River of Flowers moving remembrance of quake loss and hope

A waka huia carved by  Dallas Matoe depicting a vision of networking, collaboration, dialogue and communication.
Dallas Matoe

A waka huia carved by Dallas Matoe depicting a vision of networking, collaboration, dialogue and communication.

OPINION: I stood on the jetty in New Brighton by the side of the Avon River Ōtākaro waiting with others for the Ngāi Tahu waka to reach us to open the inaugural Spring River Festival.

It was a lovely October morning in 2012 and as I looked towards the approaching waka, for the first time I got a completely unencumbered view of the river and the mountains behind.

That lovely sight was thanks to the earthquakes. It was an emotional moment as I looked at this beauty and thought how important it will be that as we move on from the devastation that we had suffered, we must learn to work in harmony, in partnership with our natural environment.

As a species we have not treated our planet home with respect, but rather have exploited it in a way which we all know is leading us to environmental catastrophe if we don't seriously change out ways.

 Here in our own back yard we need to put aside the arrogance we have had in the past, and which still continues, believing we can just dominate the natural environment.

The river that winds through our city that can be so beautiful and nourishing is one of the most polluted in New Zealand. It shames us all. Like our whole natural environment it needs to be respected, sustained and maintained for the good of all of us, for our bodies and our souls.

In a way it is a metaphor for our city. Beautiful as it is, like the Cathedral in the Square, its health and well-being are a reflection of the health and well-being of our city and its people. 2016 I hope will see an increase in the pace of the regeneration and I look forward to that with hope and excitement.

The waka arrived and I was asked to bless a very special gift that the New Brighton Project was giving to the Avon-Ōtākaro Network. It was a waka huia, beautifully crafted by Dallas Matoe. A waka huia is a vessel for holding sacred objects and carries immense meaning in its carving. This one has a theme – 'Te Piringa – Drawing together'.

Since the quakes the local people and communities of our city have striven to get their voices heard and respected by the powers that be who have been making decisions about our homes, our land and our communities. 

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The theme of Dallas' carving was to hold up a vision of networking, collaboration, dialogue and communication. On the lid, two facing heads share a joined tongue to represent speaking with one voice, one tongue. The design on the tongues depicts food and abundance referencing the Māori saying "Ha aha te kai o te Rangatira? Kōrero" – "What is the food of chiefs? Discussion".

The body of the waka huia has tīheru (the water bailer in a waka) forms on each end, a metaphor for the perseverance and endurance that is required to keep a canoe afloat.  Inside are wing feathers of the karoro, the black-backed gull, signifying the reach that this bird has over the whole city, just as the Avon River/Ōtākaro does, connecting land, river and sea.

It is a beautiful taonga. Its themes undergird all that local communities have worked and hoped for since those terrible days: perseverance and endurance; striving to collaborate and work with the agencies that make the decisions in our behalf.

Since the first river festival the lovely ritual of a river of flowers on the February 22 commemoration has been repeated in various spots along the Avon River/Ōtākaro and other Christchurch waterways. This year there will be upwards of 20 venues across Greater Christchurch where people will gather to cast flowers into the river and reflect on these last five years. 

We will remember those who lost their lives or were injured on that day. We will remember those who lost homes and livelihoods. We will think about the communities which were devastated and have since sadly disintegrated. We will reflect on how we have been, how we are dealing with the emotional trauma felt by so many of us and our children, and we will give thanks where we have reached out to support to encourage and to strive for one another.

And battle-scarred as we may be, we look forward as the city has moved on from rescue to recovery and now to regeneration.

I hope many of us can get to the riverside on February 22 and share in this communal reflection and looking forward. In the meantime, there is a month-long interactive exhibition at the Canterbury Museum. An extension of River of Flowers, Bloom has something for everyone, and young people especially are encouraged to come along.

It's a space to reflect, remember and hope. Children are invited to make paper flowers to put on an artificial river snaking across the floor. There is a river of poetry for youth to create and eleven of our authors and poets are involved with readings and recitations.

Messages of hope from each anniversary are displayed on the walls and we are invited to add our own for this year. Bloom is at the Museum until the end of the month.

Reverend Peter Beck is the Convenor of Eastern Vision and a former Dean and City Councillor of Christchurch. For details of River of Flowers and Bloom go to flourish.org.nz.

 - Stuff

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