Ngā taringa hou – New ears for old voices

Written by Sarah Johnston

Wellington may have enjoyed an unusually-splendid summer this year, but three Victoria University Māori Studies students have not seen a lot of the sun.  They spent their break from late November until late February in the Taranaki Street offices of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. With headphones fixed to their heads they passed the summer listening to the voices of tūpuna, recorded many decades before they were born.

Te Aranga Hakiwai, Hinemaia Takurua and Kamaia Takuira-Mita are fluent speakers of te reo Māori and have all completed (or are about to complete) degrees in Te Reo and Māori Studies.  They were employed as summer interns with support from Te Taura Whiri – The Māori Language Commission, to improve our catalogue descriptions of archived te reo Māori radio programmes.

The 10,000-odd recordings held in Ngā Taonga Kōrero (the collection of Māori radio programmes that formed part of the RNZ Sound Archives), became part of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s collection when the organisations merged in 2014.

These programmes were produced in both English and te reo Māori and date from the mid-1960s onwards, with some earlier intermittent broadcasts going back as far as the late 1930s.

All the programmes appear in our online catalogue and many can be listened to online,  but finding the right content in te reo Māori is still a challenge for researchers and members of the public, as many of the programmes carry only a brief description in our online database.

The Sound Archives had not had a cataloguer fluent in te reo Māori since 2010.  Ngā Taonga’s new, full-time te reo cataloguer Roimata Kereama (Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga) has been at work on the NTK collection since last October. She has been listening to and describing the earliest episodes of the series “Te Reo o te Māori” which were produced by Māori Battalion veteran and broadcaster Ted Nepia (Ngāti Kahungunu) from the early 1960s up until 1975.

The three interns came in over the summer to boost the number of expanded descriptions, which will in turn improve access to the collection for te reo speakers – and bring the taonga contained in these recordings to new ears.

At the end of their internship recently, they presented a summary of their work to Ngā Taonga staff and shared some of the highlights of their summer listening.

Three Māori youths smiling
L-R Hinemaia Takurua, Kamaia Takuira-Mita and Te Aranga Hakiwai

For Te Aute College graduate Te Aranga Hakiwai (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongowhakaata and Kāi Tahu) hearing about a famous Old Boy was a highlight.  He says the life and works of composer Paraire Tomoana were often mentioned in classes at Te Aute, so it was special to listen to Paraire’s son, Taanga Tomoana being interviewed in 1970 about his famous father and the many waiata he wrote during World War I, such as ‘E pari ra’.

Te Aranga also spent many hours listening to recordings of a 1972 interview with 107-year old kaumātua Hori Paki of Rakaumanga (near Huntly). “Hearing the words of someone who was born near the end of the Waikato land wars was also a highlight”, he says.

Hinemaia Takurua (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Pahauwera) has just completed her B.A. in te reo Māori and Māori Studies and hopes to go on to do her Masters in 2019.  Listening to the voice and waiata of Ngāti Porou composer Tuini Ngawai was a highlight of her summer work.  “We studied Tuini’s waiata at kura, so to hear her talking about the songs and how she came to write them was great,” she says.  Tuini was interviewed at her home in Tolaga Bay in the early 1960s, with her niece and fellow composer Ngoi Pewhairangi translating for interviewer Leo Fowler.  Hinemaia says she also learnt a lot listening to radio programmes from 1977 about pilgrimages made by Māori Battalion veterans and widows to visit the war graves of their comrades and loved ones in Italy and North Africa.

Our third intern, Kamaia Takuira-Mita, comes from Te Arawa, and she found interviews with Kuru Waaka, an early director of Rotorua’s Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, and radio broadcasts by the famous Te Arawa orator Kepa Ehau, were highlights of her summer listening.

All three interns say one challenge they found was interpreting the many Māori transliterations of English words, which were a much more common feature in speech by older te reo Māori speakers, although their style of speaking was very direct.  As part of the cataloguing project, the interns also noted any “kupu hou” or new vocabulary they have come across, and these will be noted when their work is uploaded into Ngā Taonga’s online database in the coming months.

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision Pou Ārahi Honiana Love says the Ngā Taonga Kōrero intern project has been hugely beneficial in growing awareness and connection with the taonga we hold. She says “The interns themselves were a delight to host and their youthful take on the material was both refreshing and enlightening.”

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision thanks Hinemaia, Kamaia and Te Aranga for their mahi and we wish them all the best for their future studies.

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