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Tapu Te Ranga Marae fire: ‘we can rebuild the marae’

A group of cub scouts and an American who has lived at Tapu Te Ranga Marae for the last six years were among those who escaped the fire which destroyed the Wellington building overnight.

Tapu Te Ranga Marae after a fire last night. Photo: RNZ / Meriana Johnsen

Fire and Emergency are yet to identify the cause of the fire which has left the Island Bay marae a pile of smouldering ash, except for a single whare that remains intact.

A group of 27 cub scouts and several parents were staying in the marae when the fire started about 12.30am, but they managed to escape to a neighbouring property.

Michael James was in his room at the marae when he smelt smoke.

Michael James. Photo: RNZ / Meriana Johnsen

“I figured it was the hui burning the fireplace in the wharekai so I didn’t really think much of it but then about 25 minutes later – or 20 minutes later – Bruce’s youngest son Hirini came banging on the door saying ‘the building’s on fire, everybody get out’.

“I started to panic but then I said ‘well, what can I take with me, and I said ‘my computer, or could I take my saxophone’ and someone said ‘just leave it here’, and fortunately – although the house is a loss, a terrible loss – my room didn’t go up, so somehow there was a silver lining in it.”

Originally from the US but having lived in New Zealand for the last 16 years, he decided to make Tapu Te Ranga home six years ago to deepen his understanding of te reo Māori and the Māori culture.

Tapu Te Ranga Marae Photo: RNZ / Meriana Johnsen

“What I really wanted to do was be in a community and because I was interested in the Māori culture and speaking the Māori language it was a perfect match so I made the commitment to it with those ideals.”

A spokesperson for the whānau, Gabriel Tupou, said they were absolutely devastated.

“It’s really our tūrangawaewae, it’s a place where not only we as whānau can stand but also the hundreds of thousands of people who have come through and experience Tapu Te Ranga marae.”

Not only did the family lose their home, they lost a number of personal photos of their tīpuna and artwork including a mural by renowned New Zealand artist Robyn Kahukiwa.

Despite the enormity of their loss, Mr Tupou said they would continue the legacy of their late grandfather and father Bruce Stewart.

Tapu Te Ranga Marae. Photo: RNZ / Meriana Johnsen

“We believe there is a future here at Tapu Te Ranga marae; we believe that we can rebuild the marae – or that which is lost – to continue the charitable kaupapa of the trust. But look in saying that, look, the priority is that our people are safe.”

RNZ / Meriana Johnsen