As we come to the end of another year, we’ve been looking back on some of the great opportunities we’ve been part of and some of the work we’ve produced. School Journal editor David Chadwick reflected on his experience celebrating Puanga in Taranaki.

One Thursday morning in early June, photographer Adrian Heke and I headed north to Taranaki. The weather had been miserable over the previous couple of weeks, but the forecast that day said clear skies – just what we were hoping for! We were on our way to Ramanui School in Hāwera for a very special occasion.

Mt Taranaki in the late afternoon sun.

Lift Education had commissioned Kiwa Hammond and Maakere Edwards, two writers with strong Taranaki connections, to write an article about Puanga for the School Journal. In Taranaki, the appearance of the star (also known as Rigel) signals the start of the Māori New Year – it’s the equivalent of Matariki in other parts of the country.

Kiwa and Maakere had used their networks to find a school that would be celebrating Puanga in style. We arrived at Ramanui in the late afternoon. From the school grounds, we could see the distinctive shape of the maunga bathed in pink and yellow light as the sun was setting. It looked beautiful.

Students, parents, and other whānau members were beginning to arrive, carrying sleeping bags and mattresses. Earlier in the day, a hāngī had been put down. As the hall filled with people, the hāngī was lifted and trays of food were brought inside, filling the hall with a mouth-watering aroma. But first, before the hākari (feast), all the students took to the stage and welcomed their guests with waiata and haka. It was a warm, lively performance that had proud friends and whānau smiling and clapping along.

Celebrating Puanga at Ramanui
Students using an app to help them identify stars and planets.

The students had been learning about Puanga and preparing for the event for several weeks.  The school hall was decorated with stars, manu tukutuku (kites), and rama (lanterns) made by the students, as well as diagrams of the Orion constellation, of which Puanga is a part.

After the kapa haka and kai, the students went out to the tennis courts where astronomer Paul Moss had set up two telescopes. He talked about the various stars and constellations that were visible, and then the students took turns looking through the telescopes. They also used tablets with a useful app that helped them identify the stars and planets they could see.

The next morning, before dawn, Paul was back to talk about Puanga and to help the students find the star on the eastern horizon. Unfortunately, a blanket of cloud had moved in overnight, and Puanga was hidden. However, Māori New Year lasts for a month, so Paul assured the students there would be plenty more opportunities to see it – providing they were up early enough!

Celebrating Puanga
Astronomer Paul tells a student about Puanga and some other stars in the night sky.

As part of the celebrations, staff and students had prepared a time capsule containing pictures of the school, the students, and their whānau, along with pieces the students had written about their dreams for the future – a snapshot of Ramanui School in 2017. The plan is to open the capsule in the year 2053 when the school celebrates its centenary.

As Adrian and I drove back to Wellington, we talked about what a great experience we’d just had. An event like it could only happen in Aotearoa New Zealand. There had been a wonderful blend of Māori tradition and culture, school and community, teaching and learning, and joy and aroha. We felt privileged to have been part of it.

One of the things I love about being an editor for the School Journal is the chance to share stories like this about Kiwi children and their lives with students throughout the country. For some students, the article will show them a side of New Zealand they may know little or nothing about. Many others will be excited to read about other kids just like them doing the things that they themselves do. It will be another opportunity for them to see their lives reflected in the stories they are reading.

Adrian came away with some fantastic shots of the occasion to complement Kiwa and Maakere’s great article. You can see it for yourself: ‘Celebrating Puanga at Ramanui’ is in the November 2017 Level 2 School Journal.

Get the PDF, teacher support material, and audio text on TKI.

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