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Dipping into Matariki celebrations

Earlier this month, PHIL STEBBING attended two very different events to mark the arrival of Matariki.

On the blustery early morning of July 14 in Paetūmōkai Featherston, a special ceremony was held for this year’s Matariki – the unveiling of a pou, which in te reo Māori means a post used to define a boundary.

This particular pou honours a 19th century Māori chief and, appropriately, one of his descendants, artist Edward Riwai, was instrumental in its contemporary design.

“The carving represents Nuku-pewapewa, and his leadership here in Wairarapa, especially the peace he brought to this area because it was very warlike back then,” Riwai noted.

One of the features of the pou is a pūkāea, or long trumpet, which anyone can blow. Another is the kite, which legend says was used in battle by one of Nuku-pewapewa’s warriors to fly into a fortified pā.

“Māori were the first ones to fly. Not the Wright brothers,” Riwai light-heartedly remarked.

“Our focus is on teaching tamariki about Māori heroes, and it’s also a way to teach other people about our culture.”

Commissioned by the Greytown Trails Trust, and three years in the making, the pou marks the start of the cycling and walking trail from Featherston to Woodside.

Its design, acknowledging local history, was made in collaboration with Papawai and Paetumokai o Tauira whānau.

“It was just lovely to have Greytown Trails Trust come to us for our input and our guidance around what it would look like; it just shows how well we can work together,” Papawai’s Simone Baker said.

Using 3D printing and modern materials like aluminium and fibreglass, the pou is set to be an eye-catching icon for travellers to the region.

“Ed has really set the bar for future artists and we’re going to see more boundaries pushed with that form of art,” said Baker, who sees the pou as part of a hopeful future.

“At Matariki, there’s an actual paradigm shift happening to accommodate all Pākehā, and coming together as one. It’s just going to go further; it’s going to create a united Aotearoa,” she said.

For those who missed the ceremony unveiling the pou that morning, Matariki was also being celebrated with a cold freezing winter dip in the Ruamāhanga river at the river bank opposite the Gladstone Inn.

This was the event’s third year, and Ali Lang has been a regular winter dipper.

“It’s wonderful, all the families of the children at the school usually come in support, everyone gets so behind it,” she said.

But as local Māori storyteller Ra Smith told the locals, bathing in the Ruamāhanga is much more than just a cold water plunge.

“This is the place where Māori would place children in the river. And so after you come out of the water and come up for air, you might want to rename yourself.”

For Māori it was a sacred place.

“It was like a maternity ward where all the mothers went to birth children. And then they would come down to the river to place them in the waters. It’s over 50 years since we’ve done that,” Smith said.

With the river at fast flow, speed boats were on standby to rescue anyone who got into difficulty after the recent heavy rains, and the sun was out helping take the chill off the icy cold waters.

Gladstone Mayor Greg Lang had his own take on taking the plunge.

“The average person would say, ‘No way, I’m not doing it’, but life is too short not to have fun, and I’m all about the fun,” he said.
Also lapping up the experience was Kaye Anderson, who said it was the perfect way to celebrate Matariki.

“When you get in that water, you brace yourself, take a deep breath, make that leap of faith, and take the plunge. It’s a great way to start the new year.”

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