaka Morehu o Te Whenua; is the artistry; the archives; the the literature; the knowledge that you are contributing as a gift to your whānau and those yet to come.

In this respect we congratulate you; we honour you; and we share with you the joy of this celebration tonight for the remarkable milestones you and your whānau are creating.

Rudyard Kipling once said, “if history were taught in the form of stories it would never be forgotten”.  

Thank you for the foresight and the inspiration you have shown to ensuring your history is indeed providing the pathway forward for all your descendants to travel.

 
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