Chancellor Dr Russ Ballard and new PhD graduate Dr Wayne Ngata.


Traditional chants have modern relevance

Language and concepts locked in traditional Mäori chants – möteatea – need to be brought out into everyday use, says PhD graduate Wayne Ngata.

Dr Ngata, from Tolaga Bay, says although many were composed in another time, möteatea contain clues imbedded in the language that are applicable to today. “They can help you clarify and organise your thinking and provide a way of responding to any daily situation – it doesn’t have to be deep and meaningful," he says.

Dr Ngata (Te Äitanga ä Hauiti, Ngäti Porou, Ngäti Ira) graduated with a PhD in Mäori Studies today.

Currently Dr Ngata is the acting chief executive of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Mäori (the Mäori Language Commission) and also coordinates research at Tairäwhiti Polytechnic in Gisborne. He has a teaching diploma from Auckland, a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) from Victoria, and a Master of Arts (Mäori Studies) from Massey.

He began studying and singing möteatea, or traditional chants, as a student at St Stephen's School. Now, more than 30 years later, his learning and research have culminated in the completion of his doctoral thesis Te Hu o Te Puoro: Ko te möteatea te mataaho ki te pä o te hinengaro Mäori, ki te ao Mäori – Traditional chant is the window to the psyche of the Mäori.

He says the language and expressions “need to be articulated and consolidated outside of the chant – they express a way of behaving as a people”. He says he personally found möteatea are a major portal to the Mäori mindset, thinking and expression.

“Möteatea were composed as a response to situations that arose –  any situation. It could be grief or a challenge, and is how the composers expressed themselves."

An everyday example he gives is in the description of a bookshop – instead of describing it in everyday terms in a literal translation, such as whare and pukapuka (book and shop) he prefers "a deeper expression" – whare körero onamata (shop of stories of ancient times).

He says his great uncle, statesman and academic Sir Apirana Ngata, realised the wealth of cultural information hidden in traditional chants and was responsible for compiling the classic published repository of traditional chants Ngä Möteatea. “In Ngä Möteatea, Apirana Ngata encourages others to expand on his work.” Dr Ngata's PhD supervisor, Massey’s Professor of Mäori Language Taiarahia Black, is one who has done that, as have academics Margaret Orbell and Mervyn McLean.

The inspiration for his doctorate came from interactions over the years with a range of people, many whom have since died, and included gifted orators and tribal historians Ruka Broughton, Rangi Dewes, Bill Parker, Tom Te Maro, Waho Tibble and kuia Mate Kaiwai.

Dr Ngata is one of eight Mäori PhDs graduating from the campus. The others are: Jonathan Procter (earth science), James Graham (education), Natasha Tassell (psychology), Hope Tupara (public health), William Edwards (public health), Christine Kenney (midwifery) and Hukarere Valentine (clinical psychology). By the end of the week 146 Mäori will have graduated from the Manawatu campus, about 25 per cent with postgraduate qualifications.

On Friday morning the Mäori PhDs and 54 of their peers will attend the special ceremony to honour Mäori graduate achievement at the Regent Theatre, where Dr Ngata will also deliver the guest address.

The Wellington campus ceremony to honour Mäori graduates will be held on May 28 at Te Kuratini Marae. At the conclusion of that ceremony more than 380 Mäori will have graduated from the University’s three campuses.

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