Māori and Cherokee perform together to honour ancestral kaitiaki

By Jessica Tyson

The connection between two spirit animals of the Māori and Native American cultures are being put on show in a performance as part of the New Zealand Festival of the Arts.

Hōkioi me te Vwōhali has been created by Ōkāreka Dance company choreographer Taiaroa Royal in collaboration with choreographers Missy and Andrew Hubbard from the United States-based dance company, Exhale Dance Tribe. 

The performance tells the story of the shared whakapapa of the Hōkioi, (Haast Eagle), and the Vwōhali. (American Golden Eagle.)

“The Hōkioi is considered the tuakana (older sibling) of the Vwōhali, the teina (younger sibling), and that they are considered Messengers to the Gods by both cultures,” Royal says of Te Arawa, Kai Tahu, Ngāti Raukawa and Ūenukukōpako.

Dancer of Hōkioi me te Vwōhali. Source: File

The dance is the climax of Royal’s 11-year journey of cultural discovery that began after meeting Missy and Andrew in 2008 at a benefit concert for cancer in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“When I returned to Cincinnati in 2012, Missy told me of her connections with the Cherokee (Duyuktv) people. That’s when I realised that it was our ancestors bringing us together.”

While touring the 2014 Ōkāreka season of Mana Wahine in Dunedin, Royal was told by his Ngāi Tahu whānau the story of the Hōkioi, the largest eagle that ever existed.

“I knew that the indigenous people of America have many animal spirits and that the eagle was one of them," Royal says.

“The Duyuktv People explained to me that the Hōkioi is considered the tuakana (older sibling) of the Vwōhali, the teina (younger sibling), and that they are considered Messengers to the Gods by both cultures. So this became the kaupapa for the collaboration, and one inspiration for the work.”

Dancers of Hōkioi me te Vwōhali. Source: File

The performance involves 11 dancers whose movement are enhanced by a cinematic surround-sound experience, transporting the audience between Aotearoa, Duyuktv (Cherokee) land and the spiritual realm.

It has been described as, “A rich fusion of choreography, music, tikanga Māori and performance practices, AV, lighting and performance design.”

Hōkioi me te Vwōhali will show at Soundings Theatre, Te Papa every night from Thursday March 12 to Saturday 14 at 8pm. A show will also take place at 1.30 pm on Saturday. 

More to come.