The Timaru Herald
Star turn for Ma¯ori New Year
In the 34 years kuia Maata Wharehoka has been living at Parihaka she’s never seen a crowd as big as she did on Saturday come to celebrate Puanga – the Taranaki Ma¯ori New Year.
At 6am on Saturday about 200 people gathered in the darkness on Pu¯ repo hill to watch Puanga, also known as the star Rigel, rise over Taranaki Maunga, while poi was performed and waiata sung.
And that was just the start of the day-long Puanga Kai Rau Festival, which is in its eighth year.
Wharehoka, who is a kaitiaki of Parihaka, said it was great to see so many faces at the festival – but joked there were too many as they only had kai for 100.
‘‘This is the biggest crowd we’ve ever had,’’ Wharehoka said. ‘‘The manaakitanga, the tikanga of this whole thing is beautiful.’’
Wharehoka said the coastal Taranaki settlement was the best place to watch the star rise as other places in Taranaki were ‘‘not as pretty’’.
She said Taranaki iwi had been celebrating Puanga for centuries, but they still celebrated Matariki, too.
The stars, or clusters, mark the Ma¯ori New Year when they rise around June or July each year.
Wharehoka’s goal is to normalise Ma¯ori New Year celebrations as much as those that happen on January 1. The number of people at the Saturday event made her optimistic that it was possible.
Next year, Friday, June 24, will mark the first Matariki celebrated with a public holiday.
Dr Ruakere Hond led the morning’s events on Pu¯ repo hill, where crowds gathered with torches in hand as the star rose to the right of the summit of Taranaki Maunga, before disappearing shortly after.
‘‘This is by far the biggest crowd we’ve ever had – almost double what we’ve had in the past,’’ Hond said.
He invited everyone to name people who had passed away in the last two years, to remember them.
There was silence as one by one, breaking voices named the people they’d lost.
The crowd then made their way back down the winding, solar lightlit path to the gardens where a Whakaohooho a Mahuika ceremony took place, with a fire lit that would burn through to the night. ‘‘We’re recognising our relationship with the land,’’ Hond said.
The crowd was invited to hang around for lunch and dinner, while they helped with the gardens for the day.
‘‘There’s lots of things to do.’’ New Plymouth MP Glen Bennett attended the morning festivities, and said it was a ‘‘powerful experience’’ seeing Puanga rise above the maunga.
‘‘It’s a very special, special event,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘I thought, for hundreds of years people have
stood here and done this.’’
The MP said he had attended Puanga in the past, but last time there was only a small crowd, and he thought that it was an illustration of the togetherness Parihaka stands for.
‘‘I so enjoyed seeing that amount of people were there,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘It was really powerful to see – that really excites me.’’