The city’s inaugural Matariki civic ceremony will provide locals and visitors the opportunity to participate in a traditional umu kohukohu whetū.
To honour Matariki being observed as a public holiday, Rotorua will hold an umu kohukohu whetū on Friday 24 June at Motutara Point on the shores of Lake Rotorua.
A Ngāti Whakaue representative, Kingi Biddle, says there is a danger of Matariki becoming commercialised like other national holidays, such as Christmas and Boxing Day, where there is an emphasis on retail sales.
“These are hard times, so we understand people need to advertise. But we also need to start grounding Matariki, so people get to see the real essence of what it’s actually about.
“It’s a time of harvest and new growth. There are practical things people can be doing during this time, in terms of gardening, personal aspirations and to strengthen the relationship with the environment.”
Kingi says the civic ceremony is about re-establishing events that were traditionally held at the time of Matariki, including umu kohukohu whetū.
Umu kohukohu whetū is a way Māori exercise reciprocity with the atua and stars. A hāngī is made with different food which relate to the individual stars of Matariki. When the kai is cooked, it is placed on a tūāhu (platform), and the essence is enveloped into the smoke. As the smoke rises it feeds the stars of Matariki.
“We’re always asking for things in karakia – ‘please give me the promotion I deserve or please give me the lotto numbers’,” says Kingi. “But we rarely say, ‘thank you, that was awesome’. This way we give back and give sustenance to our whetū and to our atua. This whole process is being led by our tohunga who are reciting karakia.”
The second part of the umu kohukohu whetū would traditionally take place at dawn, where people say the names of loved ones who had passed away the previous year. The names are lifted and travel into the stars to become stars themselves. It is part of the grieving process and to help bring that person to completion. By saying their name, we are wishing them farewell as they make the journey back home.
“For me, there are two major lessons umu kohukohu whetū gives us. The first one is about strengthening our relationship with our own spiritualty and ensuring it’s not always about ourselves but also giving back to our atua,” says Kingi.
“The second is, in a world where we aren’t taught to deal with grief, mātauranga Māori has a really powerful mechanism to help people deal with it. People hold on and find it difficult to let go but umu kohukohu whetū allows us to let go and let them be a star in the sky.”
Kingi says Matariki and mātauranga have practical aspirations to help a person move on with their lives, so he is pleased the Te Arawa event has been opened up to the entire Rotorua community.
“Together we can grieve, together we can acknowledge our atua, and together we can heal the losses of the past year,” says Kingi.
Healthy Families Rotorua lead systems innovator, Pirihira Whata, says mātauranga Māori has a lot to offer everybody.
“When we’re connected to the places we live, learn, work, and play we have better health and wellbeing outcomes. Having the opportunity to connect to Motutara Point as a community for a traditional Māori ceremony, encourages the sharing of our mātauranga.
“These special moments bring our community together, so we welcome everyone who Matariki shines upon to the umu kohukohu whetū,” says Pirihira.
Rotorua’s inaugural Matariki civic ceremony is brought to the community by Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Uenukukopako, Ngā Pou ō Whakapoungakau, Healthy Families Rotorua, Te Tatau o Te Arawa, Rotorua Lakes Council, and Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust.