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Say my name

The only programme of its kind running in Aotearoa, New Zealand, UCOL Te Pūkenga Wairarapa’s Performing Arts [Māori and Pacific dance] course and Te Amorangi group [TAPA] are making a name for themselves across the motu [country] and beyond.

Only in its second year, the students have already received several performing arts awards as part of TheatreFest – a national theatre competition.

While the course teaches its students fundamental performing arts skills specific to Māori and Pasifika culture, it also explores the deeper themes associated with culture and identity as seen in their performance piece Say My Name.

Say My Name was initially an assessment where the ākonga [learners] were tasked with creating a 20-minute production to show how important tuakiritanga [identity] is to them.

It explores thoughts and feelings people have when their name is mispronounced.

Midweek sat down to speak with the ākonga to find out what the experience has really been like.

Performing arts lecturer, Kiri Riwai-Couch, sets up the group in a circle in the centre of the wharenui.

There’s a moment of quiet before her infectious energy brings a burst of life into the group.

Each of the ākonga introduces themselves before tackling the bigger question of the inspiration and message behind their performance piece.

When nobody answers straight away, Kiri laughs. “I think at the start it was just about passing an assessment,” she says.

“But then it turned into something quite a lot deeper.” Though their award-winning performance was only an assignment for assessment in the beginning, it quickly evolved into something else entirely.

And how did they feel about their performance?

“We thought, ‘oh this is simple’,” Kiri said.

“It’s something we deal with every day,” but they didn’t expect to see tears in the audience.

Kiri admitted that they didn’t realise how deeply it would resonate with people and their own experiences.

“It really hit a lot of nerves,” she said.

Te Amorangi performed for local schools across Wairarapa before being invited to TheatreFest, and ākonga Maia Karaitiana-Baker admitted she was scared in the beginning.

She feared the reception they would receive from their audience.

Only approximately 15 per cent of Wairarapa identify as Māori according to Stats NZ.

Ākonga Hinetai Karaitiana recalled a recent experience of having her name mispronounced at an appointment.

“She called me up and she was like, HINEKAI!”

The mispronunciation of her first name was quickly followed by the slaughter of her last.

“She would have had the name in front of her. Our letters are the same as yours,” Kiri adds of the mix-up of a ‘T’ to ‘K’.

UCOL director Carrie McKenzie said it shouldn’t matter what culture you come from, “it’s a sign of respect trying to get somebody’s name right”.

Ākonga Maioha Riwai-Couch spoke of her experience with their performance.

“We just wanted to get our message out there. That it has happened, it’s still happening, and it’s probably going to keep happening,” she said.

Ākonga Mikey Kawana said his experiences as a student at UCOL Te Pūkenga Wairarapa had helped him to refocus on his future.

He credited the support system provided by UCOL in the form of counsellors and the staff that ran the performing arts programmes.

“They helped me to work through my own issues,” Mikey said before explaining that being on the course hadn’t always been easy for him – with both highs and lows.

Mikey spoke eloquently of the experiences associated with the mispronunciation of Māori names and pointed out that the message behind their performance is not something just for non-Māori.

“It doesn’t just apply to non-Māori, it applies to our own. We have plenty of our own whānau who mispronounce their own names and it’s up to us to get it right,” he said.

“We have plenty of non-Māori who are trying their best to pronounce Māori names correctly and if we’re not encouraging our own then what are we doing this for?”

Mikey said performing across the motu wasn’t about the competition for him.

“It’s about spreading the message about this experience, about this opportunity,” he said.

The students have even been approached by whānau from overseas to perform abroad.

But for now, their feet are staying firmly planted in Wairarapa.

The final parting message from Kiri was simple, but a seemingly accurate reflection of the observed interactions.

“We’re a whānau.”

Applications for the Diploma in Performing Arts [Māori and Pacific Dance] are open for 2024. Currently the only programme of its kind running in Aotearoa, New Zealand, UCOL’s Te Pūkenga Wairarapa’s Performing Arts [Māori and Pacific dance] course and Te Amorangi group are making a name for themselves across the motu [country] and beyond.

Only in its second year, the students have already received several performing arts awards as part of TheatreFest – a national theatre competition.

While the course teaches its students fundamental performing arts skills specific to Māori and Pasifika culture, it also explores the deeper themes associated with culture and identity as seen in their performance piece Say My Name.

Say My Name was initially an assessment where the ākonga [learners] were tasked with creating a 20-minute production to show how important tuakiritanga [identity] is to them.

It explores the thoughts and feelings that people have when their name is mispronounced.

Midweek sat down to speak with the ākonga to find out what the experience has really been like.

Performing arts lecturer, Kiri Riwai-Couch, sets up the group in a circle in the centre of the wharenui.

There’s a moment of quiet before her infectious energy brings a burst of life into the group.

Each of the ākonga introduces themselves before tackling the bigger question of the inspiration and message behind their performance piece.

When nobody answers straight away, Kiri laughs. “I think at the start it was just about passing an assessment,” she says.

“But then it turned into something quite a lot deeper.”

Though their award-winning performance was only an assignment for assessment in the beginning, it quickly evolved into something else entirely.

And how did they feel about their performance?

“We thought, ‘oh this is simple’,” Kiri said.

“It’s something we deal with every day,” but they didn’t expect to see tears in the audience.

Kiri admitted that they didn’t realise how deeply it would resonate with people and their own experiences.

“It really hit a lot of nerves,” she said.

Te Amorangi performed for local schools across Wairarapa before being invited to TheatreFest, and ākonga Maia Karaitiana-Baker admitted she was scared in the beginning.

She feared the reception they would receive from their audience.

Only approximately 15 per cent of Wairarapa identify as Māori according to Stats NZ.

Ākonga Hinetai Karaitiana recalled a recent experience of having her name mispronounced at an appointment.

“She called me up and she was like, HINEKAI!”

The mispronunciation of her first name was quickly followed by the slaughter of her last.

“She would have had the name in front of her. Our letters are the same as yours,” Kiri adds of the mix-up of a ‘T’ to ‘K’.

UCOL director Carrie McKenzie said it shouldn’t matter what culture you come from, “it’s a sign of respect trying to get somebody’s name right”.

Ākonga Maioha Riwai-Couch spoke of her experience with their performance.

“We just wanted to get our message out there. That it has happened, it’s still happening, and it’s probably going to keep happening,” she said.

Ākonga Mikey Kawana said his experiences as a student at UCOL Te Pūkenga Wairarapa had helped him to refocus on his future.

He credited the support system provided by UCOL in the form of counsellors and the staff that ran the performing arts programmes.

“They helped me to work through my own issues,” Mikey said before explaining that being on the course hadn’t always been easy for him – with both highs and lows.

Mikey spoke eloquently of the experiences associated with the mispronunciation of Māori names and pointed out that the message behind their performance is not something just for non-Māori.

“It doesn’t just apply to non-Māori, it applies to our own. We have plenty of our own whanau who mispronounce their own names and it’s up to us to get it right,” he said.

“We have plenty of non-Māori who are trying their best to pronounce Māori names correctly and if we’re not encouraging our own then what are we doing this for?”

Mikey said performing across the motu wasn’t about the competition for him.

“It’s about spreading the message about this experience, about this opportunity,” he said.

The students have even been approached by whānau from overseas to perform abroad.

But for now, their feet are staying firmly planted in Wairarapa.

The final parting message from Kiri was simple, but a seemingly accurate reflection of the observed interactions.

“We’re a whānau.”

Applications for the Diploma in Performing Arts [Maori and Pacific Dance] are open for 2024.

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