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October 8, 2007 | by  | in Books |
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Te Waipounamu: Your Music Remembers Me

Four South Island History Plays and Songs
by Brian Potiki

Brian Potiki (Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe) deserves to be as well known in Aotearoa as Sam Hunt and Gary McCormick. Since 1974 he has travelled extensively from his base in a caravan at Rotoehu, (five kilometres from the highway between Rotorua and Whakatane), performing as a musician, storyteller, poet, playwright and drama teacher.

Like Potiki, the stories that these plays are based on deserve to be better known by New Zealanders, whether it is the hanging of Wiremu Hiroki for defending his land; the sacking of Parihaka and the consequent imprisonment of Te Whiti; or the story of Victor Spencer, who was shot as a deserter in 1918.

The book also includes stories of what it might have been like to be an Invercargill Pakeha schoolboy going to a community picnic in Bluff; Te Maiharora’s last stand at Omarama in 1879; and the story of John Boultbee, who spent six months working as a sealer in Southland in the 1820s and whose journal now in the Turnbull Library is regarded as the most accurate record of what life was like for South Island Maori before our population was decimated by disease and the loss of land and food resources to large scale sheep farming.

Potiki says he is inspired by Bertolt Brecht and Paul Maunder and what they have taught him in terms of street theatre. Brecht is German and regarded as a pioneer of political theatre, and elements of that are clear in his work, in particular the way Potiki uses poetry and music. Maunder may not be well recognised, but he is a New Zealand theatre pioneer and his most recent work is about the Blackball miner strikers. He, like Potiki, often uses very simple staging for his productions. Maybe the last word can be best be left to Potiki: “My favourite theatre is the meeting house with the carvings of ancestors, intimations of the spirit world, traditions of storytelling and song and the audience comfortably arranged around the speaker”.

Potiki is worth supporting and this book is hopefully just the first of many to come.

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