Feature Documentary - Anzac Day 2019 - Māori Television

Te Rau Kupenga travels to Ukraine to fulfil a promise of visiting Vapnyarka, the eponym of his mother’s name and final resting place of his granduncle, Pouramua Nihoniho. 

Vapnierka is the story of Vapnierka Kupenga. Passionate and dedicated to the advancement of Māori, Vapi, as she was affectionately known, created a reputation as a champion of Māori rights. But the first question most people ask is ‘Where does the name Vapnierka come from?’

The documentary explores the story behind the name, a journey that leads Teraumawhitu Kupenga, Vapi’s only son, to their granduncle Pouramua Nihoniho. For the last 74 years, the details surrounding his death were unknown to the whānau.

Pouramua Nihoniho, aka Robert Tuhura, enlisted as a soldier in WWII. He fought in the 28th Māori Battalion. Two years into the war he was captured and spent the rest of his wartime in POW camps across Europe. Just weeks out from the end of the war, Pouramua was on a Soviet train bound for Odessa to repatriate allied soldiers. He was shot by a Russia guard and left at a train station in the small town of Vapnyarka, Ukraine. 

Pouramua’s parents, Pakanui Nihoniho and Heni Nohoaka Tuhura, were devastated. Te Rau’s mother, a mokopuna to Pakanui and Heni, was the first child born in the wider whānau after Pourāmua’s passing. Pakanui asked Vapi’s mother if he could raise her and named her Vapnierka in memory of the place where Pouramua was buried. Before he died he gave Vapi a ōhaki, a promise, to one day visit the place where Pouramua lies.  Ko te ohaki “kia kite te wahi i mate ai taku tama”.

Like many women of her generation, the daughters of these WWII soldiers, Vapi assumed many leadership roles. Through political activism, education, social policy and undying love for her iwi, Ngāti Porou, Vapi created a reputation for being a stalwart of the Māori renaissance. Throughout her life, she often spoke of fulfilling the ōhaki, and Te Rau promised to do it with her. Unfortunately, in 2013, she passed suddenly.
Te Rau is now on the journey to honour that promise, to go to Vapnyarka Ukraine. Joining him is his aunt, Kuini Moehau Reedy, considered as a sister to Vapi. She too wants to fulfil the ōhaki for her grandfather, Pakanui Nihoniho.
This is their powerful and inspiring story – an intricate braid of intergenerational love, honour and sacrifice that brings about the legacy that is carried in a name.