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First marriage between a Croatian and Māori celebrated with plaque unveiling

Unveiling the plaque to mark the first recorded marriage between a Croatian and Māori 

KAITAIA, NEW ZEALAND, 5 December 2019 – A large crowd has turned out in Kaitaia in the Far North of New Zealand last weekend for ‘TARARA Open Day’, an event celebrating the first recorded marriage between a Croatian and a Māori.

127 years ago, back in 1892, Croatian Andrija Kleskovic married his Maori Princess Erina Kaaka at St Saviour’s Church in Kaitaia, New Zealand and on Saturday a plaque was unveiled at the Kaitaia Dalmatian Club to honour the union symbolising the close bond between Croatians and Māori which club president Greg Yuretich jokingly called the Ngati TARARA Tribe.

Richard Jurisich, Raewyn Jujnovich, (great granddaughter of Kleskovich) and Alfie Jurisich (both Jurisich’s descend from Baska Voda)

The local Māori people nicknamed Croatian pioneer settlers in New Zealand TARARA as that was how the ‘fast’ Croatian language sounded to them. 

The commemoration on Saturday in Kaitaia was a success with around 260 people attending from many parts of New Zealand, including a few guests from Australia, and even one all the way from South Africa.

Unveiling the plaque

The plaque which was unveiled on the day with Māori and Croatian inscriptions organised by Frank Vinac

Speaker Peter Jackson, editor for 18 years of the Far North’s newspaper the Northland Age, gave an entertaining speech acknowledging three distinct cultures in the Far North which have entwined to a genuinely unique society, Māori, Pakeha, and the Croatians (who were mainly from Dalmatia). He said “The Dalmatian contribution to our community has been immense. It goes much further than kolo dancing, great wine, and spit roasted lamb. It is important to understand where we came from and who our ancestors were”.

Kolo dancers

Paula & Pete Berghan (Paula is a descendant of the Vegar family from Ravča)

Other guest speakers on the day were Dame Naida Glavish (granddaughter of Marino Glavas from Kozica) and the Honourable MP Shane Jones, great grandson of Andrija and Erina Kleskovich. Both Shane and Naida have Croatian and Māori bloodlines.

Dame Naida Glavish and MP Hon Shane Jones. Both Shane and Naida have Croatian and Māori bloodlines, known in New Zealand as TARARA

There were cultural performances on the day from the Kaitaia Club Kolo group and Tamburica band as well as singing of Croatian and Māori songs. A gum digger impersonator then entertained the crowd sharing jokes and stories from the gumfields.

Born in Mlini near Dubrovnik, Andrija Kleskovic made his way to New Zealand via the United States in 1884 where he joined the tide of young men who travelled from Dalmatia to dig for kauri gum in the Far North of New Zealand. 

He was at ease with Māori, he enjoyed sharing jokes and shared a mutual respect for them. He made many friends. In addition to his native Croatian, he was fluent in English and Māori. He assisted his Māori friends with trading their gum for provisions. 

Netta Owen (oldest surviving granddaughter of Andrija and Erina Kleskovich) and Netta’s daughter Bonnie Wills

In 1892 while he was gum digging at Houhora, he made his commitment to a new life complete when he married his Maori Princess, Erina Kaaka from Te Kao, of the Ngai Takoto tribe. She was the daughter of Chief Hohepa Kaaka and Aneta Marupo. Erina’s mother had significant land at Takahue. The couple were married by the Reverend Joseph Matthews three years before he died, at St Saviour’s Church, Kaitaia. It was the first recorded marriage between a Croatian and Māori.  They settled down together at Spring Camp, Waihopo and worked together digging gum. In some reports Erina’s surname is spelt Kaka, the marriage certificate was signed “Ellen Kaka” and her father, Hohepa Kaka, likewise.

Andrija and Erina Kleskovic in 1893

The couple had 13 children over an 18 year period. 

You can read their full story here. 

TARARA Day Program

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