Poi E: Tearepa Kahi on learning

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Maui Dalvanius Prime was born and grew up in Patea on Taranaki’s West Coast, and Ngoi lived on the opposite side of Te Ika a Maui, (the Fish of Maui, the North Island), in Tokomaru Bay, on the East Coast. In her middle-age in the early ’80s, she was in the habit of bringing a busload of at-risk kids from the big city down to her small town and giving them an “immersive cultural experience”, or daily life in Tokomaru Bay.

While performing around the country, Dalvanius was also studying Maori language at the Wellington Polytechnic. He visited Ngoi for a weekend, and stayed for four weeks. It became his immersive cultural experience and led to a dozen songs.

Poi E is not the first project that Tearepa and Reikura have done together as producer and director. Last year they produced Romeo and Hulietta; next year they plan to shoot a version of another Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (currently also being explored in the Candle Wasters’ web series Bright Summer Night).

“It’s very challenging for Reikura, because I am very stubborn,” Tearepa explained. “I am easily enamoured of some of my ideas, and it’s not always that easy to have them scrutinized so honestly. And then the worst thing is having them improved upon so quickly and dramatically!

“But it’s good to be humble through the process; she’s definitely helped and makes all the critical decisions. If I can’t get an idea or a decision past her, then I have to let it go.

“Working together is troublesome, fraught with challenges, but it yields good results. I think the basis of any relationship is trust… She’s coming from an awesome place, a strong place, and I trust that, I trust her.”

Tearepa sees their work as a development of the kaupapa that was started with one of his earliest mentors, Don Selwyn. “Our focus is the reo and the stories.”

In this respect he also references Kiwi film pioneer John O’Shea, who spoke of “arguing an idea into its ascendancy”, a notion given to Tearepa by his mentor and touchstone on Poi E, filmmaker Eruera Te Whiti. Better known as Ted Nia, he sadly passed away only four weeks after seeing an advance screening of the film.

Many of us have a tendency to think of Maori culture as being a pan-Aotearoa entity. But in dealing with two main characters from opposite sides of the North Island, the makers of Poi E were dealing with two very different cultural landscapes: East Coast, West Coast; Te Tai Rawhiti, Te Tai Hauau; Dalvanius, Patea Maori Club, the Pewhairangi whanau – two different landscapes, two different mountains, three different entities, two very diverse whakapapa – and that’s where a lot of both Tearepa’s and Reikura’s time and energy went, on understanding the cultural landscape in order to properly tell the story.

From left: Stan Walker, Tearepa, Taika WaititiPhoto: Kirstty Griffin

From left: Stan Walker, Tearepa, Taika Waititi
Photo: Kirsty Griffin

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