Puppeteer revives traditional art form
The ‘‘awakening’’ of Maori puppets will continue through the performance Karetao Puoro at the Festival of the Elements on Waitangi Day.
‘‘It’s an obscure Maori art form which is gaining momentum,’’ says Maori artist James Webster, of Whitianga.
‘‘It’s believed to be an ancient Maori art form which was used for instruction, training, storytelling, healing and other uses.’’
It is thought also that large puppets were used to taunt and possibly intimidate enemies.
Mr Webster says knowledge is being gained all the time but for him, the ‘‘awakening’’ of the puppets started through the work of the late Dr Hirini Melbourne.
He says karetao (Maori puppets) are a part of Maori culture, although there is little information about them. Only a few exist throughout the world and there is little documentation about karetao.
However, during the revival of taonga puoro ( Maori instruments), headed by Dr Melbourne, there were discussions about the use of karetao and taonga puoro together to enhance and embellish the performance and delivery of many elements of Maori culture through puppetry and storytelling, audience participation, and the wairua ( spirit) created throughout the exchange.
Mr Webster has seven puppets which he describes as karetao puoro, puppets with a musical voice. Also referred to as ceremonial marionettes, they are usually carved from a single piece of wood. Arms and legs are moved by strings which pass through the shoulders.
The move into working with his carved puppets was a natural progression for Mr Webster who had already developed his skills and knowledge in the use of Maori instruments.
The Waitangi Day performance will be the tenth since he first performed with them. He will collaborate with puppeteer partner Jerome Kavanagh, of Taihape.
For the full festival programme see page 18.
Wooden wonders: James Webster with his traditional Maori puppets, set to come alive on Waitangi Day.