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Story written on Jul 19, 2018

Maramataka: Māori systems return in South Auckland

More than 500 people participated in the Te Mata o Rehua placemaking and food systems initiative in June. 

Aligning with Matariki, signifying the first month of the Māori lunar calendar, the project is part of a wider strategic intent to lift Māori wellbeing in Manukau and, its surrounds. 

In partnership with Panuku Placemaking South and The Southern Initiative, the week-long prototype was made up of a carving symposium and culturally-inspired market - combining indigenous storytelling and systems, with local food culture. 

“Insights show the foodcourt at the local mall is a drawcard for many visiting the CBD. The options there are mostly big-branded fast food outlets,” says Mason Ngawhika of Healthy Families Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura. “Yet, Manukau was historically a pātaka kai o te ora, the centre of healthy, organic, locally-grown food.”

Based on this history, the cultural market included stalls from Kelly Francis of Whenua Warrior, who shared kōrero about pre-colonisation planting techniques and the simplicity of backyard kai gardens. There was also an abundance of healthy kai options, sourced and produced by local businesses. 

The event celebrated water as the healthiest and easiest beverage choice, while also including options for sugar-free hot drinks and a modern take on the traditional Tongan drink, Otai.  

“The prototype trialled what it could look like to shift the identity of this area from food court, to food bowl,” adds Mason. “It was a successful way to showcase a Māori approach to what a healthy food system could look like in Manukau, centralised around local enterprise and culturally-infused, healthy kai.

It was also an opportunity to present this approach to three of the largest system stakeholders in the region, with representatives from the Otara-Papatoetoe local board, Mana Whenua Kaitiaki Forum and Panuku Transform Manukau, gaining insight into future opportunities for urban regeneration. 

The Te Mata o Rehua carving symposium, which saw the creation of 12 sculptured pou as part of a portable stone compass, provided the opportunity for ongoing community participation in traditional Māori systems. 

Led by senior stone carvers Darryl Thompson (Ngāti Kahungunu) and Filipe Tohi (Tonga) the group was made up of 10 local carvers, five mana whenua and, five who were once rough sleepers in and around the Manukau CBD. 

Carved to a star, season or moon phase, the mobile maramataka compass brings local and cultural stories to life. Their portability allows the ongoing activation of spaces like Hayman Park and Puhinui stream, utilising the cultural narratives to support health promoting environments. 

“Our tipuna (ancestors) developed the maramataka based on their close relationship and understanding of their environment and the interconnectedness of the whenua (land), rangi (sky) and moana (seas). By closely observing their environment, they were able to identify days each month that were better suited for particular activities and tohu (signs) to help predict the season ahead,” shares Mason. 

“In our unrelenting pursuit towards urbanisation, an awareness of the seasons, starting with the celebration of Matariki, may be the most immediate way of reconnecting to our natural world and realising we are all under the same ‘roof’, influenced by the moon and stars.” 

The carvings will soon include an augmented reality component, following on from the Journeys of Manu (LINK) prototype. This integration of culture, environment and technology, will support more people getting out into nature, and moving. 

“Māori and many other Pacific societies are reviving and reconnecting with their ancestral lunar calendars to restore wisdom of agricultural productivity, marine and forest gathering, resource management, health, healing and daily practices that provide sustenance for the wellbeing of communities.”

“Our goal is to provide the tools in support of a localised maramataka eco-system which leverages ancestral practices to inform community-level solutions and foster health and wellbeing.”


Feature image: Raymond Sagapolutele