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NGAHINA HOHAIA: Paopao ki tua o rangi

2022/05/10 Views:16

NGAHINA HOHAIA: Paopao ki tua orangi

Written by Reuben Friend

Like a beating heart, the rhythmic sound of pounding drums and poi[1] reverberate from the centre of Paopao ki tua o rangi[2] (2009), a stunning audio-visual and woven fibre installation created by Aotearoa New Zealand Māori artist Ngahina Hohaia. Hohaia’s artworks draw on inherited skills and knowledge of traditional Māori song, ritual incantations and fibre works, reimagined through a contemporary lens to create large scale contemporary art installations. Raised in a family of artists and political activists, her installations operate at the intersection of Western and Indigenous art praxis, unravelling colonial settler narratives about art, culture and identity, to weave in Māori knowledge, practices and perspectives into the history and artistic canon of Aotearoa New Zealand.
The sounds and symbols in Paopao ki tua o rangi specifically speak to the layered history of Hohaia’s tūrangawaewae, her ancestral homelands at Parihaka. These histories inform the present cultural and political reality of not only Hohaia as an artist, but of the entire community of Parihaka. Nestled at the southern end of Taranaki mountain, on the West Coast of the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand, Parihaka is today a small Māori community, but between the 1860s and 1890s the settlement was one of the largest and most industrially advanced Māori townships in Aotearoa New Zealand. With extensive farming lands, modern agricultural equipment, grand European style architecture, running water and electricity, and a bank, Parihaka was a site of visionary leadership and prosperity. But more importantly, Parihaka was a site of refuge, a place that welcomed Māori families from all across the country who had been displaced from their homelands during the New Zealand Land Wars. As a sanctuary from the trauma and violence of war, Parihaka was established on principles of peace derived from a combination of customary Māori belief systems and Western biblical teachings, manifesting a uniquely Māori Christian ideology that Ngahina Hohaia refers to as liberation theology.

Ngahina Hohaia, Paopao ki Tua o Rangi, Multimedia projection installation, 500×500cm, 2009.


Because of this foundation, the two prominent political and spiritual leaders of Parihaka, Tohu Kākahi and Te Whiti-o-Rongomai, were advocates for the retention of Māori land and the assertion of Māori autonomy through the practice of non-violent resistance to colonial invasion. Their movement was symbolised by the wearing of three albatross feathers, a motif that features strongly in Hohaia’s installation. Similar symbols embroidered onto the head of each poi in Hohaia’s installation, such as the farm plough or the image of wheat husks, speak to the industriousness, innovation and prosperity of Parihaka. Other symbols however, such as the hand cuffs and the urinating dog, hint at a darker, insidious history of colonial invasion, confiscation and dislocation that has only recently been publicly acknowledged by the Aotearoa New Zealand government.[3]
In 1879, the government began surveying Māori lands near Parihaka for sale to European settlers. In defence of their lands, followers of Tohu and Te Whiti began a programme of peaceful protest, disrupting proceedings by pulling out survey pegs and fence posts, and ploughing lands that had been appropriated by colonial settlers. In the process many people from Parihaka were arrested and imprisoned without trial in the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. These arrests and land incursions signalled the beginning of a malicious agenda by the colonial settler government to confiscate the lands of Parihaka, crushing one of the last major bastions of Māori social, cultural and industrial autonomy.

Armed constabulary and militia prepare to move against Parihaka (1881),
black & white photograph, 235x280mm. 
Collection of Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
Photograph by William Andrews Collis (1853-1920).



Mobilising various non-violent means of resistance, the people of Parihaka endured against sustained encroachments into their land over the years that ensued with a determined programme of peaceful protest, with many more people being imprisoned and sent away from their lands and families. On the morning of 5 November 1881, the government sent in a constabulary of over 1,500 armed colonial troops to forcibly take the village. 

Fighting hate with love, Tohu and Te Whiti instructed the children of Parihaka to greet the intruders at the gates with offerings of food and song, while the elders sat peacefully awaiting the onslaught. The strategy had some success, repelling the first wave of invasion, but eventually the frontline troops were compelled by their superiors to push through the wall of gifts and kindness, completing the assault with devastating results. The township was all but razed to the ground, and most of the inhabitants were arrested or driven away. 


In Paopao ki tua o rangi Ngahina Hohaia creates a series of poi that have been arranged on the wall in concentric circles, creating waves of sound and light emanating from a central point. Projected onto the wall at the centre of the installation, like paintings on the skin of a drum, are a series of historical images of Parihaka that were photographed in the years leading up to the 1881 invasion. Coloured light sweeps over the poi around the circumference of the installation, accompanied by the sound of beating drums and ritual incantations, evoking a sense of the poi in movement as the light swings around the installation in a rhythmic cadence. The soundtrack of song, incantation, beating poi and drums are performed by Ngahina Hohaia and her late father Te Miringa Hohaia, a man who was instrumental in the resurgence of Parihaka arts, culture and politics in the late twentieth century.

 Images of Parihaka that were photographed in the years leading up to the 1881 invasion,
black & white photograph, 210x285mm. Collection of Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
Photograph by William Andrews Collis (1853-1920).



Unlike customary poi that are made from flax leaves or bulrush reeds, Hohaia constructs her poi from wool blankets, referencing the statement of Tohu and Te Whiti to the colonial government of the time, that they would be willing to share their ‘blanket’, but that sovereign independence must remain with Māori. For Hohaia, the blanket is not only a tangible metaphor for land and authority, but also for the material wealth that continues to be gained from the confiscations. In sourcing this material for this installation, a serendipitous revelation occurred when Hohaia found that the company she employed to embroider the poi was also the same company that embroidered the uniforms of the colonial troops who invaded Parihaka.  Hohaia reflects on this chance discovery: 
“On my first visit to the store I noticed an old framed moth-eaten crest, with an image of a canon and crossed swords, and the words ‘Wellington City Guards – Parihaka’.  When I enquired I was informed that their company had originally been in the business of embroidering the uniforms and regalia for the colonial constabulary and regimental troops. In an ironic twist of fate I felt that I had arrived at the right place. I am very comfortable knowing that the colonial military history associated with my embroidery process has a strong relationship with the conceptual basis of my work. It has become integrated as part of the narrative within the work.” 

This was a powerful moment of awareness for the artist, realising that the images of swords, canons, and constabulary regalia were being embroidered into her artwork by the same industries that were established upon these acts of colonial violence.
In 1990, the Waitangi Tribunal[4] began to address legal cases brought to the Tribunal by Taranaki Māori communities relating to the land confiscations of the 1800s. The Tribunal’s report in 1996 found that ‘Taranaki Māori were dispossessed of their land, leadership, means of livelihood, personal freedom, and social structure and values’, and in 2018 a token reconciliation package was offered to the people of Parihaka. In 2019, a Crown apology for the illegal invasion of 1881 and the imprisonment of Parihaka people was passed into law. This was far from a happy ending, with the outcome of this apology and financial settlement doing little to equitably compensate the people of Parihaka for generations of lost lands, wealth and prosperity. It did however establish a relationship between the people of Parihaka and the Crown which did not exist before, and in recent years the community has seen a resurgence of art, culture and musical activity, such as the Parihaka Peace Festival that ran from 2006 to 2010.
Today, the community of Parihaka continues to embody the values of sanctuary and liberation theology, with the 18th day of every month reserved for ceremony and discussions to ensure the beliefs and customs of Parihaka are maintained. Many visitors and dignitaries from around the world have made a pilgrimage to Parihaka to pay respects to the community. Notably, in 2003, Dr. Arun Gandhi, a descendant  of Mohandas K. ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi, came to Parihaka accompanied by Dr. Lawrence Carter, head of the Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation, and Dr. Richard Sasaki, representing Daisaku Ikeda, to posthumously acknowledge the achievements of Tohu and Te Whiti for their life’s work as early pioneers of non-violent resistance. 
In the wake of recent non-violent protest movements happening across the globe, such as Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter, strategies of non-violent resistance remain vital to the liberation of oppressed peoples. However, unlike past generations, in the digital age artists and activists are now able to reach out across the globe, sharing information, resources, skills and knowledge through a range of online platforms. Paopao ki tua o rangi exists in this digital reality, expanding out into the world like rays of fibreoptic light, sending the message of Parihaka surging out to other communities who may draw strength from the shared plight to seek peaceful means of liberation from oppression.


Artist Biography: Ngahina Hohaia

Ngahina Hohaia is an interdisciplinary artist who moves between installation, fibre sculpture and body adornment. Hohaia employs customary weaving knowledge and methodologies as a basis for her contemporary conceptual practice. She has a Masters of Māori Visual Arts from Massey University in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her work has been exhibited at all major metropolitan public art galleries in Aotearoa New Zealand and abroad, including recent exhibitions such as Tools of Oppression and Liberation, Pātaka Art + Museum (2016); Ngahina Hohaia, City Gallery Wellington (2009); and an upcoming exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery Toi Tu, Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori Art in 2020. Her works are held in major public collections, including the permanent collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Pātaka Art + Museum, and other institutions.

The article first published in PAN Zine.





[1] A poi is a traditional Māori percussion instrument. Customarily made from flax or bulrush leaves, it consists of a small soft ball attached to a woven cord. The cord is held in one hand, and the ball is swung in circles and hit in different directions with the performer’s free hand, creating a rhythmic beat and twirling movement of the poi. This beating sound and movement is accompanied by chanting and ritual incantation that is sung in ceremony. This ceremonial practice is known in Parihaka as Poi Manu.
[2] Paopao ki tua o rangi means “to reverberate into the heavens” in Maori language.
[3] In 2019 a Crown apology for the illegal 1881 invasion of Parihaka and the imprisonment of its people was passed into law.
[4] The Waitangi Tribunal is a land court set up by the Aotearoa New Zealand government to investigate Māori land claims.



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