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Maori Feast - Hakari.

If it's a feast, may as well go all out! This was at least how it was treated by the Maoris, the inhabitants of New Zealand, well before the white colonists and even some years after the colonization of this land. The preparations for this feast, called a hakari, would take a year, if not longer. First a huge tree needed to be cut down. It then was transported to the designated place, put up vertically and surrounded by some supports creating a pyramidal construction that was about 20m tall (some say that they even reached 30 m), with a base about 10 m across. Every 2.5 to 3 metres, horizontal platforms were added - each one of a smaller diameter. There could be up to 10 or 8 of these stories. Sometimes, instead of a pyramid they would build a huge, long construction, measuring 120 metres in length, 4 metres wide and 10 to 25 metres tall. And this type of construction would too have a number of stories. (see illustrations). Once the construction was erected, they would begin to bring together the previously prepared food in gigantic amounts. In one such an occasion that was described by the British, 3000 to 3500 bins of kumara were assembled on the stories of the construction. 

In between they put plenty calabash containers with birds conserved in fat - pigeons, tui, kaka, weka, kiwi, ducks, curlews, etc. Fish and other fruits of the sea were hung in huge nets that were used for fishing in the incoming tide. The nets could be up to 20 metres long and contain tones of food. As far as vegetarian dishes are concerned we can name taro, corn, fern fronds, karaka berries, etc. 

During another hakari in 1836 around Matamata there were about 8.000 bins of potatoes (probably so called sweet potatoes), half a million eel, 800 pigs and 15 cases of tobacco. Of course the tobacco and corn only came with the colonists. 

After all of this had been arranged on the various stories, the guests began to arrive. Usually it was whole tribes. The number of guests was quite substantial - at one hakari six thousand people were counted. 

The feast would begin with the giving out of previously allocated food portions to each of the tribes, and then the wooden construction was used to light the appropriate number of bonfires. These amazing feasts, along the lines of carnivals played an important role in the lives of the Maori, especially in the North Island. They strengthened friendships between tribes, confirmed intertribal pacts, and gave occasion to plan attacks on other neighboring tribes, as the Maori were a warring race and tribes were always in a state of war. 

 [QIL96::025]p71-6; QCP96\25\72,73


(C) (selected from publications of 
 R. Antoszewski

Titirangi, Auckland, 
New Zeland

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July  2003