A group of Northland youth are heading to Italy next year as guests of honour at one of the world's biggest kite festivals.

The 17 rangatahi and seven adults, from all over the Mid and Far North, have been invited to represent Maori at the 10-day Artevento International Kite Festival, which is held in the seaside town of Cervia every April.

The 2017 event drew wind artists from 40 countries and an estimated 300,000 spectators.

Blair Kapa-Peters, of Waiharara, and Maori games expert Wiremu Sarich, of Taipa, practise their weaving ahead of a trip to a cultural festival in Italy next year. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF
Blair Kapa-Peters, of Waiharara, and Maori games expert Wiremu Sarich, of Taipa, practise their weaving ahead of a trip to a cultural festival in Italy next year. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF

Every year the organisers focus on one or two "cultures of honour" — for the 2018 festival they have chosen Thai and Maori.

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While in Cervia the Northland group, travelling under the banner of the KaiMatariki Trust, will make and fly traditional manu tukutuku (kites), perform haka, poi and waiata, teach flax weaving, and share traditional games such as ki-o-rahi and ti-uru.

They will also take part in Anzac Day commemorations at a nearby Commonwealth war cemetery and a civic ceremony in San Marino, one of the world's smallest countries.

Adults accompanying the group include two of New Zealand's leading authorities in traditional Maori games, bilingual unit teachers, and experts in kapa haka and taonga puoro (traditional Maori instruments).

Co-ordinator Harko Brown, of Puketona, said the aim was to give youth opportunities overseas and allow them to "express themselves in places that will love and respect them".
Maori were particularly popular in the Cervia area because of the World War II heroism of 14 soldiers of the Maori Battalion, who lost their lives resisting a German attack while a few hundred villagers fled to safety, Mr Brown said.

Locals still played a fast-paced, full-contact ball game they called Palla Maori, based on the traditional game ki-o-rahi played by Maori soldiers in World War II.

Mr Brown said the connection with European kite festivals started when he taught a kite-making workshop in Ngaruawahia in 2005. One of the participants, a Frenchwoman, passed his details to the organisers of Europe's biggest kite festival, in Dieppe, France, who invited him to the 2006 festival.

When Mr Brown and his family returned to Dieppe last year he bumped into the long-time organiser of the Cervia festival, the biggest in Europe after Dieppe, who invited him to bring a group to Italy as guests of honour.

Mr Brown also helped organise a ki-o-rahi tour to France in 2001 with the legendary All Black captain Buck Shelford.

The kite festival will run from April 20 to May 1, 2018. Rangatahi taking part range in age from 11 to 24 and come from Kaikohe, Kaitaia, Kerikeri, Matauri Bay, Ohaeawai, Okaihau, Taipa and Waiharara.