When I watched the piece that won Ngā Hine Pūkōrero the Word - The Front Line competition (see attached video) I felt simultaneously hollowed out and filled up. The melancholy, beautiful harmonies, the brutal symbols of fertility and loss, the completely unfamiliar experience conveyed in such a relatable way. Their words and lyrics burrowed into my heart and consoled a pain that I didn't know I kept buried there.
Ngā Hine Pūkōrero are an exceptional group of young women. They bring something entirely unique to the spoken word art form. Alongside incorporating Te Reo Māori and waiata into every piece, they are honest and determined. As rangatahi Māori women, their poems are informed by an intimate perspective that they refuse to compromise.
Terina Wichman-Evans, Matariki Bennett, Manaia Tuwhare-Hoani and Arihia Hall comprise the kick-ass quartet that are collecting accolades in the spoken word community. Only Year 13 students, they have already won two competitions: the New Zealand championship, and the Trans-Tasman championship in Australia. In July, they set off to the U.S.A. as the first NZ team to compete in Brave New Voices — the largest spoken word poetry competition in the world.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Arihia and Manaia about their journey and craft.
What process do you go through in crafting pieces as an ensemble?
M: We all collectively decide on a topic we want to write about and from there we split and write individually, we give ourselves a deadline on when to come back and put all the writing together and usually one or two people do that and we decide whether to change or add anything. From there we script out the lines and learn and memorise the piece.
What's your favourite piece to perform?
A: My favourite piece to perform (out of all our finished pieces) has to be Moe mai ra. Moe mai ra talks about child abuse while telling the story of a woman who is unable to bear children and struggles to find her purpose in a world where the sacredness of women revolves around their ability to create life. I’ve never felt so open and broken while performing any other piece. I'm always astounded by the fact that we can return to that emotional space and perform it anytime, anywhere with the same level of intense emotion that it deserves.
M: My favourite piece to perform would be Moe mai ra, because it is such a raw piece and child abuse isn’t often talked about. We tell the story as a group from an outsider’s perspective; we aren’t trying to appropriate someone else's experience but rather bring light to the topic.
What are some highlights of this journey you have embarked on since Word - The Frontline?
M: Definitely traveling to Australia; getting to experience the poetry scene over there and performing in a new environment. But another highlight is also just spending time with some of my favourite people in the world.
A: One of my highlights was Slam Camp. It is a three-day stay at a marae for the teams that get through the Word - The Front Line auditions. It is a time where youth can grow, make strong bonds with others and just be unapologetically themselves. We were fortunate enough to attend slam camp this year as performers and helpers as opposed to being a team competing in WTFL. I just love being surrounded by fellow open-minded young people as they speak their truth.
How does it feel to touch on such visceral topics in your works?
A: One of the main reasons why we do what we do is so we can touch on issues that aren’t really talked about. Being able to speak in front of people who will actually listen is such a huge privilege and we want to bring all of these kaupapa, painful or not, to the audience’s attention. It is also our way of connecting with people — even those we haven’t met. If we make you scared, uncomfortable, or if we make you cry, then we know our message has reached you and that we have done our job.
What are you passionate about outside of spoken word poetry?
M: Outside of poetry I am very interested in global studies and relations, and cultural studies.
A: I’ve always been into visual arts. Mostly sketching and digital work. Just like spoken word, I use it to express how I feel and it helps me get my thoughts together. One of my other favourite things to do, is to simply speak in Te Reo Maori. It is such a beautiful language and I feel as though I am acknowledging my ancestors and breathing life into them with every word that I speak.
Where do you see yourself going when you return from Brave New Voices?
M: I see myself hopefully not having to struggle to balance competitive poetry and school work. But I will definitely continue writing no matter what.
A: Honestly, I've asked myself the exact same thing. I always get this feeling that as soon as we return from America my life will be over! However, I know that’s not true. We’ll all resume our regular lives as the odd gig pops up here and there. Hopefully, as the first group from Aotearoa to ever compete in Brave New Voices we could work alongside others who’ll potentially follow the same path as us. I’d also love to travel to Hawaii and connect with the spoken word community over there. Having experienced a similar series of events to that of Aotearoa, it would be amazing to find the similarities and learn more about their culture.
I wish Ngā Hine Pūkōrero the absolute best come July. They are representing our women, our youth and our country. If you’d like to donate to their travel funds, click here.Support Villainesse