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A pohutukawa planted in the Tapanui cemetery to remember those who have died also has a special connection to Matariki.
Members of the West Otago community gathered outside the cemetery for the tree planting on Friday, June 24 led by Kapa Haka Hapuri, the local kapa haka group.
Whaea Jaki Eales said the tree represented Pohutukawa, one of the nine stars of the Matariki star cluster, which signified remembrance.
“We’ve chosen the entrance of the Tapanui urupa [cemetery] just so people can sit here and reflect about their loved ones and look forward to the future.”
A red bench had also been built where one day people could sit underneath the pohutukawa after it had grown taller, she said.
It was the first of nine trees to be planted in the Poumahaka Kahui Ako (Community of Learning) area, each representing a different star in the Matariki star cluster.
“Over the next eight years... each school that’s under the Poumahaka Kahui Ako will plant a New Zealand native plant,” Mrs Eales said.
Poumahaka Kahui Ako head principal Bronwyn McCall said it was a great initiative that would teach pupils more about Maori culture.
“It’s our heritage as a nation. Matariki is about reflecting on the past and looking into the future.”
Planting native trees was a great representation of that, rejuvenating what was lost, Ms McCall said.
Mrs Eales said another eight council sites would be found for the other plants. Those sites would have a plaque with the star’s name along with the date the plant was planted and one word to help people understand its meaning.
Remembrance was the word chosen for the pohutukawa tree.
Though initiated by her, the project was a community effort and the tree planting reflected that, Mrs Eales said.
“The cluster of Matariki is bringing people together.”
“My first point of call was going into the Tapanui service centre and having a korero with Melissa Ellison there. She said to contact [West Otago Community Board member] Barbara Hanna,” Mrs Eales said.
“Both women were my first contact to see how I can make this dream a reality.”
From there, the project came together thanks to the generosity of the community, she said.
“Everything here is donated.”
She felt “pretty lucky” to have so much support.
It had been her dream to commemorate Matariki, which this year was recognised as a public holiday on June 24 for the first time.
It would help improve people’s understanding of the Maori new year, she said.
“I’m just really excited because I know that in the future, people are going to be aware of it more so it’s just fantastic.”
As part of the tree planting, Kapa Haka Hapuri sang waiata and buried food with the pohutukawa as it was planted.
“Tupuarangi, Tupuanuku, Waiti and Waita are all stars that relate to our food sources, so we just wanted to put a bit of our food source under the plant to nourish it so it grows healthy here,” Mrs Eales said.
Members of Kapa Haka Hapuri and the community spoke during the planting.
Among them was Blue Mountain College principal Lindy Cavanagh-Monaghan, who said it was also a time to remember pupils who had died.
- By Michael Curreen