Devonport Matariki events in the past have been a focus for community as well as shining a light (literally and metaphorically) on the significance of the celebrations. This year, a multifaceted free community event adds new dimensions and takes on additional meaning with the start of the Māori new year (measured by the rising of the Matariki star cluster above the horizon) marked with an inaugural public holiday on Friday 24th June.
Devonport’s Puanga Matariki celebrations take place from 11am-7.30pm on Saturday 25th June, with the Devonport Business Association, Depot Artspace, Restoring Takarunga Hauraki, The Vic, Devonport Library and the Devonport Community House combining to offer a day of activities throughout Devonport. The free community events include lantern making, Matariki short movies at The Vic, a hāngi preparation at Devonport Community House, a Matariki exhibition at Depot Artspace (which stays open until 7.30pm that evening, with dance and music from 5-7pm), storytelling and Māori board games at Devonport Library, and kapa haka performances in Devonport ferry terminal.
The day concludes with a 5.30pm lantern hikoi (parade), featuring lanterns created during earlier workshops, from the village to the summit of Takarunga Mt Victoria. And once it’s really dark, at 7pm a Matariki display (projections, up-lights and festoons of fairy lights) will light up the heritage buildings in the village. The lighting display continues to mark Matariki every night for two weeks from sunset till late.
Devonport Business Association manager Katherine Downs says the DBA is thrilled to be collaborating with so many local organisations. In the past, in addition to activities at the Community House, Restoring Takarunga Hauraki has held a lantern hikoi up Takarunga and a hākari (hāngi feast) at Devonport Community House. This year, with more people involved and additional funding, “it is essentially this event but on a much larger scale,” Katherine says – and when she spoke to Channel, she was still coming to grips with the logistics of pulling it all together at relatively short notice.
Everyone is welcome at the Community House for the putting down of the hangi on the morning of 25 June. But with greater numbers expected than in the past, sharing the hākari this year is limited to invited guests – kaumātua and volunteers who have helped with the event.
The exhibition at Depot Artspace, titled Matariki Tūhono ki te Taiao, opens on 4th June, well in advance of Matariki itself, which officially falls on 23rd June. Matariki Tūhono ki te Taiao features a range of multi-disciplinary ringatoi (artists) who work in raranga (weaving), whakairo (carved objects), painting, and more. Co-curated by Natanahira Te Pona, the exhibition references Māori conceptualisations of time being guided by subtle changes and patterns in the environment, such as the appearance of the Puanga and Matariki clusters of whetu (stars) in the early winter skies, which signal a shift in the seasons, traditionally prompting harvests, hākari (feasts), the preservation of kai for the colder months, and the planting of new crops.
Natanahira is also responsible for one of the major activities to feature in the event: lantern-making ahead of the evening hikoi. He says the lantern idea came about many years ago. Matariki “pertains to the stars, hence the lights,” he says. He can’t swear to the authenticity of lanterns to celebrate Matariki “…as I did not live a hundred years ago” but kites were always part of traditional celebrations. Lanterns are easier to make than the kites, he notes, and the same principals are applied.
Lantern-making workshops will run throughout June in the Puanga Matariki hub (the now-vacant Westpac site on the corner of Clarence St and Victoria Road, dubbed Te Whare for the event). The workshops, open to all ages, will be advertised widely – and there’s no need to book. If you procrastinate, or you can’t attend earlier, there will still be an opportunity to join in on the 25th. “It pays,” Natanahira adds, “to come in groups rather than individuals.”
Natanahira says he created the hikoi “because I want the whānau involved rather than excluded by watching a static light show that cost thousands when the money can be better spent on the whānau and having their involvement and input.... Whānau feel more in tune when they are included.”
If you want to really get involved, Natanahira welcomes lantern-making assistants, and will hold workshops to teach volunteers. “On Rātu 7th Hune (Tuesday 7th June) there’s a lantern-making helpers wananga at the old Westpac building from 6-8pm, starting with a mihi whakatau, karakia and waiata te aroha.”
The whole event, Katherine says, has been designed with Matariki’s potentially fickle weather in mind. The daytime activities are all indoors – and the hikoi up Takarunga takes place regardless, with LED tealights in the lanterns. “Fingers crossed it will be good weather,” she says. “Devonport is an incredible location to celebrate Matariki. To have a lantern hikoi wending up the maunga is amazing. It can happen nowhere else in Auckland, starting and finishing right from the village. And then to have projections all along the street on the heritage buildings…. It will be stunning.”
“We are grateful for funding received from the Local Activation Programme Fund, a government initiative administered through Auckland Unlimited to revitalise town centres in Tāmaki Makaurau,” she adds. “The impact of lockdowns has been extremely tough for Devonport businesses, and this event will provide a very welcome boost to our economy. Devonport Takapuna Local Board has also contributed funds, and our long-standing and ongoing support from them is much appreciated."