National | Festival

Rural town steps up to meet challenge of hosting major Tūhoe festival

Performers at the Te Hui Ahurei a Tūhoe festival in Rotorua in 2018. Photo: RNZ / John Boynton

By Pokere Paewai, RNZ

After a five-year hiatus the biennial Tūhoe festival, Te Hui Ahurei a Tūhoe, is set to return over Easter weekend.

The Hui Ahurei is the longest running iwi festival in Aotearoa. It marked its 50th year in 2021 but those celebrations have been pushed back till now.

Martin Rakuraku is the chairman of the local organising committee in Waimana, which will host this year's Ahurei.

He said most people of Tūhoe descent live outside of their rohe, and the Ahurei has always been about bringing those people back to their homeland.

"We know that the rongoā for our people is to be able to come home. Ara tērā kōrero e te matemateāone, the yearning to come home kia purea koe e ngā hau o Okiwa, o te kainga."

More performers from the 2018 festival.  Photo: RNZ / John Boynton

Rakuraku said hosting in smaller rural towns, like Waimana, was what made the Tūhoe Ahurei unique, however, it was also a challenge to host such a large event.

"Everything is being built from the ground, we have no arena... we just have our lovely environment. So all the marquees, everything, the whole infrastructure has had to start again from the ground [up]," he said.

Waimana was set to host the Ahurei back in 2020 before Covid-19 crashed down only three weeks out from the event.

This year 18 teams from around the country will gather over Easter weekend for a programme of kapa haka, sport and debate.

Chair of the Ahurei committee Maaka Te Moana said in the past competition was paramount, but for this Ahurei the trophies will be put to one side and the event will be non-competitive.

"I ngā tau ki mua ko te whakataetae te mea nui, me ki rā mo ngā taonga... nō reira tēnei tau karekau te pērā, karekau he taonga i te tū i tēnei ahurei. Koirā noiho tana kaupapa, te whakakao mai te iwi, ki te whakatinana i te matemateāone a Tūhoe," he said.

He said whānau living outside the rohe often come together only for tangihanga, so the ahurei remained an important space to celebrate and gather the iwi together.

It was an opportunity to embody the concept of matemate-ā-one, the profound affection for one's land and people.