The men are preparing the haangii and clear concise instructions are being given as to how the kai will be presented, who is cooking what.
Uncles are greeting nieces they’ve not seen in a while, aunties are guiding ever so lovingly the younger generation to ensure that manuwhiri are well looked after when they are expected to attend later that day.
Amidst the joy of catching up there is a tinge of sadness, this occasion has been decades of hard work to prepare for. The family are preparing to welcome back a soldier who was killed in Malaysia over sixty years ago back to his ancestral marae in Rangiriri.
Lance Corporal Percy Brown Iwihora was one of 12 children. At a young age, he along with many other young Maaori men from across the country enlisted to serve overseas.
On August 22, 1958 Iwihora was shot and killed by a sniper in the jungle fighting in what was called the Malayan Emergency, when the Malayan Communist Party attempted to overthrow the British colonial administration of Malaya.
He along with many others who died overseas while in service between 1899 and 1955 had to be buried near where they died. Despite a number of efforts to have him repatriated it wasn’t till a change in government policy that opened the pathway to bring him home.
The whaanau preparing to bring Lance Corporal Percy Brown back to his Marae at Maurea.
Jumbo Montgomery, Ngaati Mahuta remembers his uncle leaving to serve in Malaysia, Montgomery was only 15 at the time. He always knew he wanted to bring his uncle back and says the whaanau are ecstatic to have him back after all these years.
“E miharo katoa ana ahau ki te kaupapa nei, noo mai raanoo i tiimata ahau ki te whakahoki mai taku matua ki te kaainga. Whakaritengia ai e maatou tana hoki mai i Taamaki, inaapoo, aa, kua tae mai i te ata nei,” said Montgomery.
“Tahi ano ka kite i te maha o ngaa kaawhena i puta mai i te waka rererangi, he mea ataahua te kite, naa te mea kua koa katoa te ngaakau kua tae mai taku matua ki te kaainga nei.”
The coffins that Jumbo refers to is a part of the repatriation project, Te Auraki (The Return) which involved bringing home defence personnel and dependants buried overseas.
27 service people, and a child were buried in three cemeteries in Malaysia, Terendak Military Cemetery, Taiping Christian Cemetery and Cheras War Cemetery and one in Singapore, Kranji War Cemetery.
Both nephew Vincent Hapi and niece Girlie Iwihora agree with the sentiments expressed by their oldest cousin Montgomery and says the whaanau have been heavily involved in the campaign to repatriate their uncle.
"We were elated, we were relieved and we were also sharing our tears of joy, tears of love and tears of grief. At long last celebrating, but also at long last our beloved one has finally retuned."
Girlie Iwihora said the family had a responsibility to have her uncle overseas brought home and taken back to Taupiri to rest with his tupuna – it was only right she says.
"This was not about ourselves, this was about the responsibility of doing our duty to our parents to get their sibling home."
Six decades later on August 22 as Kiingi Tuheitia’s flag was sailing high in the piercing cold wind, grey clouds gathered to witness four generations of the Iwihora whaanau assemble to pay their final respects to their beloved uncle, grand-uncle and great grand-uncle as they took him to his final resting place.
Lance Corporal Percy Brown Iwihora paid the ultimate price at the young age of 26, sixty years to the day since he passed he was laid to rest at Taupiri beneath our King’s and Queen, among his whaanau and his tupuna where he may now finally rest in peace.