Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, September 16, 1999

Maori theater
explores social
injustice in Waiora

'The connections between Maori
and Hawaiians are very strong'

By Cynthia Oi


Art HONE Kouka isn't into guilt. He's not looking for apologies. The catalog of human wrongs that intruders inflicted upon indigenous people throughout the world resonate among his Maori people as it does among Native Hawaiians.

The writer's mission, however, isn't to place blame. He looks instead for understanding, which is why he is pleased the American premiere of his play is being presented in the islands this month.

"Waiora," the name of a fictitious village in which the play is set, chronicles the disconnection of Maori as they drifted from New Zealand's rural to urban areas in the mid-1950s through the '60s, lured by employment and other opportunities. The change unlinked the Maori from their land, culture and heritage.

"About 40 percent of our people shifted to the cities in this time and it changed the kind of people we were," Kouka said.

"There were so many of our young people who were lost. They couldn't trace their roots and lost touch with their culture. They had no connections."

Kouka points to the novel "Once Were Warriors," written by Alan Duff (it was later made into a movie with the same name), as a re-creation of the results of urban drift: alcoholism, abuse, poverty, violence, frustration and a loss of identity despite the constant reminder of their difference from a white society.

"That's what happens to people when they lose their souls, which is their culture," he said.

Kouka, born in a small coastal town on North Island, was 3 years old when his parents followed the drift to Christchurch, "probably one of the most English of all cities in New Zealand," he said.

"Waiora" is based on stories from his family's experiences, but the play isn't biographical.

"My parents were staunch about things Maori," he said. "Both spoke Maori and we were brought up to be proud of our culture. It was a normal part of our life, not added on as with Maori who became distant from their heritage."

Maori, he said, "are strongly tied to their extended families, similar to Hawaiian people." Because of this, his parents took him back to their home village every summer so, "we have a very strong connection with our Maori side."

Kouka said he doesn't know the details of Native Hawaiian history, "but I do know this: Like us, the Hawaiian people were colonized and the effects have been similar."

Victoria Holt Takamine of the 'Ilio'ulaokalani Foundation, one of the sponsors of the production here, said the situations in "Waiora" have "a commonality with the history of Hawaiians."

"We share the same social problems in adapting to a Western culture," she said. "The story is something we already know through our own experiences, but I think it also has a message we can share with the general population, too."

As a kumu hula, Holt said she is also interested in seeing how "Waiora" mixes drama, humor, "haka" or Maori dance, song and chants into the production.

Kouka hopes his work moves indigenous people to look beyond the need to place blame. "The play is not to second guess or to blame, but it is about social injustice.

"When we went to London, it was very interesting to take a play about the results of colonization to the colonizers," he said. "I'm not a believer in guilt, but it was a positive thing that the people there acknowledged that those results were part of the actions of their relatives or ancestors."

Kouka said he is looking forward to the discussions he and the play's director Murray Lynch will lead after each performance of "Waiora." He is also eager to learn more about Hawaii.

"I think the connections between Maori and Hawaiians are very strong. We are cousins, you know."


Bullet On stage: 7:30 p.m., today through Saturday
Bullet Place: Leeward Community College Theatre
Bullet Cost: $20 general; $15 students, seniors, military
Bullet Call: 455-0385
Bullet Also: 7 p.m. Sunday at Kauai Community College, (808) 245-8270; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 22, Iao Theatre, Wailuku (808) 242-6969; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24, University of Hawaii Hilo Theatre (808) 974-7310

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