An historic exhibition celebrating Ngāti Kahungunu music opens at MTG Hawke’s Bay on Saturday 3 June. He Manu Tīoriori – Songbirds features prominent composers and musicians of Ngāti Kahungunu over the century 1917-2017, tracking the evolution from the action songs developed during World War One through to Te Matatini, hosted in Hastings in February. 

The exhibition gives an incredible insight into the social history of Ngāti Kahungunu through music, shining the light on musicians such as Paraire Tōmoana, Walter Smith, Ruru Karaitiana, Johnny ‘The Māori Cowboy’ Cooper and Tama Huata. 

Charles Ropitini, Curator, says it is an honour for the museum to pull together such a prestigious exhibition. “This is a comprehensive story of Ngāti Kahungunu music. As a tribe, Ngāti Kahungunu have made a significant contribution to the national development of Māori music as early adopters of western musical theory and instrumentation. There will be many happy memories brought back to life through the genres of different generations.” 

Rotohenga Mitchell, a granddaughter of Paraire Tōmoana, will officially open the exhibition. Mrs Mitchell is elated to be cutting the ribbon.  “Grandfather’s music has become very famous and it is lovely that the stories and people behind his songs will be told.”  

Mrs Mitchell herself was once an aspiring violinist. “When I was young we all learnt to play instruments, I played the violin and was lucky enough to have a tutor from the National Orchestra.” 

Walter Smith is another significant musician with a strong Hawke’s Bay legacy.  Originally from Nūhaka, he was educated at Brigham Young University in the United States in the early 1900s and returned to New Zealand to take up a position as Music Teacher at the newly established Māori Agricultural College Hastings in 1913. 

Mr Smith is credited for introducing the saxophone to Hawke’s Bay, and later relocated to Auckland, where he went on to establish the city’s first jazz band. 

Both Paraire Tōmoana and Walter Smith went on a national tour in 1917 supporting Sir Apirana Ngata to raise funds for the purchase of farms to support returned Māori soldiers.  “He Manu Tīoriori – Songbirds explores the legacy of these men which endures today” says Mr Ropitini. 

It is hoped that He Manu Tīoriori– Songbirds will inspire young musicians and composers and continue what has now become a tradition of pioneering cultural developments by Ngāti Kahungunu through the performing arts. 

He Manu Tīoriori – Songbirds opens to the public on Saturday 3 June.

Mr Ropitini will host a Winter Deco Floor Talk between 11am and noon on Saturday 15 July. Join him as he sings you through the exhibition and shares stories of days gone by in the villages of Ngati Kahungunu. Cost includes all day admission to MTG Hawke’s Bay. Adults $10, concessions $7.50, children under 15 free. No booking required.


Te Poi o Heretaunga and the M.A.C. String Band with Apirana Ngata (standing bottom right) and others, 1917. Photographer, Henry Whitehead. Private collection. 

In August and September of 1917, The Hawke’s Bay Māori Entertainers, with Te Poi o Heretaunga and the Māori Agricultural College (M.A.C.) String Band, went on a national fundraising tour for the Māori Soldiers Fund, as Apirana Ngata and the Young Māori Party had determined that Māori would purchase farms for returned Māori soldiers without Government support. The tour saw the groups perform patriotic concerts together in theatres and town halls throughout New Zealand, raising thousands of pounds for the cause.


Media Contact:
Charles Ropitini
027 548 4682

2 June 2017

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