In the magnificent ‘Te Marae of Rongotaketake – Redressing Kahungunu History’ exhibition at Aratoi, a separate room has been set aside for the display of eleven Lindauer portraits of Māori with connections to Wairarapa. Wairarapa people have seldom had the chance to see such a large number of portraits of 19th century rangatira.
These portraits are works of art, but they are much more than that – they offer a palpable link through time to tipuna who have long passed. It is possible to sense the spiritual strength of the sitters, and to see physical characteristics they have passed down to their descendants.
There are familiar images – that of Te Retimana Te Korou whose role in the establishment of Masterton was crucial – but also those less seen – among others, his daughter Erihapeti Whakamairu, whose life was dedicated to ensuring the wellbeing of her whanau.
The Papawai chief Te Manihera Te Rangitakaiwaho and his wife Ngahui are there, along with Ngatuere Tawhao Tawhirimatea, who is recalled in the naming of Mikimiki, and Paratene Matenga, whose name is retained in the McMaster family of South Wairarapa. Ngairo Rakaihikuroa, who caused so much consternation to pakeha settlers in the 1860s, stands pround and tall.
But one figure, delightfully painted with a lighter touch than the others, stands out for me - Keriana Potai-aute from Tokomaru Bay holds a rourou (flax food basket) filled with peaches. A taumau (arranged marriage) saw her joined with the great Wairarapa scholar Te Whatahoro Jury, uniting important lines of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Porou. They were to have nine children. One of her descendants works alongside me at the Wairarapa Archive.
Keriana Jury died at Papawai, but her body was returned north, to be buried with her father at Tuatini marae, where she lies alongside many members of my late daughter’s whanau. Her portrait reminds me of how interconnected we all are and I see her as offering the fruits of the past as sustenance for us all, Māori and pakeha alike.