May 9, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Maori community plays a key role in Rotorua Deepawali Festival

3 min read

For the first time ever in New Zealand, the Maori community is a key contributor to a Hindu Festival.

Rotorua Deepawali Festival will be celebrated on Saturday, 2 October 2010 at the Rotorua Energy Events Centre. This unique festival will be celebrated in a smoke-free, alcohol-free and vegetarian environment. Preparations have been in progress for over nine months.

Three Maori community members have key responsibilities in the festival organising committee: Shaloh Mitchell as the coordinator of Maori relations, Gina Wright as the coordinator of art workshops, and Georgianne Crawford as the joint-coordinator of cultural programmes.

Shaloh Mitchell, of Te Arawa (Ngati Whakaue) descent, is a young and upcoming Maori leader, the managing director of a tourism business in Rotorua and brings skills of organising major sports events, to the Rotorua Deepawali Festival committee. His ancestors were among the founding fathers of the Rotorua Township. He was born and raised in the lake side village of Ohinemutu and has been one of the Rotoruas Young Achievers.

My experience in event management allows me to share that expertise, and also to share some of our Maori hospitality and flare with our wider community said Shaloh Mitchell, coordinator of Maori relations.

It was in 2008 during a powhiri for Hindu community at Apumoana Marae when Shaloh met Dr Guna Magesan and organisers of Rotorua Deepawali Festival. Since then his relationship with the Hindu community has grown, hosting distinguished guests of the Hindu community, from the USA and India.

Earlier this year Shaloh volunteered to help organise the Rotorua Holi Festival at Ohinemutu Village, to celebrate the Race Relations Day. It was a great event with Hindu, Maori and Europeans and overseas visitors to Rotorua partaking in the festivities.

The festivals such as Holi and Deepawali are what bring our communities closer together, it allows us to better understand one another and helps build stronger relationships among communities Shaloh said. I have a passion to learn about other cultures, he added.

Gina Wright, a Maori artist of Tainui (Ngati Naho) descent, is organising Mehndi Moko and Rangoli Art for Kids workshops at the Rotorua Arts Village on October 1 as part of the Rotorua Deepawali Festival. Both these workshops are fully booked by a mix of people South African, Indian, Maori and Kiwi. Some are even coming as far as from Auckland.

The third Maori member Georgianne Crawford, of Tainui (Ngati Mahanga), is a nursing student and director of a community belly dance group in Rotorua. She has Indian connections as her great grandfather was from Gujarat.

It is really exciting to work along with these talented people. They bring so many new ideas and also make us think beyond the traditional celebrations of the Hindu festival said Dr Guna Magesan, Festival coordinator and the General Secretary of Hindu Council of New Zealand.

Hindu Council of New Zealand works towards promoting inter-cultural exchanges in arts, culture and heritage. Hindu Council has been organising Marae stays for the Hindu community to allow them to experience and learn about Maori culture and tradition for the last seven years. These connections and bonds help in building whakawhanaungatanga (Hindu-Maori relations).

In addition to a number of Maori cultural traditions such as karakia and kapa haka that will be performed at the festival, a special Powhiri will take place at the Apumoana Marae, welcoming out of town visitors. In the past, Kaumatua John Marsh has welcomed the Hindu community during the powhiri whereas this year he will lead the Hindu community for the powhiri.

Rotorua Deepawali Festival also aims to raise funds for the Christchurch earthquake victims.

Many Maori community members are helping this cause by contributing some exciting prizes for the people who will attend the festival.

Riria McDonald will conduct Poi demonstration during the festival. Natanahira Pona and Tane Singh-Lagah will be doing a Whakairo demonstration at the festival. They will give some unique handcrafted Maori Arts and some carvings for auction that will raise funds for the earthquake victims.

Rotorua Deepawali Festival 2010 is a free community event and people from various cultures, nationalities, ethnic groups, faiths, and belonging to various organisations will attend this festival.

Photo: Shaloh Mitchell and Aleisha Mitchell planning the day-time programme at the Rotorua Deepawali festival venue.

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