The Second Breath
The first breath had been drawn at Te Kaha last year. This year came the second breath at Wairoa. The occasion was the second Maori Writers and Artists Conference, held during Queen's Birthday Weekend. Like the first, it revealed an urgent need to extend the opportunities for Maori creativity to flourish.
Over 400 people attended this year's conference, an increase of 200 on last year. They came from all parts of Aotearoa to gather in Ngati Kahungunu country at the maraes Takitimu and Taihoa. And they owe one person above all their gratitude for being able to meet together—Mihi Roberts, Conference Convener. Many months before the conference she had been working virtually single-handed on the hui. The task was a formidable one and, as had been shown by
Last year, there had been a lot of talk and passing of remits. This year, Mihi wanted more action in the form of workshop sessions in the traditional and contemporary Maori arts. She wanted this conference to be more constructive, and attempted to encourage by practical means the artistic expression of those people attending. Kia ora, Mihi.
Undoubtedly, it's impossible to turn people into artists and the like over a weekend, but it would not be surprising if future Maori artists stemmed from that weekend.
Constructive action set the pace for the conference. Indeed, it became a kind of “teach-in” with workshop sessions in writing, art, creative dance, photography, screen-printing and other contemporary art forms, conducted by such luminaries as Harry Dansey, Ani Bosch, Hone Tuwhare. Robin White, Haare Williams, Don Soloman and Elizabeth Murchie. Offering their advice and expertise were Patricia Grace, Selwyn Muru, Fred Graham, Rowley Habib, Tilly Reedy, Paul Katene, Michael King, and many others. Chairman for this year's conference was Dr Douglas Sinclair.
But the action was not mainly in the contemporary arts field at all. From the very beginning, the Takitimu and Taihoa maraes exerted a strong influence on the shape of the conference. Here, where Maori tradition was very much an intact force, the strength of the traditional arts began to be felt. The oratorical gifts of the local elders including Syd Carroll who was deputising for Sir Turi
Carroll, Charles Maitai and Canon Wi Huata, placed emphasis on Maoritanga. The presence of Moni Taumaunu, Bub Wehi, Charlotte Solomon, Tamati Reedy, Sonny Waru and other exponents of the traditional arts—carving, weaving, whaikorero, waiata, action song and so on—created a kind of tidal force which pulled at the blood and revealed an urge in most of the manuhiri to learn of the roots of their culture. Bill Parker was probably the first to discern the changing tide.
It was a tide which swept the manuhiri with it. On reflection, it probably could not have been otherwise: the number of actual practising artists was extremely small, reflecting perhaps the failure of this country to encourage Maori creativity. Outnumbered by students, people simply interested in things Maori, the contemporary artists could only stand by and watch. Some revelled at the new direction in which the tide was sweeping, others were unsure about it.
But no-one, surely, could have remained
unmoved when a student panel cried out for knowledge of the traditional arts, for Maoritanga. They had come from urban areas and the marae experience was a new one for many of them. Their blood had been stirred by the experience. They asked for a longer conference, a more extensive one, and one based in the traditional arts.
Constructive action had set the pace for the conference. The influence of Maori tradition began to shape it. From the first breath at Te Kaha has arisen a second larger breath. And that breath has revealed that the structure of the present Writers and Artists Conference is inadequate and needs to be extended.
Whether it will be or not, however, is the question. It is very easy to become fired with enthusiasm and say “Let it happen”, but there are practicalities which must be faced.
There are likely to be over 700 people at the next conference. The part-time committee organising the conference this year had problems enough with four hundred people,
Yet the tide runs on and is not even at full flood. It compels us to do the best we can—to foster the traditional arts. The results, hopefully, will alter the present cultural landscape in New Zealand and may even alter the vision we have of ourselves as a nation. For too long, the roots of our culture have remained neglected. We must ensure that they be encouraged to flourish. It would be a tragedy if the tide was forced to ebb during these times when it is most needed.