9 Oct 2016

The distinguished men of Māori arts

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 9 October 2016
Hoturoa Barclay Kerr and Professor Piri Sciascia

Hoturoa Barclay Kerr and Professor Piri Sciascia Photo: YouTube screenshot

Justine Murray meets Professor Piri Sciascia and Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, who received Te Waka Toi Awards for their contribution to the arts this year.

Traditional Māori performing arts seemed to surround Professor Piri Sciascia as a young person.

He saw the likes of Ngāti Pōrou composer Tuini Ngawai (1910-1965) perform at Hui Tōpu in the 1960s and Pita Awatere (1910-1976), who was skilled at the Taiaha.

He also remembers the skills and knowledge handed down to others by Paraire Huata and Waimarama Puhara.

“I smile now about how the kopikopi sounds like it’s from one iwi, but you know we grew up with party ladies who would turn all that on at the drop of a hat, and ka miharo mātou ngā tamariki, we were like, what’s she doing? But we saw this as a natural part of entertainment.”

Professor Piri Sciascia was honoured for his contribution to the arts at this years Te Waka Toi Awards.

Professor Piri Sciascia Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

In the 1970s, Piri toured with the Māori Theatre Trust, who performed with famous bass-baritone Inia Te Wiata (1915-1971). In 1984, the exhibition Te Māori toured the United States. At the time Piri was Assistant Director of the QEII Arts Council and Director of the Māori and South Pacific Arts Council. The tour was sponsored by Mobil and a group of Kaumatua, weavers, artists and officials travelled with the exhibition.

“The people, our elders, who travelled all the way over there, that’s a big effort… The legacy of Te Māori is still strong. People refer to that as watershed, our arrival into the museum sector, our getting close to a lot of tāonga that had only been put in museums.”

Professor Piri retired this year as Deputy Vice Chancellor Māori at Victoria University, Wellington. He spent 16 years at the University and says he had reached retirement age and it seemed the natural thing to do. The retirement was short-lived as he was soon appointed Pou Whakahaere - a strategic advisory role at Te Puni Kōkiri (the Ministry of Māori Development).

“I regard my finishing at Vic as a pinnacle of my work career.”

Professor Piri Sciascia and his whanau sang Te Hokinga Mai in recognition of the Te Māori exhibition 1984.

Professor Piri Sciascia and his whanau sang Te Hokinga Mai in recognition of the Te Māori exhibition 1984. Photo: Te Waka Toi

Piri is a founding member of the kapahaka group Tamatea Arikinui and part of the Ngāti Kahungunu Taumata. He is Ngati Kere of Pōrangahau. Piri recalls his whānau undertaking urgent repairs at the Rongomaraeroa Marae.

“Dad renovated the meeting house and we took all the carvings down and cleaned them all up and renovated them in new way so that our house would last, now it’s a fantastic… it’s a beautiful home. We learned all about the carvings and the kōwhaiwhai and the tukutuku. We’ve only got one pattern in our house, poutama.”

Today, Piri is one of the main orators and knowledge-keepers of the hapu and the marae. He was a recipient of Ngā Tohu ā Tā Kingi Ihaka for his lifetime of service to Māori arts.

Piri also remains chair of the Māori Broadcasting Funding Agency Te Māngai Pāho and Te Māori Manaaki Tāonga Trust.

His recent awards include:

2001 – Acknowledged as Tohunga Huarewa by Te Whare Tapere o Takitimu, Te Matatini and Massey University
2008 – Winner of Keepers of Traditions award at the Waiata Māori Music Awards
2013 – Recipient of Te Kete Aronui o Nga Toi at Kahungunu Nga Tohu Reo (Language awards)
2013 – Made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (Contribution to Arts)


Waka navigator Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr says many people get carried away with the ‘romance’ of sailing a waka and emulating their ancestors, but in the long run, when the voyage is over, he can see who truly understands the kaupapa and who doesn’t.

“Everyone gets carried out with that romantic notion of their tupuna sailing off into the distant horizon and the sun is setting and the birds are flying… but it’s not like that."

Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr says waka voyaging is romantacised too much, he says it's about hard work, compassion and patience.

Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr says waka voyaging is romanticised too much and it's actually about hard work, compassion and patience. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Raised amongst his elders in the Waikato regions Kawhia, Tauranga and Ruātoki, Hoturoa has sailed the Pacific Ocean many times and done smaller sails around the coast of Aotearoa over the past three decades.

From the age of seven he remembers hearing all the stories about waka voyaging.

“Kawhia is quite a big connection for me and my whanau and our hapu. I’ll hear all these stories about our ancestors coming across and there’s a waahi tapu at the back of our marae, because that is where the Tainui waka is buried.”

Hoturoa Barlay Kerr and his wife Kim at the awards dinner.

Hoturoa Barlay Kerr and his wife Kim at the awards dinner. Photo: Te Waka Toi

In the early 1980s, Hoturoa spent time in Hawaii and lived in Honolulu and learned traditional waka navigation methods from Mau Pialug and Nainoa Thompson.

“I guess really when I think about it was only me, and then Hector (Hekenukumai Busby) was there. It was really only us two. He was like me now (in age) and I was only a young fella. I was lucky because a lot of the Hawaiian guys were very encouraging and showed me a lot of whanaungatanga to learn stuff from them”

Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr received Te Tohu Toi Kē at this years Te Waka Toi Awards.

Photo: Te Waka Toi

Today he is the leader of the Waka Hourua, Haunui, which sailed as one of seven waka on Te Mana o Te Moana Voyage in 2011-2012. The purpose of the voyage was the raise awareness about the marine environment and to share knowledge about waka voyaging.  

Hoturoa was awarded Te Tohu Toi Kē at the recent Te Waka Toi awards, in recognition of leadership and for making a significant positive difference to Ngā Toi Māori.