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Kelly Kahukiwa enters the ngahere (forest) with a karakia

A short documentary film, Mauri Tū Mauri Ora, was created by Dan Nathan and follows Kelly Kahukiwa as he seeks out Te Whē, the primordial essence of sound, to restore people’s connection with the environment and give the vibration and energy of music back to the forest.

The concept for this film evolved over several years through an ongoing conversation between close friends Kelly (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāi Tūhoe, Te Aitanga ā Māhaki) and Dan (Te Roroa, Ngāti Torehina). They had been exploring ideas for a project based around mātauranga Māori, plant intelligence, and the reinvigoration of the rhythmic language of taonga pūoro (Māori musical instruments).

In 2019, Dan and Kelly attended a symposium about kauri health in Waipoua Forest, hosted by mana whenua Te Roroa and The Kauri Project. The symposium was also attended by academics and ‘artivists’ who would eventually form Toi Taiao Whakatairanga. This group works with artists to explore public awareness around myrtle rust and kauri dieback and positive behaviours as kaitiaki, caring for and respecting the mana of our ngahere (forests).

This film follows Kelly on a journey of sound and thought as he seeks to strengthen connections between people and te taiao (the environment) as well as connections within te taiao itself.

It was commissioned by Toi Taiao Whakatairanga, a Mobilising for Action project within Ngā Rākau Taketake.

“We’re just doing an investigation really, using pūoro to get people to feel comfortable to talk to the maunga (mountain) and the ngahere,” says Kelly in the film.

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The pūtōrino (large traditional flute) is just one of the taonga pūoro (musical instruments) Kelly uses in his workshops to connect people with their surroundings. Image thanks to Chris McBride.

Through a framework of music, Kelly is able to relay to people the current messages around kauri and pōhutukawa and their current health status in the rohe of Whangārei.

The music is also for the trees themselves, bringing the resonance of kauri, for example, back to areas where kauri have been lost to disease. Kelly hopes that music can remind the kauri of its mana (power).

Central figures in the film are two tūpuna maunga, Parihaka and Manaia, in Whangārei.

“The maunga to me is a tūpuna (ancestor),” says Kelly in the film. “It’s a kaumātua (elder), it’s a tino tūpuna (essential ancestor).”

The relationship of these tūpuna maunga is central to the film, as are their connections to water, people, taonga pūoro, pōhutukawa, kauri, pūpūrangi (kauri snails) and birds via the vibrant sound and energy emissions of the maunga expressed as changing mauri states.

For Dan and Kelly, this film represents a convergence of important themes: mātauranga Māori, sound and music, environmental and social justice, and the exploration of indigenous creativity in new mediums. This is beautifully captured in the film’s subtitle: “Hokia te waoku kia purea ai  – Return to the forest and be restored.”

Jenny Leonard

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