WHILE it came down almost as quickly as it went up – the safety cone atop of the Lady on the Rock statue was described as “not fun” and offensive.
The cone appeared on the statue, which is one of Whakatane’s most iconic sights, on Saturday. It had been secured to the head of the statue with a yellow tie.
The statue was commissioned by former Whakatane mayor, Sir William Sullivan, after his wife died en route to England. It was erected in 1965 as a memorial to her and also Wairaka, who was the daughter of Mataatua captain Toroa.
Wairaka was credited by some as saving the Mataatua waka, filled with women, when it was swept away while the canoe’s men were on shore exploring their new homelands.
Taking up a paddle, despite the rules forbidding women to do so, Wairaka saved the waka and uttered the phrase that would inspire the name of the town: “Kia Whakatane au I ahau”, which means to act like a man.
Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne said he was disappointed to hear about the cone on the statue.
“It is disappointing. It is probably some young person having some fun, but it’s not fun at all. Over the years some people have done some stupid things, I have seen a surf board on it, and one election there was even an election billboard.
“But to both pakeha and Maori – it is a special part of our history and I am very disappointed that someone has done this.”
The statue is situated on a rock that Ngati Awa, and many of those who affiliate to the Mataatua waka, consider sacred. It is believed that when a member of the tribe dies, their spirit sits on the rock, Turuturu Roimata, during the tangi period before making its trip to spiritual homelands of Hawaiki.
Te Runanga o Ngati Awa chief executive Leonie Simpson asks that the sacred rocks, or toka tapu, be respected by all.
“The toka tapu in the Whakatane River are individually named and are sacred to Ngati Awa, and the other iwi of Mataatua.
“Turuturu Roimata, is especially sacred and is one of the places where the spirits of the deceased depart from. We encourage all members of our community to respect and protect our sacred places.”