Sunday, 07 June 2020


Ka Tito Au was extraordinary

“Ka Tito Au, Kupe’s Heroic Journey,” a play by award-winning playwright Apirana Taylor, was performed in the Whitianga Town Hall on Friday 5 April. The play was performed by actor Tola Newbery and directed by Murray Lynch and was brought to Whitianga by Creative Mercury Bay with financial assistance from the Lottery Tuia - Encounters 250 Programme. Informer contributor Pamela Ferla attended the performance.

There is entertainment and there is the extraordinary. “Ka Tito Au, Kupe’s Heroic Journey” was the latter.

About 120 people were treated to this challenging contemporary monologue in the Whitianga Town Hall after a welcome by Joe Davis, kaumatua of Ngati Hei. Joe outlined the significance of Kupe in Maori folklore and set the mood for the performance.

Maori oral history says that Kupe voyaged from what is now French Polynesia, around AD925, in pursuit of a giant octopus that was decimating his people’s fishing grounds. While chasing the octopus, he came across and explored Aotearoa. Whitianga and Hauraki are said to be among places he visited. After killing the octopus, Kupe returned home to his islands and persuaded his people to migrate to the promising new land.

The brave challenge of telling Kupe’s story in a solo performance was taken on by Tola Newbery, who gave a remarkable performance, fresh and alive with energy and passion, keeping the audience focused and fascinated by this man, Kupe. 

Tola Newbery is a name to remember. He took us on a journey, the telling of Kupe’s story - as a person and as a god - through strong drama, light humour and pleasing choreography.

The script was full of simile and metaphor and the beauty of the script - 32 pages of poetry - produced words to savour. “The kumara does not sing of its own sweetness… each tap [of stones] carving knowledge into me… the stars bedecking the firmament… dark swallows light… how many cracked skulls is your wife worth?”

During the story we were reminded of the landmarks named on Kupe’s journey around Aotearoa and beyond and the significance of these landmarks and of nature, birds and fish, in Maori mythology.

The audience sat in rows each side of the performer, an extra challenge for Tola. But it was a choice that worked well in connecting with the audience and maintaining interest.

There was clever use of a few simple props - a cape that was also a sail, the tapping of two stones interrupting attentive silence, the swish of the sea created by a tube filled with course sand.

The pace built up as Kupe finally faced and fought the legendary octopus Te Wheke-Muturangi. Few will forget the transformation of a long-sleeved hoodie into the mighty octopus that urged, “Follow me, Kupe, into my belly.”

About 70 people chose to remain after the play in order to ask questions of Tola and Murray Lynch and to hear and hear about the process of creating the play.  

And none would have regretted turning up on a cold wet night to learn about the great navigator, Kupe, and gain a deeper understanding of things Maori.

“Ka Tito Au, Kupe’s Heroic Journey” has been touring the country over the past year, performing at community halls, marae and schools. The financial assistance of the Lottery Tuia - Encounters 250 Programme meant that tickets to the performance in the Whitianga Town Hall was free.

Pictured: Actor Tola Newberry with Ngati Hei family members Pat Macdonald (on the left) and Raukawa Balsom after the performance of “Ka Tito Au, Kupe’s Heroic Journey” in the Whitianga Town Hall on Friday evening last week.


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