Witi Ihimaera: “The concept of time now has an indigenous alternative”

A few weeks before Matariki’s first public holiday, one of Aotearoa’s most prominent writers, Witi Ihimaera, has written a new children’s book about Matariki: Te Kōkōrangi, The Astromancer.

Witi Ihimaera.

“For me, what’s happening this year is that the concept of time for New Zealanders now has an indigenous alternative, with the Maori lunar calendar,” Ihimaera said.

Ihimaera was nine years old when he first became aware of Matariki.

“I was staying with my grandmother in Waituhi [near Gisborne]and she said to me: “Wake up… you have to go”, because in front of our window there were all these people who carried lamps and climbed the hill opposite, where the Takitimu marae was .

“I was a city boy and I loved my sleep and I said, ‘This can’t wait until morning,’ but I come from a place, Waituhi, which was a stronghold of Ringatū, …and so we went out and I followed those lights rising towards the Takitimu marae, then suddenly a deep sigh arose and the villagers began to sing.

“It was a really reverent song of welcome, and the lyrics were for this group of stars that we’re soon to celebrate – and they had magically appeared in the vault of heaven, and then nah…said: ‘ Now, tomorrow, we can start planting kūmara.'”

Ihimaera said that reflecting on Matariki’s first public holiday, more than 70 years later, those words from her grandmother come back to her.

Te Kōkōrangi, The Astromancer.

Photo: Provided

“For me what’s happening this year is that the concept of time for New Zealanders now has an indigenous alternative – while New Year may well come for New Zealanders in January, the government has acknowledged that the Maori lunar calendar begins at the end of June with Matariki.

“And so time can be regulated – not according to the Gregorian Pākehā calendar – but also the Maori calendar.”

The two New Year commemorations each have their own distinctive and different tone, he says.

While the January New Year is celebrated as a holiday and a time of relaxation and indulgence, Matariki is a time of emerging invigoration.

“Matariki is considered a time to work, to get your hands dirty, to think hard, to do mahi; and that’s why I’m so looking forward to doing mahi this year.”

Enriching work by refocusing on purpose, processes, tools and methods can help our work be more meaningful and give it deeper effect and impact, he says.

“When I write, I first think of the kaupapa – what is it going to be? I think of the principles of tikanga; how I am going to do it – the thought, hinengaro, must be important, and clearly the work ethic.

“The tools that I use to write, even if I write in English, are the same that we would do when we pronounce karakia or when we create a waiata or when we create kapa haka, and they are te ihi, te wehi, te mana and te wero, and especially te wero, because if you don’t have that te wero, you don’t challenge yourself and you don’t challenge others to think differently – so I’ve always really tried to make sure that the wero is out there – and that we can change the world.”

He remembers a saying from an Inuit architect friend:

“He says, ‘When we change the world a little bit now, in the future it will have changed a lot. “”

“And Matariki is one of those indicators that if we change the world a little now, it will change a lot. I like to call what I do: ‘working for the tribe, and my role – all of our roles, is to protect Maori DNA, and the tribe is my matrix.

“There is a saying: E ​​kore au e ngaro He kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea – we will never be lost, for we are from the seeds sown like Rangiātea. But we cannot leave this to chance, and that is why am I always on the front of the stage to do the mahi, always making sure to continue, to move forward, because nothing can be left to chance.”

Part of this mahi for Ihimaera is to communicate to young and old that not all ao Māori tea can be found on devices, that it is a rich and deep source to unlock, full of wondrous mysteries, science and new worlds, which he tries to explore in his new book.

“Dive into our pūrākau, what Pākehā would call our ur-text, our ancient text – release the taniwha, or release the Titan within you.

“There is more to Maori mythology than there is actually to Greek mythology, Roman mythology and Norse mythology.

“It’s Maori Earth, it’s not Middle-earth, and it’s not a Marvel universe, it’s a Maori universe, and that’s where you can play.”

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