Iwi celebrate ties to sacred river at Tarawera River Festival

By Te Ao - Māori News

Celebrating the connection with Tarawera River and the unique identity of its people was the focus of Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Rangitihi and Tūwharetoa descendants who gathered in Matata on Saturday for the Tarawera River Festival.

The festival is a celebration of the ties that bind iwi in the region who are working together to protect this treasure.

"The purpose of this gathering is to improve the significance and health of our scared river which is traditionally known as the River of the God," Tame Menarapa of Ngāti Rangitih says.

Elizabeth Pukeroa of Mataatua says the gathering also has a unifying effect, "To strengthen the relations and ties of families living out of the area, many of whom don't know who they are or what they are, and encourage them to get involved with our marae and help our elders."

Festival organiser Sheryl Laws Patanga agrees the event serves several purposes, "To look after our awa Tarawera and the environment and also to bring our iwi, or our whānau, and our people back to this area and just enjoy the unity of being together, and also learning about the history and the significance of the river."

The long-term goal is to cleanse the river which has long been flooded with poisons and pollutants.

"It used to be called the 'black drain' and that was because, unfortunately, our mill in Kawerau used to discharge a lot of pollutants into the water. And our iwi have said enough is enough, we need to preserve it for our generations to come," Patanga says.

There are many positive outcomes for generations who choose to take part in this initiative and the elders are feeding them knowledge.

"There used to be a whaling station here, there used to be a wharf where they would bring the sulphur form Whakaari, and so it was a very busy port here in Matata back many years ago," she says.

"So it's bringing all that back and having a kōrero with kaumātua about the history and the people that used to live along the river."