WAIORA: Te Ū Kai Pō – The Homeland

Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

01/06/2018 - 09/06/2018

Kia Mau Festival 2018

Production Details


Feel the raw and moving power of this story of belonging, and the bravery and courage than can be required to stay true to your heritage. So universally relevant over time and location to each of us, that no one will be left untouched!

The year is 1965. A Māori family, recently migrated to the South Island from the East Cape, prepares to celebrate a birthday with their Pākehā guests. Waiora explores differing interpretations of home and belonging. It addresses “all of us who have travelled from somewhere else”.

This smash hit production of Waiora began as a class assessment for students at Whangarei Girls’ High School and grew into a three season legend in Whangarei and, when Don Brash came to town, a national news story.

Starring: Leihana Shelford-Tito, Phoenix Karatiana, Zahra Cherrington-Irving, Kasey Harder, Ngarimu Wyatt, Tracey King, Hana Gilbert, Kayah Thompson, Mollie Jacobson, Meg Robinson, Jerome Tamihana Northcroft, Jurney Blair.

“I sat in my seat watching emotional moments pass by, thinking I was doing pretty well not to shed tears — but then the ending came and I was reduced to a blubbering mess. When I looked around I noticed I was not the only one. Waiora is powerful.”  By Mikaela Collins, Northern Advocate   

Hannah Playhouse, Wellington
Friday 1 June to Saturday 9 June 2018
Wed-Sat 7.30pm
Sun & Tues 6pm
Thursday 7 June, 12.30pm – School matinee 
Prices*: Adult $29.00;
Student (with ID) $25.00;
Senior Citizen (65+) $25.00;
Groups of 6 or more $25.00;
School groups $15.00 per person.
*Service fees apply.
Latecomers will be seated when appropriate. Tickets are for allocated seating.

Sponsored by Wellington Creative Communities.
Supported by the Kia Mau Festival and Hannah Playhouse.


Born out of the five year Drama course at Whangarei Girls’ High School, Wahine Works is a new Northland theatre company formed by young Māori  women, who intend to provide pathways into theatre for young local women and men. Our kaupapa is to provide opportunities for young women, provide affordable theatre to the local community and present work that ‘entertains, educates, challenges and inspires.’

The production of Waiora: Te-u-kai-po (The Homeland) made the news in December last year when Don Brash accepted an invitation to attend after he complained of Te Reo being used on RNZ.  Although he conceded nothing in regards to RNZ, Brash acknowledged how much the reo spoken in the play was appreciated by many in the audience. He also described the show as ‘Excellent.’

Spokesperson for the Wahine Works, Zahra Cherrington, says, “Don Brash cancelled  appointments to make the two hour trip from Auckland to see the show, some of the cast got up at 3.00 am on Waitangi Day and travelled north to personally invite government ministers to the show, including the Minister of the Arts herself, before they dished up breakfast for us all; we are putting ourselves in debt, organising a massive and expensive undertaking and travelling from one end of the island to the other – one of us, in fact, is flying half way around the world from Ghana – in order to put this play and the issues it speaks of in front of the powers that be in Wellington. We hope they take us seriously and make the small effort to get across town to see the show.”

When the former Whangarei Girls’ High School students set up Wahine Works, they included in their aims for it to be an ongoing company that would produce accessible theatre by charging no more than they or their whanau could afford. Zahra says, “Theatre is for everyone. If it’s really good and people can afford it, they will come.” Last year, Waiora played to over 2000 people in Whangarei.

The play is set in 1965 and depicts a Māori  family struggling with the transition to an urban culture. It lends a powerful theatrical voice to issues the country is discussing right now, such as mental health care, youth suicide and the status of Māori in modern Aoteroa.

William Walker, a former Artistic Director of Downstage Theatre, director of the production and former teacher of most in the cast says, “For years, I, like all teachers have been encouraged, harangued even, to find ways to raise Māori achievement and to retain Māori students at school by acknowledging the importance of Māori experience in our teaching practice. Since they were Year 10s, these rangatahi have been part nurtured, part bullied by me into sticking with Drama until Year 13 so that we could have a critical mass in the class to do a Māori play for the Graduation Production. The school Principal, Anne Cooper, was very supportive and allowed there to be two Year 13 classes last year so that it was possible. What a great decision! Give Māori  kids a chance to attain with something they care about and, boy, do they take it to another level.” 

He praises their effort and commitment. ‘They have served food and drinks to VIPs, washed rally cars, organised a restaurant dinner, run raffles and made submissions for support to every organisation they could think of that has the means and stated interest in this highly unique, once in a blue moon sort of project.’

“Te Tai Tokerau is full of artistic talent and enterprise and I hope that is included in Shane Jones’s vision of regional development. After all, these young Māori  women and men too are made of ‘fire and earth’ and are the future of this land. They are theatre practitioners who want and need a pathway to a career. Like everyone in the arts, particularly in professional theatre, they need a champion in the corridors of power. It’s more than fifty years since theatre we had one when Alan Highett was the first Minister of the Arts. From a high of nine, we are now down to just three wage-paying company’s producing theatre year-round; and the wages are so low most actors can’t afford the price of a ticket!”

Zahra says, “In coming to the capital, we’re not looking for a pat on the head. Wahine Works, like all of Te Tai Tokerau and probably New Zealanders in all of the regions, wants to be taken seriously. With this theatre production, we are making the maximum effort to be acknowledged with our contribution to the korero on Māori mental health and youth suicide and to our inclusion as Māori  women in the future of New Zealand. Because of this play and the reaction we have had to it, we think theatre is really, really important so we want Wellington, especially Māori, to put on their coats and beanies to come see Waiora!” 

Phoenix Karaitiana as Rongo
Leihana Shelford as Hone
Kayah Thompson as Wai
Zahra Cherrington-Irving as Amiria
Hana Gilbert as Boy Boy
Meg Robinson as Steve Campbell
Mollie Jacobson as Louise Stones

Jerome Tamihana Hau-Northcroft as Stranger
Tracey Kingi as Nanny
Kasey Harder Cortland Pairama
Paea Slade
Ngarimu Wyatt

Director – Bill Walker
Set Design/Construction – Cedric Ruawhare 
Sound Operator – Aaliyah Nordstrand 
Technical Stage Manager – Karina
Lighting Technician – Tim Bell
Lighting Technician – Aaliyah Nordstrand
General Manager – Kathy Watson
Front of House Administrator – Ruby Harrison   

Youth , Theatre ,

1 hr 55 mins incl. interval

Exciting and reassuring affirmative action

Review by John Smythe 02nd Jun 2018

If you’ve never seen Waiora: Te Ū Kai Pō – The Homeland, or if you feel the need for a refresher, grab this opportunity. It speaks a truth we need to hear, and keep on hearing, and this production proves how powerfully its essence can shine through when relatively untrained and inexperienced actors are deeply connected and fully committed to the material.

Hone Kouka’s seminal play premiered here at the Hannah Playhouse (then known as Downstage Theatre) in the NZ International Festival of the Arts 1996, directed by Murray Lynch. Now a new generation brings Waiora ‘home’, directed by a previous Artistic Director of Downstage, William Walker, to launch this year’s Kia Mau Festival. As their media release attests, it “began as a class assessment for students at Whangarei Girls’ High School and grew into a three season legend in Whangarei and, when Don Brash came to town, a national news story.”  

The very existence of Brash’s Hobson’s Pledge ginger group, and the letters to editor and the social media postings constantly speaking with that pseudo-rational voice, proves the need for this play to be seen regularly. You would have to be very dim indeed, or a wilful manipulator with ulterior motives, to see Waiora and still believe that the preservation and celebration of cultural distinction is ‘separatism’; to not understand that when Hobson said, “We are now one people,” he was assuming tikanga Māori would evaporate as the tangata whenua assimilated into a colonial British way of life. (The Museum of Waitangi features a quote from Hobson where he confidently predicts, in a letter ‘home’, that the ‘natives’ will soon die out, leaving this pristine new land to British settlers.)

The Maori Dictionary online translates ūkaipō as “mother, source of sustenance” and “origin, real home”. Waiora, on the East Cape of the North Island, is home to the whānau of Hone/John, Wai te Atatu/Sue and their children Amīria/Amelia, Rongo and Boyboy. Another son, Mahurangi, has left home after a fight with his father. Some time before the play starts, the family has moved to somewhere on the east coast of the South Island for Hone’s work in a timber mill, believing this will give the family a better life.

Four tīpuna inhabit the spiritual realm that Rongo, described in the published script as tūturu Māori, is permanently tuned into, unlike the rest of her whanau. The names are significant and prove the value of knowing te reo. Rongo, suggests heightened senses and also means peace. Wai te Atatu evokes the glow on water just after sunrise. Amīria is simply a transliteration of Amelia. Mahurangi can be used to show importance and, depending on the context, can also mean way off track, way off beam, away with the fairies, lost the plot.

The setting – impressively designed and constructed by Cedric Ruawhare, and lit by Tim Bell and Aaliyah Nordstrand – represents a picnic spot in the harakeke-rich dunes of a toetoe-fringed beach. The whanau is preparing to celebrate Rongo’s 18th birthday. Wai’s friend Louise Stones, Boyboy’s teacher at secondary school, is with them and they are expecting a guest of honour: Hone’s boss, Steve Campbell who, it is anticipated, is about to promote Hone (whom he calls John, of course) to foreman at the mill.

The well-honed backstories Kouka has created establish a comprehensive contrast in value systems and resonate as a metaphor for colonisation itself. Steve has inherited the mill from his father and sees the land and his workers as ripe to be exploited for his cash crop. Louise is from a very rich family in Waitaki and has rejected privilege in order to escape a controlling father and claim the right to her own voice – which parallels the threat te reo and tikanga Māori face, not least through the complicity of Hone and Wai, who have been sucked into the Pākehā value system.

Hone and Wai married in their teens and had their children in quick succession, although Boyboy is adopted and is desperate to win the approval of Hone, who has no compunction in showing that Rongo, who sings waiata beautifully, is his favourite. Amiria favours the Pākehā pop-songs of the day, rejects tikanga Māori, works in the office at the mill, wants to live in a big city and has something to tell her parents if only she can find the voice to say it.

As the action drives towards Steve’s arrival and the anticipated promotion, the corporeal and spiritual realms interweave, through the agency of Rongo’s heightened senses – all dynamically paced by William Walker’s direction. Thus we gain a greater understanding of the holistic truths within the story than the other characters have. And at the heart-wrenching conclusion we are in the privileged position of being able to better evaluate what has happened and why.

As stated above, the whole cast’s connection and commitment to the kōrero inherent in Waiora transcends the odd limitation in vocal projection or the ability to speak some dialogue naturally. Everyone has a profound understanding of their character’s wants, needs and relationships. The abundant humour arises with flair and the dramatic moments land well.  

The opening performance in Wellington (it runs until next Saturday) is welcomed with a standing ovation and spontaneous affirmations in te reo from Māori kaumātua in the audience. It is both exciting and reassuring to see, through this Wāhine Works initiative, a new generation exhibiting and promoting awareness through such affirmative action.  


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