A project specially prepared by the Maori Club at Auckland Teachers' Training College.
PRODUCING A PLAY
This year for the first time the Maori Club at the Auckland Teachers' Training College has staged a play to be shown publicly in Auckland. Not only have they acted this play, they actually wrote it. They put on the stage the love affair of Ponga and Puhihuia, whose love affair three hundred years ago reunited the people of Maunga Whau with their cousins from the other side of the Manukau. As the college itself stands in the shadow of Maunga Whau (Mount Eden), it is an appropriate theme to have chosen, and the credit of the choice goes to Mr R. A. Dennant, an English lecturer, who suggested this story to the Maori Club.
Five students from the Maori Club formed the writing committee. The original story was re-written to take place within twenty-four hours, half at Maunga Whau and half at Awhitu. Having roughed out a scenario on these lines, the committee began writing the actual dialogue.
Here, first-hand experience of speech-making on the marae was useful, for the first few minutes of Act I are taken up by a debate which, while based upon genuine marae procedure, also tells the audience about the situation when the story opens. Two Elders plead for peace, and two for war, whilst the Ariki listens and the rest of Maunga Whau look on. The Elders are able to explain in their argument about the expected visit of a peace party from Awhitu, led by Ponga. Into the midst of their debate comes a messenger to say that Ponga will arrive at any moment. The Ariki decides for peace, and when the visitors arrive both sides dance a haka of welcome and greetings.
The first act of the play went ahead quickly—after the debate, and the visitors' arrival and welcome, Ponga sits alone with his slave, and the slave (who sees that his master has fallen in love with Puhihuia) suggests a plan by which Ponga can speak to the girl alone. The final scene of the first act shows the plan car-
ried out, and Ponga stealing out of the whare whakairo to talk to Puhihuia in the moonlight. The lovers decide to run away with the whole of Ponga's party before dawn, whilst all the people of Maunga Whau are still asleep.
To make the plot a little easier, it was decided to cut down the number of chiefs who in the original story fall in love with the beautiful Puhihuia, and make Ponga the only lover. In addition, a new figure, Turi, was created, belonging to Puhihuia's own tribe. This Turi would have married the maiden had it not been for Ponga's unexpected arrival. At the end of the play. Turi was married off to another invented figure, Keere, sister to Puhihuia. Apart from these simple variations, the story follows the original legend.
This is to be a play and not a musical show; a drama of real life rather than an excuse for stringing traditional songs and dances together. But the very fact that it is Maori real-life means that songs and dances do appear, since Maori culture is so intensely alive and rich in these things. The haka of welcome and its response in Act I have already been mentioned; Act II opens on the marae at Awhitu, with a poi dance by the girls of the pa before the news comes of Ponga's unexpected return with Puhihuia. In addition, Maori speech, even when translated into English for a pakeha audience, is vividly poetic and exciting to listen to. The Club hopes that this venture will prove to be not only a new development of living Maori culture, but a successful New Zealand play in its own right. At present, casting is in progress, costumes and scenery are being designed, dances are being worked out by Kahu Ngata—the Club is fortunate in having this grand-daughter of Sir Apirana as one of its members—and rehearsals will begin at once next term. The production is to be early in December.
(The facts for this article were related to Te Ao Hou by Mr R. A. Dennant.)
WHAT IS THE ‘MAORI CLUB’?
Some of the students who produced this play have written to Te Ao Hou, describing the activities of their club and their own part in the production of the play. Here follows a story from Bill Murray, Maori Club leader (1953):
There are in College 52 Maori students, comprising 24 first-years, 22 second-years, one special trainee and 5 homecraft students.
The Maori Club has a membership of 62 students all told, including 12 very interested and enthusiastic Europeans.
This year the Club meets every. Thursday afternoon during the College Club period, when hakas, action songs, stick and hand games are practised. In past years the learning of these arts has been invaluable, both as a help to those in the Club who have not had the opportunity to learn them before, and for the occasions when the Club has been invited out by various social, community and school organisations and gatherings, to give items and to take part in an evening's entertainment. This, I feel, has helped the Club in two ways:
|1||It has given members the opportunity they might not have had otherwise to mix and share ideas with people of the town, not directly connected with the College, and|
|2||It has made the work and function of the Club more widely known to outsiders.|
The Club in recent years has progressed considerably, both in strength of numbers and strength of purpose. This year the inclusion of the Maori Club as an integral part of the whole College club organisation seems to be a definite landmark in its development.
Most of our activities so far this year have been with an eye to making a success of the production of our play, ‘Ponga and Puhihuia’, to be put on at the end of the year.
PURPOSE OF THE WRITING COMMITTEE
I came to Training College from Kaikohe, North Auckland, in 1952, and am now completing my second year there. I had five years at Te Aute College, and after a year at University decided to take up teaching.
This play we are about to produce had its origin on the day I saw Mr Dennant, an English lecturer, about the difficulties which some of the Maori students were having with the English language. Together we discussed the aspects which had proved most troublesome, and from this discussion arrangements were suggested for possible classes for those requiring them.
Out of this developed the committee on which several of us volunteered or were nominated to serve, and which discussed the play, ‘Ponga and Puhihuia’, suggested by Mr Dennant.
We entered into this new experience with enthusiasm, and several fine written efforts by members, and much work and more script writing by Mr Dennant resulted in the first act before the end of the second term. All work was discussed, and corrected where necessary, by the committee. Casting was completed for the first act before the vacation, and on our return the script for the second act was completed. At the moment casting is in progress for this.
My part is that of Elder I, with the opening speech telling our warriors to defend the pa against the visiting party from Awhitu.
ACTING PONGA'S PART
I come from Ahipara, about ten miles from Kaitaia, at the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach, and went to St. Stephen's School, Bombay, for three years, to Kaitaia College for a further two years, entering Training College in 1952.
I was invited to join the Maori Club Committee to help write the play, ‘Ponga and Puhihuia’, contributing ideas about the customs of the old-time Maori.
I helped to write speeches for Ponga and the Ariki. We wanted as many speeches as possible, because each speech was certain to contain some genuine Maori lore, and if these good points were put together the play would be ‘right’. Many contributions were received.
In the play I have the part of Ponga.
I am taking part-time studies at Auckland University College. Last year I passed in Maori I and Anthropology I. This year I am taking Education I and Anthropology II. The Anthropology course at University, I find, has much to do with the Maori people, their customs, problems, social life and so on. It also gives an insight into the attitudes of the Pakeha to the Maori, and vice-versa — what each should do to adjust themselves to living together in friendship and mutual respect.
EDITOR'S NOTE: We feel that the enthusiasm of Mr Dennant and his students may lead to a most fruitful social activity in Maori communities. There are many groups who could start a drama group right now and Mr Dennant's students could start them wherever they go.