Saturday, June 29, 2013


Friday night was a special occasion at our school, as we celebrated Matariki (the Māori New Year) with a powhiri and hangi. The school my children attend is small (approx. 55 pupils, up to year 8 (13 year olds)) and rural. It is the centre of our community, as there is nothing else here! We are close to two villages (5 minutes drive), and two towns (about 15 minutes drive in either direction). We have almost lived here for two years, but it feels like a lot longer as we are all so settled, and that is mainly due to the school.


Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades. It rises just once a year, in mid-winter. Traditionally, Matariki was a time to remember those who had died in the last year. But it was also a happy event – crops had been harvested and seafood and birds had been collected. With plenty of food in the storehouses, Matariki was a time for singing, dancing and feasting. Matariki, or Māori New Year celebrations were once popular, but stopped in the 1940s. In 2000, they were revived. Only a few people took part at first, but in just a few years thousands were honouring the ‘New Zealand Thanksgiving’. [taken from Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.]

As the school had not held a powhiri (Māori for welcoming ceremony) for more than two years we were part of the manuhiri (group of visitors)  who were welcomed by the tangata whenua (hosts) to the school. This involved us waiting at the entrance with the other families while we were called on to the grounds. A powhiri must involve four people, one female to do the karanga (call) and one male to do the mihi (speech) on either side. [Further info can be found here.]

When we got to the top of the drive we took our seats and there was singing and speeches. We were honoured that "H" was chosen to say the mihi for the manuhiri.  We then lined up for the hongi - where we shook hands and pressed noses and foreheads, which means that one is no longer considered manuhiri (visitor) but rather tangata whenua. This was a completely new experience for the hubby and I. It was lovely to see how the kids took it so naturally, but then they have the benefit of a bi-cultural schooling. As I said to them all we learnt at school in the 1970s was a couple of pretty dodgy songs that had been translated to Māori. We weren't taught the correct pronunciation of  Māori words, so now the kids correct us!

H's mihi:
Kia ora koutou
Kua tae mai nei mātou
Ki tenei kura
Ki te hakari o te matariki
Ka nui te koa
Mo to koutou kaha
Ki te koreroreo
I nga take
E pa ana ki teneu kura
Ko (his name) toku ingoa
No Whakatu ahau
He uri tenei no Haina
Inananei e noho ana ahau ki Mahana i te Waipounamu
He whakatauki - Matariki ahunga nui

After the powhiri, the refurbished classroom was officially opened by the local MP, with "H" (being the eldest at the school) along with the youngest pupil cutting the ribbon. Then we waited for the hangi to be opened.

A hangi is the traditional way of cooking food in a pit in the ground. There is a real art to laying a hangi, and is was carried out by one of the dads. The kids had earlier dug a hole in the playground, and on Friday morning a fire was lit to heat up pieces of metal (traditionally stones were used) which were placed in the pit with the baskets of food wrapped up in tin foil and cheesecloth. The baskets of food were covered with damp sheets to keep the soil away from the food (traditionally leaves would have been used).  I think it took about 7 hours for the food to cook throughout the day.

Hangi food has a taste that is so unique it's hard to describe, it's definitely smoky but not like barbecued or smoked food,  its very moist too, very delicious. There were three different meats, potatoes, pumpkin, kumara (sweet potato), cabbage and stuffing. It had been years since the hubby or I had eaten at a hangi, and it was the first for the kids.

It was getting quite dark and cold by this stage, but with the fire still blazing, and the stars above us it was a magical night. We were home by 7.30 to light our log burner and warm up!

This is my attempt to get a shot of the super moon setting on  Monday morning, about 7.30am. Here's a much better photo of the moon rising, wish we'd been home to see it, but we were driving back from Blenheim after a weekend of dancing competitions with Miss L.

It's quite amazing to turn around 180 degrees and see the sun rising at the same time.

"H" actually got better shots than me the following day! And of the sunrise too!

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  1. This is so fascinating! I've never heard of it before. Sounds like you had a great time. Love those shots of the sunset!

  2. I really enjoyed reading about your celebrations for the Māori New Year, it was so interesting. Your photos of the moon and sun are wonderful.
    Sarah x

  3. Sally, congratulations. You are lucky Blog Giveaway Winner of aforementioned Blog Give-away. Rush to Trophy Wife to find out what to do next!
    Mia X.

  4. What a fascinating post with lovely photos. Suzy x

  5. Sally - I loved reading about Matariki at Mahana through your eyes - it moved me! Can I share this blog post on the Mahana School facebook page? Jane