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Tairawhiti is hosting the annual National Maori Hockey Tournament at Labour Weekend — the first time it has been held here since 1994.

The tournament at Harry Barker Reserve has locals excited and looking forward to competitive games, reuniting with friends and whanau and the cultural and social atmosphere.

There are 16 teams competing. Most rohe (regions) have a team each in the women’s and men’s sections.

Taitokerau (Northland), Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland), Waikato (Hamilton), Waiariki (Rotorua, Tauranga, Whakatane, BOP), Aotea (Taranaki/Manawatu), Tairawhiti (Gisborne), Takitimu (Wellingon/Hawkes Bay) and Te Waipounamu (South Island) will be represented.

The action starts tomorrow night (6.30pm) with a “local derby” between the two Tairawhiti men’s teams.

It ramps up on Friday with all teams in action in pool play, which continues on Saturday.

There is a po whakangahau (night of celebration and kapa haka performances) on Sunday night that is a tradition and highlight of the NZ Maori tournament.

Positional playoffs are on Sunday including semifinals and finals to decide the fifth to eighth placings.

The third and fourth placing deciders and championship finals are on Monday.

Tairawhiti has three teams involved — two in the tane (male) section, one of those a compilation of local and outside players (called Nga Hau e Wha), and one in the wahine (female) section.

The Tairawhiti teams will stay together on a local marae. Takitimu and Waiariki teams will also be hosted on marae.

The tournament is also a trial for under-21 and senior men’s and women’s Maori teams for international games.

A feature of the tournament is merchandise designed by local artists Kohere and Jody Tupara.

The siblings worked together to incorporate what they and their uncle — Tairawhiti artist and historian Nick Tupara — felt encapsulates the kaupapa (attitudes and values) of Maori hockey in Tairawhiti and what it means for this tournament to be held here.

Kohere says designs on the kakahu (clothing) represent four important kaupapa under the umbrella of Nga Kaitiaki o Te Tairawhiti —the guardians of Gisborne.

Across the front and back of each garment is a stingray.

“Uncle Nick explained that there are many kaitiaki (guardians) that cover the Tairawhiti region, including whales, birds, eels and others.”

“However, in the Turanganui-a-Kiwa bay there are many stingray kaitiaki.

“Because the tournament is being hosted in Turanganui-a-Kiwa I saw this as the better option of kaitiaki because Turanga is where our manuhiri (visitors) will be staying and playing.

“The stingray is seen as a kaitiaki that will offer guidance and protection over ourselves and our manuhiri.”

Artwork or kowhaiwhai on the left of the shirts represents manuhiri. Kowhaiwhai on the right represents the tangata whenua (people of the land).

On the back of each item of clothing is the image of Nga Toa o te Haupoi Maori, which represents the Maori hockey warrior in each and every player.

Singlets also feature the number 19 for the year.

FULL-ON: Tairawhiti men’s Thomas Rutene goes in for a tackle against a Waikato player during the national Maori hockey tournament last year. Zane Tuhou avoids a stick to the face as teammate Kohere Tupara runs back to help out. This year the tournament is in Gisborne for the first time since 1994. Picture by Kim Wihare