A traditional handmade Māori kaitaka (cloak) named Nga Toa o Ahitereiria ‘Warriors of Australia’ has been presented to the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) Headquarters Joint Operations Command (HQJOC) in Bungendore, New South Wales, during a special ceremony.
Warrant Officer Class One (WO1) Robert ‘Jobie’ Jobe, of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), gave the cloak as a sign of gratitude for his three-year posting to HQJOC. Chief of Joint Operations Lieutenant General Greg Bilton accepted the gift on behalf of the ADF.
The ceremony commenced with WO1 Jobe explaining the kaupapa (story) of the JOC kaitaka and the traditional process for giving a cloak away.
“A kaitaka like this is considered a taonga, the Māori word for treasure. Items like these are not just material or physical items, they also have a life so are very special,” WO1 Jobe said.
“We call them living treasures because once someone wears them they leave a part of themselves with the cloak itself so the more people that wear it, it gains a ‘mana’ and feeling.
“It’s a spiritual gift and a physical one; it has ancestors imprinted on the cloak at the same time that serve to guide and protect the person when wearing it.”
The cloak was cut and dyed three years ago when WO1 Jobe started making another cloak for HQJOC Joint Movements Unit. After discussions with Headquarters NZDF and multiple cultural advisers, it was agreed the cloak could be worn by any serving JOC member at an occasion that recognised the member’s individual achievements, consistent with the spirit and kaupapa of the kaitaka.
“It’s sad in one way because I’ve worked on it intimately for three years; it has my thoughts and life force on it so it’s like saying goodbye to a friend,” WO1 Jobe said.
“On the other hand, it brings great joy to be able to give away such a gift and it’s given with a lot of love.”
Chaplain James Sutherland was invited to bless the kaitaka to make sure there was no tapu or ‘spells’ on it. Traditionally, it would be custom to do a waiata or song during the cloak presentation, however, on this occasion the Haka was performed to show the three services working as one defence force, the ADF said in a statement.
Lieutenant General Bilton received and donned the cloak on behalf of HQJOC, accepting the responsibility to care for the cloak, respect it, and place it in a position of prominence in the headquarters.
“Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge and pay my respects to the Māori people,” Lieutenant General Bilton said.
“What you have gifted is very generous and we are very grateful – the symbology is not lost on us.
“We are deeply touched by the way you have told our story in this cloak and most importantly, you have highlighted the connection between the ADF and NZDF, as well as our two nations.
“To be honoured in this way just further reinforces the degree in which our relationship is substantive.
“What you [WO1 Jobe] have given in your posting is a broader understanding and awareness of a rich and vibrant culture. One that as service personnel we can relate to, and we can understand.
“You have broadened our perspective and given a great gift well beyond the work we have asked you to do as a movements warrant officer. We are all deeply grateful for you taking the time to do that and we are better people for it.
“To the NZDF, there is no closer partner or ally, and I am deeply grateful for not just the Maori kaitaka, but for the offer of such a generous gift.”
As it was his final year at HQJOC, WO1 Jobe said this cloak would be the last he would make for any military organisation.
“I’ve had a fantastic time here in Australia and really enjoyed my time at HQJOC. Met some really great people, it’s been a really enjoyable time,” he said.
WO1 Jobe will return to Wellington to attend the NZDF trade training school and start making cloaks for his family.
He leaves a lasting legacy standing tall and proud in the HQJOC foyer for personnel, guests and visitors to admire for years to come, the ADF said.