By Te Karere


Tūao Toa Wai Johnson’s been schooled on the marae in tikanga Māori and is involved in marae business for Ngā Hau E Whā in Christchurch.

Johnson is a talented woman at many things, but what she really enjoys is practising her Maori culture which involves helping kaumātua, she says, “I always tautoko kaupapa, whatever goes, I’m there the front or back, mainly the back.”

She also says, “We all have a responsibility to look after kaumātua, no matter where they are from. Not just Māori, it’s our responsibility to look after them if they are here and have made Otautahi their home.”

It is unpaid work, but for Johnson, seeing others benefit is how she receives her pay, “I get satisfaction from helping. It’s all about that awhi, tautoko, manaaki – all those things we’ve been raised with.”

She's been in charge of Ngā Hau E Whā Marae for nine years in Christchurch, “The first person you see when you come here is me. I’m the one that growls, someone has to be.”

Marae worker, Norm Dewes, say she is irreplaceable, “She understands our whānau well, she understands all people, she is firm but lovely too. She keeps everyone at the marae, including myself, calm. She’s the boss, she runs us all.”

She says urban families don't really understand traditional hospitality customs and it's her role to help guide them in how it's carried out, “I’m fortunate I was raised to get up and do the work instead of just moaning.”

While she is getting older, she says she'll continue to volunteer for as long as she is able to, “I like getting up in the morning and thinking, who should I visit today? Sometimes I just need to sit down with a kaumātua – they are good listeners and advisors.”

For now, she is focusing on doing everything that she can with a smile in the hopes that those who she serves can feel her spirit of charity.