Chapter 3: Urupa hunting

My uncle is the youngest of his siblings. He lived with my Nanny by himself and has picked up a lot of kōrero and stories while he grew up. In our family chat I was talking about some of the research I was doing on my whakapapa. My uncle drops some new information for me like it was nothing.

I went to my grandfather’s funeral.

I froze asking him,

Where was that?

My uncle took ages to message back and I nervously waited. Then he responds with,

…in the Horowhenua. Did you know your Nanny was the last of her siblings born at Hokio beach?

I tried to flesh out as much as I could. My mother had always known she was related to Taueki, but not quite sure how or why. My uncle shared that he thought my great grandfather was buried by Lake Horowhenua. This lake, also known as Punahou to the locals, I had read was very sacred to our iwi. My uncle recounted as much as he could remember of his mother dragging him to Levin to attend the funeral of a man who he remembered as mean and violent.

My uncle sent me a screen shot of Google Maps on where he thought it might be.

The lake is at the top. Hokio Beach Road is at the bottom.

These were my instructions. I got a sense of adventure. I could either keep googling information and come up with nothing or I could take a chance. I asked my brother if he wanted to come and took a Sunday off to head up to Levin. I nicknamed our adventure Urupa Hunting.

It took us a few hours to get to Levin. We quickly made our way to the Lake and tried to find the location in the screenshot my uncle had sent me. We rocked up to a very small marae (which we found out later to be Kohuturoa) and saw a house next door. Unsure on where any Urupa was we pulled up to a house and went door knocking asking for information. The first house we visited the person inside told us that there was no Urupa nearby and they had been here a while. I’m not going to lie, we were pretty gutted. I thought at the very least my Uncle would have information that would be somewhat close.

The person in the house told us to drive back up the road and come to another marae. We got back in the car hoping that we were close to finding some information on our tīpuna.

We arrived to another marae surrounded by bush. The house beside it stood quietly, almost silently eerie. We decided to walk up to the house to ask for details.

We’re descendants of Taueki, we’re trying to find Hema Taueki. Would you happen to know where their Urupa is?

We also told of where we had come from. The gentleman we met chuckled.

Oh we’re definitely related. Your Urupa is back down the road though. The man asked if we could give him a few minutes so he could personally take us down to the Urupa. Delighted we waited and followed behind his car as he took us back down past our original location. We followed him to a lone house with a fence leading up to a small hill overlooking the Lake.

This is your Urupa here.

He pointed up to a gravel road. We asked him if we were allowed to just go on, or should we talk to someone?

It’s your ancestors, of course you can walk on.

A car pulled into the driveway of the lone house.

Are you alright?

I explained our situation and the gentleman in the car smiled.

Oh we’re from the Taueki line too. We’re related.

He encouraged us up onto the Urupa. We took the car through and sat at the gate looking at the Urupa. We got out and looked at the graves, seeing names we recognised and a lot of names we didn’t. Our great grandfather was still missing, but there was no doubt we have found whānau.

We had no more answers and we were out of places to look. I sat watching the roto. This was a place of much bloodshed, it was eerily quiet. Then I realised we could try door knocking. The house we went past at the gate to the Urupa was a good place to start.

We drove back down the gravel path to the front gate and the house beside it. We were pretty nervous but we had nothing to lose. They either didn’t know, or they could put us in the right direction. We knocked on their door and did an awkward introduction.

We’re great grandchildren of Hema Taueki and we’re looking for his urupa.

They welcomed us immediately. We pulled out our A1 piece of paper with the whakapapa information we had collected so far. Explanations about where we’d come from and what we’d found. They smiled knowing that our meeting was not by chance. Then they began to explain our connection.

That our great grandfather (Hema Taueki) was the brother of their grandmother (Tangi Taueki). The two people who stood before us were indeed whānau. We had met the brother in the driveway as we headed to the urupa and we stood in the sisters home. In fact after a lot of discussions we were shown a whakapapa book.

This is our whakapapa book one of our cousins pulled together. This is our tīpuna Ihaia Taueki. He signed the treaty of waitangi. This is our grandmother and this is your great grandfather.

I almost cried. We had found our connection to this land. We stood in the house that Tangi (with her husband) had built on the edge of the lake. We knew who we were. On top of it all we found the stories my Uncle had been told were all true. That when Tangi had passed away my whānau moved their lives to the Wairarapa.

After a few hours of messaging a few elders from the iwi we finally found the location of where my great grandfather was buried. You won’t even believe me when I tell you. When we first arrived at Lake Horowhenua and door knocked at the house asking about the urupa? Well not more than 500 metres through the unmowed lawn was the urupa my great grandfather lay in. In the panoramic photo below my brother stands by the lake with the urupa on the right hand side and the house we asked for directions on the left hand side.

The key part for me though is that I’m not angry or upset. It was three hours of investigating that got us to know more information was as if we were guided through this process. If they had of told us where my tīpuna was buried, we wouldn’t have seen the whakapapa book of Tangi Taueki. I wouldn’t have seen the photo of Ihaia Taueki.

We went and paid our respects to our tīpuna and cleared the weeds that strangled his headstone. I stood staring at the Horowhenua lake. A lake of great history. It’s something I can’t explain but the feeling of pride but loss felt all at once. It’s a very difficult feeling to explain.

We drove back to Wellington discussing all we found and what new information we had. Smiles on our faces, we were one step closer to finding ourselves.