Voices from the past revisted in documentary

1 07 2008

For history buffs, they’re a treasure, a rare kind of gold. They are the sound archives at Radio New Zealand, featuring interviews and stories unheard since the 1930s, set to be re-discovered in Maori Television’s inspirational new history series TE PATAKA KORERO, to premiere on Sunday July 13 at 8.30 PM.

The series aims to provide new insight into the key issues that have affected Maori over the last century. Interview subjects in the programme include people who, just a generation on from events, are able to recount history from the early musket wars, as their parents and grandparents told it to them.

The makers of the series, which translates as ‘storehouse of conversations’, went into the archives with high expectations about the gems they might find – and were not disappointed.

“They’ve been sitting for such a long time, almost forgotten,” says TE PATAKA KORERO director Tihini Grant. “It’s like a treasure trove of audio files. For me, it’s bringing back to life voices that have been long silent.”

Being a television show, the sound archives needed a visual component as well, a challenge resolved by matching up the radio recordings with equally rare and unique images unearthed in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington.

For the first time, the famous photograph of the meeting house at Waitangi on the day it opened – Sir Apirana Ngata and soldiers from the Maori Batallion performing a rousing haka – has an equally powerful soundtrack to go with it.

The snap of the hikoi coming over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, led by Dame Whina Cooper, is another unforgettable image. Now there are recordings that show what was happening for her and the nation at that time.

Other Maori leaders featured in the series include T.W. Ratana and Princess Te Puea at key points in their lives.

For language purists, another attraction of the series will be the richness of the reo being spoken, both in terms of the old dialects people used, and simply in the way people thought and expressed themselves.

Says Grant: “I think it’s more the purity of thought behind the language. Going back that far, you’ve got less of a taint of modern, non-Maori thinking and expression. Their world view is from a Maori standpoint, and it influences everything they say and do.”

Programme-makers have also tracked down kaumatua such as Dr Merimeri Penfold and Whai Ngata, who give first-person accounts of historical events they had a part in.

The show’s presenter is Haare Williams, a journalist and broadcaster who conducted many of the interviews featured. He was also instrumental in having those Maori voices archived properly with former employer, Radio New Zealand.

“There wasn’t considered then to be a need, but he knew the worth of those recordings, and the need to protect them as taonga,” says series producer Mechele Harron. “So we’re really honoured to be able to have him as a host. He has such a wealth of knowledge.”

Harron says her team has found a real passion for what they’ve been making. They hope that in touching the hearts of the iwi and whanau groups whose ancestors were involved in historical events, others will be moved as well.

“One whanau broke down and cried listening to their father speaking on the paepae, they were so moved and proud. It’s a personal experience for iwi involved, and that to me is the ultimate aim.”

Remember those from the past who fought for today on TE PATAKA KORERO, a series screening on Maori Television from Sunday July 13 at 8.30 PM.

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