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Pūkana: Bring your students to witness the awe-inspiring power of Māori performance

February 14th, 2020 By Public Engagement

Bring your students to the National Library in Wellington to experience Pūkana — an exhibition that celebrates the extraordinary breadth and depth of Māori performance in Aotearoa.

The exhibition (on until 23 May) asks us to consider the role of Māori performance in shaping Aotearoa now and in the future and to recognise its incredible richness and diversity.

Student and adult looking at the Ans Westra images in the Pūkana exhibition at the National Library in Wellington
Secondary school student enjoying the Ans Westra images in the Pūkana exhibition. Photo by Mark Beatty.

From haka to Alien Weaponry

‘Did you ever think that the kura kaupapa immersion system would produce something like the te reo thrash metal band Alien Weaponry?’ asks Pūkana Lead Curator Paul Diamond (Ngāti Hauā, Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi).

This was probably a leap too far before Alien Weaponry’s glorious and unexpected victories at the 2016 Smokefree RockQuest and Smokefree Pacific Beats — the only band to have taken out both prizes.

Paul continues, ‘It’s just so exciting to see what has and will emerge in Māori performance — they have taken our language into realms it’s never been to before’.

Te ihi, te wehi, and te wana

That spine-tingling sensation felt by both performer and audience is said to be the connection between the living and the spirit realm which invokes emotions, known as ‘te ihi’, ‘te wehi’, and ‘te wana’. Traditional performance such as karanga, wero, haka, whaikōrero, and waiata, as well as new genres of Māori performance like Alien Weaponry incite:

  • ihi — as a kind of vibration that swells up from your core, compelling you to act
  • wehi — as a connection with atuatanga, a spiritual or god-like state, and
  • te wana — as a feeling that rises within you as a result of an action performed by someone else.

In 2019, when Alien Weaponry performed in Denmark, 6,000 Danish people responded to the band with a haka creating an incredibly powerful, emotionally charged exchange — this is the spirit of te ihi, te wehi, and te wana in action.

What your students will see

Performance is at the heart of Māori culture and the way Māori engage with each other and the world, whether to celebrate, seduce, entertain, express dissent or anger, or grieve. Pūkana represents all of these various forms of performance from the use of karetao to thrash metal music videos.

  • Two karetao (traditional Māori ‘puppets’) on loan from Te Papa — one of these may be the one Alexander Turnbull asked Elsdon Best to have made for him.
  • Posters for theatre and performance from the Alexander Turnbull Library's ephemera collection illustrate the breadth and diversity of Māori performers and performances including:
    • 'Porgy and Bess' (1965) — with a mostly Māori cast and the first time the Gershwin family allowed the opera to be performed by non-African-American performers
    • Carmen — who created space for takatāpui (Māori queer) performers
    • The Humourbeasts — aka Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement sharing pūrākau (stories) about Māui in unique and quirky ways in 'The Untold Stories of Maui'.
  • Photographs and albums from the Library collection, including those of Dylan Owen who has captured striking moments of performance during political protests.
  • Slideshow showcasing the photographs of Ans Westra.
  • Videos of performance and interviews:
    • 'Once Were Warriors' actors Rena Owen and Temuera Morrison
    • Alien Weaponry performing Raupatu
    • Billy T James
    • Nancy Brunning from playing Jaki Manu in Shortland Street to roles in theatre and film.
  • Images of contemporary haka showing performance as a vehicle for unity through the spontaneous haka at the mosque attacks memorial.
  • Images that celebrate Māori showbands and the popularity of the guitar as an instrument of choice for many Māori performers.
Learning Facilitator showing a student the 2 karetao in the Pūkana exhibition
Learning Facilitator Tanja shows her son the karetao on display in the Pūkana exhibition. Photograph by Mark Beatty.

The content of the exhibition has the potential to link to a range of curriculum areas, particularly:

  • te reo Māori
  • Māori performing arts
  • drama
  • history.

Our Learning Facilitators are available to guide your students through the exhibition and can help you to provide a meaningful learning experience for your ākonga. We encourage you to arrange a pre-visit to the exhibition with a Learning Facilitator to discuss how to incorporate a visit to the exhibition into your programme of learning.

Services to Schools also provide a range of online resources via Topic Explorer.

Make a booking for a class visit to Pūkana

The exhibition is on until the 23 May so there's time to visit this term or early in term two. Because there's so much to see and learn about, we recommend that you allow at least one hour for your visit.

To book a class visit, email bookings@hetohu.nz, with ‘Pūkana’ in the subject line. In the body of the email, please specify:

  • the year level(s) of your group
  • the size of your group (maximum of 30 students)
  • your preferred visit date and time — it'd be helpful if you could give us a couple of options
  • the subject area and focus of study
  • any specific areas of interest or elements of the exhibition that you would like our Learning Facilitators to focus on
  • any additional needs (accessibility etc) that your group may have.

To ensure the safety of students and staff, we ask for a supervision ratio of 1:15 for secondary schools and 1:8 for primary schools.

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Liuting Sun
15 April 2020 8:38am

What a great exhibition, hope it can be extended a bit longer once the lockdown is over.