REIHANA, Lisa; A Maori dragon story
Lisa Reihana's work demonstrates a keen interest to communicate not only complex ideas about indigenous identity and bi-cultural life, but also a desire to address and engage with contemporary experience through diverse media. With A Maori dragon story, Reihana works with the emotive and contentious area of customary lore. Using a moving-image technique known as claymation, this work is drawn from Waitaha lore in Ohikuparuparu, Sumner, in the South Island of New Zealand. The particular interpretation used by Reihana is adapted from a taniwha (spirit or monster) tradition, retold by Teone Tikao, a recognised expert in South Island customs. A Maori dragon story tells the story of Hine Ao, who travels across blue cellophane waters with her father Te Ake and encounters Chief Turakipo, whose shell eyes spin with desire for her. Hine Ao recoils from his touch and is cursed to death. Her grief-stricken father returns to his tribe carrying her limp body to the sound of heart-wrenching mourning wails. Her body is burnt on a pyre (footage of flames flicker on the screen). Seeking revenge, Te Ake meets with the Chiefs' council. The walls of the wharenui (meeting house) are lined with woven patterns and the intense atmosphere of this meeting is conveyed through disturbing and, at times, fast-paced music. The chiefs are dressed in highly detailed customary cloaks and their faces are finely modelled to convey their different personalities.
Te Ake is seen taking the ashes of his daughter out of a wooden box. Surreal shapes begin to form in the ashes and bones, including images of Hine Ao and skeletal animals. The incantation of magic implied, Hine Ao re-appears in the form of a giant eel, her beautiful face with round imploring eyes and bright blue lips standing out from her fish-tailed body. She swims across a blue ocean and is caught by fishermen. The following scene shows people greedily eating raw slabs of fish meat, the juices running down their lips and their knives eagerly cutting through the flesh. Suddenly, Chief Turakipo appears and is drawn towards his tribe by wailing. We see sequential images of his feet running across a brown velvet surface towards a group of naked dead bodies, the skeletal remains of the eel visible next to them. The cycle of life, lust, revenge and death is now complete.
With A Maori dragon story, Reihana worked with the music engineer Angus McNaughton, drawing on his extensive audio and performance experience to create this poignant short film. In particular, Milton Hohaia's research into the now rarely heard sounds of Maori instruments was of critical importance to the work. There is no spoken dialogue in A Maori dragon story; the narrative is conveyed through animation and the haunting sounds of a nose flute played by Hohaia.
A Maori dragon story is a re-interpretation of an important oral history rendered palatable and real through its contemporary presentation. Reihana is effectively communicating and adding to a collective New Zealand consciousness.