Keeping the home fires burning

17 July 2020

An inspiring tale of how a young Māori chief fed and cared for his whānau during hard times many centuries ago will be remembered in a special way this Matariki in Wellington.

A close-up shot of Toa Waaka on set filming Ahi Ka at Avalon Studios.

Giant projections displayed onto Te Papa Tongarewa will tell the story of Toa Rangatira and his famed kūmara gardens, which helped sustain his people of Ngāti Toa and surrounding tribes in the 1600s.

The stunning large-scale project – the Ahi Kā projection show – has been made all the more meaningful with Toa Rangatira being portrayed by one of his direct descendants, Māori astronomer and actor Toa Waaka.

He says Toa Rangatira could tell from the stars that a long cold winter was coming, so while his brothers and relatives headed off to the battlefields, the young chief chose to stay home and care for his elders and ensure his whānau were safe while the other warriors were away.

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“He collected up the scraps of the kūmara from his kaumātua and grew a very large amount. When the brothers and other warriors came home, they didn’t have enough food to sustain the tribe, so he took them off to a special valley and revealed to them how much he had grown. 

"It was enough to sustain the neighbouring tribe and his visiting mother’s tribe, Ngāti Mutunga, so his harvest helped to see three tribes through the hard times of the winter.”

Launching today (Friday 17 July), Ahi Kā will run on a 10-minute loop between 5.30pm and 8.30pm, on 17-19 and 23-26 July. It was filmed at Avalon Studios with the latest green-screen technology.

An artist impression of the Ahi Ka projection on Te Papa.

Toa, who starred in films including 'What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?' and 'King Kong', says it was a deep privilege to be able to portray his ancestor, who lived 11 generations before him through direct lineage.

“I thought this would be a good story to share at this time. It shows how our ancestors can help guide our decision-making today. It’s about having that foresight to see what will be important for tomorrow and next year and the next 100 years. 

"This story can help inform us in ways to move forward now that we’ve made it through this first encounter of Mate Korona (Covid-19).”

Also a Māori Strategy Advisor at the University of Otago in Wellington, Toa says the story of the young chief reflects the importance of manaakitanga (being hospitable and caring for one another), kotahitanga (unifying under a common cause or need), and aroha ki ngā tangata katoa (love for all different peoples).

The Ahi Kā project is a collaboration between Wellington City Council, Mana Whenua partners, Streamliner Productions, and creative studio Storybox.

Some of the cast of Ahi Ka in costume and on set at Avalon Studios.

Council’s Events Delivery Manager David Daniela says Matariki Ki Pōneke 2020 is all about reflection, remembrance, renewal, and “keeping the home fires burning”, which is what Toa Rangatira did all those years ago. 

“This year’s vision for the festival is to create a world-class event that strengthens community connectedness and city vibrancy, while raising awareness of Matariki and te ao Māori (the Māori world) in a unique Wellington way.”

David says due to Covid-19, supporting local business was an important focus.

“This year has been challenging. A lot of arts funding has been cut around the country, with the events industry one of the hardest hit. Matariki Ki Pōneke 2020 will provide work for more than 300 local artists, creatives, and staff of local businesses.”

David says filming at Avalon was the result of opportunities arising due to the pandemic. He says the exciting finished product is a moving film that speaks to the time.

“Ahi Kā embraces ancient wisdom from our indigenous culture that can help to inform our future.”

This will be the Capital’s third annual Matariki Ki Pōneke festival, created in partnership with the Council’s Mana Whenua partners and Te Papa.