Stage Challenge – Māori history inspires creativity

A group of students from Whanganui City College discuss the effect of using the Battle of Moutoa for their Stage Challenge theme. The students are very clear about the impact this had on them. The way they had to engage with the event and with the characters they were portraying meant they were not only learning about the details surrounding the battle, they were having to ask questions about how people would have felt and about the actions that were taken at the time. All the students were very clear about the importance of learning about local history and how Stage Challenge gave them the opportunity to consider different perspectives. For some of them,  it was the first time they had found out about their family history.

Professional learning conversations

  1. The experience of taking part in this stage challenge had a strong effect on these students. This is an example of an active way of bringing local  history into the school. Everyone involved can take part in co constructing the way they are going to retell events from the past. Why was this so effective and what could the school do to continue the momentum of this process?

  2. The students are clear about why the Moutoa Battle story was important to them. Learning about their history in this way has obviously been successful. They have an understanding about the event and the impact it had. Teaching in this way at this school was obviously a collaboration. The school had advisors and local kaumātua to assist. Collaboration is an important aspect of the Māori history project. How could your school collaborate to teach your local Māori history? Who would you need to involve, and how would you go about setting up networks and links to people who would be able to help?

Our school had never done Stage Challenge before and it was a very new thing for us. And we thought, well, we’re a new school, we’ve never done it before. Perhaps we should go in with something very different. Because traditionally the themes at Stage Challenge were very broad and they were either of national focus or of global focus, but this was very central to who we are as people living in Whanganui.

I thought the Battle of Moutoa would just be an interesting setting. And it would allow for previously unvisited concepts, like using contemporary music mixed with traditional Māori, and traditional Māori choreography being mixed with contemporary dance, and everything.

We had a meeting – we had several meetings to begin with, for like a production team of sorts and I just sort of threw it out there and it just sort of snowballed from there. I went and I found history notes from the year before and I just sort of compressed it and had a brief storyline of what actually happened at the battle, and, you know, the motivation for fighting and what the cast could channel in a way.

We found it interesting in the concept that this huge event happened so close to home. I know that some of them had more direct links than I did family wise to the battle, and it was a learning experience for a lot of us. And then, in a few days, we had a whole storyboard set up and we had ideas for dance costuming. I think we even had lead roles for people sorted out and people we were going to shoulder tap to ask to do it. It was very enthusiastic. People were keen to get into it and learn more and portray their ancestors, I guess.

With the concept of the battle of Moutoa we really portrayed each leader and chief of iwi and we had to channel into being them as a person, rather than looking at them, kind of thinking “Oh, I could be like him. I’ll just …” But we really had to channel our inner emotions and because a lot of us have relations and are connected to the iwi that we’re actually fighting in the battle, it made us channel even more. So it was kind of quite important, significant to us.

I was a warrior and it was real cool re-enacting what our ancestors did and being able to see what they did for us. I was the role of a lower warrior, so I was more of the musketless, patu kind of one, and just the fact that I know most of the people from the part, the role I was playing, it was really emotional and you had to really get into character and be one of your ancestors or someone that you knew, because you had to really fight for the role and unless you’re a warrior, I guess.

Matua Tamahoe, he used to be a Māori teacher at this school. The HOD of Māori. He left and now he’s affiliated with the iwi a lot more, but he came in during the rehearsal process and we were just finishing up the battle scene where we had the clash between the two forces and we were struggling to find intensity there. He gave quite the speech really and he sort of taught the performers how to find that emotion. And he told, you know, the perspective of either a Pai Mārire fighter from up the river who had come down to raid Whanganui or of a kūpapa fighter defending their homeland. And just the difference between that first run through we did, there was some intensity but it just wasn’t, it wasn’t sold. But after that it just looked so much better. It was a huge increase in intensity and performance.

After his speech I guess everyone kind of got what he meant, and everyone knew what kind of emotions to unleash in the battle, and what kind of feelings to portray during each scene and each role, I guess.

I kinda didn’t really take it that seriously. It’s just a performance. But after that I kind of knew the whole background of it and it meant a lot more when we got on that stage and did that battle scene.
I think when we first talked about it, it was kind of, like, “Ooh, how are we going to kind of mix that into contemporary and traditional?” How to combine it into one and make sure that we portray it on stage. But as we got into it with help from iwi advisors, we were able to combine it much more easily, yeah. So it wasn’t just full on kapa haka. It wasn’t just contemporary. It was a blend and it really worked out well. And it made us understand more, like as we started doing battle scenes and group work, with that, it made us understand more of how intense everything really was.

Going from just briefly talking about it in class into taking it on stage and learning like so much more about it, it was really interesting to see the outcome. Because when the Battle of Moutoa first came up as an idea for Stage Challenge I really didn’t know a lot about it. As we got into it, more details came and we just learnt more and more and how we should, like, appreciate it, what they did.

I would like to see more stuff around Māori culture in schools because there’s not much Māori stuff in schools. Like the only thing they have in schools is probably, like, how to speak the language and as you go round school you hear them talking in English. Not much people are going, like, “kia ora” to teachers. That’s what this pushed us to do – to spread more Māori in the school.