Hoki mai ra

Next time you visit older relatives with a piano, it could pay to look through their stack of sheet music – you never know what you might find.

A unique find

In 2007, while staying with an aunt and uncle in Australia, I was searching for music to play when something unusual in their piano stool caught my eye. Among the classical items and popular songs was an old manuscript score of the Māori love song ‘Pōkarekare’. The manuscript included an English translation of the lyrics and explanatory notes, together with a beautifully illustrated cover.

What also got my attention was the date on the cover – Xmas 1923 – which made the score one of the earliest musical notations for ‘Pōkarekare’ and one of the earliest copies of the lyrics. In April 2014, a digital copy of this unique score was deposited with the Alexander Turnbull Library and is now available to view in the Katherine Mansfield Reading Room.

'Māoriland-style cover for 1923 edition of sheet music for Pokarekare.Pokarekare; for vocal and piano, 1923. Hubert E Carter. Ref: MSDL-2241.

‘Pōkarekare’ is one of New Zealand’s most iconic songs. Performed countless times since the early-twentieth century, the song has also been recorded and published on many occasions. It’s celebrated and discussed, online, on television, and in academia (Allan Thomas, '"Pokarekare": an overlooked New Zealand folksong?', Journal of Folklore Research 44/2-3 (2007), 227-237).

The enduring fascination with ‘Pōkarekare’ (also known as ‘Pōkarekare ana’) partly derives from the many transformations the song has undergone over the years. The lyrics – a plea for a maiden to return to her lover’s arms – have been translated into various languages, adapted and parodied. The tune has also been borrowed, most famously in New Zealand for the 1986 America’s Cup song ‘Sailing away’.

There has also been much interest in the song’s uncertain origins. Various items in the Turnbull Library collections document its early history. Before explaining how the 1923 score contributes further to our knowledge, it’s worth briefly reviewing these early publications.

A noble sacrifice

The lyrics of ‘Pōkarekare’ seem to have been first printed in the ca. 1921 second edition of a waiata booklet published to support Māori veterans of the First World War, A Noble Sacrifice , also known as Hoea ra te waka nei, or Come where duty calls.

Lyrics for Pokarekare, starting 'Pokarekare ana nga wai o Waiapu / Whiti atu koe ehine! Marina ana e!'Lyrics for 'Pōkarekare' from Paraire Tomoana and Apirana Ngata (eds.), Hoea ra te waka nei = Come where duty calls, ca.1921. Record page.

The ca. 1919 first edition had been compiled by two notable Māori leaders of the early-twentieth century, Sir Apirana Ngata and Paraire Tomoana. They probably also edited the later expanded reissue which includes ‘Pōkarekare’. (Unfortunately, the title page is missing from the only known copy). An introductory note describes the song’s origins and subsequent popularisation among Māori servicemen:

These ditties emanated in the North of Auckland, were popularised in Narrowneck Camp, and eventually drifted to Torere in the Bay of Plenty, thence to the East Cape. There they took the present form with appropriate action, and acquired close association with the last drafts of single men from the East Cape and Wairoa districts, known officially as the 19th and 20th Maori Reinforcements.

The song was next published around 1926, in two different voice and piano arrangements: the first by the composer Alfred Hill, the second by “Hemi Piripata” (believed to be a pseudonym for expatriate English musician James Phillpot), each with lyrics in both Māori and English. Several other versions were published over the next ten years.

Covers of two editions of sheet music for Pokarekare, one by Alfred Hill, the other by Hemi Piripata.L-R: Alfred Hill (arr.), Pōkarekare (Agitated): a Māori love song, ca. 1926. Record page.; Hemi Piripata (arr.), Two Māori songs. First set, 1. Pokare kare 2. Hoea rā, ca. 1926. Record page.

Early publications of ‘Pōkarekare’ did not name the composer, but a new arrangement appeared in 1964 which credited the song to Paraire Tomoana. (Sam Freedman, Songs of New Zealand: Maori Music: A Complete Collection of Maori Favourites. Wellington: Seven Seas Publishing, 1964.) Others have since claimed that Apirana Ngata wrote ‘Pōkarekare’. While neither man ever acknowledged authorship themselves, both were famed composers of waiata with European-style tunes and could well have had a hand in the song’s composition. Some resolution occurred in 1988, when the Tomoana family registered the song with the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), declaring that Paraire had composed the song in 1912 while courting his second wife, Kuini Ripeka Ryland. They were subsequently granted copyright.

Who is E.B.?

We now return to my aunt’s 1923 manuscript of ‘Pōkarekare’. Untangling the provenance of this artefact has necessitated considerable detective work in its own right.

The score was apparently inherited together with a piano, piano stool and other sheet music, from farming relatives in the Manawatu-Wanganui Region. How it first came into the family’s possession is not clear, although it was possibly acquired by my aunt’s aunt, Mary Kearins, who sang at public concerts in Palmerston North during the 1920s. The name on the cover, “Hubert”, presumably the transcriber, is another clue.

Comparative details of the signature 'Hubert' on two scores.Signature detail from Pōkarekare; for vocal and piano (MSDL-2241); and signature detail from Moe mai koe (NZ/S-MOE.500). Sheet Music Archive of New Zealand.

After consulting with the Sheet Music Archive of NZ’s David Dell, we discovered that the handwritten “Hubert” almost perfectly matches the signature stamp on a score in his collection, for the New Zealand tenor Hubert Carter. Carter grew up in Palmerston North, beginning his professional singing career as a boy soprano with the Pollard Opera Company. Between 1924 and 1951 he lived mainly in England, performing and lecturing (including on Māori music), and came to adopt the stage name Hubert Milverton-Carta. In later years, he became a singing teacher in Auckland, whose students included Sir Donald McIntyre, Tom Sharplin and Bunny Walters.

Cover of Hubert Milverton-Carta's Waiata Poi, showing a Māori woman swinging a poi; and portrait of Milverton-Carta from the back cover.Front cover sleeve of Hubert Milverton-Carta, Waiata poi (7" EP), ca. 1960; portrait of Hubert Milverton-Carta from back cover sleeve. Record page.

Given that both my aunt’s family and Hubert Carter had strong associations with Palmerston North (Carter returned for a few years in the early-1920s), there was likely some personal connection. The score appears to be a Christmas present. The identity of the translator, however, whose initials are given on the score as ‘E.B.’, remains a mystery.

Where did Hubert Carter learn ‘Pōkarekare’? Probably not from A Noble Sacrifice, as the 1923 manuscript text has several variations and corruptions. One possible source was the singer Bathie Howie Stuart, who performed ‘Pōkarekare’ at concerts from 1919 onwards. Stuart and Carter were undoubtedly acquainted: both joined the Pollard Opera Company in 1907 and probably crossed paths later on the New Zealand stage circuit.

A ditty, a toitoi

But even if its provenance remains slightly clouded, the 1923 score illuminates the early history of ‘Pōkarekare’ in various interesting ways. First, it confirms that, years before being published as sheet music, ‘Pōkarekare’ was circulating not only among Māori but also Pākehā, particularly those in the singing profession. Second, the score features the earliest known notated melody line for a song which at this time still existed primarily in oral tradition, in versions which might vary with each singer.

At the very least, the manuscript shows how Hubert Carter probably performed it. The 6/8 time signature used is also of interest. None of the early published versions feature 6/8 time, but this does allow for the same mixed sense of meter (the pattern of repeated musical accents) which has been identified with the song.

Lastly, the translator ‘E.B.’ (who was probably Pākehā) makes some curious observations in their notes. “The Whanganui natives, in my youth, would call it a ‘Toitoi’”, ‘E.B.’ explains. “It is hardly entitled to be dignified (according to the Maori idea) with the name of ‘song’”.

This usage and meaning of the word “toitoi” is unusual. Perhaps it was a Whanganui dialect term. Or did the translator really mean to compare ‘Pōkarekare’s apparent inconsequence with the wispy flowers of the native grass toetoe (sometimes misspelt as “toitoi”)? And, while their description now seems a bit unflattering, it is not entirely inconsistent with the term “ditties” used by Ngata and Tomoana.

The gorgeous Māoriland-style cover of the 1923 manuscript – with huia feathers, kōwhai flowers, hei tiki and taiaha – tells its own story, though. As far back as 1923, there was also apparently a strong sense that ‘Pōkarekare’ was a remarkable musical taonga.

Thanks to David Dell, and to my colleagues Ariana Tikao, Nicola Frean, and Chris Anderson for their help.

By Michael Brown

Michael Brown is Music Curator at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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Peter Downes August 12th at 2:45PM

Chris Bourke drew my attention to your Pokarekare blog. What a fascinating story. And our old friend Hubert Carta(er) is involved. I didn't know he had taught Bunny Walters! Bunny, aged 18, was the "pop" artist in the NZ entertainment team at Expo '70 in Osaka. I was Tour Manager and Deputy Director. I have to say I think he was more influenced by Tom Jones than Hubert Carter. Some years ago when I was at the Nat Lib I compiled a discography of Pokarekare from 1924 to 1936. If you'd like a copy I'll email one to you.
Anyway, congratulations for a fine piece of sleuthing!

Donal Raethel August 13th at 6:10PM

Thanks to Chris Czekely for letting me know about the Pokarekare blog. It is amazing that as late as 1963 a Copyright application was received by the Patent Office. The application includes manuscript sheet music, lyrics in Māori and English, and guitar strumming notation. The 'author' is given as Sam Freedman. It is not clear from the documetation whether the application by 'Maoriland Publications Ltd' was successful. More research needs to done to see how the Patent Office dealt with the matter. This record is held at Archives New Zealand (Archives ref: PC4 Box 259 record 7022).

Michael Brown August 14th at 9:18AM

Thanks Peter, your comment is much appreciated and I would love to see the discography (will email you shortly). The information about Hubert Carter teaching Bunny comes from a 2008 interview with Tom Sharplin, who says:

"I toured around the country many times with Bunny. We both went to the same vocal trainer as Suzanne Lynch - Hubert Milverton-Carta. You could never out sing him. I believe he was one of our greatest male singers, he pushed you to do your best all the time." (http://www.nzmusician.co.nz/index.php/ps_pagename/article/pi_articleid/1311)

There is also an article which mentions Sonny Day, The Newfolk, and The Tunespinners as among his other pupils. Quite a roster!

Michael Brown August 15th at 9:35AM

Thanks Donal, that's really interesting - some further research around the Pokarekare copyright history as documented by Archives NZ would clearly be in order.

Incidentally, Sam Freedman (1911-2008) was a well-known local songwriter, who composed numbers like 'Haere mai (everything is ka pai)' and 'Pania of the reef'. The 1963 application you highlight may have been connected with the 1964 Seven Seas song album, mentioned in the blog as the first which credits Paraire Tomoana as composer.

I suspect Freedman was intending to register his song arrangement and lyric translation, rather than necessarily claiming he composed it - after all he was only 10 or 11 when 'A Noble Sacrice' was published!

Patrick Grange December 20th at 8:37AM

I was a student at a school near Watford from 1939 to 1947. The Head of the Senior School was the very talented and progressive New Zealander, Norman Sinclair, who had a Double First from Cambridge. He twice brought to the school to talk to us a man who I remember was named Sir Hubert Carter. There were two amazing qualities about this man which I shall not mention in case someone wishes to start making a mockery arising out of my query. Sir Hubert told us much about the Maoris and performed some of rituals - including the dance that the NZ rugby team performs before a match. He also sang in the Maori tongue the song which swept Britain at that time, "Now is the Hour". I bought the sheet music for this which included the original Maori words - which I learned and would from time to time sing. I can still remember some of the first verse but can't be sure of the spelling: but here goes;- Har eerie rar, Kay manoo tangi pie, Ha areenee arner .

The reason I'd like to know more about people who might know, is that the two amazing things about Sir Hubert Carter are worth passing on IF we've got the right man or someone related to him.


Michael Brown January 20th at 4:42PM

Hello Patrick,

How interesting - On the face of it, I would say this is almost certainly the same Hubert Carter from NZ, although the "Sir" has me puzzled. While living in the UK, Carter gave lectures on Maori music in which he sang waiata and performed haka. I have written a little bit more on the man elsewhere (https://notunlikeatrumpet.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/the-intriguing-mr-hubert-carter/) and hope to write more about his involvement in Maori music.

Incidentally, there was another Hubert Carter around at roughly this time: the English stage and movie actor Hubert Carter (1869-1934). I have wondered whether the NZ Hubert changed his name partly to distinguish himself from the actor.

If you'd like to share your other memories of the man, I would certainly be most interested.

Michael Brown

Mary Liddy November 6th at 8:19AM

I'm puzzled by the 3/4 timing of Sam Freedman's version. It's very difficult to teach my singing groups this version because most of us are familiar with the 4/4 version. It feels weird1 Can you indicate which timing is more 'authentic'? Thank you.

Michael Brown November 6th at 11:26AM

Hello Mary,

Thanks for your question, which is an interesting one! If by "authentic" you mean the earliest version, then Hubert Carter's 6/8 timing could be considered close to the authentic version. This would be similar to Sam Freedman's 3/4 arrangement.

However, I can't see much harm in singing the song in a meter that your group finds comfortable. With a song such as 'Pokarekare', where so many different variants have developed over time, each is in its own way "authentic".

These days I hear many people sing 'Pokarekare' in slow 12/8 time, so it has a 4/4 structure line by line, but with a rolling triplet feel underneath. This makes the chorus very drawn out, but reconciles the duple and triple feels to some extent.

Thanks again,