Putting people and whanau at the heart of Te Paepae
Glen Skipper digs his fingers into the earth at Te Moeone garden and pulls out a long cream coloured kumara.
“Try this,” he says, gently dusting the dirt off the tendril.
Straight from the ground it’s crisp, sweet and tastes just earthy enough to remind you of its roots.
Skipper explains this kumara is a very old Māori variety, gifted to him from Papatuanuku Kokiri Marae in Mangere Auckland.
“It’s very nutrient dense, much more so than the commercial varieties. For me that’s what this garden is all about - putting real food back on our plates and creating meals for our whānau that have the most nutrients possible.”
The old Māori kumara is one of dozens of different variety of the vegetable Skipper has been growing at Te Moeone garden at Katere Marae in New Plymouth for the last few years.
He’s collected red, cream, orange, purple and gold kumara from off-the-grid families, from far away marae, and from old colleagues who want to help him in his quest to relocalise the vegetable to Taranaki soil.
“Every year that we grow them here is another year they grow stronger,” Skipper says.
But it’s not just knowing how to grow the kumara that’s important. You must also understand how to harvest them, how to grow next season’s plants from this season’s, and most importantly how to store them so they won’t rot.
Skipper has spent years slowly building his kumara knowledge and this coming weekend he will be share his community gardening skills in workshops at the award-winning WOMAD festival.
The community gardening workshops are part of a series of WOMAD initiatives created by long-time partner Tui Ora.
The health organisation is a pivotal part of the festival’s Te Paepae area and this year Tui Ora staff will be in the Manaaki Lounge teaching various workshops, helping festival goers weave a korowai, running Māori games and demonstrating te reo in action.
As a part of this there will be para kore – sessions on zero waste targeted at marae – and chances to kōrero with kaumātua Rukutai Watene who will touch on commonly used te reo terms and their connection to health and wellbeing.
The richness of te reo and its connection with kaumātua, the environment, and kai (like kumara) will be an integral part of this year’s festival as WOMAD celebrates the UN International Year of Indigenous languages.
CEO of the health and social services provider Hayden Wano says the global celebration of indigenous languages puts a spotlight on te reo, relevant in the context of national developments such as the Whānau Ora review and the Government’s Wellbeing Budget 2019.
“We’ve long recognised the role of cultural knowledge and competence - it’s a given for our staff - but nationally there’s greater urgency around the use of te reo,” Wano says.
“Whānau Ora, for example is a term that’s been part of the national conversation for a decade but could benefit from greater understanding.
“It puts people and whānau at the heart of services. It understands that many things are linked to health and wellbeing, that whānau are interdependent and it empowers them to make their own plans and decisions – with Tui Ora staff alongside.”
Ngamata Skipper, Economic Development Relationship Manager at Tui Ora, draws strong parallels between WOMAD and Whānau Ora.
“Well whānau belong to communities that are active, have purpose and are involved in creating their future - which may be through growing and distributing food and supporting and protecting their environment.
“WOMAD gives us a public platform to talk about those things and show links to arts and culture in all its forms and vibrancy.”
TAFT Chief Executive Suzanne Porter says Tui Ora’s contributions to WOMAD are invaluable.
“For many years Tui Ora have helped make WOMAD a place where we can celebrate and showcase our indigenous culture,” she says.
“With their help we are able to share tikanga Māori with our festival goers, and show manaakitanga to the melting pot of international cultures who arrive on our doorstep for WOMAD.”
WOMAD New Zealand is on from March 15 to 17 at the stunning TSB Bowl of Brooklands in New Plymouth. For more information or for tickets visit www.womad.co.nz.
CAPTION: Glen Skipper was a driving force in establishing Te Moeone garden in 2012. Since then he has delved into the history and future of kumara and will be sharing his knowledge at WOMAD NZ this weekend.