Omaka Marae, Manaaki women

For the last ten years the people of Omaka Marae, in Marlborough, have been working to realise their strategic vision – Pa ora pa wānanga, Developing a centre of cultural excellence.

The core driver has been to reconnect whānau to Māori worlds through education and the sharing and creating of indigenous knowledge: formal education, informal education, children’s education, (including a recently opened primary and intermediate school), education to support a social enterprise – and of course intergenerational education.

The Omaka marae was officially opened in 1985. There are three main iwi involved: Kurahaupō iwi of Te Tauihu, Rangitāne o Wairau, Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō and Ngāti Kuia.

Kiley Nepia (iwi) along with his wife Donna are the comanagers of the marae. Kiley describes how the education programme started and what’s happening on the marae now.

Education programmes

“We started to provide adult education classes at the marae because ten years ago there were no local providers offering courses in tikanga Māori including te reo. So the current chair, Margaret Bond, who is also a weaver started holding raranga wānanga. Two years later the board developed a relationship with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and now there are about 200 people enrolled in free tertiary education programmes on the marae. There are classes in weaving – at a certificate and diploma level, and Levels 4 and 5, and diploma level te reo. Most of the programmes run for 36 weeks.

“To begin with there was a big uptake by local Māori in the te reo classes. Now almost 80 percent are non-Māori – usually people working in a bilingual setting, such as teachers or health workers. They are learning te reo as part of their professional development.

“As well as the formal classes there are all kinds of other activities that involve learning. The marae is the perfect learning environment for our people. Simply being at the marae helps people reconnect through their culture. This decolonisation process can have a profound effect on their lives. It is inspirational and aspirational, making our people want to go further.

“One activity that we started three years ago is an after-school programme called Pa Kids. It’s not a traditional after school programme where people can just drop their kids off. They need to come with a parent or an auntie or another family member so they can learn Māori culture and protocol and take it back into their home. It is a great example of how intergenerational learning is happening. In western education adults and children are separated. Pa Kids is always a mix of young and old and there are always kaumatua around to guide them through the process. 

“Pa Kids has acted as a stepping stone for our kura.

“In term four this year we opened a bi-lingual primary and intermediate school in partnership with Renwick School, so as a satellite school it is state funded. It is called Te Pa Wānanga, or the learning village. The idea relates directly to our strategic vision: our children being educated in a kaupapa Māori environment so we will have Māori children succeeding as Māori. The school is housed in a brand new building provided by the Ministry of Education.

“We are also promoting kaupapa Māori healthy lifestyles through the establishment of a whare hakinakina – a gym. It is very important for our people to lead healthy lifestyles. A lot of our people feel more comfortable in the environment we have been able to provide for them rather than going to a gym.

“Our fifth initiative is Manaaki, which a social enterprise that we started four years ago.


“Manaaki, which is also part of our learning village concept produces a range of Māori inspired condiments. The idea is that one day the profits from Manaaki will be reinvested to support the marae’s initiatives.

“Traditionally aunties used to make preserves, chutneys and sauces and bring these to our gatherings. We realised that this skill had died, so we wanted to provide an avenue for our mums to learn to grow, harvest and make this food.

“The aunties are also learning how to run a business – how to go out and sell and manage the finances. At the moment some of the work is paid, but most is voluntary. In time we will be able to employ more of them. The aim is to generate income which will be reinvested into the marae and its activities.

“Donna is one of the aunties and for her, apart from learning new preserving skills, the big impact has been cultural. Manaaki has taken us back to those traditional values, the values that our aunties had such as manaakitanga – because that is what it is about. It’s about giving hospitality to others, hosting people and being kind.”

“As the learning village concept grows, we are getting more and more role models, both male and female. This means that people who are just starting out on their decolonisation process can think about what it means, for example to be a good Māori dad, or a good Māori student.

“We find that learning becomes important for people who are connected to the marae. They can see that education is the way to whānau transformation.

“I was brought up in Marlborough at a time when marae were being built all over the country. The mid 80s. My whānau were connected to the marae, so I know what it is like to be brought up in a Māori environment. I had that security from a young age. It’s now become my passion – finding ways to assist people to go through that transition.”

Kiley Nepia is currently completing a PhD in developing a contemporary whare wānanga curriculum which will produce the next generation of cultural practitioners for Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō.

This article was published in the ACE Aotearoa Summer Newsletter 2018.