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Sisters of Today

Sister Makareta Tawaroa

Profiled in August 2002 (updated April 2013)Makareta_Tawaroa

Te Rongo o te Poi te whare karakia
Taritariwhioi te whenua
Kaiwhaiki te marae
Nga Paerangi te iwi
Whanganui te awa
Tihei Mauriora

My name is Takahia Makareta Tawaroa. I was born and bred at Taritariwhioi, Kaiwhaiki Pa on the lower reaches of the Whanganui River in a small, close-knit community of about 200 people. There were five in our family, four girls and one boy. My mother was Raina Kahukura, a warm, handsome woman who was steeped in the knowledge of our old people and their ways and was a great singer and performer. Mum was also a great orator and a keen competitor at the Hui Aranga. For many years she competed in the Senior Oratory and achieved a lot of success.

My father was Te Kohiroa Tawaroa Tetana a hardworking man who spent hours in the garden, planting, weeding and producing acres of kai, Maori potato, Maori corn, kamokamo, kumara and pumpkin. One of my earliest memories is of planting rows and rows of corn alongside him.

In 1965 at the age of 20, I joined the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of Nazareth. I had a strong catholic upbringing and mum was a devout churchgoer. Our family recited the Rosary most nights and we attended Mass on Sundays. I received catechism lessons from Father Cook who came to Upokongaro School every Friday from St Mary’s Parish. He would bring his tuning fork because he loved to hear us sing. His favourite hymn was Mo Maria. I spent four years at Sacred Heart College, Whanganui and loved all my teachers, Sisters Christine, Chanel, Enda, Kathleen, Catherine and Baptist. Sister Adrian was the Mother Superior when I entered.

After 12 wonderful years in the classroom in mostly small rural primary schools, I joined the Mäori Mission Team in 1981. This was to become one of the most significant times in my life because I was introduced to a much broader understanding of Maori Christianity through Te Runanga Whakawhanaunga I nga Hahi, the Maori Council of Churches. Manuka Henare, who was head of the EJD, the Justice department of the Catholic Church at the time, was one of my mentors. Manuka opened up a whole new world to me.

During this time I heard Phillipe Fanchette, a Hindu Indian Catholic priest, speak at several hui. He asked: “Who are the poor? Why are they poor? Who benefits? Who loses? Who owns? Who controls? Whose interests are served?” This was my first introduction to conscientisation and it became a turning point in my life. The late Father John Curnow and Fernando Yusingco were two other people who had a profound influence on me. John taught me how to move away from aid and on to development, where people become the subject of their own liberation. Fernando taught me how to organise people for power.

In 1984 I came home to Whanganui. During this time I worked alongside many inspirational women, Piki, Tari, Jo, Linda, Maria, Hilda, Toots and others. We held hui, gained a lot of new information and insights and did a lot of networking. Many of us also went overseas at this time. We found that it was easier to see the Maori struggle for self-determination more clearly against an international background; that colonizers, wherever and whoever they are, behave in the same way and that history is normally told from the point of view of the dominant group. I soon learnt that the history I was taught was not only European, male-oriented; it was also Protestant.

In July 1996 a house became available at Taritariwhio, land left to us by my paternal grandmother. The Sisters were generous in buying it for me and it now acts as a place for the tamariki mokopuna to come whenever they can.

People often ask me if I have a particular mission to carry out while I am home and I’m always pleased to say that I am here as another member of the whanau, with no particular role other than just being present. It’s marvelous being home, beside our awa tupuna and knowing that I am surrounded by the whanau, both living and dead.

One of the great joys of my life is in being a nanny to our moko, Joseph, Manaaki, Te Au Maro, Kaea, Karere, Pikiteora, Mauriora, Kiritahi, Dawny, Tamahia, Blobby and all our other moko. I love when they come to visit and miss them when they go. I am very blessed and have so much to be thankful for. Praise God.

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