Sunday, July 15, 2018

Festivals and fireworks - ending the old, finding the new

Wellington City Council set off fireworks last night (14 July) for the first time in its celebration of Matariki. It reflects the City Councils' new Te Tauihu policy, which promotes Wellington as a bicultural city and has a 2040 goal of becoming a te reo Māori city (whatever that means). I'm surprised - and pleased - it was a unanimous decision by the Council. It shows how far we've come in restoring the mana of te reo Māori as the first language of this land.

Fireworks make a nice spectacle, and better now than for outdated Guy Fawkes celebrations on 5 November. But I do hope as Matariki re-ascends in our nation's consciousness, that people will recognise it's not just another excuse for a party, but will get more down to earth in its honouring.

After all, in traditional Māori practice, it reflected a pattern of life in touch with natural rhythms, where food growing, harvest and preparation was linked to the seasons.

I was fortunate to be at Taranaki's Parihaka Community five weeks ago, for their equivalent of Matariki. Puanga, they call it: the Maori name for the star Rigel that sits above the Matariki (Pleiades) cluster. Matariki's first appearance in the eastern dawn sky in midwinter signals the beginning of the Māori New Year - in most places. But for Parihaka, the mountain of Taranaki comes between it and Matariki at the time, so Puanga is taken as the marker - and gives its name to their festival.

Modern-day Parihaka has been celebrating Puanga for about 10 years. This year was the first time Puanga was seen on the first day the community expected to see it. I felt blessed to be there, standing on a hill where colonial soldiers had watched over Parihaka for five years after its violent sacking and desecration in 1881.

But on this clear, still night in June 2018, about an hour before dawn, a visitor to Parihaka, a musician, played a slow melancholy tune on a taonga pūoro (traditional instrument) - a bone whistle. Then Puanga rose clear and brilliant just above the southern spur of Taranaki, rising to be just above the summit before it disappeared into the blue of the brightening morning sky.

Later that day, it was down to work in the maara (gardens) - shoulder to shoulder with people from Parihaka, from Taranaki, Wellington, Auckland, Germany, France, United States.... This was the last big harvest of the year, and the beginning of preparing the beds for winter planting, as well as a general tidy-up. All through the weekend, day and night, large logs burned in the fire-pit, symbolising te ahi kaa (the home fires) that the Parihaka Community is stoking up and burning brighter now, especially now that a Deed of Reconciliation and Settlement has been achieved with the Crown over wrongs committed against Parihaka. But the only fireworks at Parihaka for their "Matariki" were provided by a guy with a skill-saw trimming off surplus ends of corrugated iron on a shelter they built in the garden.

While I was weeding old plots myself, I ended up meeting 'cousins' from Auckland - cousins I'd never met before. They were from a Māori/Chinese family, market gardeners from round Pukekohe, one of whose sons had married a cousin of mine. I knew the family had Parihaka connections, but I didn't expect to find them there that day. Later, I met and spoke with Tihikura, whose family has had a long association with Parihaka, and whose mother and father taught him how to use harakeke (flax) on the garden, and for weaving. The colonisation of his lands still hurts, as intensive farming practices and drainage of land destroys the habitat for harakeke, tuna (eels) and piharau (lamprey fish). He wishes that "Māori farmers" of such native resources, receive as much recognition as dairy farmers.

As I worked in the garden, under blue skies with Taranaki gleaming brilliant white, I felt I was offering it up as a prayer for our land - for Aotearoa: that we would all find our place, our common ground here, and work the land sustainably so all may benefit from it. It's a long prayer, but the signs are looking good this year.

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