On the Scene: Maori filmmaker and producer documents Hawaiian connections
Julian Arahanga arrived in Hawaii on Aug. 31 for a 17-day Wananga/Wanana Residency at Bishop Museum where he and a second cultural practitioner are exploring museum holdings that document the historical relationship between Maori and Native Hawaiians.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
Julian Arahanga grew up in rural New Zealand with his Maori mother. At 15 he left school and went to the “big city” — Wellington — where his father, also Maori, was a filmmaker. Arahanga went into the movie business and worked his way up behind the camera. Then, in 1994, he successfully auditioned for the role of Nig Heke in Maori director Lee Tamahori’s groundbreaking contemporary drama, “Once Were Warriors.” Arahanga reprised the role in the 1999 sequel, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?” and went on to a successful career as an independent filmmaker and television producer.
Arahanga, 48, arrived in Hawaii on Aug. 31 for a 17-day Wananga/Wanana Residency at Bishop Museum where he and a second cultural practitioner, Ngahina Hohaia, are exploring museum holdings that document the historical relationship between Maori and Native Hawaiians. Of particular interest are the extensive archives of Maori anthropologist Te Rangihiroa (also known as Sir Peter Buck), who was director of Bishop Museum from 1936 until his death in 1951.
I don’t think many Hawaii residents know that one of the foremost Maori anthropologists of the 20th century was the director of the Bishop Museum. Is that connection known in New Zealand?
Certainly there are groups of people in New Zealand who know a lot about his work — and not everyone agrees with all of the writings and stuff that he did, but that’s like most authors — but I don’t know that very many people understand the impact that Te Rangihiroa / Sir Peter Buck had on Hawaiian culture and the retaining and documenting of Hawaiian traditions.
Are there things that Native Hawaiians can learn from Maori today?
I think it’s continuous and reciprocal. Both peoples — I’m talking about Kanaka Maoli and Maori people — have been colonized, and everyone has been reacting to the colonization. I find a lot of knowledge and a lot of personal direction through studying (and) through practicing traditional methods ranging from prayer right through to practical everyday things that have been developed over several centuries.
What are your most vivid memories about doing “Once Were Warriors” — playing a young Maori man who escapes a violently dysfunctional family by joining a violent street gang — in 1994?
I was very young — that was 25 years ago — and it was a very powerful time in New Zealand. The movie brought to light a lot of the anger and frustration and dysfunction that Maori were experiencing — the breakdown in the (Maori) family unit in the cities. It also showed the power of Maori women to make a stand and say, “Enough is enough.”
What have you been doing as a filmmaker and what is your next project?
Awa Films made its name through documentaries. Then we made a series called “Songs From the Inside” where we took well-known New Zealand musicians and went inside New Zealand prisons and taught prisoners songwriting. At the end of each season a prisoner would have written his own original song, he performs it — he or she — and we recorded it. We’re about to release next week in New Zealand a comedy/drama about wrestling in colonial New Zealand — it’s called “Colonial Combat.” A lot of the stuff that we’ve done has been quite heavy hitting and this is something kids can enjoy as well. (For more information, visit www.awa.co.nz.)