More than a century ago when the SS Ventnor sunk the remains of hundreds of Chinese miners – en route to south China - washed ashore on a remote beach in the Hokianga. Local iwi buried the remains in their ancestral urupa at Mitimiti.
More recently the descendants of those miners discovered their ancestors remains hadn’t been lost at sea but instead had been honoured and buried by Matihetihe Marae families.
Since then a remarkable relationship between the descendents of both peoples has developed, a striking Chinese gateway was erected and every two years Chinese Kiwis make the trek north to honour their ancestors as well as the ancestors of local Maori.
This year Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy was privileged to be invited to take part in the NZ Chinese Association’s biennial trip to the far north to honour the ancestors.
The bus left Auckland in the early hours of Saturday morning, visiting a memorial site within Te Roroa forest, Tane Mahuta and finally the Hokianga harbour. Visiting the Opononi Museum and attending the opening of a photographic exhibition by Dr King Tong Ho at No.1 Parnell Gallery at Rawene.
First thing Sunday morning the bus was on the morning ferry and by mid morning the group were being powhiri welcomed on to Matihetihe Marae at Mitimiti. Gisborne Mayor and fluent te reo Maori speaker Meng Foon spoke for the roopu on the paepae.
The next hours were spent visiting the cemetery where the ancestors lie, unveiling a new plaque, sharing a meal with our hosts from Matihetihe Mara and heading to the beach to burn joss sticks and feed the hungry ghosts.
Following the trail of the ancestors was a profoundly moving and unforgettable experience. The wonderful thing about this story is that it demonstrates how treating other people with humanity and respect isn’t a new concept, perhaps it’s just one we need to remind ourselves about more often.
We'd like to extend a big thank you to Dr King Tong Ho (KT) senior photographic lecturer at AUT University and taker of the unforgettable images profiled below.