Kai hea kai hea te pū o te mate? Reclaiming the power of pūrākau

Robert Pouwhare

Abstract


The pūrākau our ancestors told about the universe and our place within it have been bowdlerised through the process of colonisation. These narratives, as they were transmitted over generations, were transformed by the European settlers, missionaries and educators, from ‘myths’ – oral traditions imbued with the power of the sacred – into ‘fables’ and ‘folktales’. As such, they have largely been neutered of their epistemological power, and their role in sustaining our culture has been substantially diminished. For example, in its original iterations, the ancient story of Māui in which his quest for immortality was foiled by the Tīrairaka contained a fundamental lesson: Māui dies in the act of penetrating Hine-nui-te-pō; from the sex act comes both new life and the sure knowledge of mortality; women are a source of power, life and death. In translation, this story was sanitised; in particular, the description of Māui’s fatal entrance as a lizard into Hine-nui-te-pō’s vagina, were euphemised and displaced, shifted to less controversial body parts. In my paper and presentation, I propose strategies for restoring the power of performance of our pūrākau through the reclamation of the act of storytelling in diverse media. In making new platforms for performing these old stories, we can revitalise the Reo and tikanga, and in so doing reconnect ourselves and our young people to the world that our tīpuna created.

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