In 2007 Rod Lea and Geoffrey Chambers authored a paper for the New Zealand Medical Journal claiming that Māori men carry a ‘warrior gene’.
On google ‘why are Māori so violent’ is actually a suggested search.
Historian Paul Moon has taken issue with statements such as these because it suggests that child abuse and violence are problems restricted purely to Māori. Statements like those above are symptomatic of a long history of racism and ethnically subjective reporting. But at the same time there’s obviously something wrong when 15% of the population make up 30% of the statistics.
Renae Maihi’s new play, Patua takes on this subject from the perspective of a family in the midst of it. It opens as baby Moni is rushed to hospital, alone. Surrounding baby Moni is a family tearing at the seams from the pressures of domestic violence. Juxtaposed against this is Dina’s family, dealing with infertility and a 25 year old baby. The difference in the family environments is stark. Baby Moni’s family seethes with rage and fear, Dina’s family is making things work because they love each other.
Stories like this aren’t new, yet it’s not often that the stark details are put right there on the stage in front of you. Patua does this. It makes for a play that is compelling and repelling at the same time. A play that is entrancing in its horrible details.
To translate this story to the audience Maihi has enlisted a cast of strong and talented Māori actors – Stephen Butterworth, Aroha Hathaway, Vinnie Bennett, Cian Elyse White, Ngahuia Piripi, Maria Walker, Mohi Critchley and Willie Davis. Jumping in with the removal of baby Moni I was at first sceptical, finding myself saying – do I believe you? But by the plays conclusion I found that I was captured. My eyes glued to the stage.
On stage the setting was simple but effective. Tukutuku panels hung around the stage, pierced like gobos to allow shapes to filter across the stage. Lighting designer Jane Hakaraia kept things relatively simple using light and dark to feed the emotions onstage while sound designer Sean Lynch created a soundscape that fed intimately into the action. It was a design with no distractions, a design that focussed you in to the story.
Patua’s strength is that it asks questions. It refuses to accept that child abuse is just a way of life but recognises the historic influences that have fuelled the situation as it is. However at the same time, I wondered if Maihi had tried to tell too much, to tap into too much context. Spoiler alert, but if a man is so damaged that he sees no issue in picking up a child by its hair, would he really turn himself in? Despite what his father may say? Yes, Māori culture respects their elders but the unquestioning acceptance of older Māori as fountains of wisdom, as demanding respect- is that really accurate today? And should it be?
Conjuring up images of the Kahui Twins, of Delcelia Witika, Nia Glassie, Ngatikaura Ngati Patua will make you think and it will make you cry.
It runs until this Sunday at Tapac. You can get more information here.