Hungry for knowledge? Te Ahi Kōmau brings indigenous kai to the forefront

The inaugural Te Ahi Kōmau- Food, Fire, Festival set South Auckland alight over two-nights with soulful waiata and smokey and juicy indigenous kai bringing traditional Māori and Polynesian culture to the forefront at Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae.

The free whānau-friendly festival was attended by over 1000 people which was designed as an opportunity to celebrate South Auckland’s volcanic past, its legacy of rich soils and amazing produce, as part of Auckland’s Elemental AKL festival.

Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae is a champion in indigenous growing practices and knowledge within an urban setting. It was a vision fostered by Nanny Mere Knight, who passed away in 2008. Much of her legacy has been carried on by the marae’s current Kaiwhakahaere (marae manager) Valerie Teraitua.

“Nanny Mere was always about enabling whānau to set up their own social enterprises. Te Ahi Kōmau gave whānau the opportunity to make their own income, build a legacy and showcase our traditional Polynesian food.

This is what real culture looks like, it’s not the fast food culture. It’s growing kai, it’s creating space at marae for whānau to do this,” says Teraitua.

Te Ahi Kōmau was inspired by the traditional Polynesian way of cooking food in the ground using hot rocks to produce steam.

Māori and Pasifika customs were on full display with fire-focused food such as hāngi, umu and puaka tunu (spit).

Local vendors offered delicious and nutritious kai and homegrown artists such as Le La O Samoa Dance Group, Te kura kaupapa Māori ā rohe o Māngere, TahiMana (and more) performed for delighted attendees.

For the event finale, the trees of the Marae lit up with an illumination show, telling the dramatic and fiery story of the ‘Origins of Fire’ from a Māori perspective.

Vendor Ina Simpson, owner of Rukau Hut Limited, a Cook Island food vendor, said she loved the ‘sense of togetherness’ created at the festival.

“In the Cook Islands we call it “Taokotaianga”. Like a puzzle, we came from diverse cultures Cook Islands, Māori, Tongan, Asian etc. but each piece fit perfectly together. 

Te Ahi Kōmau was pumping with the local community. We’re looking forward to the next one,” says Ina.

Mason Ngawhika, Kaiārahi Māori at Healthy Families South Auckland has been back-boning and supporting Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae’s initiatives. For him, Te Ahi Kōmau is more than a festival, it’s an opportunity to elevate our indigenous food story and knowledge.

“In South Auckland we have amazing produce, amazing cooks and a unique cuisine fashioned from the land and seas of the south pacific. 

The recognition of this can bring economic opportunities to local communities and can offer an alternative to the current takeaway culture that is so pervasive here in South Auckland,” says Ngawhika.

Mayor Phil Goff, who attended Te Ahi Kōmau on opening night said, “People came together to celebrate the cultural vibrancy of the Māori and Pacific communities and the enjoyment of the occasion and Tāmaki Makaurau’s diverse cuisine,” he said.

Anaru Ah Kew, Indigenous Systems Lead, says the spark for Te Ahi Kōmau started years ago, from a conversation with award-winning chef Eric Pateman.

“ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development) saw the mahi we were doing with the Matariki markets in Manukau, so they came to us with an opportunity to meet international chef Eric Pateman.

We brought Eric to Papatūānuku and at the end of the visit he was like ‘you guys need to do an indigenous food festival’. Our role (Healthy Families South Auckland) was to knit and connect key players such as Panuku, ATEED and the Māngere and Otahuhu local board to make it happen,” said Ah Kew.

Te Ahi Kōmau is an annual event delivered in partnership with Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae, ATEED, Panuku, Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board & Healthy Families South Auckland to celebrate indigenous kai and create local solutions to drive sustainable change that is owned by the community.

From left to right: Mason Ngawhika, Rachel Enosa, Mayor Phil Goff, Peter Gordon and Valerie Teraitua