A waiata that has lost its meaning has lost its purpose and in turn has lost its resolution to be sung.
Tūtira mai ngā iwi, the nation’s second appointed national anthem and go-to jam at rugby games, concerts & festivals, and at every school hall in NZ. We all learnt it in primary school and sing it at late night drink sessions. The waiata is beloved here in Aotearoa but little did we all know how upsetting the backstory of the song truly is.
Not to say the song is strangely sad with a jolly upbeat tune, but rather the song has a messy history. Curious? Then let’s get into it.
Well to start, not many know of the song’s origin. The waiata was composed by Canon Wi Te Tau Huata in the 1950s. The waiata was only passed on through classes and kapa haka lessons led by the composer himself. The Māori hymn soon gained attention to an unreasonable breadth that permitted a lack of ethics and respect of indigenous creatives. The extent to which the song had presented itself was unfortunately too vast in a country that was only freshly accepting of the native people. So much so that the song was viewed as free content for the pākeha system to take as their own, allowing the Ministry of Education to feel a sense of possession and permission to adopt the song as theirs and have it published in school books.
Consequently, the song was forced into mainstream schooling, spread like a virus throughout society and pollinated among all NZ individuals. It can be said with confidence that the waiata Māori composed by the Tohunga was sadly colonised and corrupted.
Nonetheless, little to no one knew about the lack of consent when the song was published publicly, nor was it checked for accuracy regarding the Māori grammar and lyrical content.
Yes. It’s true. The vast majority of New Zealanders have learnt the song incorrectly and the popularity of the song drowned the voices campaigning for recognition. Notably the whānau Huata and iwi Māori. And so, the song branched out to collectives beyond primary schools and became unknowingly known by many.
There is significant symbolism directly correlating with the kupu of a Māori composition and by having a lyrically incorrect waiata proliferate and unfurl to the greater audience of the country, disrespect cannot be taken lightly when a song is sung incorrectly to a point of loss in its meaning.
The same concept and strategic attempt at colonisation and corruption can be applied similarly to the haka ’Ka Mate’ written by the chief Te Rau Paraha which holds the title “colonised physicality”. Tutira Mai Ngā Iwi is or should be equivalently recognized as cultural appropriation and an example of appropriated and mediated indigenous tradition
Lets get it right folks, let’s learn the correct lyrics and let’s learn to learn more about the history behind Māori waiata.