While its heavy political subject matter and polemical feel would lead me to fall short of calling Mihi enjoyable, it is nevertheless an important, intense and beautiful spoken-word performance. It is a product of the mind of Mathew Simcock, a Wellington-based poet, and is a series of speeches and poetic performance in English but based on traditional Maori performance methods.
As an introduction, Simcock first welcomes the sky, the earth, the building and the dead. His “Welcome, Welcome, Welcome” is sincere and moving as it mimics the repetition of ‘Haere Mai’. After banishing the dead to the ‘place of the dead’ he welcomes the audience; first the visitors to the place, secondly the people of the place and finally and emotionally those like himself who are both visitors to and guardians of the theatre.
Each performance of Mihi is geared toward answering a question, and on the final night I was gifted by the answer to ‘why?’. Simcock sums it up easily by stating the numerous performances of Pakeha art in the Maori language; movies, plays and even opera. If we are supposed to be equal partners, he argues (the Treaty of Waitangi is a subject about which he waxes lyrical), isn’t it absurd that traditional Maori performance forms are not converted to English. In this respect he has an excellent point. While this could be seen as insensitive, Mihi is based on a respect, understanding and reverence for Maori culture.
Mihi is extremely emotionally draining (in a good way). It does however have some wonderfully light moments such as the recital and performance of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are including, as Simcock points out, the three-page dance interlude. It also contains some of the most biting political satire of the Fringe; first he outlines the relationship between Maori and Crown outlined in Ti Tiriti O Waitangi and then he asks if, as a Pakeha, he can sign up? The answer is a resounding no, due to the fact that in his opinion we as Pakeha are no more than the property of the crown, given particular limited rights in order to increase our productivity. I can imagine Nick Kelly smiling ear to ear. All this is done, of course, in the most beautiful verse, to which my languid prose cannot do justice.
Mihi is an amazing fusion of Pakeha and Maori culture and performance and is a well needed and sustained vocal attack on Pakeha prejudice. Mihi would have to be the best Fringe performance I have seen so far.