Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal.
Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal.

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal: Ārai-te-uru: ‘Through the Veil’ - Traditional Māori Storytelling and Transformation

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, Composer, researcher, Indigenous Arts Organiser, Te Papa Museum of New Zeeland.

Ka ora ō tūpuna i a koe.
You ancestors will live because of you.
Ancestors are not figures of a time gone by nor are they merely human. Rather, in the traditional Māori worldview, ancestors are both human forebears and the deities of the natural world. More particularly, ancestors are energies, qualities identities that can be continually accessed, connected with and experienced. Ancestors are brought alive time and again through story, ritual and the wielding of sacred objects. The purpose of traditional Māori storytelling, therefore is not to explain the past – because there is no past. Rather, existence represents an ongoing opportunity to bring alive in our experience, to continually awaken in our consciousness the ancestors and related events referred to in the stories. Ancestors are not ‘those who have passed.’ Rather they are people and deities who exist ‘beyond the veil’. Much of traditional Māori storytelling, rituals and performances is, therefore, about ‘passing through the veil’ of our ordinary experience and into a world of passion and power. During the 1990s and 2000s, Charles Royal dedicated himself to the study of the language, histories and traditions of the Māori tribes to which he belonged. As he learnt– through being taught by his elders together with research in museums, manuscripts and archives – Charles was introduced to a radically different way of seeing and experiencing the world than that communicated to him during his upbringing in ‘western’ New Zealand. Charles became committed to the study of his tribal traditions and more broadly indigenous Māori knowledge and emerged with two key ideas – what do we know now of our traditional knowledge and can we utilise this existing knowledge as the basis of new creativity? Since the 1990s, Charles has pursued these two questions through numerous projects particularly with respect to music, performing arts and indigenous philosophy. In this keynote presentation, Charles Royal will present an overview of the key ideas of the past, history and its representation and experience today in the context of his extensive research into histories, traditions and culture of his people. He will speak about his work to create the modern form of the ‘whare tapere’ (tribal ‘houses’ of storytelling, dance, games, music and so on) and he will also discuss these themes in the context of his new role at Te Papa Museum of New Zealand. In advancing the whare tapere in his tribal community and in creating Māori cultural events at the national museum, Charles continues to explore and experiment with notions of the past, history and story.

Watch the opening ceremony and keynote with Gabriele Brandstetter from June 13 here.