Te Mara Huprara (Traditional Māori Play) is becoming a widely utilised style of play where children are encouraged to learn and grow through storytelling and interaction with the natural world.
Beginning in 2018, the Te Auaunga stream restoration project broke ground on public installations of Te Mara Hupara in Auckland, New Zealand. After seeing much success the project has garnered significant public support and awareness of Ngā Aro Tākaro (traditional Māori play elements), with more indigenous playspaces expected across New Zealand and Australia.
Unlike nature play, which utilises natural elements including trees, logs, and rivers, Te Mara instead also acknowledges the stories of the traditional people of the land and the spiritual meanings. This in turn instils a sense of importance, respect, and understanding of the objects and space children are using when playing.
Rather than children being read a story or watching a narrative unfold in tv shows or movies and then pretending an object or space is part of it, Landscape Architect Rangitahi Kawe states that Mara Hupara combines those elements.
“The story and the object are linked together, and together they create a spiritual connection back to the Whenua (land) and to our tūpuna (ancestors),” he says.
Maygrove reserved and King School (2021), are some other instances of Nature Play. However, despite incorporating some similar aspects, they have yet to fully incorporate mana Whena elements in the landscape and overall narrative, meaning they can not be considered truly Te Mara Hupara.
Conversely, the Awakeri Wetlands has successfully implemented Mara Hupara by telling the story of star constellations. By uprooting and strategically relocating the mature kauri trees surrounding the site, it tells the story of the heavenly realms and navigation. This site has aided in sparking action and involvement from those in the design space by allowing connection to sites and an opportunity to reclaim cultural identity.
With several upcoming projects underway, play spaces are beginning to transform. Consideration of both traditional and contemporary styles of design are being used to incorporate Mana Hupara in meaningful and inclusive ways. This in turn will hopefully inspire vital conversations, to learn, listen, and fuse the stories and imaginations from the First Peoples.