PhD student Amster Reedy recites a traditional oriori (lullaby) to his grandson Rikipapaki. The oriori is about the mythical origin of the kumara, composed in the 1600s by Enoka Te Pakaru of the Gisborne iwi, Te Aitanga a Mahaki, “Pö! Pö! E tangi ana Tama ki te kai mäna” – “Pö, Pö (thought to be the shortened form of Pötiki or last born). The boy, my son, he is crying for food.

Maori lullabies subject of PhD research

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Traditional Maori lullabies – oriori – are the subject of new PhD research to be written entirely in Maori by Wellington-based student Amster Reedy.

Mr Reedy says he was motivated to research traditional child rearing practices by the furore over the killings of the Kahui twins and the deaths of other babies.
Mr Reedy says he aims to create a revival of Mäori birth rites, rituals and practices. Oriori are recited at birth, during a child’s upbringing or to observe the death of a child. “My goal is to reaffirm that Mäori have comprehensive childrearing traditions, and that these practices are just as comprehensive and relevant as those of any other civilisation or society that exists or existed.”

Mr Reedy,64, has worked as a consultant providing advice about Mäori issues and leadership to a range of private and public sector organisations for almost 20 years. Since 2003 he has also been part of the athletes services unit that has supported New Zealand’s Olympic and Commonwealth Games sports teams and leaves for Beijing to carry out his duties with the team at the end of the month.

He has a Bachelor of Arts (Hons), majoring in Mäori from Victoria University and a background in Education. He grew up in Ruatoria, and was head prefect at Ngata Memorial College, where he returned to teach Mäori and as principal.

Mr Reedy is relishing the opportunity to discuss an aspect of childrearing – “the most important of traditions” – in his mother tongue. “The celebration of birth is the most important tradition in any society. The practice of oriori while the child is in the womb, during birth and as the child grows instils the importance of relationships; with parents, caregivers, and kin.”

He says the tradition of oriori often begins at conception, and sometimes before that, to entice woman to conceive. Traditional karakia (prayers) and oriori will be used as the framework for his research.

Mr Reedy says oriori convey stories about ancestral journeys and achievements and give children something to aspire to. “The feats of our ancestors show us that there is no mountain too high, and no sea too far to sail. Mäori were, and remain, a proud, independent people. The practice of oriori encourages a life-long pursuit of learning and provides a unique experience of ritual for the whole whänau.”

His research will focus mostly on oriori from his own iwi, Ngäti Porou. Oriori is a tradition shared by all iwi, many of the best known classic oriori are more than 300 years old.  He will also reflect on his own experiences performing tohi (naming ceremonies) for more than 40 babies over a period spanning 30 years.

“I will also explore the psychological and physiological benefits to the mother of reciting oriori during the birthing process, practices for burying of the whenua, maioha [pledge or commitment to the child from both sides of the family], pure [the induction ceremony for young adults into their tribe] and moenga rangatira [chiefly marriages].”

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