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Major Matariki Puanga festival to be held in Palmerston North

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Palmerston North City is celebrating Māori New Year with what is expected to be the largest Matariki Puanga Festival held in the city.

The event, next Saturday 6 July, will include a giant bonfire, hangi, kapa haka, Māori storytelling, marshmallow toasting and firedancing performances.

The celebration is being held at the Ruahine Street entrance of the Manawatu River from 4-7pm.

Palmerston North City Council’s General Manager of Marketing, Communications and Events, Sacha Haskell says the Council and Rangitane have been planning the event for the past couple of months.

"Puanga/Matariki is a time for manaakitanga, and for our community to gather together and share kai, stories and cultural celebration alongside our beautiful awa. Our goal is to have the biggest Matariki Puanga celebration this city has seen. We want to provide a fun and educational atmosphere while we celebrate an important time in the Māori calendar."

Matariki is a cluster of stars known as Pleiades or the Seven Sisters. The first new moon following the rise of Matariki is the first day of the Maori New Year. Matariki can be hard to see from Manawatū so Puanga, another prominent star near Matariki is also recognised locally.

Ms Haskell says the location was selected as the river is very important to iwi and Council.

"As part of the Council’s Manawatu River Framework Strategy, council is committed to working with iwi to draw more people to the river, and this is just one of the many exciting projects and events we’re planning. Events like this ensure the river becomes a destination in our city where people come and spend time with their families and enjoy its beauty."

The star attraction of the festival is a large bonfire made up of wood pulled from the river. A few times a year large amounts of wood that pile up are removed from the river to minimise any potential flooding. The good quality native wood is given to iwi for carving and the rest has been dried for the bonfire.

Around the bonfire will be a series of smaller fires for people to toast marshmallows they’ve brought from home. At 4.20pm iwi will lift hangi from the site and explain how the food has been cooked. Small samples will then be handed around for people to try. At 5pm there will be a kapa haka performance, followed by iwi representatives telling the stories of Matariki and Puanga. The event will end with the Massey University Fire Club performing.

Those attending are asked to wear sneakers as it may be muddy, bring a torch, and blankets to sit on.

The Council is working with the Fire Service to ensure it’s a safe event for everyone. There will be a with a number of small fires for toasting marshmallows, and with the river nearby children will need to be closely supervised.

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