28 Feb 2016

Ngaa Rauuira Puumanawawhiti

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 28 February 2016
Ngaa started his new role at NZMACI earlier this year.

Ngaa started his new role at NZMACI earlier this year. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Ngaa Rauuira Puumanawawhiti starred in the 2012 documentary film Māori Boy Genius.

Justine Murray catches up with Ngaa (nō Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Raukawa, Tuhoe), who the world saw as a young teen, and is now a young man finding his place in the world:

In the film he likened his education pathway to Tane nui a rangi, who ascended the heavens to reach the three baskets of knowledge. A self-described accelerated learner, Ngaa's mother Maakarita Paku says Ngaa expressed a desire for learning from age 3 or 4. Today, Ngaa Rauuira is 21 years old and works as a researcher and communications co-ordinator at The New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute in Rotorua.

For ages I really struggled to deal with the weight of [the title Māori Boy Genius]. On the other hand I have had to reconcile what I now understand that actually initiates the conversation, what is genius to our people? To me the genius, I suppose which I possess, does not come from me as an individual,  but the education system and the upbringing from which I came. So if I looked at it from that basis there are many geniuses out there, I've met them, they go to places like Te Wānanga o Raukawa, they have kōhanga and  kura kaupapa roots.

It's a job that adheres to his core values of fostering Māori Arts. His success and the milestone of his 21st birthday was tarnished when his grandmother Janet Paku passed away in November 2014. Ngaa says his new role means he can take Māori people and culture to the world. Rotorua is a fair way from Otaki and Napier where Ngaa grew up, but he says he's looking forward to delving into the kapahaka scene.

Napier City Pilot Community Trust where Michael Paku received an award for his contribution to Kohanga Reo in Napier.

Napier City Pilot Community Trust where Michael Paku received an award for his contribution to Kohanga Reo in Napier. Photo: Will Jenkins

My parents have a strong Tino Rangatiratanga streak, so [they were] heavily involved in the Māori revitalisation movement in Otaki, whakatipuranga rua mano....so that's from my childhood up to seven years, and that is tempered again by the values of my grandparents. So there's an interesting convergence  there of Christian, socialist religious roots and Mana Māori Motuhake worldview.

In 2007 Ngaa Rauuira enrolled at Te Wānanga o Raukawa in the Diploma of Mātauranga Māori, he graduated that year aged 13. In 2009 he studied his first semester at Yale in Politics and Law. In 2010 he returned to Yale for another semester when he was only 16 years old, which is when the cameras started rolling.

In 2011 Ngaa graduated from Te Wānanga o Raukawa with a Bachelor Degree in Mātauranga Māori, he returned in 2013 to begin his Masters and graduated in 2014.

In the film Māori Boy Genius, Ngaa's mum Maakarita Paku is supportive of her son's higher learning aspirations. She says she put her design career to the side to raise her family - Maakarita gave birth to her daughter Heriata, who today is five years old. The busy filming schedule in 2010 was disruptive to whanau life, but she was adamant to convey a story to the viewers from a Māori worldview. One aspect of the film that was difficult was the title, she says it still doesn't sit well with her today.

Despite the release five years ago, she still fields emails and Facebook contact from people interested in Ngaa Rauuira. 

Director and producer Pietra Brettkelly heard about Ngaa's story through her producer friend, Joanna Paul.  Pietra spent sixteen months filming the family and spent a year in post production. From London, Pietra Brettkelly shares her perspective about the film four years on.