• Jade Hohaia

Let Peace Be The Pandemic

Photo caption: Taken from the pulpit belonging to Ven. Ngira Simmonds (Archdeacon to the Kiingitanga) at Tuurangawaewae Marae for the Coronation of the Maaori King. A major annual event that usually has thousands of people in attendance, this year was based online, with only a few delegates on site due to the COVID-19 Alert Level 2 in the Waikato. On the main screen, Archbishop Don Tamihere is seen delivering his kauwhau to the King and a virtual audience of thousands.

The Kiingitanga is an enduring movement that has peace, protection and the pursuit of prosperity for its people, at the heart of its existence. The original Kingmaker – Wiremu Tamihana was considered more than a peace-keeper, he was considered a peace-maker and the second Maaori King carried the mantle as the ‘Peace King’. Last year during a royal visit to the Vatican, His Holiness Pope Francis gave the current reigning monarch, Kiingi Tuheitia a gift, a sculptured piece of art with the words ‘Siate Messaggeri Di Pace’ which translates ‘Be Messengers of Peace’. Peace is a long held desire for the Kiingitanga, the kind of peace that includes justice, love and mercy. At this year’s fourteenth coronation, Archbishop Don Tamihere yet again brought this ideal of pursuing peace to the fore. His kauwhau (sermon) covered everything from dirty politics to contagions, xenophobia and entrapment, but it also called us back to the basics, calling us to check the true motivation of our hearts.

Written by Jade Hohaia (21 August 2020)

The fourteenth Koroneihana was held on the 21st of August in honour of the 7th reigning monarch, Kiingi Tuheitia Pootatau Te Wherowhero VII, and it was experienced as an online event for the first time in the Maaori King movement’s 162 year history. Annually, thousands of people gather at New Zealand’s largest marae, Tuurangawaewae Marae in Ngaaruawaahia for the week long event. This year, because of COVID-19 alert level restrictions, the decision was made for it to be condensed to a single day and that it would be broadcast as a livestream from the royal courts of the marae with a small delegation of kaumaatua & kuia present along with the King, his wife (Makau Ariki Atawhai) and Te Kahui Ariki (the King’s royal family).

Koroneihana is one of the most significant events on the national calendar. It’s a time and place for remembering those who have departed, debating issues of world-wide and national relevance, reaffirming commitment to the Kiingitanga and to the cause of mana motuhake, and it’s a time to hear directly from the King. Iwi from all around the country, government officials and world leaders come to the marae at the invitation of the King. To date, world leaders such as Nelson Mandela, the King of Tonga, the royals of the House of Windsor and the entire Diplocatic Corps to New Zealand, to name a few, have all been to Tuurangawaewae.

Kimiora (the main dining hall) would normally feed over 3,000 people a day. Eight trays of bread are turned to toast while 24kgs of fresh fruit and 7.5kgs of cornflakes are dished out for the breakfast service alone. It’s a big operation and families for years have been doing their unique part to bring it all together. But this year, that level of manaakitanga (service and hospitality) wasn’t required. Thousands of staunch Kiingitanga followers viewed the festivities from the comfort of their own homes. Viewers also experienced for the first time a virtual kawe mate memorial service, which was particularly moving, and they got to witness a delightful feast of oratory magnificence from leaders and ministers from various haahi from across Aotearoa - all paying tribute to the King. A kauwhau that stood out was offered by Te Piihopa o Aotearoa, Archbishop Don Tamihere. The timing of his words, I believe, is still so poignant for the season we are currently in.

Rev. Christopher Douglas-Huriwai opened up for Archbishop Don, reading from the book of Matiu (Mathew). He read the part in the bible where Jesus was being asked about what the greatest commandment was. Archbishop Don began his kauwhau with the stark reality of our current situation, “12 months ago none of us were talking about COVID-19. That’s because as far as we knew, it didn’t exist. But, a few months later the first cases were confirmed and we watched from our island as this virus spread from city to country and it was then that it was called a pandemic – something that we needed to take very seriously”.

He went on to say, “we mobilised as a nation to protect ourselves, to protect our whakapapa & to take care of the most vulnerable amongst us, making sure that this pandemic didn’t take root like it had in other countries”.

Archbishop Don then noted that he was so proud of the way Maaori mobilised themselves to look after one another. He mentioned about the pivoting response of local iwi organisations, utilising their resources to care for people and the leadership shown in setting up iwi border control points to protect the most vulnerable. He then talked about kindness. “We as a nation took on the words ‘be kind’, and it became a watchword - the motivation for our actions, and we found that it worked. We saw the pandemic subside a little and we saw the power of kindness, the power of looking after one another take effect.” But he also mentioned that now in this second wave of COVID-19 that he has seen more than just the virus rearing its ugly head.

“Then the pandemic returned, amongst the poorest of our communities and we saw the veneer of kindness start to crack just a little and those old viruses that had always been present, they started to rear up again in our society.” The Archbishop continued, “We saw touches of racism, didn't we? We saw touches of cynicism, didn't we? we saw touches of hatred start to return and then at that point we had to ask the questions - can we keep kindness as our watchword? Can we endure acts of kindness to protect our people? Can we find the motivation to carry on in the face of a pandemic?”

The atmosphere around the atea of Tuurangawaewae Marae looked like you could hear a pin drop. Kaumaatua on the paepae were leaning forward and leaning into the koorero. Archbishop Don had everyone’s full attention. He then took those questions and with great oratory skill and ability moved the conversation to graciously align it with the bible text that was previously read.

The Archbishop shared about how this passage spoke to the true motivations of the heart and how the Pharisees (the religious elders & leaders of Jesus’ time), sought to design a question to trap Jesus and expose His hypocrisy. Archbishop Don stated assertively, “Dirty politics is not a new thing, it’s been with us a long time”. He then offered some context to this ancient text, highlighting the fact that what was being shared was for the palate of a Hebrew audience who understood their whakapapa and the stories of their origin.

“The exodus was also a time of plagues and pandemics that shook an empire to its core and brought its economy and the political and religious powers to its knees. It was a time when the Hebrew people were enslaved and oppressed and they longed to be free.” The Israelites left Egypt in the middle of that pandemic, crossed the red sea and stopped at a holy mountain where their leader (Moses) met with God and received the ten commandments.

“That was an important part of their journey of freedom because God knew that they needed to unwind from the power structures of Egypt and leave behind economic deprivation and oppression.” The Archbishop noted that the people “needed to leave behind a religion that had become calcified, to renew their motivation and to renew the principles by which they lived”.

In sharing the ten commandments, he talked about the fact that the Pharisees tried to devise an ingenious trap to catch Jesus out. There were 613 commandments within the Hebrew bible. When Jesus was asked which one was the greatest, without hesitation Jesus said, “Kia whakapaua toou ngaakau, toou wairua, toou hinengaro, ki te aroha ki te Ariki, Ki toou Atua”. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” and also Jesus mentioned, “…love your neighbour as yourself”.

The Archbishop then shared, “These two commandments combined are an invitation to align ourselves with the deepest motivation of the divine. The love of God does not exist without the love of man and the love of a neighbour cannot exist without the love of God, because they are both motivated by the same spiritual power”.

Archbishop Don then brought all of the various sections together for an epic crescendo, nailing the central theme of his kauwhau. He stated, “Our kindness must be born of a motivation that is more powerful than the challenges we face. That is to say, if our motivations are selfish we will not endure – we will give up early, start to complain, we’ll get cynical, we’ll get bitter about all this giving and nothing being gained in return. But if we choose a motivation that is deeper, that is more spiritual, that is more holy, that is more divine, then we will endure. That motivation is love".

He also tackled the issue of society’s renewal of racism, cynicism and xenophobia, “We need to reject that way of being to look after our people - we are called to love one another”.

His closing words to the King, the people of the Kiingitanga and all of Aotearoa, were unforgettable, “So in the midst of this pandemic if you are finding that you are losing hope or losing imagination, re-align yourself with the creator of heaven and earth, re-align yourself with the life-giver so that you in turn, can be a giver of life. Realign yourself with love. I leave you with these words: Let peace be the pandemic. Let kindness be the contagion and let love be your motivation. Let love be your karakia. Let love be your waiata. Let love be your tikanga. Let love be the miracle.”

E wehi ana ki te Atua. Whakahoonoretia te Kiingi.

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