As we walk forward into new beginnings, Matāriki reminds us of our past, loved ones who are no longer with us and the memories we shared with our whānau. Chev Hassett shares his story.
Māori paintings and carvings looked out onto the street from the windows of Nanny and Granddad’s whare in Hutt Valley. Above the garage, guarding the driveway, hung a buffalo skull with a bright blue lightning bolt painted on its forehead. The gardens were filled with tiki heads that had big bold paua eyes, scattered across the garden hiding like Where’s Wally. The way they were shaped resembled the Moai of Rapanui. In the front garden a huge red, white and black flag fluttered and danced with the wind, proudly.
I would scoot around the back of the house, through the secret pathway decorated with my uncle’s and dad’s old surfboards. Once I hit the back door, I threw off my shoes and rushed to the kitchen for my routine lolly heist before heading into the room. In the kitchen’s corner was a large chest freezer. I would dive into it faster than Speedy Gonzales, searching through the ice to find frozen treats. It was so big I balanced my chest on its edge to grasp a further reach. I kept sturdy and I never fell in. Once I found the hidden treasures I would trot towards my cousin’s bedroom happily eating away at the lollies I had dreamed about all day.
The hallway walls had photos from before I was born: rugby teams my grandad coached, his brother who played for the Māori All Blacks and my Dad’s, uncle’s and aunties’ school photos. When I reached the last photo I arrived at the room where I slept. I’d lie on the bed relaxing, then my Grandad’s growling would echo in my thoughts reminding me I had taiaha training down at the marae.
I would get ready and run back down the secret pathway.
Families from all over the region assembled at the marae every Wednesday to come learn taiaha from my Granddad.
The marae was only five minutes away. I would jump over the fence, sneak down the bank and hop over the stream, climb another fence then jog across the field. Then I had made it.
Families from all over the region assembled at the marae every Wednesday to come learn taiaha from my Granddad. When I made it to the grounds, I was taught to make sure I say hello to everyone even though I was a really shy kid and sometimes I would hide away until I was told I needed to give the aunties a kiss. Then we all huddled up in front of the wharenui and did our karakia.I never understood what was being said but I always waited for the cue (we all knew the cue).
The elders kept praying and I opened my eye to look if it was time and someone would yell: “Tūturu ka whakamaua kia tina!”.
We shouted back: “Tina!”
“‘Haumi e, hui e,” was the response.
“Tāiki e!!” we shouted all together.
Then we assembled into our ranks like a battalion. All the cousins stood around me. We all tried to see who could have the best posture and strongest stance.
My grandad would yell “tīmata” and we’d all swing our weapons into stance. Then he would call “pekepeke” and we all started to jump like sparrows in sync, opening up our chests as we swung our taiaha from the centre of the body out to the right, our heads following the movement. With every jump we pushed out our breath.
Elders would run through the lines swinging sticks below our knees, forcing us to jump higher and higher. If you didn’t jump high enough, you would fall from being hit. Those who fell would quickly go on their backs and start to do sit-ups. If they were an older boy, the elder would put his foot on their stomach to make them work harder.
Once the warm up finished the rest of the night was followed by manoeuvres that resembled the gods, different battle formations and one-on-one combat.
I remember having my cousins around and every year there was another cousin from Australia who came back to live with my grandparents.
After a few hours, we all huddled back into the position and proceeded to talk about what we learnt, what we enjoyed and what we need to work on. Once we finished, there was another karakia - “tāiki e!”.
By then, it would be time for dinner. All of us cousins had our task when preparing the kitchen for our grandparents: someone gets the plates, another grabs the drinks and cups, don’t forget the bread and butter too and the last cousin would grab the salt and tomato sauce.
We sat at the table and prayed before digging into our meal. Then we would pick away, draining the sauce bottle and gagging down all the Diet Coke, with Nanny telling us to slow down.
I remember being together all as one and having this feeling of forever. We all sat eating together happily with big smiles on our faces, sharing the moment with one another. I remember having my cousins around and every year there was another cousin from Australia who came back to live with my grandparents. We all treated each other like siblings more than cousins when growing up.
“Look in the freezer,” Granddad would say at the end of the meal, knowing we’d find the ice cream. We would scoop up our cones and return to sit down and talk to Nanny and Granddad. They would ask us how school was, how our own families were, what did we learn today. The table was filled with laughter, joking around, teasing one another. Granddad telling his same old jokes, while Nanny rolled her eyes and called him an egg.
Once we finished eating we all rushed off to get the better cleaning job and if you were unlucky you got caught on drying duty. The tea towels sometimes smelled of eel or fish, so you tried your best to get on washing, but if the older cousin wanted they could always over take your role. One cousin always tried getting out of it by hiding in the toilet.
When we were drying, everyone tried wetting the tip of the towel to whip each other. Once the last drip of water was wiped off the bench we all went back into the end room to sleep, we would stay up for hours talking and we huddled together to try keep warm. You could hear Granddad singing.
Just as we were about to fall asleep, he would come into the room and tuck us in and give us some lollies. Then we would drift over together, farting away and trying to deny it to one another and then it would repeat itself the next Wednesday, then the following week and then the one after that.
At the time I never really thought too much about this because it was all I knew. Now, as time has gone by, I start to miss these moments. You start to grasp onto your memories with family and wish things were the same, but everyone grows older and has their own lives to live.
My Granddad always said Matāriki is about coming together and sharing a meal, to sit around one another and enjoy life, to remember the past and prepare for what the future brings. Matāriki is your family, being together as one and sharing these moments. The moments are infinite if you let them be.
THIS YEAR AT GRANDDAD'S