Ancestral founding story of Whakatāne comes to life

Published date : Thu, 29 October 2020 11:56 AM
The ‘Mataatua VR’ project launched last week at a global premiere event in Whakatāne

October 27, 2020: A new virtual reality project lets users experience Whakatāne’s founding ancestral story, by virtually taking them inside the Ngāti Awa Wharenui – Mataatua, and then on a journey to Aotearoa aboard one of the great voyaging waka. Launched at a special event for local rangatahi and the Whakatāne community, the 'Mataatua Virtual Reality (VR)’ project combines new technologies with traditional Māori oral culture to create a modern and immersive storytelling experience.

Officially selected for the 2020 ImagiNATIVE festival, the world's largest presenter of Indigenous screen content, the Mataatua VR project l aunched at a free event last Thursday, which let the local Whakatāne community be amongst the first in the world to try it and to also experience other work and screenings from ImagiNATIVE - an exclusive experience usually reserved for creators and attendees of the festival. Held at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, the makers behind the project talked through how it was made and visitors were able to experience Mataatua VR for themselves, along with sharing other work from ImagiNATIVE.

The project was first conceived in 2016 and was brought to life by a collaboration between local Iwi - Ngāti Awa, Whakatāne educational institution - Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, and Wrestler - a creative agency who specialise in bringing purpose driven creativity to life through human-centred storytelling and technical innovation. Funding from the New Zealand Film Commission saw the unique idea and labour of love become a reality.

The 6-minute VR experience first takes users inside Mataatua Wharenui where a 3D hologram of Joe Harawira - one of the advisors on the project, shares the founding story of Whakatāne through the Irakewa whakairo. Users are then transported onto the Mātaatua Waka, one of the great voyaging waka by which Polynesians migrated to Aotearoa New Zealand, and undertake a first person experience as a navigator on the journey from Hawaiki to Whakatāne.

Professor Te Kani Kingi, the project’s executive producer, Ngāti Awa and Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi representative, says: “Our objective and goal for the Mataatua VR experience was to provide an example for Māori, particularly our rangatahi, of how our oral histories and culture can be further shared and celebrated through new technologies. It’s also an opportunity to show young Māori the potential career and creative opportunities that exist in this technological space.”

Hailing from Te Whānau-Ā-Apanui, the project’s co-director Tamati Kawha adds: “ Returning home to the East Cape to present in front of enthusiastic rangatahi has been a profoundly gratifying opportunity. Our Mataatua VR Experience Illuminates the benefits that emerging technologies have in store for cultural preservation and revitalisation. These increasingly accessible technologies offer us the potential to reinvent elements of the education, tourism and entertainment industries and encourage the growth of Māori representation in each. The adoption of these tools will be an investment for the future of New Zealand culture and an inspiration to indigenous peoples worldwide.”

Kat Lintott, Wrestler Founder and co-director alongside Kawha, says: “ This project was born out of the desire to truly explore the convergence of new technology and the tradition of oral storytelling in Māori Culture. We wanted to juxtapose traditional oral storytelling with one of the most modern ways, which led to this immersive VR experience. Making sure traditional Māori stories are not left behind is important not only for Māori, but all of Aotearoa and the world. We hope that this project will help bring the history of Whakatāne to a new generation in a unique and inspiring new context.”

The Mataatua VR experience will remain permanently in Whakatāne, with planning underway to educate and inspire local rangatahi further so they can continue to create and tell their own stories via new mediums.

Rangatahi enjoy the VR experience

Rangatahi enjoy the VR experience

Ngāti Awa's Joe Harawira narrates kōrero during the experience

Ngāti Awa's Joe Harawira narrates kōrero during the experience

Dr Reuben Collier checks out the VR story of Whakatāne

Dr Reuben Collier checks out the VR story of Whakatāne


Kat Lintott: Producer and Co-Director ( Wrestler)

Tamati Kawha: Co-Director, Concept Artist and Talent

Professor Te Kani Kingi: Producer, Ngāti Awa and Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi representative

Malcolm Mulholland: Historian

Joe Harawira: Writer and Talent

Nancy Brunning: Writer

Jeff Jones: Lead VR Developer & Photogrammetry

Arapaoa Moffatt: VR Developer

Mohsin Ali: VR developer

Chris Ward: Sound

Hinerangi Eruera Murphy: Tokorau, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi and Community Collaborator

Daemon Hunt: Technical Support and Community Collaborator


For further information, please contact:
Claire Beesley, Wrestler General Manager
Tel: 027 237 9919