The Māui Narratives: from bowdlerisation, dislocation and infantilisation to veracity, a Māori practice-led approach

Keywords: Bowdlerisation, Māui, Pūrākau Storytelling, Māori approach to practice-led, Te reo Maori


In Aotearoa New Zealand, as a consequence of colonisation, generations of Māori have been alienated from both their language and culture. This project harnessed an artistic re-consideration of pūrākau (traditional stories) such that previously fractured or erased stories relating to Māui-tikitiki-a-Taranga were orchestrated into a coherent narrative network. Storytelling is not the same as reading a story aloud or reciting a piece from memory. It also differs from performed drama, although it shares certain characteristics with all of these art forms. As a storyteller I look into the eyes of the audience and we both construct a virtual world. Together the listener and the teller compose the tale. The storyteller uses voice, pause and gesture; a listener, from the first moment, absorbs, reacts and co-creates. For each, the pūrākau is unique. Its story images differ. The experience can be profound, exercising thinking and emotional transformation. In the design of 14 episodes of the Māui narrative, connections were made between imagery, sound and the resonance of traditional, oral storytelling. The resulting Māui pūrākau, functions not only to revive the beauty of te reo Māori, but also to resurface traditional values that lie embedded within these ancient stories. The presentation contributes to knowledge through three distinct points. First, it supports language revitilisation by employing ancient words, phrases and karakia that are heard. Thus, we encounter language expressed not in its neutral written form, but in relation to tone, pause, rhythm, pronunciation and context. Second, it connects the Māui narratives into a cohesive whole. In doing this it also uses whakapapa to make connections and to provide meaning and chronology both within and between the episodes. Third, it elevates the pūrākau beyond the level of simple children’s stories. The inclusion of karakia reinforces that these incantations are in fact sacred texts. Rich in ancient language they give us glimspes into ancient epistemologies. Appreciating this elevated state, we can understand how these pūrākau dealt with complex human and societal issues including abortion, rape, incest, murder, love, challenging traditional hierarchies, the power of women, and the sacredness of knowledge and ritual. Finally, the presentation considers both in theory and practice, the process of intergenerational bowdlerisation. 

Author Biography

Robert Pouwhare, Auckland University of Technology

Robert Pouwhare is a television director/producer and app developer with 40 years of production experience in broadcasting. As an artist, he has exhibited paintings and a sculptural installation at The National Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa and the Wellington Art Gallery. He has also composed music and is the lyricist for over 50 original songs aimed at kohanga reo (Māori language immersion pre-school) children in a concerted effort at language revitalisation.


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