Friday, January 27, 2017

Ko te take o tenei hui, ko ukureretanga

Tony Hansen of Taranaki, delivering his mihi. Me squinting in the sun next to him.
My 'normal' sleeping pattern must be returning after shaking off the two hour earthly time shift  disjunction - otherwise known as jet lag. The trucks on relatively quiet State Highway 2 have started at 3:30am and the wind has turned a cold hauwhenua off the highlands near Rotorua. Quite the change from the āwhā that has been blowing for 2 days.

I'm awake, and thinking about our mahi just finished, with a new cuppla days chapter beginning at dawn.

"Have you been learning te reo?" someone kindly asked me.

No, I replied, but I know and I have a good friend who has helped me.

(So, I respectfully ask the reader to refer to that Maori dictionary. Words are life and culture, and English translation does not always do the Maori way of thinking justice. But language and translation is the only poor cousin we have in the absence of growing up at the feet of a kaumatua).

Singing our waiata at the Festival pōwhiri
My whaikōrero at the opening pōwhiri of the Opotiki Ukulele Festival went so well. I was congratulated my many people, and others commented that our welcoming tangata whenua were most pleased with my mihi. As they say, in the old days, a pōwhiri was about deciding whether you would meet or eat the visitors. Thank goodness my mihi went well, for I was keen to settle down the bloke whose hands were shaking with visible anger. His wiri was calmed by our waiata.

As mentioned in the blog preceding this, it is the ukulele that has brought us here. That wee instrument and the music we create with it is a catalyst that gives us new experiences and new stories.

Welcome to the Torere Marae

Kiri, at home on her marae
Yesterday (Monday after the Opotiki Ukulele Festival) we were caught off guard. Quite a few Ukestralians had left, and were not able to make the planned pōwhiri to be welcomed onto the Torere Marae, the home of Kiri's ancestors. As it turns out, a tangi bumped our greeting ceremony, and so the Monday pōwhiri was cancelled.

You cannot (thankfully) predict death, and as we've found out many times at the bowling clubs we frequent in Newcastle, a wake takes priority over a ukulele jam session.

Nevertheless, we were able to visit Kiri's brother's property, and see her lands. About 30 of us hopped into 5-6 cars and drove to the boundary te whenua o Ngatai. I had a thrilling swim diving through the flying and floating pebbles of a massive shore break at Hawai (note the missing i). I was told later that no-one swims here. Too dangerous and lotsa sharks. Meh. I'm a Merewether boy. Kiri's hunter-extraordinaire nephew Matt watched me with wry bemusement. Is he ok? Kiri asked. Matt watched for a while...doesn't matter, he's the neighbouring tribe's problem now, he's floated across the boundary.

A large shore dump dwarfs me. Click photo
Prior to that personal challenge we all tentatively and uncomfortably gathered on the other side of the road from the marae, observing from afar. Kiri wandered across the road and spoke to Auntie Muriwai and we were welcomed to stand in the gateway on the same side of the road as the marae. Muriwai welcomed us, saying how unfortunate it was about the tangi bumping our pōwhiri, and the sadness their community was feeling about the passing of one of the iwi. She did mention that the tangi had not yet begun because a lot of the people were in Whakatane with the body.

Whilst this was happening an old bloke in a hi-vis orange vest was wandering around up near the marae house. Must be the maintenance man I thought. Muriwai walked up and chatted to him, and then they sat in the seat outside the marae house. Not just any seat. The seat. A shuffle of panicked whispering went around the group. They sat in the seat! Muriwai started to sing a karanga. It's on!

So we gathered into our pre-ordained order, women at the front, men at the back, and walked ceremonially up the path to the marae. One of our other members is also a Maori woman (as of course is Kiri), she started sobbing and was supported by her sister and a uke friend from her Australian home. The import of these ceremonies and the culture is so encompassing and present, and for the second time in the weekend I had to wipe away tears in relation to this aspect of our 'ukulele festival'.

Uncle Rangi (photo by Bob Beale)
When we got up to the front of the marae we sorta didn't know what we had to do. Back to those seats over there! Auntie Muriwai and Uncle Rangi (a very safe 40 metres away) gave us no clues as to what we should do, but Kiri and Matt tried to herd us pakeha cats into the appropriate protocol. Sit down! Sit down!

So we sat on the grass.

No! No! Get off the grass!!!! On the seats! John! Sam! Harry! Get off the grass! On the seats! Matt was whispering in an agitated voice.

Finally corralled into our seated order (men at the front, women at the back), Uncle Rangi began to speak in Maori.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou kotoa.

As with any formal speech, it went on for a while, albeit this time in a language few of us understood. But it gave us time to come to our senses, and to recall what our obligations were as a visiting tribe.

Koha! More panic,... Koha?! Koha? The whispers go around the group. Has anyone brought in any money? Nope. Phones, cameras, no money. We have to put a koha on the other side of the path when we have finished our mihi!

Uh oh....

A mihi. That'd be me. Can I remember it? (No. No recall).

Hang on. My top pocket? Piece of paper. Oh. Phew. I just happen to be wearing the right unwashed shirt. It's there.

More whispering and furtive glances whilst Uncle Rangi continued - Hey Matt! (sitting next to me), I've got my mihi.

Kiri's nephew, Matt, on the path to the marae
Give me a look....

... That's really good! Do it!

And so, for the second time in our travels here, I deliver my mihi. And then I deliver the cobbled together koha from one or two people with wallets on person. Wrapped in an unsightly piece of scrap paper. I wander respectfully towards our opposing tribe, and gently place the koha on their side of the path. But we are not yet done.


This is where many ukulele players would come unstuck. I don't have my music! Or my lyrics... But here we were, spontaneous tourists with no ukes in hand.  More importantly, no-one has any sheet music or lyrics to look at. We just sang. Enough people knew the words to cover those who mumbled their way through. But they knew the tune. Without ukes or sheet music people just concentrated on singing, on feeling the song, on opening up and experiencing the gravity of this ceremony and our offerings. It was wonderful.

We don't have any worthwhile recordings of our waiata, but there is always this version, with a karanga.

Our cultural obligations complete, we lined up for the traditional post-pōwhiri hongi, and then as
Jane greets Ngaio as tangata whenua at the festival powhiri. Not quite a hongi, but close!
tangata whenua, we were granted a tour of the marae and the church. Nervous tangata whenua, but tangata whenua nevertheless. And other than the currency of folding stuff I placed on their side of the path, our currency was music. Waiata. Let's sing. If only there were more of it.

Rosina and Sue on Kiri's brother's back verandah.

Thanks to Tony Hansen from Taranaki for my mihi,

And to Sue, Jane, Penny and Bob for photos. And thank-you to Kiri Hata for welcoming us into her community and tangata whenua.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

It's not about the ukulele. But it is.

We have our final Ukestralia rehearsal in Australia today. We'll do a couple of rehearsals when in Opotiki as well, but the Australian buck stops here today. We are furiously rehearsing our music with our chosen talking sticks - the ukulele. 

The uke is what brings us together, and shows us ways to move beyond the original catalyst of 'ukulele'. Whilst it is just an instrument - which so many people have taken up - it is also our ticket to embrace a wider world of music and related experiences. 38 of us travelling from Newcastle to Opotiki, creating new stories for us to tell our children and grandchildren. Stories that we make, and that we tell.

This Ukestralia trip to an obscure small town in New Zealand's most easterly region came about because of Kiri Hata. Kiri is a Ngai Tai woman who lives in Newcastle and is a very active member of the Ukastle Ukestra. Kiri said 'come visit my tangata whenua'. A lot of ukestrans said 'awesome'. And so we are crossing the ditch.

The Opotiki Ukulele Festival is shaping up to be something rare in the world of ukulele festivals. It is more than ukulele and music making. It is very much about cultural exchange. Many Australians admire the prominent place of Maori culture in New Zealand life. Australians and New Zealanders (Aussies and Kiwis) are very close siblings. But the kiwis, and their relationship with the land and its people, reminds us of how far we aussies have to go to have a respectful and more integrated relationship with our land and its indigenous people. We look forward to learning.

We are being welcomed into this community through the common language and connection of music, and I am honoured and privileged to have been asked to do the mihi for us Australian visitors at the powhiri. These are rituals at which I will no doubt demonstrate my clumsiness and ignorance, (especially when speaking and singing in reo), but I will do my best. 

For years our ukestras have sung and played Pokarekare Ana - many Australians remember it from school radio in the 1960s and 70s. Like an oaf, I have counted this song in jauntily, and too fast. Our performances are nothing like this one here! If you have ever been a tourist in Aotearoa (the other name for New Zealand), for instance at Whakarewarewa in Rotorua, then you will have heard this beautiful love song performed. We have also sung and picked the national anthem, God Defend New Zealand, just because it is a good song. But for this visit Kiri has suggested we perform a more contemporary song in reo, and we seem to be doing a good job of it (for a bunch of aussie pakeha). We shall see. We shall see.

The ukulele has brought us together as a community in Newcastle, Australia. And now as a music-making community we are able to reach out to others of similar persuasions and enjoy each other's company and learn more, and experience more.

So it is about the ukulele. And it isn't. What joy and experiences making music can bring.