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A new tradition, a new taoka

Thursday 14 October 2021 12:08pm

korowai ben ong wayne te kaawa image
PhD candidate Ben Ong wearing Reverend Dr Wayne Te Kaawa's korowai as they hongi.

A new tradition celebrating tauira handing in their PhD theses or graduating with a Bachelor of Theology will see them leave Otago with a special gift. 

Theology Lecturer and Supervisor Reverend Dr Wayne Te Kaawa (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Awa and Tuhoe) was inspired to start a new tradition for tauira he has worked with to celebrate their time together studying Māori Theology. 

“I had a student who did a paper with me in 2019 who I've kept in regular contact with. She graduated with a BTheol (Bachelor of Theology) and I was sitting there thinking 'she’s going to be graduating this year, Ben [Ong] is going to be submitting his PhD, why don’t I just start a tradition?'."

Along with the obligatory chocolate fish that often accompanies PhD thesis submission, PhD candidates supervised by Rev Dr Te Kaawa receive a pounamu and are given the opportunity to wear his personal korowai while ringing the University bell and at graduation. Tauira who graduate with a Bachelor of Theology also receive a pounamu from Rev Dr Te Kaawa.

korowai Professor Paul Treblico, Ben Ong and Reverend Dr Wayne Te Kaawa image
PhD candidate Ben Ong with his co-supervisors Professor Paul Treblico and Rev Dr Wayne Te Kaawa in front of the University bell after Ben submitted his thesis.

His korowai was made for him by an uncle in 2010 when he first gained a position in the church. Woven with flax from his uncle’s garden and feathers from the Chatham Islands, it took a year to complete.

After submitting his thesis PhD candidate Ben Ong was the first to experience this tradition, donning his new pounamu necklace and Rev Dr Te Kaawa’s korowai to ring the University bell.

“I have a personal association with them. Ben and I were students together and he did part of his PhD on my PhD analysing it. It was just to acknowledge the achievement,” Rev Dr Te Kaawa says.

Ben’s PhD looked at ways pakeha can partner together with Māori to interpret religious text in ways that centre Māori voices in that discussion and de-centre pakeha voices. He hopes it contributes to supporting equity within the discipline of Theology.

Ben says he was flattered and surprised when he learnt of the new tradition and was honoured to be the first recipient.

“One of the really neat things about wearing Wayne’s korowai is having that physical representation of the support he’s offered to me over the PhD, both as students together and as my supervisor.”