Rotorua public and international visitors to Rotorua experienced a unique festival last Sunday, February 28, as the city celebrated Holi for the first time.
The Festival of Colours, as Holi is known, was celebrated with much fanfare by covering coloured powder and water on each other, and dancing to folk music and songs.
This was introduced to Rotorua public for the first time by the Hindu Council of New Zealand and Ngati Taiao.
Holi is the second most important festival of India after Deepawali festival. Observed since ancient times, Holi festival – a spring festival in India – glorifies good harvest and fertility of the land.
This colourful festival, celebrated on a beautiful setting at Te Papaiouru Marae, Ohinemutu Village, gave a new meaning to race relations. It not only bridged any perceived social gaps and differences, but also brought people and communities together.
Initially, it was going to be part of building whakawhanaungatanga (Hindu-Maori relations) but has grown to be for a wider spectrum. People following different faiths enjoyed this festival.
In addition to Rotorua public, international visitors from Germany, Netherlands, France, Belgium, England, Canada and Brazil, and local visitors from Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, and Wellington also participated in the festival.
One of the international visitors from Sweden commented that he would keep the coloured T-shirt as a memoir of Rotorua and New Zealand.
“It was good to see so many international visitors enjoying and having a good time in this festival. There is real potential for this festival to grow on a wider scale,” said Dr Guna Magesan, general secretary of Hindu Council of New Zealand and the festival co-ordinator.
The official festival started at 11.30 am with a powhiri (official Maori welcome) at the most sacred Marae of the Te Arawa people. This gathering was attended by the Te Arawa elders, local members of the community and visitors from other parts of New Zealand and the world.
At this gathering, Kaumatua (Maori elder) Monty Morrison welcomed the visitors. Mr. Morrison congratulated the volunteers for organising this festival and encouraged more Maori participation in such inter-cultural activities.
In response, Pancha Narayanan from Wellington, a member of the Community Sector Taskforce and former president of the New Zealand Federation of Multicultural Councils spoke on behalf of Hindu community.
He described Hindus as a people with ancient culture and civilization. He clarified that the word “Indian” comes from the word Indus (Indus River). Similarly the word “Hindu” comes from the word Sindhu (Sindhu River). Sindhu and Indus refer to the same river. Hinduism was not a religion as it is misunderstood, but refers to a people and a way of life.
Mr Narayanan paid tribute to the Te Arawa people and Dr Guna Magesan for their leadership and vision in getting this festival together. He congratulated the effort and organization that was underpinned by the coming together of the two people Tangata Whenua (people of the land) and Tangata Tiriti (new settlers).
“It is for the first time, certainly in Rotorua, that the two people Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti have come together to organize and gift the Holi festival to the New Zealand community and to local and international visitors,” said Mr Narayanan.
“This occasion is a watershed and an excellent forerunner for similar engagement and community interactions around the country” Mr Narayanan added.
A “Mehndi Moko” workshop was held for the benefit of Rotorua arts community, as part of the festival. It was jointly conducted by Gina Wright and Roshni Patel, Maori and Hindu artists, respectively.
This was possibly the very first time in New Zealand that art forms (Mehndi and Ta Moko) of two cultures were brought together. “This workshop while bringing together two art forms has also given birth to a new phrase – Mehndi Moko. This phrase could become very New Zealand as the word spreads,” said Dr Magesan.
The official welcome was followed by a cultural show and vegetarian kai (food) from both the Hindu and Maori. The vegetarian Hangi (Maori food) was very popular among the visitors to the Marae. Performances such as belly dancing, teaching of Maori haka to visitors, the dance to the Indian song performed by Maori artists all added exceptional colour to the festival.
The festival’s highlight was the covering of each other with colours (washable plant dye). This was held on the grounds of the Marae with drums, music and great fanfare.
The Rotorua Holi Festival was a smoke-free, alcohol-free and meat-free festival with FREE entry to the public. Given the support this festival has received, it is not difficult to visualise the real potential for this Rotorua Holi Festival to become a permanent Youth festival in Rotorua and New Zealand. The festival was organised by a committee comprising John Marsh, Shaloh Mitchell, Sonny Corbett, Dr Magesan, Gina Wright and Roshni Patel.
“It was a great success in terms of participation and new visitors to our village and we will make this as an annual event,” said Shaloh Mitchell, an upcoming Maori leader and one of the co-ordinators of this festival.
The organisers would like to thank all the sponsors and supporters, especially the print and visual media who gave a good coverage of the festival. Rotorua Holi Festival was sponsored by Rotorua Civic Arts Trust, Lottery Grants Board (Bay of Plenty/Gisborne region), the Radio Network (especially Flava and ZM 98.3 radio stations).
The festival was supported by Ohinemutu Village Tours Ltd, Cultural Encounter NZ Ltd, Haututu Ltd, Richard Photographics, and community organisations such as Hindu Council of New Zealand, Friends of India Society and Rotorua Indian community. A number of media (newspapers, radio and local television) helped to promote this festival.