Whanganui's Puanga karakia were done with incredible dignity and bode well for Treaty partnerships, Bill Hamilton says.

He has Nga Rauru and Whanganui iwi connections, and has recently returned to the area after living in Wellington. He was thrilled by the dawn event held on Wednesday morning, saying it was an important ceremony done with "incredible dignity".

People gathered in the dark at Putiki slipway at 6am for the annual event. They heard prayers and watched as a waka carrying fire drifted down the river towards them. It was brought on shore, where people stood around it.

People who had died since the previous new year celebrations were named by a speaker and people in the crowd. Among those who had passed away were Piripi Haami and Dardy Mete Kingi Mato.


The crowd then moved to Putiki Marae for karakia and waiata (songs) in the meeting house, Te Paku o te Rangi.

After that everyone moved to the marae dining room, where children from the nearby Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Atihaunui a Paparangi were singing a welcome and ready to help with food.

The room was full of tables, to seat at least 140 people.

A sumptuous breakfast had been catered by supporters of the Kaiwhaiki Under-11 rugby team. As well as Weet-Bix there were porridge with cream, pikelets, kanga pirau (fermented corn), sausages, scrambled eggs, mince, toast and more.

As the plates were cleared away Mr Hamilton, Kemp Dryden and others delivered messages.

Awhina Twomey said Puanga was not just about prayers and food on one day. She urged people to visit each other and tell stories about themselves and their ancestors to keep history alive.

"Let us be proud about who we are and where we come from."

She wants Puanga to become "the Aotearoa New Year" rather than "the Maori New Year".

Notice was given of other Puanga events - artist Rena Star spoke of the A Bird's Eye View exhibition at Gallery on Guyton, opening on June 24. Ken Mair gave notice of his "The Kaupapa" event - a talk by him at the Davis Lecture Theatre on issues and events in recent years, and his views about the future of the iwi and community.

Entry will be by koha, and the talk is from 6.30pm-8.30pm on June 29.

Other Puanga events are listed on the website www.puanga.org.nz, and Mr Dryden said the last would be a Puanga Kai Night with entertainment on August 3.

Whanganui Deputy Mayor Hamish McDouall was among the large council contingent.

He said the ceremony naming people who had died was very emotional and it was a privilege to be there.

He liked that the timing of Puanga was dictated by the stars, and the occasion was about light and renewal.

Numbers there were twice what he has seen in the past, which he said showed the council had a healthy relationship with iwi.

Whanganui's Puanga celebrations have included anyone interested for about seven years. They are supported by the district council, Whanganui Regional Museum, Te Puni Kokiri and the Whanganui Maori Regional Tourism Organisation.