- Nonahere Òri Tahiti: Pipiri Māby Patrick Araia Amaru, Edgar Tetahiotupa, and Matani Kainuku
During the 2011 national celebration of Heiva in French Polynesia—an annual festival of culture and patrimony well known for dance competitions often involving elaborate preparations, costuming, oratory, and musical performances—the Tahitian dance troupe Nonahere Òri Tahiti realized the legend of Pipiri mā. A significant contribution to that year’s Hura Tau (Senior Division) section of the Heiva competition, this performance has been captured in a combination book, cd, and dvdpackage. Collaboratively realized by prize-winning Tahitian literary author Patrick Amaru, Marquesan anthropologist Edgar Tetahiotupa, and Matani Kainuku, director of the dance troupe Nonahere, this collection offers audiences an extraordinary window into Tahitian culture through a key myth related to the constellation Scorpio while capturing a sense of the vital energy and possibility of multimedia art in the contemporary Pacific.
In the legend of Pipiri mā, Pipiri and Rehua (brother and sister) run away from home after being starved and neglected by their parents. They climb the tallest mountain, and, before their parents can reach them, they are tricked by an evil spirit and carried away on an enormous kite. They ascend to the highest heavens and take their place in the stars as the constellation [End Page 302]Scorpio. An important part of what this collection makes visible is that knowledge of traditional histories and stories has endured despite centuries of massive social and cultural change and is being used to revitalize cultural practices that Pacific Island communities are enacting in creative and sometimes surprising ways. Moreover, contemporary media-technology can now bring knowledge sources and performance traditions into mainstream accessibility beyond the temporal borders of onetime events and annual festivals.
In the long-term scope of cultural preservation, Pipiri māis a notable example of the role played by high-quality media releases in how rising generations view themselves—as participants in these cultural practices and as audiences in diasporic contexts, removed from actual performance events but participating in globe-spanning conversations surrounding culture, art, dance, music, and story. In their local and regional circulations, such compilations engage regional and extra-regional audiences in a process that asks them to question what these legends mean for contemporary lives and what roles they can play in education and cultural renewal. Nona-here Òri Tahiti used approximately 160 cast members (dancers, singers, chanters, drummers, musicians, and costume designers) in this collaboration in order to display traditional and expected dance routines that breathe life into this story. The traditional pā‘ō‘ā, for example, is a group routine in which the dancers sit in a circle and sing/chant while select members of the group dance in the middle of the circle. However, Nonahere uses the pā‘ō‘ā as a highlighted scene in the beginning of the story when the parents are gathering the meal. This supports the story line, fulfills the dance requirements of a Hura Tau presentation for Heiva, and lends a creative edge to a dance style appropriate to the event.
The dances are interwoven into the legend, much like the male and female counterparts are paired in the opening ‘ōte‘a (a fast, vigorous dance), to represent the balance and harmony necessary in humanity. This tale considers underlying tones of gender within legendary stories, intertwined creatively in order to remind us of the lessons of humanity in a tale of sacrifice. The presentation depicts a customary parable, while displaying aspects of culture that correspond to dance and drumming traditions.
The intensity and speed of the drumbeats help the story to climax, while contributing a sense of conflict and complexity to the plot. Soloists serve as highlighted characters who embody significant ideas of the legend, such as the mischievous spirits that lead Pipiri and Rehua to the kite. Similarly, the ‘ōrero becomes song-like, matching the tone of the drumbeats to create a melodic, soulful emphasis on the drama. Both in...