On 30th November 2020, Mt Albert Baptist Church made history after their senior pastor, Steve Worsley, embarked on a journey to unearth a story, a treasure from our past, of a people who led an incredible life of love and grace.

The Way of the Raukura, which Mt Albert Baptist hosted, was based on the true story of the invasion of Parihaka on 5th November 1881. It centred on Wiremu Hiroki, a convicted felon, and Samuel Crombie Brown, a reporter who was an eyewitness to the atrocities that took place on that fateful morning. The story speaks of love, hope, tragedy, greed, grace and forgiveness.

Over 150 people were involved in the musical, from directors, actors, musicians, wardrobe extraordinaires, stage hands and technical staff, to incredible photographers and graphic designers—an amazing team of people!

After the opening night, it became apparent that we were going to run short of tickets and our feelings were confirmed when all general tickets were sold out for the entire first season by the second night. This generated more interest and therefore required us to get creative to make more space for the demand—a wonderful problem to have!

On 18th December 2018, Steve and the Tahere family had travelled to Parihaka to attend the monthly meeting and to ask their permission to perform the musical. The request was met with curiosity, concern and a general feeling of discomfort. All of this made sense, as this was their taonga and who were we to be asking for the rights to their story, which is still being written and lived out.

This was a difficult discussion for both parties as we openly spoke back and forth over two days about their thoughts, feeling and our intentions.

Mark Tahere spoke at the marae on the second day about his whakapapa, Nga uri o Rahiri. “I am a descendant of Rahiri,” he said, speaking with anointing about his faith in Christ and his desire to teach his schoolchildren about the story of Parihaka. The atmosphere almost immediately changed.

Although I had been told I was from Parihaka, I did not know how much so until the opening night of the production, when my biological father told me that my grandfather was born on the Mokau river and that we whakapapa back to Parihaka.

This affirmed the work that had been done and the fact that God’s hand was guiding the project all along. We received verbal consent from a number of people from our whanaunga that day and later received an email to confirm that the Papakainga Trust were entrusting the story to us, as they felt the heart behind it.

We always had a sense that this project was bigger than us. There is such a need for people to educate themselves and understand our history. This is just the beginning and the response has been incredible!

The past year has been incredibly difficult with COVID-19 lockdown forcing us to postpone our show dates, but I think we landed on the right dates. What a privilege it was to perform a tribute to our tīpuna on the anniversary of the invasion—a very powerful and emotional night for all of our cast.

The cast spent many hours talking and sharing about our personal experiences with racism from both Māori and Pākehā perspectives. The journey of growing together through each other’s pain and experience was one that I will never forget. We have truly become family.

We performed for eight nights and each night built on the next. Our audiences were so incredibly receptive and they felt the emotion as many felt like they were actually reliving the event.

Many who came from Parihaka wept as they remembered the stories shared with them from their grandparents and the impact it made on them as they connected all the dots. Others were stunned as they had no idea this had happened in our own country; they were shocked and saddened.

Overall the response was incredible with requests from communities all over New Zealand wanting a tour or, at the very least, more consecutive seasons.

We have all been so privileged to be a part of The Way of the Raukura and know that God has had his hand on it from beginning to end. In saying that, we are confident this is not the end. We are planning to record the soundtrack and consider possible venues for our second season.

Contributor: Sarah Tahere
The Way of the Raukura cultural advisor