Christmas party fun on marae

Water day: Jayden Clancy from Maniapoto enjoyed taking a dip at the Turangawaewae Marae family day.
Water day: Jayden Clancy from Maniapoto enjoyed taking a dip at the Turangawaewae Marae family day.

Children cooled off in the river while their parents slaved over a hot barbecue as the families of Turangawaewae Marae gathered for their "Christmas at the Pa" celebration.

Organiser Mereaina Herangi said the annual party was an opportunity for the marae committee to show their gratitude.

"Every year we have Christmas at the Pa for our Turangawaewae whanau," Ms Herangi said. "It is really a way of thanking our whanau who help mahi [work] during the year."

When Princess Te Puea built Turangawaewae marae in the 1920s, she allocated jobs for the 12 original families of the marae. Their descendants carry on those roles today, all on a voluntary basis.

"You might be the ones who look after the boiler rooms, the ones who look after the cakes and puddings. There are the wharepaku [toilets] and the kapok gang who make all of the beds."

At the biggest event on the Turangawaewae Marae calendar, the August Koroneihana celebration of the Maori king, Tuheitia, the kitchen can serve more than 2000 meals a day and there are hundreds of people working in the background making sure things run smoothly. "It's a huge undertaking," Ms Herangi said.

The Christmas at the Pa entertainment includes a bouncy castle and inflatable water slide for the children, kapa haka performances, Gangnam-style competitions and inter-generational waka ama races.

"There is at least one kaumatua [elder], one pakeke [adult], a couple of secondary school students and then we make up the rest with kohanga and primary kids. This day is for them and our whanau have all rocked up down to the river and are enjoying watching their own compete against themselves."

Tau Hona is usually found working behind the scenes on the marae but was taking time out to unwind.

"There is no pressure, everybody is relaxed and we get to take these kids for a swim," she said.

Kaumatua Sonny Herangi said the best thing was the opportunity to be together with his whanau.

"It is just the whanau getting together sharing stories," he said. "We've got kids home for Christmas. They are back from Aussie and we've got some ring-ins from Aussie, too."

Mr Herangi remembers when he was a child and used to swim in the river, and he loves seeing the next generation doing the same.

"I think the awa would be smiling now. It is being utilised properly."