Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Performance: Ethnographer/Tourist/Cannibal

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Performance: Ethnographer/Tourist/Cannibal

Article excerpt

Our origins in Rangiâtea represent our collective identity as tangata whenua. An identity that over the generations perhaps well-meaning missionaries, evangelistic settlers, paternalistic anthropologists, ethnocentric educators, vote-catching politicians and all manner of other players in the colonizing project, have sought to suppress, deny, dilute and eradicate. Our language has been smothered almost out of existence. Our traditions and histories have been held up for ridicule. Our tupuna have been mocked, have been murdered, have been jailed for contempt, but still our songs are sung.1

Careful we don't eat you.2

My current research traces the interwoven strands of Maori performance practice from Kapa Haka and tourist shows to contemporary dance. Mostly I sit comfortably in the audience or safely on the sidelines, a resolutely nonparticipant performance ethnographer. But during 'Field Station, New Zealand: Environment/Performance' (PSi9, 2003),3 I spent three days at Rêhua Marae on my feet, practising the rudiments of Kapa Haka, an experience that included an excursion to the Ko Tane Maori (Tourist) Experience,4 where I allowed myself to be goaded onto the stage with other female tourists for a brief lesson in the art of poi twirling.

Despite the obvious differences between my engagement in performance ethnography on the marae (traditional meeting place) and in the tourist experience at Ko Tane and elsewhere, the expectations underlying both were roughly equivalent: in learning, however partially, the basic elements of a Maori performance practice, I was also expected to be delving into its cultural context more deeply than I could be simply by reading books, looking at images or listening to a lecture. In this article, I explore the assumptions underlying performance-based research and participant ethnography. In particular, this article interrogates the belief that doing equals understanding, and that being a doer instead of a watcher somehow repositions the performance scholar on the correct side of the (colonial) power equation. My reflections on the role of the ethnographer in performance have evolved from a number of signal experiences over time, of which three serve as material here and are explored in turn: the three days on Rêhua Marae in 2003; the pöwhiri that was staged at the beginning of the 2008 ADSA Conference in Dunedin; and the 2009 Te Matatini Maori Performing Arts Festival in Tauranga.

In response to a provocation by the then -president of Performance Studies International, Richard Gough, 'Field Station, New Zealand' was staged as an experiment in collaborative fieldwork, presentation and performance - in essence, an investigation into the possibilities and limits of performance ethnography for which the New Zealand landscape and culture served as both laboratory and specimen. Participants were organised into mixed groups - artists and scholars, New Zealanders and international guests - who participated in what we called 'field stations'. Each group spent three days working together on specific topics: Maori Performing Arts; The Land: Whakapapa and Mapping; How Mutton Became Lamb Again; The Ice; Lord of the Rings; Sonic Nowhere; Global Academic Culture; and Tangible Heritage. Challenging the conventions of conference attendance, we invited participants to come without finished papers, to commit their particular knowledges to communal points of investigation, to find innovative ways of presenting their field stations' findings on the last day of the conference and, we hoped as a result, to carry on the conversations begun in the field into further research projects and creative work.

In keeping with the ethos of our experiment, no one was exempt from participation, and so I joined the Maori Performing Arts field station on Rêhua Marae.5 Led by Taiporoutu Huata, we spent three days in relative isolation on the marae,6 painstakingly acquiring a small repertoire drawn from the steps and gestures, songs and chants, found in the traditional Maori performing arts practice known as Kapa Haka. …

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