Famous Henare Waitoa compositions basis of new theatre production

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Prolific East Coast songwriter Henare Waitoa is being celebrated by his descendants through a new play “Henare” which is part of the inaugural Tairāwhiti Arts Festival.

Hohepa Waitoa says, “The longevity of the oral literature of our elders is in the songs, the chants, the incantations. Each time I hear these songs by Henare, my thoughts lend to the background behind the songs, that's where the longevity for our children lives.”

Hohepa and his sister Sheree Waitoa grew up in Te Waipounamu.

Through the play, the brother and sister 'combo' is reconnecting with and honouring their Ngāti Porou lineage.

Sheree Waitoa says, “Each year, when we were children we would come back here, so when I hear the songs by my Pāpā Henare, my memories return to the times when I was little here in Te Tairāwhiti.”

The compositions were the basis for the first master's thesis written in te reo Māori, 'Modern dance-poetry by Henare Waitoa of Ngāti Porou' by Koro Te Kapunga Dewes.

“It's also to acknowledge [the] ahi kā of the family and pay homage to those who are still alive who remember those issues and the history of the land,” she says.

Songs like 'Tomo Mai' and 'Toro Noa' are national anthems which are still being sung to this day.

Sheree Waitoa says, “There is a lineage in the songs, the compositions, so it's only right the main aspiration, five years, fifty years, the hope is that these songs are still being sung.”

Hohepa Waitoa adds, “Also, [the songs] are used as a comparison for the songs that my sister and I have composed to make it relevant to the narratives of today.”

The play opens tomorrow night at Rāhui Marae in Tikitiki.

The second show will be in Tūranga Gisborne on Wednesday.