29 Jul 2018

Waiata: how traditional Māori knowledge is captured in song

From Te Ahi Kaa, 12:00 am on 29 July 2018
Professor Taiarahia Black.

Professor Taiarahia Black. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Te Ahi Kaa sits down with composer and educator Professor Taiarahia Black to learn more about his research in traditional waiata.

Professor Black grew up in the Tuhoe Valley and witnessed what he calls 'scholars' who spoke and sang songs on the marae that embodied the aspirations of the iwi.

"We grew up in Ruatoki and watched, in my view, scholars delivering evidence [and] models of building knowledge," he says.

"Waiata is about the teaching and learning aspect that contains three key points – the experience, the knowledge and the scholarship, they inspire us. These waiata all have relevance, they have facts, and they have ideas and are evidence of the representation of that particular community."

Almost 40 years ago, Black researched the songs 'Ka Tu Au Ka Korikori' and 'Kāore te po nei morikarika noa' composed by Te Kooti, and 'Pinepine te Kura' composed by Te Umurangi of Ngāti Kahungunu.

Professor Black also researched waiata written by Tuhoe prophet Rua Kenana who was arrested after armed forces raided Maungapōhatu in 1916.

His two songs perished during the exchange.

"[Kenana] wrote 'Moe Hurihuri' which was dedicated to one of his wives. The second waiata that he wrote was the one that really pushed hard the pardon on what happened in Maungpohatua. And the line goes 'Kaore te whakama te taura whiu kau'. These two waiata were given to me in 1979. I collected them as a part of my masters thesis."

Professor Black visited Joe Te Maipi in Waimana who gave him a piece of paper with the song words on it. He then visited his uncles and asked about the meaning of the words.

His uncles directed him to a local kuia from Matahi Marae who was 14 years old at the time of the armed raid on Maungapōhatu.

She was Tuhoe Kuia Te Puhi Mataroa Tatu, whose life became the subject of the Vincent Ward films In Spring One Plants Alone and Rain of the Children.

Professor Black helped organise the statutory pardon of Rua Kenana in 2017.

"One of things that I've done is a lot of research and found a lot of evidence of what had happened at Maungapohatu," Professor Black says.

As a composer, Professor Black collaborates often collaborates with Tuhoe singer Whirimako Black, who has released eight albums, and he wrote a range of songs for Kapahaka groups during his tenure at Massey University in Palmerston North

A few years ago, He moved back to this tribal lands after living at Palmerston North's Massey University for 26 years. He returned home to take up a position at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi at Whakatane where Professor Black supervises Masters and PhD Students.