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Peria pupils explore Waikainga pa on epic field trip - Heritage New Zealand

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Pupils of Peria School enjoyed a class trip with a difference recently, exploring the cultural history and archaeological features of a heritage taonga which is in their own neighbourhood.

Children joined Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga staff Bill Edwards, Dr James Robinson and Makere Rika-Heke together with Selwyn Reihana of Te Paatu ki Kauhanga Trust on a voyage of discovery to unlock the secrets of the pā site located on the Garton whanau farm.

The pā is virtually intact, with its archaeological features clearly visible to those who know what to look for.

"The owner of the land, John Garton, was a member of Heritage Northland Inc and he worked with us to measure and accurately survey the Waikainga pā on his land before he passed away a few years ago," says Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Northland Manager Bill Edwards.

"He was very supportive of the work, and so it was great that his son Alan was able to take us around the pā site on the family farm."

The pā is one of about 70 that were located throughout Oruru Valley - an area once famed for its significant population base and remarkable food production. The valley was said to have been so intensively settled that messages could be communicated by voice from pā to pā.

For Ariana Williams, the Principal of Peria School, the field trip was part of a larger journey the school is undertaking to discover the purakau (stories) that make Oruru and Peria so special.

"The story of the name Oruru speaks to the significance of the many pa sites in the valley. The local history of this area is significant to our students, our school and staff because it is what makes us unique and defines who we are. If we know where we are from we know where we are going," she says.

"Life can make us disconnected from the whenua, the people and the places, however having experiences like this and learning about the special archaeology and heritage of the whenua around us, the students get to see that we have a rich and interesting story to tell. The stories we read are always about somewhere far away - but we have our own stories and uniqueness right here in our backyard."

According to Ariana, the students enjoyed learning about the history of the site and shared stories of their own pā on their own whenua.

"Many of the students come from farming backgrounds, and many have connections to Kauhanga Marae, which is our local marae. They made connections to what they already knew and learned new things as they saw the artefacts for themselves and walked the pā site with Bill and others."

Hearing about the different ways the pā site was used at different times added to the childrens’ understanding of how pā were used.

"The students were surprised to hear about how versatile Maori were; that areas such as trenches for protection were replaced by kūmara pits, depending on what was happening at the time," she says.

"The landscape still felt like a workable pā site, and it would be great to go back and look at the archaeological aspects that we only got to briefly see and explore with a smaller group of students."

Younger students drew pictures of what they thought the pā site might like before they visited it, with many drawing working pā like those that were around many years ago.

"When they went to the pā, many realised that they had seen pā sites before but because they are no longer working they just didn't realise it. Some students then made the connections that time had changed the place but understood what it must have been like for the people living there when they did, and why they built the pā as they did."

Waikainga pā is a magical place according to Ariana - peaceful with a very special wairua.

"The students were really intrigued by the pā, the old relics, the kumara pits and remnants of history. They were also really respectful of the site and our guides from Kauhanga Marae, Heritage New Zealand and Alan Garton as they shared stories about significant aspects of the pā."

For Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Director Kaiwhakahaere Tautiaki Wahi Taonga, Makere Rika-Heke, Waikainga pā was once a focal point for whānau, hapori (community) and economic well being.

"Traversing it brought all that back. It was like stepping back in time... it felt natural to have the bustle of people, their activity going about their day and the laughter of children heard once more. It was an unmissable opportunity to engage with Tamariki, who in time will be the next generation of kaitiaki, voices and living repositories that keep the narrative and memory of Waikainga alive," she says.

The field trip is part of a commitment by the school to live out its values of kaitiakitanga, manaakitanga and whakamanawanui through exploration of the local curriculum according to Ariana.

"We want learning to come to life for our students and what better way to make that happen than to continue this journey with the support of these groups and to create meaningful learning opportunities for our students, whanau and staff," she says.

"We are thankful for the support and guidance from Selwyn Reihana, Alan Garton, Bill Edwards, James Robinson and Makere Rika-Heke who have come together to bring these archaeological and historically significant sites to life for us."

Caption: Peria School kids out in force exploring amazing heritage in their own backyard.

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