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No. 54 (March 1966)
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TRANSCRIPTIONS OF AUTHENTIC MAORI CHANT part seven

To avoid any appearance of commercialising the songs, Mr McLean has declined to accept payment for his work in preparing this series.

The song transcribed in this issue is one of the most famous of those still being sung by members of the Te Whiti movement in Taranaki. It was recorded in poi form by Hannah Nicholas and Tuku Bailey at Waitara on 17 November 1963, and permission has been given by these singers for their version to be published here. Both singers belong to Te Ati Awa tribe. Several singers have also recorded the song in waiata form.

In former times, poi were not sung but recited. Elsdon Best describes them as a form of haka, and the only one to be included in Apirana Ngata's ‘Nga Moteatea’ (song 142, ‘Poia atu taku poi’) is termed a patere. This last is very well known and a transcription of it will appear in the writer's preface to Part Three of ‘Nga Moteatea’.

The Taranaki poi songs, which are sung rather than recited, represent a relatively late style though many are adaptations of earlier waiata. Most belong to the Te Whiti and Tohu religious movements which flourished at the little village of Parihaka in the 80s and 90s of last century. Today there are still groups of Taranaki people who follow the teachings of Te Whiti and Tohu. The Te Whiti group, for whom the white feather is a symbol of peace, belong mainly to Te Ati Awa and live from Parihaka northwards. The followers of Tohu, known as the pore people, belong to South Taranaki and live from Parihaka southwards. Each group has its own marae at Parihaka, and each has its own poi songs. Some of these poi songs are scriptural or religious in nature, while others refer to historical events. In his book ‘The Parihaka Story’ Dick Scott says that the purpose of the latter songs was to dramatize recent history and to keep its memory evergreen in the minds of new generations: ‘What the casual Pakeha visitor imagined to be simple entertainment and relaxation was in fact a recital of wrongs and a tocsin of struggle.’ Thus the texts of the Taranaki poi songs are full of interest for those who want some insight into the thoughts and feelings of the people. And the music is of at least equal interest.

As in songs from other tribal areas, there is a basic melody which repeats over and over, but there is no drag to mark the end of the line. Instead, the song is performed from beginning to end by the entire group of singers without breaks of any kind for leader solos. Since drags are not used, the meaningless syllabifying which is characteristic of waiata is absent.

The tempo is rapid (224 quavers to the minute) and the slap of the double pois forms a consistent ‘off-beat’ accompaniment throughout the song. As originally performed, everybody sang while at the same time performing the poi.

The melody is very simple (it has only three notes, all of which are within the range of a single tone) so that most of the musical interest is in the rhythms. Each repetition of the melody has two phrases, each with eight quaver beats. Unlike Western music which would organise this in a regular 4 + 4 throughout, ‘Tangi a taku ihu’ often substitutes an additive grouping (usually 3 + 2 + 3) for the 4 + 4. And the rhythm is still further complicated by syncopations between phrases. These syncopations may also be considered to be additive groupings over a period of 16 quaver beats instead of 8. In other words, the rhythm of the words gets out of step with the rhythm of the poi balls and two bars are needed before they coincide again. Thus the song is really an example of cross-rhythm. The off-beat slap of the poi balls marks a regular 4/4 divisive metre throughout, and upon this is superimposed various additive metres, the most common of which is 3 + 2 + 3. This gives the music a quite extraordinary rhythmic vitality.

The song is best known in Taranaki itself,

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but it is sometimes sung by people from other tribes as a compliment to visitors from Taranaki. The text and a translation have been published in Dick Scott's ‘The Parihaka Story’ 1954 : 9 and 155. According to Meteria Damon of Ngaruahinerangi tribe, the composer of the song was Te Whetu.

Mervyn McLean's transcription of this song is on pages 3839.