Piki Jakeman (second row) with her whole family. Three children: Damon, Anita and Rhema. Six mokopuna: Taylor, Niko, Riley, Blake, Kobe, Sonni, Hawaiki.

Looming large and fondly in the memories of Ngatipikiao “Piki” Jakeman is the Waikato Riverespecially that final stretch before it merges into the Tasman Sea at Port Waikato. Piki was one of the youngest in a large family who lived on the southern banks of the river, in a world that hasn’t stood still. And, here with Dale, she recalls some of those times, and also reflects on the way that teachers can get the best from their Māori students.


Tēnā koe, Piki. I wonder if we might start this conversation with you telling us something about your mum and dad and your early days.

Kia ora, Dale. Ko Tihirahi Tupaea toku mātua. A hard-working Ngāti Tipa farmer who milked cows by hand. A hunter, gatherer, fisherman, slaughterman, homebuilder and improviser. You name it — and Dad was that.

Ko Mahuri Moore toku whaea.  A loving mother who was strong — and a loyal Kingite for the Kīngitanga. Also a master rāranga craftswoman weaving whāriki for our marae Te Kotahitanga, and crocheting pillow slips to beautify our whare moe.

For an arranged marriage, they didn’t do too bad having 23 children — 12 girls and 11 boys. I’m 20th in line. And, even now when people catch up with us, they’ll ask us: “Which number are you?” That’s how we’re usually greeted.

I remember when the twins and I were at college, the principal called us into the office one day and I thought: “Oh gosh. Bad news.” But he just asked: “Are you real sisters?” We told him: “Yes, we are.” And he said: “Well, in our survey last week, Hinerangi, you say you have 10 in your family. And Hineuru, you have 12. And Piki, you have seven. So who’s telling the truth?”

Then, when we explained that we were just too shy to say we had 23, he said: “Oh well, your secret is safe with me.”

Our house was a tin shed with a dirt floor. You know, just a humble home with kerosene lamps and then upgrading to candles. Our kitchen and dining lounge were all in one. And, of course, we had just one bedroom. Before that, the family had a house built on stilts on the river’s edge. Dad had built it with raupō and we knew it as the “raupō house”.

When we had king tides at night, we’d have to put our mattresses on Mum’s bed and wait until the tide went down. And Dad would put the babies, asleep, in the plastic baby bath, and they’d just be floating on the tide.

We lived off the river and the land. There’d be tuna, ducks, kererū, quail, pheasant, kahawai. Inanga, of course. That’s whitebait, but it’s had various names. We also call it matamata. And there are other stages of growth. Inanga grows to the porohe, then to the mohemohe. And of course to the pokotehe. But those names for different stages of whitebait aren’t used anymore, and now nobody really knows them.

When it gets to the pokotehe stage, they’re big. And Dad used to string them up on harakeke and dry them — and then cook them on corrugated tin over a fire, down at the camp. That was beautiful.

Waikato River, Port Waikato, with the Tauranganui marae in the foreground. The land is Waitawhara, the family farm. The raupō house was at the river’s edge, 200m along from the marae. .

Most of us take it for granted that, apart maybe for some veges from the garden, we’ll get our food from the supermarkets. But you were literally living off the land and the river.  Was that hard? Did you sometimes go hungry?

I never felt that we needed anything to be honest. That was our way of growing up and it was what we knew. But I never felt at all that we were needy. We always had food on the table.

And the river used to come right into your whare?

Well, Dad built our whare on the river’s edge. And when the king tides came, they came all the way up. We didn’t often get that in the evenings. But it did happen. So we have those memories, good memories, about what happened to us way back then.

Are your people still on the riverbank?

Some of the family are still on the river bank, but further up. With a proper house now that cost Dad 12,000 pounds. A Māori Affairs home. That’s still there. It’s still the papakāinga, and that’s at Te Kohanga — the Tauranganui marae. We’re just above that.

And reo Māori was part of your everyday life, Piki?

Oh yeah. Te reo Māori was our first language and our parents knew very little English. I can remember translating for my mother when sales people came to the door. She would send us out and I’d call back to her: “Kei konei etehi puruma ki te hoko.” (That they were selling brooms.) And Mum would ask: “He aha te utu?” (She wanted to know the price.) And when I told her, she’d say: “He nui rawa te utu.” (That’s too much). So I’d tell them that I was sorry but Mum wasn’t interested.

This was when I was about seven or eight years old. And, whenever Mum went into Tuakau to do our shopping, she always had to take one of us, because she couldn’t really read the labels.

Then one day, Dad went with her and, typical Dad, he sits in the car and Mum goes in on her own and does the shopping. On the list there was baking powder but, when they came home, she had baby powder — even though we didn’t have a baby at that stage. Little things like that happened to us. And, on reflection, some funny things.

On another occasion, Mum sent my brother Whare to do some shopping. Like me, he had a sort of pidgin Māori English. And he rode our horse up to the local shop to get some mīere. That was honey, which we always knew as mīere. But the shopkeeper didn’t know that word. And when Whare came home without any mīere, he told Mum that the shopkeeper had said: “We don’t sell that.” But he did. He just didn’t know what mīere was. And for years after that we called our brother Mīere.

Piki (second from left) with her three sisters: Hineuru, Taui, Te Atarangi.

I understand that, among your mum’s skills were raranga (weaving) and crochet — and she’d do much of that flax weaving and knitting for the marae. Did you girls absorb that craftsmanship?

It was a great skill, but none of us really took it up. We jumped over her harakeke, day in and day out, but none of us really picked up on it. None of us sat with her and learned how to do it.

Another significant woman you knew well was Nganeko Minhinnick who did such important work for Ngāti Te Ata, especially in taking the Manukau Harbour claim to the Waitangi Tribunal. She was a woman who had a reputation of standing her ground, didn’t she?

She was one in a million, Dame Nganeko Minhinnick. I worked with her for over 30 years pertaining to education, marae, and the general welfare of the iwi. To be under her guidance, her tohutohu, was amazing. She was such a respected, intelligent, and articulate kuia. And her relentless work for the betterment of te ao Māori has changed the shape of justice for Māori in many cases.

She kept us on our toes too. She had various sayings that reminded me that we needed to get on with our work. Like: Mahia te mahi. And that we shouldn’t let problems get in our way. “Don’t let that stop you,” she’d say. “Fix it.”

She was like that with all aspects of te ao Māori. Not just the environment. And she had warm relationships with all ages, right down to the two-year-olds and the babies. She had a very close bond with kids. Me ngā pakeke hoki.  Yes, a special lady no doubt. Smart and articulate. Knowing history. Knowing her stuff.

Piki wiith her mokopuna Niko, Blake and Sonni.

You’re a long-time teacher, Piki. What is it that draws you to that work?

Well, it’s been a rough ride for some of our Māori students through the years, for many reasons. And one of the problems is that some teachers don’t have the skills to form good relationships with the kids. And they dread the daily confrontation with them.

And it’s all about being firm and kind and fair. I tell our teachers that if you pamper the soul, you capture the heart. It’s as simple as that. But some teachers find that hard. Some of them are from overseas. Or they don’t have tamariki themselves, so they haven’t got that maternal feel for the kids. And, of course, some of our kids just want to skylark and play around. They just want to enjoy themselves.

I get the impression that a number of Māori teachers, who’ve been hired to teach a specialist subject like maths or English, can end up also with extra roles such as pseudo social worker/nanny/kapa haka tutor/bus driver. And some of that extra work may come from a few Pākehā teachers not being on a cultural wavelength with Māori kids.

Yeah, I think that varies from school to school — or from class to class. And if a teacher doesn’t have an affinity with Māori, there can be a backlash. But sometimes it’s just a matter of the staff needing to “pamper the soul” and do simple things like saying “Mōrena.”

When I first came here to Waiuku College, there was a total disconnect between tangata whenua and the school. And many of the Māori children from this area were sent to other schools like Tipene, Wesley, Auckland Girls’ Grammar and Hato Petera.

Then, along came our new principal, Tom Vanderlaan, and swift changes followed. A whare was built almost straightaway and that meant our kids had a place of comfort and a home base. It was an asset and a haven for the whole school really.

Ngāti Te Ata were given a voice on the board of trustees. Local protocol and kawa were reinforced. Local history, historical land walks became commonplace in our curriculum — and the list goes on. There’s no longer that disconnect. It’s really good. And we got all our students back from those other schools.

With her sister Taui Thompson and mokopuna Waiora Minhinnick,

I’m sure it’s a win/win situation when schools start embracing elements of kaupapa Māori.

Well, one of the positive consequences is that it means more pathways to employment. Jobs keep coming from the arts like kapa haka, whakairo, mahi toi, and raranga. And the arts bring joy and playfulness into the classroom for our kids. It’s a safe pathway for teachers too, and for the students to navigate and express their emotions.

I just love working in the art class, because they’re engrossed in their mahi. They love what they do there. And they can enjoy being quiet for quite a while, just to get through what they’re working on.

Now, I understand that another part of your world is as a foster mum — and that, not long ago, your family expanded by six.

 Well, I had six of a sister’s mokos gifted to me and I had them for about four months. Then, Anita, my daughter next door, took two who are 11 and 10. And then Roimata Minhinnick took the younger two who are 9 and 7. So now I’ve just got the two pakeke. They’re 13 and 14. And that’s good, although it can be a struggle — there are challenges, but you just deal with them individually. Yeah, it’s not all roses.

Your heart beats faster when you speak of them.

Yeah, there’s a lot of good there. I see the good. And that’s what I work with.

I know you’ve still got a papakāinga over there at Port Waikato, but no doubt there’ve been changes since the raupō house days.

Oh yes, it’s changed. A lot of the younger ones have moved out. To find mahi, I suppose. But there’s a lot of the pakeke still there in the papakainga. And what’s good is that the kaimahi on the marae are so energetic. And all the marae across the river are moving — and they’re being creative.

They create sport days, markets and kapa haka contests, so there’s competition between the marae. And that keeps them connected. It keeps them happy teaching the tamariki, the mokopuna, growing up on the marae. And it’s one way of bringing back to the marae those who’ve shifted.

Among the changes that you’ve seen (and been a part of) at Port Waikato and Waiuku, and further afield too, what do you find most encouraging?]

It’s the growing acceptance of te reo. It’s the way that te reo is becoming more normal again. I see it with the newsreaders on TV. And it’s filtering through into the schools and through our whānau where too many of them have lost the reo. And I see a lot of Pākehā coming along to our kura and trying to kōrero Māori.

Not that it’s easy. It’s hard even for me to hold on to my mokos and make sure that they retain their reo. I’ve got one mokopuna over in Colorado University now but I still mihi to her in te reo when I’m texting, just to keep her a little bit grounded, remind her where she’s from.

Piki Jakeman travelling in South America.

What other goals do you have for yourself?

I haven’t really thought about that. I’ve been a keen traveller — and I’m just waiting for Covid to go away so that I can be back on those planes again. But, when you mention goals, I can’t help thinking of the strong women, like Nganeko, who’ve set the standards for us.

Another icon of mine has been Whaea Tuki Nepe who was principal of Kura Takiura and a pioneer of reo teaching. Beautiful person. Always smartly dressed. Fearless. Said it as she saw it. She undertook her long climb in education with te reo Māori at heart, and I was privileged to be in her kura as a student and seeing this mana wahine at face level fighting the good fight for Kura Takiura and its independence. Coming from a submissive whānau, I was in awe of her style and presence and I’ve never forgotten her.

Another strong woman who made a big impression on me was my mother-in-law, Violet Jakeman. A most respected kuia, she was a kind, loving person who kept her family close and used her wisdom and faith in the Lord to ease away the pain in any  of our tamariki.

And she had such mana in her quiet way. I remember her telling me about being called into the principal’s office one day to talk about one of the kids. And he spoke to her with a pipe in his mouth while looking out the window.

She told him to show some respect and to speak to her face to face — which he then did. She would often say: “I don’t have much in wealth but I am rich in love.” And that was true. So I’ve learned a lot from those three women. Kua mate ra ngā wāhine rangatira nei. Anei te mihi kia ratou hoki kua mene ki te pō. Moe mai ra.

So that’s my kōrero for them.

Thank you for your generosity with these reflections. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Oops. I haven’t even mentioned my family, have I? Yeah. I’d better do that. I was married to Gordon Jakeman. He was a slaughterman/butcher by trade. A kind, respectful man of Ngāti Koroki me Te Waiariki and Ngāti Te Ata descent. We have three children and nine mokos, with one set of twins in that lot.

Our plan, Gordon and me, was to be around for our tamariki. But God changed our plans, and took him to look after the heavenly garden. Whānau is important to me and I need them as much as I need water and air. They fill my house with life and laughter and energy. They’re funny, they’re cheeky, they’re smart. They’re irreplaceable. That’s my whānau.

 (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

© E-Tangata, 2020

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