‘It’s the little things’
For Kawai Joe, life is about enjoying the little things, keeping it real and making sure tradition and tikanga (customs) are passed on to future generations.
Kawai is part of the Whaia Titirangi team under the Tairawhiti Economic Support Package Redeployment Programme and has been working on the maunga (Titirangi/Kaiti Hill) for nearly four months.
“The kaupapa we carry is something bigger than me,” he said.
“It is not a job . . . we are kaitiaki (guardians) restoring the nature and birds back to Titirangi and I am willing to go the extra mile because I know every day the tipuna (ancestors) who once lived on the maunga did the same.
“Sadly, I won’t see these trees grow huge but my mokopuna and the next generation will, and it’s something we can leave behind for them.”
Kawai usually spends his time at sea and for six years has been a member of the crew on the waka haurua Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti.
He is part of the new generation of traditional celestial navigators trained by master navigator Jack Thatcher — “he pia ahau he tonotono no te kura o nga kuri a tarawhata ko Jack Thatcher te tohunga’ .
Just before Covid struck he was part of a kapa haka group performing on the cruise ship Magnifica around the Pacific and New Zealand.
Kapa haka has been his life, growing up performing with the much-admired Waihirere Maori Club.
“It’s something that is bigger than you because you represent your family and your tipuna. They sit on my shoulders and are with me all the time. When you stand in the ranks of the club, you are proud and humble because you are in the spot that many others have stood before. You learn about holding on to the tikanga and traditions of my iwi Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki. It is important, so important, otherwise it will be lost and we can’t afford for it to be lost,” he said.
He grew up through kohanga and kura kaupapa with te reo as his first language and admits it was a struggle when he shifted to mainstream schooling. But it all blends well together with what he is doing now and for when he returns to the waka haurua.
“I love being at sea. We sail using only traditional navigation, using our hands and our eyes. You have to learn to live together with the 11 other crew and work as a team through the ups and downs. I don’t pray for good weather, I pray for courage in the storm. You have got to carry on no matter what, and you have to make sure everyone is all right and happy — ko te mahi ngatahi, he waka eke noa, he toa takitini.”
The skills he has learned continue to serve him well in his daily life, and particularly on Titirangi.
“This is one of my maunga – it is our maunga isn’t it? We want to share it with everyone and restore it to what it once looked like back in the day.”
It is a kaupapa that fits with how Kawai lives his life.
“You have to appreciate the little things in life and always stay humble. Remember whanau is everything.”
Whaia Titirangi is part of the kaitiaki o te whenua (guardians of the land) project under the Redeployment Programme. It is one of five in the $23.755m Government package and has provided work for 71 people in recent months, spread across the region. The programme is funded through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, administered by the Provincial Development Unit and managed by Gisborne District Council.
All those on the programme come through the Ministry of Social Development. So far, 236 people have been redeployed across the programme, exceeding the initial goal of 220.