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  • Writer's pictureTE RĀKAU

Exploring Māori histories through performing arts

Education Gazette | 21 September 2022

The Education Gazette talks with Te Rākau Theatre's kaitohu, Jim Moriarty, and the young performers working on The Battalion stage play being performed in Ōtaki.


A man stands talking to rows of seated high school students
Jim Moriarty working with Ōtaki College students

Helen Pearse-Otene and Jim Moriarty founded Te Rākau Hua o Te Wao Tapu Trust and the subsequent theatre company in 1999. They have since provided communities of all kinds with an interactive way to learn about te ao Māori history and the holistic Māori theatre process.

Jim is collaborating with students and staff at Ōtaki College, with assistance from Creatives in Schools funding, to deliver an alternative spin on the ordinary history lesson.

The chosen play, The Battalion, has been in the company’s repertoire for fifteen years, says Jim.

“That’s how long it has been around, but we still think it's relevant. At the core of it is the intergenerational dialogue between kaumātua and young people.

"Also, inside it is looking at ‘to war or not to war’ – that is still going on, you know with Ukraine, etc. There’s repatriation with whakapapa, insight into how people manage being harmed sexually, there’s that subject matter that's timeless, universal and transferable.”

Ōtaki has a rich Māori history and is the cultural centre of Ngāti Raukawa iwi. The Kāpiti Coast seemed a natural and perfect setting for Jim to bring the theatre company to.

“I whakapapa to Ōtaki through my Ngāti Raukawa side. So, it’s just cool being here.”

Combining aspects of drama, history, music, and physical education has allowed students and community members to engage with their whakapapa in a way they haven’t before.

The small-town base does not have a lot of drama opportunities for teenagers, explains dance and drama kaiako, Tamsin Dashfield-Speight.

The partnership between Te Rākau Theatre Marae and Ōtaki College has been in the works for many years, even prior to Whaea Tamsin joining teaching staff in 2020.

The staff are thankful the programme has become a reality as it is helping to bridge the gap in the town’s current offerings for drama and the mainstreaming of kaupapa Māori.

Read more on the Education Gazette website.

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