Editorial: Waiata is rongoā for the soul
The kaiwāwāhi matua takirua / co-editors take a minute to stop and reflect on the weeks been.
Entering the new year with big ‘proud to be Māori’ energy, us two kaiwāwāhi matua takirua threw ourselves hard into our own independent kaupapa. This left us revelling in the importance of immersing yourself with your people and whenua on the regular.
There were moments for both of us where waiata was the main or most memorable part of the kaupapa. The impact such a practice had on our hauora and hinengaro got us excited to talk about waiata as rongoā for the soul, and how we can learn and lead these traditions to uplift ourselves and each other.
At the end of July, I attended the Festival for the Future, where I got to hear from some really cool rangatira and their mahi, including Ezra Hirawani, Nau Mai Ra co-founder, Justice Hetaraka, History of Aotearoa co-founder, Shaquille Shortland, founder and director of Tūāpapa Māori Language Academy & Consultancy, and many, many more.
One of the workshops I attended was about embedding te ao Māori in a global context, and how to be an Indigenous ‘global citizen’. I’ll be honest – I went in half-expecting there’d be a tokenistic kōrero from the Lone Māori, and the rest of the hui would be a whole lot of Pākehāsplaining. So it was awesome to hear from a Māori speaker for the whole session. The discussion he led didn’t so much focus on ‘te ao Māori’ as this mystical Other worldview as it did frame it as what te ao Māori really means: the world as it is. I got a lot out of it personally, too, because it was a valuable reminder that someone can ‘look’ kiritea Māori (a term I know is contentious), while also being deeply immersed and fluent in te reo me ōna tikanga. I saw in him who I want to be one day, for myself, for my hapū, for my tīpuna and future tamariki.
As if to hammer that point home for me, the session ended in the best way possible: with a waiata. The cynic in me groaned when I saw the lyrics to Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi up on the projector. Not because it’s a bad waiata, but because of the way it’s been flogged to death (usually in Pākehā-dominated contexts) alongside ones like E Toru Ngā Mea and Ehara i te Mea. But it’s a totally different experience singing a waiata when the whole room is pouring their mauri into every word.
With my other hat on, as a kaituhi for Te Papa Tupu, I blogged about a similar recent experience at Huia Publishers (and my stumbling attempts at learning guitar). There’s something uniquely welcoming and intrinsically Māori about those shared moments. Hopefully by the time I can make it back to the marae again, I’ll be able to play guitar well enough to back up the waiata for the whānau (or lend the guitar to someone who can!).
The power of haka and waiata is immeasurable. The other weekend I had a kapa haka wānanga back at one of my marae in Te Tairāwhiti. I headed the karanga of home that had been calling me all my life away from the concrete jungle of Pōneke, on to a 50 minute flight and into the warm embrace of my whare tipuna surrounded by it’s rural paddocks, untidy rows of red bands, and my whānau laying in rest up the hill in our urupā.
After living the city girl life these last couple years, there was something hugely grounding about spending a weekend immersed in my whakapapa. I walk proudly Māori wherever I am, but going home and joining my kapa for the first time… well, it stood to remind me that te reo and tikanga are most strongly felt and understood when they are lived and practiced on your own Marae.
I learnt an interpretation of the term pakiwaitara recently. When we separate the two words wai, water, and pakitara, walls, we can interpret pakiwaitara from a Māori worldview as literally the spit that flies and hits the walls of the whare when we practice our oral traditions (whaikōrero, waiata, haka, wānanga). While that idea might gross you out, it’s kind of amazing to reflect how the walls of our marae hold so many stories, whether physically through tukutuku, whakairo and portraits, or spiritually in ‘pakiwaitara’ left by your tipuna.
Needless to say, I came back to Pōneke feeling renewed. Practicing kapa haka, as cheesy as it sounds, makes me feel so proud to carry on kōrero and tikanga tuku iho - using my voice (and I guess spit lol) to carry our pakiwaitara onwards. Plus I’m sure my koro was proud from his place up on the hill having, what he would call it, a good ‘haka boogie’ with me too.
The wrap up:
When we share waiata, kōrero and pakiwaitara with each other as Māori, it binds us together and lifts us up. With this being Te Marama Pūoro Waiata Māori (Māori Music Month) there's no better time than now to immerse yourself in waiata that is available digitally - or take a brave step into kaupapa happening around you or back home in your tūrangawaewae. You won't regret it!
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.