Maori culture abounds at WCC’s sister college


A sign marks the entrance to WCC’s sister college in Aotearoa –Cynthia Lee Sinclair

Since 2012, WCC has had a sister college called Te Whare Wananga O Awanuiārangi located in Whakatane, Aotearoa (New Zealand). I was fortunate to visit there during my study abroad adventure.

Awanuiārangi first opened its doors in 1992 in Whakatane and now has three campuses on New Zealand’s North Island. It officially became a wananga, which means school or university, in 1997. The school offers a range of degree programs from bachelor’s and master’s to doctoral degrees.

The founding kaupapa, which loosely translated means project or mission, is “pursue knowledge to its greatest depths and its broadest horizons.”

While it is mostly a tribal college designed to raise the standard of education for the local Maori people, its doors are open to all New Zealanders. Of particular importance is its vision to promote, grow and sustain Maori language, knowledge and culture in all its manifestations and with regard to tikanga Maori practice. The word tikanga is equivalent to the Hawaiian word pono (good, right, true).

Whakatane is a beautiful town located in the eastern Bay of Plenty region on New Zealand’s North Island at the mouth of the Whakatane river. The surrounding countryside is mostly farmland.

It is estimated to have been populated by the Maori since 1200 CE. The name comes from a legend about Wairaka, a Maori chieftess who said, “Kia Whakatane au i ahau,” which means “Let me act like a man.”

When the tribe had first arrived by canoe, the men did not secure it well and it started to drift out to sea. It was forbidden at that time for women to paddle a canoe. But the men were not around, and Wairaka did not want to lose the canoe. So she said this prayer and swam out and rescued the canoe.

A powhiri is a Maori welcoming ceremony that all visitors go through when first coming to meet with the Maori people. It can be very elaborate lasting many hours or short and informal. Speeches are given, songs are sung about the history of the represented tribes, and honor is given to the ancestors of the visitors.

An informal powhiri welcomed me onto the campus. As I listened while an elder spoke in Maori of his ancestors and mine, I was filled with awe. His prayer brought tears to my eyes and raised the hair on my arms. The eloquence in his voice spoke of his wisdom and was befitting of his rank as the oldest man present.

After the welcome ceremony, I was invited to have tea with the CEO of the school, Dr. Wiremu Doherty. Tea is a tradition introduced by the British when they first came to Aotearoa in the 1800s and is still an integral part of society today.

After my meeting with Dr. Doherty, I was given a tour of the school by a woman named Jacqueline Thrupp. She explained the meaning of the totems in the whare nui (big/sleeping house) and all the important places around campus, including the new Sir Hirini Moko Mead Library that was first opened to the public in 2013. Mead was the founder of the college.

Later, I was introduced to a woman named Ngahirata Gardner, who is a student support adviser. We connected instantly as we both have similar stories of adversity and triumph. She suffered severe abuse as a child and did not do well in school when she was younger. She believed she was not capable of ever getting a degree. She became a student at Awanuiārangi, received her degree and has come back to work for the school.

“I am the wananga and the wananga is me,” she said.

She put the school’s motto to music. It is a beautiful piece that has been adopted as the school’s official anthem.

A group of lucky students from WCC will travel to Te Whare Wananga O Awanuiārangi during spring break this month, led by WCC Hawaiian studies instructor Makanani Salā and accompanied by WCC Chancellor Doug Dykstra.

The four days I spent at the school was amazing but entirely too short. I know I will go back one day.


by Cynthia Lee Sinclair, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter