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Māori Theatre in Not-Quite-Post-Colonial Aotearoa New Zealand

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Abstract

This chapter looks at the ways Māori theatre negotiates with the history of colonisation and the idea(l) of a post-colonial, bicultural Aotearoa New Zealand. It examines two plays by the Māori playwright/director Hone Kouka: Nga Tangata Toa (“The Warrior People,” 1994) and Waiora: Te Ūkaipō—The Homeland (1997), which, weaving elements of Māori protocol through Ibsen-inspired dramaturgies, were produced at a critical juncture in New Zealand theatre history. They set the stage for an indigenous genre of performance that reflects the ongoing tensions of a not-quite-post-colonial nation. At their best, instead of “decolonising the stage,” these plays perform anti-colonial acts in staging the continuing impact of the colonial encounter, and, in so doing, engage their communities performatively without being at all utopian. The social order they represent remains uneasy, the present nation’s historical injustices as-yet unreconciled, still a work unevenly in progress.

I understood that Māori theatre can only be a hybrid, as in traditional Māori society the concept of a ‘theatre’ was foreign. I also realised that, because our theatre had to be a hybrid, I should understand and hold firm to my traditions and Māori point of view. Otherwise, the theatre I created would become purely generic.

—Hone Kouka (2007: 241)

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Notes

  1. 1.

    ‘Alas…I cry for you my place of origin / now left saturated in my tears // Alas…the place where my umbilical cord is still / attached and pulls at my heart with almighty strength’ (Kouka 1997: 110).

  2. 2.

    Ranginui…Bear witness upon me as I leave behind all I know, all I am, including…// Papa…Land walked upon by generations many before me / As I now wander (seemingly) aimlessly in search of well-being (Kouka 1997: 110).

  3. 3.

    Pākehā generally refers to the descendants of the British settlers such as these characters. Another, more literal, term for non-Māori is ‘tauiwi’—that is, outsiders, or not of our tribe.

  4. 4.

    This chapter builds on my earlier discussion of these two plays in ‘Here as Elsewhere: Thinking Theatrically/Acting Locally’ (2014).

  5. 5.

    Marae are the traditional facilities—for meetings, dining and sleeping—at the centre of Māori tribal communities and institutions.

  6. 6.

    See Looser’s (2014) survey of Māori theatre history. On post-colonial drama more generally, see Gilbert and Thompkins (1996). For a survey of New Zealand theatre and performance, see Maufort and O’Donnell (2007).

  7. 7.

    While outside Māori faculties, schools and departments, English remains the dominant language of instruction, students can legally submit work for assessment—from undergraduate essays to PhD theses—in te reo Māori. Most New Zealand universities, including my own, have established marae as well.

  8. 8.

    It is possible to see the legacy of this practice even now in so-called colour-blind or non-traditional cast productions of classical plays, such as a recent Auckland Theatre Company version of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard , which was set in 1970s New Zealand, with Māori actors in the roles of Lopakhin and Varia, and in the Pop-up Globe’s 2017/2018 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Māori actors featured in the roles of Theseus/Oberon, Hippolyta/Titania and Puck (see Mazer 2019).

  9. 9.

    There are some notable detractors. See Te Whare Tapere: Towards a New Model for Māori Performance Art, the influential PhD thesis by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal (1998). It appears that Royal has recently tempered his criticism, judging by his new website: http://www.charles-royal.nz/whare-tapere.

  10. 10.

    For further biographical information, please see the NZ Book Council website: http://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/Writers/Profiles/Kouka,%20Hone. For a glimpse of Kouka’s current work as a producer, see the Tawata Productions website: http://tawata.wordpress.com/about/.

  11. 11.

    See Papesch (2015); also see Mazer (2011).

  12. 12.

    See Peterson (2001), Edmond (2007), Carnegie and O’Donnell (2007), and Kouka (2007).

  13. 13.

    Tūpuna and tīpuna both mean ancestors. Kouka uses the first in Nga Tangata Toa and the second in Waiora.

  14. 14.

    The echoes of Hamlet are deliberate here.

  15. 15.

    For an excellent discussion of these concepts, see Selwyn Te Rito (2007).

  16. 16.

    ‘I remember the pao, waiata, haka, everything. Oh! The water is cold’ (Kouka 1997: 30).

  17. 17.

    To call an audience in has become customary also in dance performances, a practice pioneered by Atamira Dance Collective with its production of Ngai Tahu 32 in 2004 (Mazer 2007).

  18. 18.

    Albert Belz is of Ngāti Pouro, Ngā Puhi and Ngāti Pōkai descent.

  19. 19.

    Who will take responsibility / on the marae now? / There can be justice / and truth / only if there is love (New Zealand Waiata n.d.).

  20. 20.

    ‘Miria George is of Te Arawa, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Kuki Airani (Rarotonga and Atiu) descent.’

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Mazer, S. (2021). Māori Theatre in Not-Quite-Post-Colonial Aotearoa New Zealand. In: Morosetti, T., Okagbue, O. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Theatre and Race. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-43957-6_8

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