Students at Te Mata Kindergarten treasure their local stories in the form of two beautiful picture books illustrated by a local artist.
Te Mata Peak is thought to be the final resting place of Rongokako, grandfather of Kahungunu, and ancestor of all iwi of Ngāti Kahungunu. The outline of his body, lying flat against the sky, can be seen in the hillscape Te Mata-o-Rongokako. Early European settlers called the hillscape ‘The Sleeping Giant’.
Te Mata Kindergarten is situated in Havelock North, beneath the hills of Te Mata Peak, and has long fostered strong connections between its physical location and the legends and history attached to it. Head teacher Fiona Francois says that over many years, students have learned the legend of Rongokako through handwritten and illustrated story books.
When she first started teaching at the kindergarten, there was a hand-drawn version made from newsprint paper with masking tape around the edges of the pages.
“Here at Te Mata Kindergarten we have strong links to our name and the legends of this place,” she says.
“Our teachers have always made storybooks for the children and a number of these exist in our archives.”
In 2011 student teacher Annelisa Ferguson made such a book as part of her course requirements, which involved the researching of a local Māori story.
“One day we saw an image of Te Mata o Rongokako as an art print for sale and contacted the local artist Sophie Blokker who was eager to undertake the task of illustrating the story for a book,” Fiona explains.
A kindergarten parent made contact with Jerry Hapuku from Ngāti Kahungunu who, as a direct descendant, gave the new book his blessing.
The legend of Te Mata O Rongokako: The Sleeping Giant was published in 2011. A special book launch and official blessing by the kaumātua was held. Also in attendance at the launch was the local kōhunga, the book’s illustrator and author, and representatives of the Te Mata community. The book sold well among the kindergarten community, so a second print-run was ordered.
In 2012 the kindergarten published a second book about a local place: Te Pakiwaitara O Cape Kidnappers, with more illustrations by Sophie Blokker. The story was written for the book by kindergarten parent Patrick Sherratt and retells the story of an attempt by local Māori to abduct the servant of a member of Captain Cook’s crew in 1769.
The involvement of kaumātua Jerry Hapuku was also integral to the publication of this book.
“As we had already established a relationship with him, he was more involved from the early stages,” says Fiona.
“Jerry guided the teachers through his ancestral interpretation of the events at Cape Kidnappers and spent time at the kindergarten sharing his knowledge. We also visited his kōhunga for clarification and he blessed the book once it had been published.”
Fiona says the students of Te Mata Kindergarten have developed a strong connection to both the story and picture book, with many recalling the text exactly.
“The images have become part of the Te Mata Kindergarten identity and last year large murals of some of the images were put up in the playground. We think the murals make a stunning feature of the kindergarten,” she says.
Place-based learning activities extend further than the books for Te Mata Kindergarten students.
As well as making artwork about their place and the stories that surround it, the children also act out the legend, and earlier this year performed a waiata on a field trip to Te Mata Peak.
Fiona says that Te Mata Kindergarten recently received an enquiry from an Australian school that had seen the book, and as a result, felt inspired to do something similar.
“The Australian school is now planning to publish a local Aboriginal story book for their students, as a result of seeing ours.
“There have also been enquiries from a school in Napier asking for guidance in publishing a book telling their local legend,” she adds.
Many copies have been purchased by families intending to send the Te Mata legends overseas to children and grandchildren living abroad.
Fiona reports that publishing the books has provided an authentic community bonding experience for Te Mata Kindergarten.
“Through promoting and selling the books, we’ve been involved in many community events and it’s been great to strengthen our connections through our own stories. Both books are highly valued in our community,” she says.
“We never imagined the journey these books would take us on.”
Books can be purchased directly from Te Mata Kindergarten or the Heretaunga Kindergarten Association at a cost of $20 each.
Children at Te Mata Kindergarten enjoy sharing their local stories.
THE LEGEND OF TE MATA O RONGAKOKO, THE SLEEPING GIANT*
Many centuries ago, the people living in a pā on the Heretaunga Plains were under constant threat of war from the coastal tribes of Waimarama.
At a meeting at Pakipaki, near Hastings, a kuia proposed an idea to bring peace to her people. Hinerakau, the daughter of a Pakipaki chief, would meet the tribal leader, the giant Te Mata, and he would fall in love with her and the warring would end.
This plan succeeded, but Hinerakau also fell in love. Her people demanded that she make Te Mata prove his devotion to her by performing a series of difficult tasks. The last task was to bite a hole through the hills between the coast and the plains, so that whānau could visit Hinerakau more easily.
But Te Mata choked on the rocks and his prone form now forms Te Mata Peak. The outline of his body forms the skyline, with his head to the south and feet to the north. His bite of earth is known as The Gap, or Pari Kārangaranga.
*The legend of Te Mata o Rongokako: The Sleeping Giant is one of the books published by Te Mata Kindergarten.