Founding story of Whakatāne brought to life in virtual reality project

By Jessica Tyson

A new virtual reality project telling the founding ancestral story of Whakatāne has launched this week at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.

The Mataatua Virtual Reality project lets users experience the origin story of Whakatāne, by virtually taking them inside Ngāti Awa's wharenui, Mataatua. The project has been selected for the 2020 imagiNATIVE festival - the world's largest presenter of indigenous screen content in Canada.

The project's executive producer, Te Kani Kingi from Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, says the objective for Mataatua VR was to provide an example for Māori.

“Particularly our rangatahi, how our oral histories and culture can be further shared and celebrated through new technologies. It's also an opportunity to show young Māori the potential career and creative opportunities that exist in this technological space."

The six-minute experience first takes users inside Mataatua Wharenui where a 3D hologram of one of the advisors on the project, Joe Harawira, shares the founding story of Whakatāne through the Irakewa whakairo. Users are then transported onto the Mātaatua Waka, one of the great voyaging waka by which Polynesians migrated to Aotearoa to undertake a first-person experience as a navigator on the journey from Hawaiki to Whakatāne.

The project was conceived in 2016 and brought to life by a collaboration between local Iwi, Ngāti Awa, the wānanga and a creative agency Wrestler.

Wrestler founder and co-director of the project alongside Tama Kawha, Kat Lintott, says the project was borne out of the desire to truly explore the convergence of new technology and the tradition of oral storytelling in Māori culture.

“We wanted to juxtapose traditional oral storytelling with one of the most modern ways, which led to this immersive VR experience. Making sure traditional Māori stories are not left behind is important not only for Māori but also all of Aotearoa and the world. We hope that this project will help bring the history of Whakatāne to a new generation in a unique and inspiring new context," she says.

The imagineNATIVE's programme runs from October 20 to 25.