A summary of the historical trip to the commemoration of the sinking of SS Ventnor on the Hokianga coast in 1902 with its cargo of 499 Chinese coffins bound for their motherland Guangdong (Canton), China.
4 April 2013, Ching Ming. Bright and early, 100 people from all over New Zealand drove a convoy of cars, people movers, 4 wheel drives and a bus departing Auckland at 6.30 am to meet at the Waipoua Forest Headquarters, inland of the Hokianga Heads in the Far North by 10.30 am. The day was cloudy with a very light shower, very fitting for Ching Ming. People attending from Wellington included: Charlie Ding, Esther and David Fung, Kevin Tse, Alan Tso, Tom Joe, Lynette Shum, Kirstin Wong, Nigel Murphy, Shirley and George Sue.
We were welcomed onto the open Marae with a powhiri at Te Roroa Forest Park by elder Alex Nathan.
Our party was ably led by Mayor Meng Foon who replied in Maori. We had a waiata following each speaker of our party. Our speakers were: The Consul General of the Peoples Republic of China; Charlie Ding president of the Poon Far Association; Peter Sew Hoy for the Choi Sew Hoy Family.
President Linus Chin of the Otago Chinese Association presented a Koha in a Kete (a gift in a flax woven basket) to the Marae. We were invited for lunch then guided though the forest roads and fording a river to get to the beach just south of Kawerau where some of the bones were found by this iwi.
The Poon Far group set to and organised a table with food and drink for a Bei Jei. We were all given the opportunity to Bei with joss sticks. We returned to the Forest Headquarters for the planting of commemorative Kauri Trees and the unveiling of the Plaque that the Poon Far Association had made (see above). It is a brass plate with the message in Chinese, Maori and English.
This grove of Kauri Trees will be maintained by the Waipoua Forest Park and made available to the Public. After the formalities the heavens opened and we all dispersed to visit “Tane Mahuta” the age old giant Kauri tree on the way back to our respective lodgings in Opononi.
Friday 5th April.
9 am - We met at Rawene for the ferry sailing across the Hokianga inlet to Kohukotiu to continue by road to Mitimiti Marae on the coast. We gathered together there outside the gates of the Mitimiti Marae.
A Powhiri was held in their meeting house. Our speakers once again were Mayor Meng Foon, Charlie Ding, Peter Sew Hoy and Linus Chin presented a Koha in a Kete (a gift in a flax woven basket) to the Marae.
We then proceeded to their cemetery on top of a hilltop adjacent to the Marae. Duncan Sew Hoy and Wesley Sew Hoy unveiled another
plaque over looking the sea on a newly erected Chinese gateway. A blessing was given by Joe Adams, prayers by David Yan then the reading of the plaque in Maori by Meng Foon in Chinese by David Fung and in English by Kai Luey. It was very impressive.
We returned to the Marae for refreshments. Later the group reassembled on the beach and set up for Bei Jei. We then returned to Kohukohu Blackplace gallery for a special opening of an art expedition to commemorate this occasion.
We drove to Signal Station Road Lookout to view the area where the SS Vetnor sunk. Then returned to the wharf and boarded boats to the sand dunes on the heads of the Hokianga harbour. Here we set up bei jei again which overlooks the whole area where the survivors came ashore. The young ones in the group engaged in some sand-dune sledging, we all enjoyed a picnic lunch. We returned to our motels and prepared for the evenings entertainment at the Opononi hall. We were entertained by the kapa haka group and the short story reading of Renne Liangs story of the Bone Feeder, played by members of our party. Expressions of thanks were given to Lui Sheng Wong for all the work she has put into investigating and negotiating with the authorities and the iwi in the Hokianga area. (Group photo below on the coast)
This was followed by a hangi. We bid a fond farewell to our hosts and companions that evening, as we were leaving early the next morning to go our separate ways. The bus returned to Auckland while others were booked on a bus trip to Cape Reinga.
This event was historical, emotional, educational and a bonding of closer relationships with the people at the iwi. A warm invitation to return at any time was extended.
My thanks to Lui Sheng, Connie Kum and her team for organising the trip, the Poon Far Association for providing the Plaque, all the food and joss sticks etc. for the Bei Jei. I hope this event would have pleased our ancestors.
View photos here.
Lynda Chanwai-Earle from Radio NZ recorded the event. Listen to it here.
Natural History NZ attended and filmed the occasion.