Memorial project

In 2017 we launched a project to build a memorial that will keep this important piece of our history alive. Sited in Rawene cemetery, the memorial will not only commemorate those lost, but also recognise the many good people of the Hokianga who count this story as part of their own.

We believe the memorial will become a distinctive cultural site in the Hokianga, enabling:

  • future generations of Chinese New Zealanders to affirm their history and connection with their ancestors
  • tangata whenua and other New Zealanders to pay their respects and celebrate shared values and common history
  • ongoing public education on Chinese New Zealand history and historic Chinese Maori relations
  • economic benefits to Rawene and other areas in Northland, through increased visitor numbers.

The memorial complements the plaques gifted to Te Roroa and Te Rarawa from the Chinese community (sited at the Waipoua Forest Visitors’ centre in the south and Mitimiti cemetery in the north), and will be a key feature of the Northland Regional Council’s “Wandering with Ancestors” tourism trail. The trail, to be launched at the unveiling of the new memorial, contributes to a cornerstone project within the Northland Economic Action Plan: “Northland Journeys – the Byways”.

Every whanau needs to know where their loved ones are. This is a place where a sculptural art piece shows the people of Rawene who the Chinese are.  That is most important.
– Steve Morunga, Kaumatua, Rawene


Our memorial has been designed by Auckland and New York-based TT Architects whose founders, Richard Tam and Robert Tse, are both descendants of early Chinese New Zealand settlers. The memorial consists of a series of concrete steps and steel panels, and would be located along the cemetery fenceline following the curve of the land. Visitors will be able to walk the steps leading up to the memorial panels.  As they walk they will see wording that outlines the process of moving from grief to memory to honouring.

Lynette Shum, English Secretary of the Poon Fah Association of New Zealand and Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy at Rawene Cemetery.

Why Rawene cemetery? According to oral tradition, a number of remains are buried in an unmarked location in the cemetery area. Remains were buried up and down the coast, but geographically, Rawene is at the centre – linking north of the Hokianga harbour, with the south. Visitors who wish to pay respects will be able to visit two other memorial sites at Te Roroa’s Waipoua Visitors’ Centre in the south, and Te Rarawa’s Mitimiti cemetery in the north, stopping at Rawene in between.  The Waipoua and Mitimiti sites display plaques from our community thanking Te Roroa and Te Rarawa for the care of our ancestors’ remains.

What the locals think – As part of the resource consent process, we ran a community consultation asking people what they thought of the proposed memorial. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Here’s what some of them said:

  • We love it because it is a part of our history.
  • This is an important story in the history of the area. It crosses the boundaries of culture, race and time.  It must happen.
  • It’s a taonga for Rawene, I like the wairua of the kaupapa and the idea of closing the circle for the Chinese whanau. Kawa (greatest support) for the start and completion of the building of it.
  • I know a number of Asian tourists who have come up this way and this would be a part of their history as well as ours.  My experience is that they are deeply moved to find a place where we honour our ancestors in this way.