Rural Week NZ

What It’s Like for a Family To Leave the City and Return To Marae

After years of urban drift, some indigenous New Zealanders are returning to Marae.
May 28, 2017, 6:50pm
All images by Manu Caddie

Following the violence and land confiscation of New Zealand's colonisation, many indigenous Māori were slowly forced to move to the cities to find work. In the 50 years leading up to the mid 1980s, the Māori population had changed from 83 percent rural to 83 percent urban. But today, maybe the tide is turning. As part of VICE New Zealand's Rural Week, we spoke to Manu Caddie, whose family decided to go the opposite direction: shifting from town to country and finding home at the rural marae in Ruatoria of his wife.

Image by Manu Caddie

VICE: Hi Manu. Can you start with telling me about your family's background—what were you up to before you moved back to Ruatoria?
So in the early 90s I did my degree in Wellington, met Tarsh, and she grew up on the East Coast on a big station with her grandparents. Her parents had gone between Gisborne and Christchurch where their kids had gone during the urban drift. The grandparents would go down there because they'd miss them and then they'd come back here because they missed the Coast. So on our honeymoon, Tarsh heard they had moved back to Gisborne, she really wanted to come and look after them and she said—"I'm going back, come if you want to" [laughs]. So we moved to Gisborne.

Eventually we had children and often had talked about wanting them to have a Coast experience as part of their growing up. Gisborne's cool but it's still an urban, city environment mostly. We'd been involved at the marae for at least 10 years, travelling from Gisborne to hui, tangi and wānanga, so we had an idea of what we'd be getting into when we moved. So we went through the process with the marae committee and the 300 landowners on the 130 hectare block next door that Tarsh is a trustee for. There was a lot of support from the owners of the block, most of whom don't live around here, although some of them still hope to move back one day. We had a house in Gisborne that we sold, and put those funds into building a new house on the land next to the marae. For 14 months our whānau lived in caravans at the marae, sometimes sleeping in the wharenui, using the wharekai for cooking. The kids coped with that better than we thought they might, and it's been pretty smooth really.

Image by Manu Caddie

When you decided to go back and build on that land what were the big challenges you faced?

Probably the bureaucracy. There's a fund the government set up to support Māori to build on Māori land. What it does essentially is Housing New Zealand underwrites the loan to Kiwibank, to reduce the risk. But it's still a mortgage, Kiwibank will weigh up the risks and and the whole process was really cumbersome, seemed like they hadn't done it before.


It took a long time to work through the processes, but we got there in the end. Māori land ownership is often complicated, we had to ask all of the 300 owners whether anyone had objections to us building on the block. While there's 300 owners the Māori Land Court only has addresses for about 150 of them. But we got 75 responses back, and overwhelming support. The whole idea of land as a collective asset held in common rather than all individualised is one that appeals to us—it does make things more complicated but in the end it feels good to sort of be living on collective land and subject to the collective will of a community of owners rather than just having a little piece of dirt that's ours. It changes the relationship we have with the whenua and our sense of being custodians rather than owners of the land.

What about that transition from just being in the city to this much more rural environment, was that difficult?
Nothing too dire. I was reflecting yesterday that the transition from Wellington was probably a bit more traumatic than moving from Gisborne to where we are here at Makarika, 10km south of Ruatoria. I think doing that time, building relationships before you do the big move is really important.

For Tarsh, this is the centre of her universe really. She's totally in her zone here, it's where she belongs. But for me I don't belong in the same way as people who have whakapapa here and have had their ancestors living here for a thousand years do. They have a bit of a different connection to the place than us outsiders. But I certainly don't regret it at all, if anything just regret not doing it sooner. Such a good lifestyle for the kids and for us—pace of life is slower and it helps to clarify what's important.


I think that connection to the land and the natural environment is a lot more immediate.
So living at the marae, when we were living in a drought, we ran out of water in the tanks and had to suck water up from the creek—and that water's pretty dirty. When we had to use that for showering and stuff. In Māori you say 'ko wai au koe?' Which is 'where do you draw your water from?' And it feels good to be here—it makes all those things a bit more real.

Image by Manu Caddie

Do you think being back on the land changes the way you engage with Māoritanga?
In terms of Māoritanga and stuff, yeah I think we want it to be a community where our kids are around the Reo more than when we lived in the city. They went to a bilingual school in the city but it was very rare to be heard spoken outside of the school—whereas here it's a lot more present in the community and we're more involved with Te Ao Māori and marae and tangi and those sort of things. It also connects them to their whenua in a way that if they were not living here it may feel like are just visitors when they come back—those connections are still real but like I said, you don't have to deal with the realities of day to day interaction with the whenua.

Obviously it's a really great foundation in terms of identity and belonging, connection to this place, whether they stay here or live somewhere else, having spent some time growing up there that will be a permanent bond and they'll always know this is where they can come back to.

Image by Manu Caddie

New Zealand's obviously had these historic big movements of urban drift from Māori communities with younger people heading to the cities do you think that could be starting to tip back the other way—could we start to see more of the younger generation returning from the cities to land like you have?
Technology is certainly enabling that to be an option for more people—the nature of work is more mobile and for those with the skills and maybe experience, they can do that. I think there are still challenges for people with limited skills and experience to create those kind of opportunities. But on the other hand there's a young mother living here with seven kids who came from Auckland, took the $3,000 the government were offering to leave Auckland and turned up there with nothing, and no support—so there are those stories, people are not able to afford to live in big cities, finding a way to survive here. A big emphasis with our economic development planning here is that economic development is not just about raising income levels, it's about being able to put food on the table by hunting and fishing, and have some healthy, affordable housing. So we've been supporting the subsistence lifestyle many families still rely on by trying to increase skill training around some of that stuff—the chainsaw course for the women and butchery courses are happening.

What we've got here is a lot of land that people can live on which is perhaps an advantage over the cities. What we don't have yet are the jobs—but if you don't need a $50,000 salary and can get by on 20 or 30 grand because you go hunting and fishing and have a good garden, then that can be a happy, healthy lifestyle. There will always be young ones from here that want to go out and see the world and some of them will come back and there will be others that have been two or three generations living in the city somewhere else but know that they're connected here.

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