Exploring Puanga

Parihaka Puanga Kai Rau Festival
Parihaka Puanga Kai Rau Festival

At the beginning of this month, I had no idea what the celebration of Matariki/Puanga was or entailed. In very simple terms it is the Māori New Year marked by constellations I have managed to speak to some truly wonderful people within our Kaitake collective & our local community here in Taranaki.

Each person I have spoken to has referenced a deep connection - spiritual, physical (to the earth) and community. Something that feels like a little dose of medicine right now.Turns out we have a very special celebration right here in Taranaki - Parihaka Puanga Kai Rau Festival.

I want to be very clear that my level of understanding of Matariki/Puanga and Māori Culture as a whole is very minimal. I am sharing this from a complete beginners level.

I spoke with Maata Wharehoka who gave me a lot of insight and enabled me to answer my following questions**

I’ve heard of festivities called Matariki, how is Puanga different?

In Taranaki Puanga is visible to us, not Matariki. It is the brightest star in Orion. Matariki is there but not as visible, therefore the star Puanga represents the beginning of this celebration for us.

Puanga appears earlier than Matariki. the values that surround the celebration don’t differ.

Is Puanga always a community celebration or do people celebrate just within their immediate families?

This is a community celebration.

What foods surround Puanga? Are there any special foods prepared just for Puanga?

Staples like taro, kūmara, māori potato, kōkihi (NZ Spinach) & Puha. Basically what is available for harvest at that time - not particular traditional dishes. At the festival they are able to take these foods from their garden at Parihaka.

In general food from the garden at Parihaka is stored for distribution to the 18th and 19th - the sabbath days of each month. Spoiled food and small grade are taken, or put into the pataka (storage at the gate)

What does Puanga mean for food production?

Maata talked about how gardening was seen as a representation of peace.

If they were working in the garden it meant they weren’t going to war, and gardening was a far more productive use of their time!

Papatūānuku-(earth mother) and Ranginui (sky father) take care of this season. The soil is left in the hands of Papatuanuku allowing a period of rest to re-energise & devleop resources for the growing season ahead.

What happens at the Parihaka Puanga Kai Rau Festival?

The garden is prepared to be put to rest over the winter period. The last of the food is harvested and stored. Everyone is allocated jobs and able to muck in.

Food of the season is prepared and shared together. It is a time to commemorate all those who have died in the last year.

The people involved can reconnect with Māori Culture and practices. There are workshops for the Māori community.

Maata mentioned the festival is very open door & inclusive, and in fact a large number of the some 600 people that have attended are Pākehā. This is in keeping with the values that Parihaka was formed on. Maata referenced the fact that during the 1800’s at one point Parihaka had 3000 people staying. And it's astounding to envisage that number against the 600 people during the festival. Fifty people are living there now.

What's Maata's favourite thing about puanga?

She loves what the kids can get out of it, the enjoyment and the fun they have.

The next generation: Maata’s granddaughter mentioned she really enjoyed spending time in the garden and learning from her Nana. Something I found completely heartening. She is 12!

How can I connect with Puanga?

Number 1 is to attend a celebration!! For someone like myself who doesn’t possess a deep understanding of Māori culture, Maata mentioned some really practical ideas involved during Puanga - knowing how to store food, giving the earth a period of rest and the commemorating of the people around me - both past and present.

And for me, in my mind, Puanga brings celebration to the practical tasks.

An intentional connection and giving thanks for what we have been provided, a moment of reflection, and a much needed pause to allow nature to do what she knows and does best.

**the contents from Maata is not direct quotes

Photos from the Parihaka Puanga Kai Rau Festival Facebook Page.

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Words by Kaitaki Collective Member - Zoe Pepper @zlzimmerman - Food Grower & Organic Horticulture Student.

I am an aspiring food grower developing our 2.5 acre property as my own ultra local food source. All alongside my little 1 year old apprentice! I am currently studying organic horticulture and enjoy intergrating this into our modern homesteading lifestyle. I am passionate about our connection to our food source, our community and our land and believe in using our dollar to support a more regenerative food web. I can't wait to turn the spotlight to the many exciting people that sit within our community.

Words by eatnewzealand