Short film showcases long-forgotten waiata

A unique short film made by Victoria University of Wellington academics and showcasing long-forgotten waiata will be premiered at Wellington’s City Gallery on 28 October.

The film will be launched on Rā Maumahara 2019, the second official day of commemoration for wars and conflicts waged over Aotearoa New Zealand.

The film was made by University lecturers Dr Arini Loader (Ngāti Raukawa), from the School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations, and Dr Mike Ross (Ngāti Hauā) from Te Kawa a Maui/School of Māori Studies, Dr William Franco, a recent PhD graduate from Te Kawa a Maui, and Hoani Hotene, emerging film practitioner, with help from whānau and friends. Among the guests at the screening will be Ngāti Hauā kaumātua and children from Te Wharekura o Te Rau Aroha in Morrinsville who sing the waiata and feature in the film.

With its opening line requesting “Let the sun shine”, the waiata is one of 230 written down by prisoners captured in November 1863 at the battle of Rangiriri, along with a selection of karakia (incantations), whakataukī (proverbial sayings) and narrative pieces. Dr Loader says the battle of Rangiriri was a devastating turning point in the invasion where, in the first pitched battle of the Waikato phase of the campaign, 183 Māori defenders were taken prisoner and casualties were high on both sides.

A prison guard originally asked the prisoners for waiata and the manuscript eventually made its way into former Governor Sir George Grey’s collection of Māori language material now housed at Auckland Central Library.

Dr Loader and Dr Ross have researched the waiata and their historical contexts. While the tunes have been lost to many, a new rendition of one of them is featured in the film.

Dr Loader says it has been an important and moving project. “We wanted to honour the people who recorded their waiata under the most horrifying conditions: they were warworn from fighting a fight they never asked for in defence of their homes, property, people and possessions; they were held in cramped, unsanitary conditions where dysentery, hakihaki (skin disease), scrofula and other tubercular diseases thrived, and they were separated from their families and loved ones with the threat of the ultimate separation, death, ever present.”

She says the project has helped reclaim a piece of history for Ngāti Hauā who fought at Rangiriri, but knew little about their ancestors taken as prisoners or about their voices contained in the manuscript.

Dr Loader and Dr Ross have already begun work on a second, complementary film, provisionally entitled 'The Making of 'E Whiti E Te Raa: Shine', which will explore the underlying kaupapa of the short film, the key themes and historical context, and the tikanga, cultural sensibilities and responsibilities that guided the film production from the initial scoping and planning stages to the premiere and beyond.