Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

The Flames of Hope: The Representation of Prophecy in Two New Zealand Plays

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

The Flames of Hope: The Representation of Prophecy in Two New Zealand Plays

Article excerpt

In 2007 I wrote a review for Australasian Drama Studies^ of two plays by Maori2 dramatists, The Prophet by Hone Kouka3 (Ngati Porou, Ngati Raukawa)4 and Awhi Tapu by Albert BeIz5 (Ngati Porou, Nga Puhi, Ngati Pokai). As I worked on this review, I was struck by the ways in which Kouka and BeIz had interrogated their forebears' adaptive, historical responses to the 'cultural bomb'6 of Western colonisation by re-deploying one aspect of that - Maori prophetism - into the present. Rather than the journey from past to present somehow occurring 'naturally' or even randomly, these plays suggest that paths to the present were forged by very specific events and choices in the past.7 Past and present are configured complexly as they define and re-define each other, with the present being made and re-made constantly in relation to the past, as is the case in some Maori world-views.8 Instead of employing historicisation in the way that Brecht and others did - by locating a play's action in the past so that the authence may indirectly examine the present - Kouka' s and Belz's plays refer to the past only as its actions affect the present. I wished to engage with those ideas in a forum that allowed for greater scrutiny than a thousand-word review could. In writing this piece, I acknowledge and respond to Murray Edmond's excellent discussion of The Prophet in his ADS article9 and David O'Donnell's comprehensive introduction to the published edition of Awhi Tapu.

Theatre practice has reacted or engaged with the - arguably never completed - hegemonic process of political and ideological persuasion, coercion and consent that is colonisation in a variety of ways through its modes of enactment, dramaturgy, practice and subject matter, including with complicity, resistance, negotiation, or through any combination of these. Such theatrical strategies are 'linked to a wider process of reflection on Maori values and customs, not as objects of ethnographic study but as a vigorous counter-model to pakeha society'.10 History and theatre, after all, are not that different from each other: both strategically interpret and re-interpret events and ideas for consumption by an authence.11 I wish to focus upon the theatrical stratagem of resistance in this article, using Bill Ashcroft's definition of 'resistance' as a phenomenon

that manifests itself as a refusal to be absorbed ... which engages that which is resisted in a different way, taking the array of influences exerted by the dominating power, and altering them into tools for expressing a deeply held sense of identity and cultural being. 12

This resolute 'refusal to be absorbed', the dynamic sense of determining one's own path, and, if necessary, using the coloniser's tools to do so, is eminently suited to interrogation in theatre's multivalent, complexly coded, embodied modality.

The nineteenth century: war and prophecy

Aotearoa/New Zealand has been negotiating effects of colonisation, mainly from the British Isles, for over 200 years, a result of which was the social, political and ideological marginalisation of Maori. At times, Maori who fought Päkehä13 colonial subjugation utilised Päkehä tools to challenge Päkehä and their assumptions. One of the myriad consequences of this process is that traditional Maori spirituality was interpenetrated by Christianity, with a variety of results: syncretic religious movements developed in the mid-nineteenth century which merged Maori and Christian belief systems, 14 and in the late nineteenth century, the biblical ideation of the prophets was claimed and re-imagined by these movements during a time Bronwyn Elsmore terms the 'Prophetic Period'.15 It is this second response to religious colonisation upon which I wish to focus, as I examine ways in which Maori dramatists - in particular Kouka and BeIz - have strategically re-imagined the phenomenon of prophetism as a means of responding to contemporary, twenty- first-century post-colonial issues. …

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