28 July 2018, Pukemokimoki Marae By Toby Blakey
Taki Rua is a Māori theatre company bringing performances, which draw connections between Māori traditions and beliefs to our modern-day multicultural world, to both local and international audiences. The performance Hine Kihāwai at Pukemokimoki Marae tells of a mother who has passed away but lives on in the memories of her children Tama and Te Aniwa. Hone Hurihanganui wrote the play originally in 2003 as Āwhina to spiritually connect his whanau with his recently deceased father. This year, Taki Rua asked Hone to redevelop the play in honour of Hone’s mother, Hine Kihāwai, who passed away 2017, so they could perform it again for a new generation of children.
Even though the play is wholly in te reo, Taki Rua claim that their performances are appropriate for all comprehension levels as gesture, facial expression, props and music enable everyone to follow the narrative. I had my doubts as the play began and my beginner level te reo was met with a wave of quickly spoken Māori, but to the play’s credit I actually left the marae pleased with myself for having been able to follow it. The story (I think) described how a young boy climbed a forbidden mountain and ate a cursed fruit from a tree. This in turn invited evil spirits into his life which changed his behaviour, resulting in him being responsible for a near fatal accident befalling his sister. However, she lived, and he saw the error of his ways. This was my understanding of the narrative. My 10-year-old and 9-year-old children had approximately the same understanding, while my 7 year old, unfortunately, thought it was about school.
My astonishment at understanding a one-hour play in 100% te reo is down to the four-person cast who performed with a vibrant, youthful energy that kept the younger audience members, and myself, enthralled. Eds Eramiha and Trae Te Wiki played the young brother and sister and were centre stage for the duration of the play as they sang, danced, and ran in slow-motion. They were both very physical and deliberate in their movements, which for the non-reo speakers in the audience was key to understanding the plot. Fortunately many of the audience were competent reo speakers, as they seemed to laugh in the right places, but for myself and my three children we had to rely on the physical humour which, nevertheless, had us all in stitches.
Music was another character in the play. Taki Rua strive to bring kapa haka and te reo together into new context and this was seen today. The waiata that featured in the play were beautifully and powerfully sung. Most had a distinctively modern feel to them and were driven by Reuben Butler on acoustic guitar. Reuben also played several roles in the play. The child favourite being the old koroua who, bent over his walking stick, and seemingly deaf, spoke with a loud, shrill cackle. The fourth cast member, Roimata Fox, played the spirit of the mother and performed with grace and mana throughout the play.
Taki Rua are an inspiration. Following the play there was a brief Q&A where the cast were asked about their journey to the stage in the hopes that they may inspire the tamariki watching. As we were leaving the marae, my daughter told me that she wished she could have understood all that was said on stage. Minutes later I overheard an older Māori woman saying that when she was at school she was told not to learn te reo as it wouldn’t get her anywhere. Taki Rua are the living proof that attitudes to te reo are changing and they enable children to see te reo brought alive and included as a normal part of our lives, as it should be, as the language of Aotearoa.