Someone who will definitely be at the Rātana Centennial Celebrations in June is Ngā Pōtiki whanaunga Eva Ngarongoa Tawa, who turned 84 in January this year.
She wouldn’t miss it for the world. Eva goes to church every fortnight and tries her best to make it down to the annual celebrations at Rātana pā each January.
“I’m very staunch in the Rātana church,” she says. “Very staunch.”
Eva has agreed to take part in our new Kaumātua Kōrero series, which will be published in each Ngā Pōtiki newsletter, as well as here on our website.
Our aim is to write as many profiles as we can about our Ngā Pōtiki kaumātua, interview them one by one, and ask them to share stories, memories and words of wisdom.
Eva sat down for her interview one sunny Thursday at Tahuwhakatiki Marae (Rōmai), which is actually where you will find her every Thursday, catching up and spending time with old friends and whānau at the weekly kaumātua day run by Whaioranga Trust.
There’s music, dancing, fun exercises, arts and crafts, health checks, educational talks, lunch, and then maybe some cards in the afternoon.
Eva goes to a similar get-together on Wednesdays as well, at Opopoti (Maungatapu) Marae.
These events are a highlight of her week and during the Covid-19 lockdown last year, she really missed them.
“That virus sort of locked us in. I couldn’t wait to get back to these things. It’s the company, and it’s good to see everybody.”
A van picks her up every Wednesday and Thursday morning to take her to the marae.
“I’m always dressed up and I’m always ready.”
Eva has lived her entire life in Tauranga Moana. She has five children, five grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.
She has spent the past 40 years in Maungatapu but was born and brought up in Pāpāmoa, on a farm.
Eva says she has fond memories of her childhood, of waking up early to help milk the cows before rushing home to get ready for school at Pāpāmoa Native School.
“I was a stay-at-home person because of my disability,” she says. “I was always in the kitchen with mum.”
However, she does remember going out to “the pictures” with her siblings, and tagging along on adventures up Kopukairoa.
She says she couldn’t keep up with her brothers and sisters and they would tell her to wait at the bottom, and then they would shout out to her when they got to the top of the maunga, to make sure she was still there.
Eva was good at riding horses and that gave her the ability to explore her whenua.
“We’d ride our horses to Pāpāmoa, to the beach, to get pipis and that. And we’d raid all the orchards on the way there and the way back. It was good fun,” she says with a laugh. “Good clean fun.”
Eva says they would also pick blackberries and find walnut and chestnut trees.
“We knew how to take the shortcut to Pāpāmoa. The shortcut was coming across Kairua Rd and then we’d head across to Tamapahore, through the paddocks. And then from Tamapahore we’d go out to the ocean beach to get the pipis.”
Eva has watched that landscape change over her lifetime. Where there was swampland and farmland, secret tracks and shortcuts to the beach, there are now roads and a lot of houses.
“It’s all changed, especially at Pāpāmoa,” Eva says. “I’d get lost.”
Tahuwhakatiki Marae (Rōmai), Mangatawa Marae (Tamapahore) and Te Whetū o Te Rangi Marae have always been a big part of Eva’s life.
“They spent a lot of time at the marae – our parents,” she says. “They would always head out for the marae and stay down there for weeks on end, making whāriki for the marae, making this and that for the marae, and they enjoyed that.”
Eva has her own early marae memories, of river swims and kai cooked over wood fires.
“In the cold times we’d go and sit by the fire and watch all the food being cooked.”
They would often sleep overnight at the marae, she says, their horses tied up along the fence.
Sometimes all those good memories come flooding back, as she reminisces with her fellow kaumātua at Rōmai on Thursdays. Or when she goes to the urupā to visit old friends and whānau.
Some things, of course, haven’t changed over her eight decades.
Te Tāhuna o Rangataua still sparkles in the sun. Mangatawa and Kopukairoa continue to stand strong, visible from afar. And the same whānau remain connected to the marae and the whenua.
“Everybody should come back to their marae,” Eva says.
“This is where it all began.”