A story about hākari
Hākari — an occasion for hosts to provide their guests with sumptuous food and entertainment — is a vital part of manaakitanga in te ao Māori, uplifting and maintaining the mana of hosts and guests alike. Many kinds of events can be celebrated with hākari, including marriages, the naming of children, tangi, the resolution of conflicts and the reciprocation of previous hospitality.
In the first half of the nineteenth century some hākari were conducted on a huge scale. Such events often featured elaborate scaffolding-like stages, also called hākari, some of colossal size, on which food was arranged. This one, with flags flying proudly, towers over a marae at Kororāreka Russell in Pēwhairangi Bay of Islands in September 1849. It was recorded as being around 45 metres high, made from 160 kauri spars bound with torotoro vine. Some hākari were much lower, but could be up to 3 kilometres long.
Such events could be attended by thousands of people from various iwi. The greatest hākari stages could hold staggering amounts of produce as iwi adopted new farming methods, crops and domestic animals. Tonnes of potatoes, beef and pork would be presented, along with traditional staples such as eel and dried fish. After the formal welcome for the guests, the leader of the host group would indicate to each group of guests which portion of food they were to receive at the feast. The food was not intended to be eaten all at once, but rather to be distributed among groups to carry back to their homes. In time the guests might host a reciprocal hākari. Once the stages had fulfilled their function, they were never erected again in the same place. Some were left to decay naturally, while others were cut up for firewood.
The hākari depicted in this watercolour by Cuthbert Clarke (1819–1863) was organised by Te Tai Tokerau iwi as part of the peacemaking following the Northern War of 1845–46. The event celebrated the reconciliation of formerly hostile iwi, who had variously aligned themselves with and against the colonial government that had instigated the conflict. Governor George Grey, the leader of that government, was also present. Clarke, newly arrived in the country, travelled there with Grey’s party in his employment as a government artist. This spectacular scene is one of his best-known New Zealand works. After spending several years in Aotearoa, Clarke moved to Australia. The watercolour was part of Alexander Turnbull’s original collection that founded the library.
Story written by: Oliver Stead
Copyright: Turnbull Endowment Trust
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