9 Oct 2016

Māori language song remembers NZ Wars

4:12 pm on 9 October 2016

A whānau connection to the New Zealand Wars was the inspiration behind an award-winning song written and performed by Rob Ruha.

Mr Ruha, who has whakapapa to Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau ā Apanui on the East Coast, knew little about his ancestor that fought in the battle of Pukehinahina (Gate Pā) in Tauranga.

But after further research he discovered there were a number of people from the East Coast who travelled to fight in support of the Kingitanga.

"I had a tīpuna of mine that fought in the battle at Te Ranga, at Pukehinahina and also at Waerenga a Hika as well.

"It was one thing finding the history, it was another thing finding it wasn't common knowledge amongst our family. Some of our whānau have names of tīpuna that are from that battle. Like Rawiri Puhirake, one of the chiefs from Tauranga, our uncle Rawiri carries that name into our whānau. It's not widely known in our whānau but it will be now."

The resulting song Kariri recently won the 2016 APRA Maioha award for excellence in Māori composition featuring te reo.

"It was about family history and wanting to time capsule it."

Mr Ruha said part of the reason Kariri was written was to tell the other side of the New Zealand Wars story, because there had been a veil over the memory of those who fought against the Crown within Ngāti Porou.

"Caren Fox is one of the Māori Land Court judges back home. She's in the throes of doing a whole heap of research on families who had connections, or were part of the Kingitanga movement, and the Pai Marire movement in that battle timeframe. It's about giving light to parts of the battle that don't get the time of day in Ngāti Porou and Tairawhiti history."

The song Kariri fuses the style of ancient chants with modern music production, and is a collaboration with Tiki Taane.

"The lyrical presentation of the music is based on old mōteatea rhythms and chants, which is indicative of the era. I definitely do modern music but my passion is around traditional chants.

"Tiki Taane's experience around electronica and dub sounds gets right into the nitty-gritty of the kōrero and paints darker sounds. Like using snare drum sounds to capture the war drum."

The video is on Ngāti Porou's Mt Hikurangi among carvings and Mr Ruha hopes the song will be an impetus for discussions about the New Zealand Wars.

"I want Kariri to be like a signpost for 2016 so we have these points for communities to have discussions about."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs