where Claire went through all the basics to make sure we would be able to learn her own choreography up to her standards. The story of this choreography was pretty complex, but she patiently explained so that we understood the meaning behind each move. We learned how the lost ancient Tahitian heritage contradicts with the new religion brought by the conquistadors but they still compliment each other just like man and woman united in a marriage. But she didn’t unveil all the details so we were eager to hear and learn more the next day. Claire and Maile ended the first workshop with a surprise, they performed a really amazing otea duo just for us.
In the story behind the dance, we recognized what we had learned the previous day. Claire told us the tale about old Tahua, who was forced to convert to Christianity and leave the ancient religion of his ancestors behind. Towards the end of his life, he still decided to die in the ‘marae’, the ancient holy place according to their old traditions. He couldn’t imagine being buried underground in a wooden coffin-like the Christians do. He asked his friends to take him to the ‘marae’ of his ancestors. This was a risky mission, as non-Christians still following their old traditions were persecuted for heresy.
Tahua arrived at the ‘marae’, but before dying he remembered his wife for the last time. He remembered his love and how they got married in a Christian church. He regretted abandoning their ancient rituals and not marrying her according to the traditions. He called his wife’s soul so that they could still be united before death. This dream-like calling, the journey to the realm of souls is the main theme of the poem which gives the backbone of the song and the choreography too. The title is ‘Honoipoipo’ which is the traditional Tahitian word for marriage and means the union of the two individual souls. We were really moved by the story when we performed the moves to the melodies played by the Verua band.
Men and women also perform this dance, so at our workshop, the girls did more singing while the men practiced roaring like real warriors. The haka we learned is called ‘Nga Iwi’, which is mainly about remembering the lost heroes and expressing gratitude for life. The typical strong, martial, masculine moves and the harsh, warlike howling was an interesting twist for those who had also participated in the melodic morning class. 🙂
To start with we all prepared our own special stick to practice with. The highlight of the day came after mastering the most important moves when we went to the river bank and set our sticks on fire! That was the most exciting part for many of us, I just hope that we can incorporate this dance into our repertoire. I have been restlessly practicing!