Rangatahi poets take Aotearoa history to the world

By Bronson Perich
From left Manaia Tuwhare-Hoani, Arihia Hall, and Matariki Bennett - Photo / File

Terina Wichman-Evans, Manaia Tuwhare-Hoani, Matariki Bennett and Arihia Hall make up slam poetry quartet Ngā Hine Pūkōrero.

Slam poetry is an American art form but these kōhine are using the form to tell uniquely Māori stories.

Stevie Davis-Tana recites her slam poem 'Busting Myths' - Video / YouTube

The rōpu came across slam poetry in high school social studies. But their inspiration to take up the mic came from a Māori slam poet named Stevie Davis-Tana.

“The only performance poetry, the only spoken word I had seen, was American,” Matariki Bennett says.

“To see Stevie for instance, who is a young Māori woman, I was like, ‘that’s us’.”

In Hone Tūwhare's footsteps

Manaia Tuwhare-Hoani speaks about Hone Tuwhare - Photo / File

Manaia Tuwhare-Hoani is the great-granddaughter of poet Hone Tūwhare. She was raised surrounded by poetry.

She compared her poetry with that of her tūpuna.

“What we do, is so different and yet so similar," Tuwhare-Hoani says.

It's different, she says, because her work is performed live. The similarities, however, are evident in the poems themselves. Both ancestor and descendant use poetry, to tell Māori stories.

Educating the masses

Arihia Hall talks about their overseas experiences - Photo / File

Arihia Hall says as they have travelled for slam poetry competitions, their work has educated their listeners.

“They don’t know much about New Zealand history. Or about colonisation," Hall says.

"The way our land was taken, the way our language was oppressed.

“But then they get their eyes opened to this whole new side of New Zealand that’s been hidden.”

They worried that people may not understand their message, due to the bilingual nature of their poetry. Despite the mix of Māori, and English one thing is certain - their listeners feel the intense emotion their poems convey.

 “It’s indescribable. The energy that you give, and the energy that they receive, it’s sort of reciprocated," Hall says.

"We want to get rid of racism"

Matariki Bennett filled with fire and emotion as she recites 'Tōku Reo' - Photo / File

The crew know that while they can speak on racism, they can only do so much.

"Where we want to take it is to the people who can make the most change," Tuwhare-Hoani says.

For Bennett that means taking their message to the political and corporate realms.

"We want to make changes. We want Māori to be present and equal in society," Bennett says.

"We want to get rid of racism, like all of that stuff!"

The poets want rangatahi to take up the challenge of affecting change through poetry.

"Whatever you're thinking of saying and you think you can't say it," Hall says.

"Just do it!"

Ngā Hine Pūkōrero poet Terina Wichman-Evans was unavailable to appear on Tapatahi.