Pete and Di Hakaraia, at the start of their “romantic treaty commitment” in 1965. (Photo supplied)

Every mixed marriage colours and shapes the generations that follow it, writes Tainui Stephens. 

 

James Belich, the eminent historian, once said that Te Tiriti o Waitangi would become “a treaty made in bed”. It’s a metaphor open to many interpretations, but it’s not wrong. With the support (or not) of parents and peers, Māori and Pākehā have long fallen in love, and come to an agreement about their own principles of partnership.

My in-laws, Peter and Diana Hakaraia, entered their romantic treaty commitment a long time ago. Now, at the ages of 83 and 81, they view the achievements of their devoted children and mokopuna as the best results of their negotiations.

They live 132 footsteps from our house. We see them a lot. Pete is of Ngāti Kapu from Ōtaki, and Di is Pākehā from Lower Hutt.

They first met in a beer garden in Paraparaumu nearly 60 years ago. A shared Catholic faith and rugby friends in common brought them together. Di already had a boyfriend, but he wasn’t around that day, and she was in a mood to be wooed by a flying first-five from Ōtaki. When you look at pictures of the young couple, you can see why.

Peter has always been cheeky and blissfully oblivious to the mood of the moment. Di got an inkling of that when she introduced her new beau to her parents. A Māori boyfriend was a bold move back then, and required tact. At dinner, Di’s mum, Nora, told Peter that his tribe had rescued her grandmother from the shipwreck of the City of Auckland on Ōtaki beach during a gale in 1878. The young suitor happily replied: “Good. That was one we didn’t eat!”

Di’s first contact with her in-laws and their Māori world came as a different kind of shock. The perplexing rituals of the tangihanga, an open casket, and wailing women shook her to the core. She confessed this to her mother, who told her: “Look, Di, that’s just the way it is. When I was young, the body was in the lounge and my uncle would wail all night. A tangi is no different to a wake.”

Di has remained eager to learn more of the tikanga-based world of the Māori people she’s come to know. She’s been a teacher all her life and knows the power of education. The occasional anti-Pākehā vibes she’s encountered over the years don’t worry her because she knows such things come from a place of pain. She and Pete both love to see the younger generations of Ōtaki assert their mana as iwi and hapū.

Pete and Di, now 83 and 81, out for a walk in Ōtaki. (Photo supplied)

After all these decades together, and after five kids, nine mokopuna, and three mokopuna tuarua, it’s clear that Pete and Di are still sweet on each other. They’ve led a hardworking and busy life and now enjoy a retirement where they do whatever their bodies allow them to. Pete’s fingers are no good for the guitar anymore, so he learned to play the pan pipes. When carving at his work bench gets too hard, he noodles with art at the table.

They’ve both had stints in hospital, each time emerging with renewed vigour and a determination to enjoy each day, and each other. Even the small things become precious. Pete pines for Di if she’s gone to her book club or kaumātua reo class. Di will roll her eyes when he rings to see when she’s coming home. But she’ll walk in the door, fuss over him, and say: “You okay, Petey?”

To give Di a break from cooking, we’ll all sometimes make dinner for them. All the family are expert in providing some kind of food. Libby, my wife, knows exactly where the fish are to be caught. Emily is a master baker of anything, but especially German breads. Sophie creates dishes that would tame Gordon Ramsay. Jane is a realist and gets her man Mike to cook. Simon builds trifles. I do meatloaf.

I carry the food down the road to Pete and Di’s. Our small hound, Bounce, scampers along sniffing at anything disgusting. When we get there, Di’s sitting at the table, busy with a crossword, while the radio blares away. Pete’s in a La-Z-boy recovering from a broken foot and watching sport on a loud telly. My dog will meet their dog and they’ll bark, and no one will hear anything.

At the appointed hour, we’ll gather at the table with any other fam who are in the hood. Pete usually tucks into kai before karakia. Di will snap at him: “Peter!” Pete will look up startled, realise what he’s done, and wait for the “Āmine”, with the crumbling meatloaf on the fork still hovering by his mouth.

At every dinner, the stories of the family doings of the present and the past will bust out. Usually to gales of laughter. Occasionally to tears.

Pete and Di’s children are a boisterous bunch. They always have been. When they were little, their mum and dad would referee the inevitable irritations of five kids under six years old. Pete always insisted they don’t go to sleep without resolving an argument. Late at night, when the house was finally quiet, it was common for one of the siblings to appear by the other’s bed to issue a heartfelt apology, followed by hugs and “Love you!” “Love you, too!” Pete says he always checked in to make sure they’d made up.

In the days of little money and no television, Pete would give Di a break from their brood. He might take them on car adventures in the rain looking for big puddles to drive through, or a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Or he might pull out the guitar and launch into Ghost Riders in the Sky. The kids would stop harassing whoever currently deserved it and flock around Pāpā for a singalong.

When the siblings were older and started sneaking home late at night, Pete’s response was to hide in the wardrobe and, just as they were getting into their beds thinking they’d got away with it, he’d jump out. Or, he might booby trap the front door with fishing wires and pots and bells, setting off a hell of a racket. Di would yell out from the bedroom: “Oh, for goodness’ sake, Peter!” Pete would then appear in his pyjamas full of glee. “Gotcha!” Any punishment was forgotten because he was so thrilled to have caught them.

Pete still delights in corny humour. He’s a living breathing Dad joke, who’s happy to do awful things with his false teeth to delight or appal small children. Di is always by his side to share the laughter, and all the familiar ways of their life together.

One of their favourite memories is of sleeping in a tent on the beach in Paihia in 1990 during the 150th anniversary commemoration of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. When they awoke and opened their tent flap, their only view was of the many waka and tall ships in the bay. It made them proud to be New Zealanders.

Pete and Di and their kids. From left: Jane, Emily, and Libby. Sophie is in the pram along with baby Simon (out of view) behind her. (Photo supplied)

I’m sorry to have met Pete and Di so late in their lives. My in-laws have dealt to their cultural differences with faith and love, and an unwavering commitment to each other. They’ve stuck to the terms of their personal treaty. In the process, they’ve created their own strategies and loving template for intergenerational self-determination.

During local tangihanga, while their children are working at the marae, I’ll pick them both up and take them to mourn the loss of yet another close friend or relation from their youth. Every funeral is a reminder that we all have a use-by date, and to use our time well.

Recently, we went to farewell one of their Ngāti Kapu cousins, the much-loved Te Rangiwehea Rikihana. Because I have the “frosty tops” on board, I get to park close to the whare. Di is squeezed in the back seat but slides out easily. Pete takes his time nudging his reluctant legs around slowly. I hold his hand while he gingerly steps up a small bank and through a gap in the fence. His mokopuna Ōriwa stands behind to catch him if the nuggety old fullback decides to do a backwards flip.

Pete totters slowly to the crowded seats at Te Pou o Tainui marae where the people grieve. They can see him heading their way and melt away without a word, allowing him and his lady Di a place to sit. One of the speakers on the paepae pauses and says: “Kia ora, cousin Speedy Gonzales.” A Māori community is well aware of its old people and the impact of the passage of the years.

The moving speeches of any last night at a hui mate are soul food for a people alert to the short sliver of time we call life. It’s well said that stories are the food of chiefs. They provide nourishment for a chiefly people. And never are a chiefly people more noble than when they gather to farewell their dead. Their stories are crafted to ease pain. They allow healing light to enter though a crack in a world suddenly made dark.

Soaring oratory, intimate memories and effortless humour are shaped into deep gratitude for a person’s life. Astute opinions, more articulate and worthwhile than anything spouted in the media, are normal in moments like this. The empathy and insight that oozes from people who are secure in their cultural identity, and their humanity is often breathtaking.

At the end of every speech of fond farewell, the outrageously musical Rikihana whānau dives deep into their extensive catalogue of hits and lead everyone in yet another song. The effortless harmonies lift the roof of the tent and keep the rains away. No one thinks about anything else other than being in that very moment with each other.

Pete and Di sing along quietly. They’ve heard these songs many times before. On this night, as for others that have been and others yet to come, they are of one voice with their hapū. With their souls, they sing their praises to their God, and also, I reckon, to each other.

  • For you are more than a memory
  • You are the gift that God gave to me
  • And I thank you Lord with all my heart
  • For the love that you gave
  • And the Father that you are

Ka mihi aroha ka mihi menemene ki aku hungawai.
 

Pete and Di with their children, Christmas 2016. (Photo supplied)

 

Tainui Stephens, of Te Rarawa, has been fully engaged in the film and television industry since 1984, working with a range of genre and content. He is particularly attracted to compelling Indigenous stories that critique and celebrate the human condition. Tainui lives in Ōtaki with his wife and fellow filmmaker Libby Hakaraia. Together they and a small whānau team run the Māoriland Film Festival.

© E-Tangata, 2024

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