Second, tribal as opposed to a ‘general’ Māori ownership. Even George Grey, one of the original Pakeha collators, from whom Ngata revised and annotated about one hundred songs, stressed this iwi divergence and the difference in mōteatea lyrics and allusions between tribes, while McRae here amplifies: ‘these songs are clearly tribal in origin and sentiment … the songs belonged to tribes – they capture the experiences of tribal members in relation to their community’. So the allusions and specific references to genealogy and geography in these waiata me mōteatea were often only familiar to their immediate audience
Third, the existential importance of these to nga iwi Māori in their daily life, even today in Aotearoa. Ngā mōteatea have become a symbol of Māoritanga: the cultural symbols and values embedded in them, such as allegiance to whenua, iwi, tipuna, not only link present day Māori to their past, they also serve to demonstrate the inherent difference of Māori as a people in their own land.In the ‘oral past’as McRae notes: ‘Songs were used in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances … the use of songs and chants … was far more frequent, more public, and more practical and purposeful’. And ultimately ‘these are not the songs of popular singing, they are more serious in their purpose and content.
Fourth, the categorisation of the contents (rather arbitrarily, for the classification here is borrowed from Mervyn McLean) into ‘the sung songs, or waiata … having terse, poetic language and conventional patterns … sung publicly as a way of describing or relieving feelings, and of appealing to the emotions or help of others’ and into ‘recited songs or chants … [which] are poetic and highly allusive … [differing] from the sung category on the basis of the music, purposes of composition and performance’. There are, though, a plenitude of types of waiata me mōteatea (these two kupu, or words, actually designate different genres: the former allude to songs, the latter to laments, given both tended to involve complaints) not all easily categorisable. Indeed different authors, Māori and Pakeha, have delineated different categories over time (Oppenheim for example, back in 1960, found space for reo tao, which were chants giving power to a spear.) Moreover, there were, and still are, different names for the same ‘types’ due to iwi traditions.
VAUGHAN RAPATAHANA is a New Zealand writer, poet and teacher who currently lives in Hong Kong. His iwi affiliation is to Te Atiawa.
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