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Thursday, 17 January 2019 06:38 pm

Festival marks coming together with earth, wind, fire and water

WELL over 30,000 people joined with Porirua to celebrate cultures coming together at the Festival of the Elements on Waitangi Day.

Earth, wind, fire and water are essential for the world to exist and many cultures acknowledge those elements in different ways by coming together annually at Te Rauparaha Arena.

The elements were originally chosen as a focus because every society has links to them, says Community Arts Council chairman and organiser of the festival Bob Cater.

“So whether we are talking about Papatuanuku and Ranginui, mother earth, Gaia or Yin and Yang, they are all tied together by elements.”

CULTURES TOGETHER: Announcer Sonny Miti with co-ordinator Bob Cater

The announcer at this year’s festival, Sonny Miti, 21, says Waitangi Day is when all cultures can get together to celebrate unity.

“It’s to celebrate the togetherness of all the cultures living in New Zealand.”

Bob agrees: “It’s the Treaty that makes that togetherness possible and that’s why we can celebrate.

“We live in this wonderful, culturally rich community with all sorts of wonderful diversity in it,” Bob Cater said, referring to Porirua.

The festival started in 1992 as a result of the events surrounding Waitangi’s 150th anniversary in 1990.

The 1990 Commission set up to co-ordinate those celebrations decided that the Maori–Pakeha relationship should be extended to embrace more cultures.

Waitangi that year included a government-funded $20 million dollar re-enactment of the Treaty signing and the presence of Queen Elizabeth II.

In response to the government paying for the re-enactment, a coalition of Maori independence  groups known as Te Kotahitanga agreed to find creative ways to inform Maori about Treaty breaches.

Their activities included a competition to design a flag that represented the trials Maori had been through.

But equally there was a mood for celebration, with the Porirua festival being one example.

A year later, the Porirua Community Arts Council discussed the possibility of the festival as another creative channel to celebrate the unity of not just Maori and Pakeha but all cultures.

One of the talents this year, Ranea Abraham, a member of the local band Tribal Rising, recognises the importance of Waitangi Day.

“Waitangi Day is celebrating the unique relationship between Maori and pakeha. Celebrating our birth certificate of our nation.”

Rodger Fox, who lived in Porirua from the age of nine to 21, brought his orchestra to the event.

“It’s great that there’s such a diverse range of acts, artists and people who come. I think that’s what Waitangi Day is, showing what we’ve got as a country,” says the former Mana College student.

Maria Kapa graces the stage

Talent was welcomed from beyond Porirua. Maria Kapa has been living in Australia and has just moved back to New Zealand with her family.

Her performance included singing a mix of Maori, English and Italian songs.

“We’re just getting back into the groove of Waitangi day,” she said.

She sees the event is as fabulous for developing local talent and it’s “a lovely family fun day”.

Each year the festival ties educational activities for the children and this year they were encouraged to make things out of clay for the “earth” theme.

The festival also included a reading of The House that That Jack Built, by Gavin Bishop.

The book is about the account of Jack Bull, who sailed to New Zealand to live and trade with Maori in 1798. The people of the land were eager to have his tools and blankets.

However,  as more people followed Jack’s arrival from Europe, the pressure from settlers for Maori to give up their land to build farms and towns was the catalyst for the current Treaty claims.

Gavin, who lives in Christchurch with family and who has whanau in Whakatane and the Waikato, says Waitangi Day is important to him because it draws attention to us New Zealanders as a nation.

“It sets us apart from the rest of the world.”

He could not tell what the book would mean to Maori and the community as a whole, but says the response and demand for the Maori edition is encouraging.

“I hope the Maori community embraces it with enthusiasm.”

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