Healthy Families Rotorua is working with Kai Rotorua to plant a special maara Matariki for the city’s official umu kohukohu whetū next year.
Lead systems innovator, Pirihira Whata, says the garden will be established at Te Puea Orchard with traditional kūmara varieties, such as hutihuti and taputini, and will be used as hautapu (offerings) for the Matariki star cluster.
“Two lots of kūmara will be planted during this year’s planting regime, so they’ll be ready for harvesting in time for next year’s umu kohukohu whetū at Motutara Point.
“We have an ancient kūmara which originates from Hawaiki and came over on the Te Arawa waka. This one is specifically for the hautapu and will be planted in small amounts. The second lot of kūmara is the owairaka, which will be distributed to the crowd after the ceremony to whakanoa the area (remove the sacredness),” says Pirihira.
Healthy Families Rotorua activated community leadership to regenerate mātauranga Māori in the Matariki space. The outcome was the city’s first official umu kohukohu whetū, which was celebrated at Motutara Point this year.
Kai Rotorua projects manager, Te Rangikaheke Kiripatea, says he feels “absolutely stoked” to be contributing to next year’s umu kohukohu whetū.
“This is special in several ways. One is the revival of Matariki, and the tikanga and mātauranga around te umu kohukohu whetū. That really is exciting. Māori kai sovereignty and food security, and whānau growing kumara, is a space our koroua and kuia knew very well. Food security is about tino rangatiratanga and reconnecting people with Papatūānuku, enabling Māori to grow kumara, which is a huge undertaking and yet the simplest of things,” he says.
Kai Rotorua plant the kūmara crops during the Rākaunui (full moon) phase of the maramataka to ensure a large kumara – to the sheer delight of tamariki harvesters.
“We plant on Rākaunui knowing our kumara at harvest time will generally weigh on average between 600g and 4.2 kilograms. Another reason is simply to impress our tamariki at harvest, although impressing them is an understatement. They exude sheer delight as the kumara reveal themselves. It leaves an indelible impression on them and one they’ll retain all their lives. It’s a moment where they make that connection to the kumara, so much so they’ll want to rush home and share it with their mātua,” says Te Rangikaheke.
He says the downside to having a larger (4.2kg) kumara is that it has a short shelf life. Large kumara carry a lot of moisture and tend to rot. However, they still have a wonderful taste before rot sets in, which is around four to eight weeks.
“The marama (moon) has an impact on the planting and growth of all kai. Rākaunui coupled with the full tides produce large kumara. When planted on other marama, their size varies between average and small, and the marama is generally smaller too.
“For the purposes of reconnecting people to Papatūānuku, planting on Rākaunui achieves that. Everyone is impacted in the same way as our tamariki, except the kōrero from rangatahi and elders is different.
“I think it’s absolutely necessary that our people put their hands into the soil leading up to the event and the kōrero that goes with it. The opportunities for people to come and talk about the umu kohukohu whetū and its significance must be part of it,” he says.
Healthy Families Rotorua and Kai Rotorua will be reaching out for volunteers to help mound the rows and lay the polythene and weed mat in the coming weeks. Planting day is Wednesday 9 November 2022 at Te Puea Orchard.
Mariana and her father, Fred Vercoe, at a community wānanga. Healthy Families Rotorua has facilitated engagement with local iwi to ensure a new Council strategy