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  • Writer's pictureTE RĀKAU

Taranaki rangatahi tackles tough subjects on stage

Updated: May 9

Stratford Press | 14 July 2022

A Hāwera High School graduate is taking to the stage to address difficult subjects such as family violence and suicide as part of a Māori theatre production this July.


Five performers flock together on grass, a young man stands behind them holding a rope swing
Jewel Te Wiki, far right, will perform in Te Rakau Theatre's presentation of The Swing in Wellington at the end of the month. | Lisa Maule 2022

Jewel Te Wiki, 18, will perform in Te Rākau Theatre's presentation of The Swing in Wellington at the end of the month.

The Swing weaves the ancestral pūrakau of Hinetītama and Tānemahuta into the contemporary portrayal of a whānau struggling to recover from the shadow of ngau whiore (sexual abuse) and whakamomori (suicide).

While the play deals with some heavier subject matters, Jewel says the themes are relevant to rangatahi in New Zealand.

"It's important that rangatahi and their whānau are aware of the issues we talk about in the play, because they are more common than we think," says Jewel.

"It's natural to want to escape those feelings, but burying it all is super-unhealthy. Having support to talk through uncomfortable topics is important."

Jewel is an experienced young performer and started working with Te Rākau Theatre this year as part of the Tungia Tahia youth section of the Aotearoa NZ Festival of the Arts.

Te Rākau is led by director Jim Moriarty MNZM and writer Helen Pearse-Otene PhD, who have combined arts training and youth development to deliver Theatre Marae productions for more than two decades.

"I grew up on stage, and have been in theatre, kapa haka and dance groups all my life. I enjoy performing because it allows me to express how I'm feeling while telling a story through movement," says Jewel.

"I've been in a previous piece directed by Matua Jim, but working on The Swing with Te Rākau has been a completely different experience. Whaea Helen has offered knowledge about our traditional stories and created a safe place so topics like these can be highlighted."

Jewel says she feels proud and privileged to be part of this kaupapa.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what The Swing weaves the ancestral pūrākau of Tānemahuta — atua of light and Hinetītama — daughter of dawn, into a contemporary portrayal of whānau struggling to recover from the shadow of ngau whiore (sexual abuse) and whakamomori (suicide)."

This work is the creative outcome of a community kaupapa Māori research project hosted by Kōkiri Marae and Massey University.

Audiences have said The Swing is "engaging at every level", "life-changing", and "filled with wairua, power, grace, healing and truth".

The cast of health professionals, theatre practitioners and community members include Hariata Moriarty (Cousins, Beyond The Veil), Angie Meiklejohn (The Three Sisters, Angie), Jeremy Davis (Ngā Uri Taniwha, Ngāti Whakaue, Hinepau) and Kimberley Skipper (Ngā Uri Taniwha, Hinepau).

Writer Helen Pearse-Otene is a registered and practising psychologist, and director Jim Moriarty MNZM is a registered psychiatric nurse.

This season is presented at Te Whaea, the home of performance excellence in Aotearoa New Zealand, from July 23-24. Tickets available online.

This article was originally published on the New Zealand Herald website.

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