Wiremu (Bill) Hohepa
1925 - 2002
who taught me how to weave taniko in 1959. Originally from Waima, in Northland, New Zealand, Mr Hohepa was my Standard 4 teacher at Three Kings Primary School, Auckland, that year. He joyfully shared his culture and passion for his Maori heritage in a year filled with song, laughter, learning and fun. Each student taught by Mr Hohepa was privileged to have had him as their teacher.
After teaching in a number of areas around New Zealand, he eventually returned to Waima, and in retirement continued to teach occasionally at the local school.
Mr Hohepa passed away peacefully at his home 14 April, 2002.
In his memory, the following celebrates Mr Hohepa in his 1959 Standard 4 class at
Three Kings Primary School and the cultural skills, especially taniko weaving,
he taught that became my lifelong
He was really the neatest person one could wish for in a teacher, and his class was completely different to any that I had prior - or subsequent - to that year. We had all the usual subjects but when it came to art, music and social studies our curriculum was, I would have to say, quite unique.
Before I go any further, you need to understand that Maori teachers were rather rare in those days. That Mr Hohepa was obviously Maori certainly had a lot to do with the fact that he stood out in a crowd, despite his fairly short stature. He was also an intelligent and genuinely sincere man who had great dignity along with a very exuberant personality. Softly spoken, he had a penchant for calling each of his pupils "e hoa" (friend) when he talked directly to us, one-on-one, and he had a highly infectious laugh which was really more of an explosive giggle. When he laughed (and he laughed a lot) you couldn't help yourself - you laughed too. His clothing, however, was the real attention grabber not the colour of his skin.
Generally a conservative dresser in the manner prescribed for male teachers of the day, he chose to demonstrate his individuality - and his Maori heritage - on his ties and sweaters. Traditional red, white and black taniko and kowhaiwhai (painted house rafter) designs adorned both. I'll never forget his knitted sweaters. Some taniko designs were knitted horizontally, either across his chest and back, or just above the ribbing at hip level, while some were vertical, including some with double taniko sections where the designs were mirrored. They were amazing - and absolutely gorgeous.
Instead of the usual music and singing we learned Maori songs and dances. As well, for part of the year we had a student teacher in the class doing his practicum - a man by the name of Wi Wharekura. He brought his guitar along and our days seemed to be filled with music, both Maori and the popular songs of the day, that he either sang out loud or played quietly on his guitar as we did our school work. Teaching was not to be Mr Wharekura's destiny, however. He was also a member of the Howard Morrison Quartet, a New Zealand singing group that became famous and remained in the limelight for many years.
Throughout the year we did the usual school activities common to all New Zealand schools, but many of our Social Studies lessons included activities that immersed us in Maori culture. Such activities included visits to see the extensive Maori collection at the Auckland Museum, and scrambling all over One Tree Hill (one of the many dormant or extinct volcanoes the City of Auckland is built on) where we learnt about how the Maori fortified and lived in their Pa - villages. We also learned about day to day life both before and after European contact beginning in the mid-17th century. Towards the end of the year we put on a concert in the local community hall. Our entertainment included action songs (a type of song where the story is both sung and danced with hand and arm movements), we swung poi (balls on the end of a length of twine or string) and did the stick games - another type of action song where dancers sit in pairs and throw and catch sticks (usually 15 - 18 inch lengths cut off broom handles) to each other in prescribed patterns.
I would have to say, however, that the hangi we had in the back garden of the Headmaster's house which was on the school grounds, had to have been the most unique of all school activities for that time. Mr Fryeraisher, the Headmaster, allowed us to dig a big pit in his vegetable garden, and Mr Hohepa, Mr Wharekura and some of the bigger boys in the class prepared the pit then lit a fire to heat the stones they'd arranged over the fire. When it was all ready our food was put into the hangi on top of the very hot stones, everything covered over with wet tea-towels then large leaves and sacks which were wetted down with the garden hose, and finally earth was piled on top of everything. After leaving the food to cook for several hours, lifting the hangi was a true adventure - everyone helped shovel off the earth, and then we got to devour all the wonderful food that had been cooked - pork, beef, lamb, potatoes, kumara (the native NZ sweet potato) and pumpkin as well as other finger foods that were not cooked in the earth oven of the hangi. Yum-mee!!! That was absolutely the best hangi I've ever been to.
For art we did the usual stuff like painting, etc, but optionally we could also choose to learn Maori weaving - Taniko - providing we had completed our class assignments. Perhaps six or eight pupils chose to learn taniko weaving, although I only remember 2 other kids in the class in particular who also wove. Mr Hohepa designed our first taniko patterns - I actually still have the graph paper page with a design that he created, done in his distinctive bold hand using a fountain pen and blue-black ink. As we sat in class doing our weaving he also taught us some Maori words and we would have short conversations peppered with the words we'd learnt.
Speaking personally, I felt that I never learnt enough - I always wanted more. More songs, more weaving, more cultural activities. I soaked it up like a sponge. The year was simply not long enough and it was with huge sadness that the school year closed just before Christmas. Mr Hohepa moved on to other positions around New Zealand, teaching at schools and colleges, while we, the students, moved on to the next levels in our education, Intermediate school, Grammar (High) School and so on. I never saw Mr Hohepa again, a great regret in my life.
Time has passed; although the year 1959 was in another century and another millennium, the memories are as strong as if they happened recently.
After many unsuccessful years trying to find him again, I was terribly saddened to hear that Mr Hohepa passed away in 2002. Before he died he won a very prestigious national award for services to education, the Multi Serve Education Trust National Service and Project Award. He was definitely a unique man, we were privileged to have had him as our teacher and the award was truly deserved.
I cannot show Mr Hohepa that I still do taniko weaving 47 years after he taught me how to do it and I cannot tell him how much he has meant to me, how much he has been in my thoughts, all these years. I wish I could write something profound, in Maori, as a tribute to him, but alas I don't speak more than just a few words now. Therefore...
...I dedicate this website to him as my personal celebration of the man, the skills he shared with and handed on to me, and, fostered by his teaching, the lifelong passion for a culture not my own.
Copyright© 2003 - 2006, Judy Shorten
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No portion of the text or photos may be reproduced in whole
or part thereof by any means, whether by hand, mechanical or electronic
device. This piece was originally created on September 9, 2003, for my
web page, "Judy's Junction". It is the creation and sole property of
No portion of the text or photos may be reproduced in whole or part thereof by any means, whether by hand, mechanical or electronic device. This piece was originally created on September 9, 2003, for my web page, "Judy's Junction". It is the creation and sole property of Judy Shorten.