Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


Leave a comment

Musical Monday (2022/01/03) Kōauau

Creative Commons: Kete New Plymouth

Today’s music is somewhat different in that the title of this post refers not to a song but to a musical instrument – the kōauau. This a traditional Māori instrument usually made from wood or bone and often elaborately carved. It one of many types of flute used by Māori and produces, at least to my ear, a hauntingly beautiful sound.

To western ears, traditional Māori music (as opposed to modern forms of Māori music) does not use musical scales with specifically set notes or tones, but instead uses microtones that slide, instead of stepping, from one tone to the next. To the Western ear it may sound monotonous and somewhat mournful or melancholic, but then to those who are more familiar with forms of traditional Asian music, Western music sounds similarly monotonous and dull.

I frequently suffer migraines at which times many sounds become unpleasant and painful. This often includes music especially if percussion instruments are present or where the tune generates a beat or repetitive pattern. Usually the human voice is fine, but if accompanied by piano, guitar or similarly struck or picked instruments, the result is at best unpleasant during a migraine. Interestingly, during a migraine attack, most drum sounds are unpleasant, with the exception of taiko drums, which I actually enjoy. I have no idea why that might be.

I find the microtonal sliding shifts created by the koauau and many other traditional Māori wind instruments very soothing to the soul when a migraine interferes with my ability to feel human. At such times, the haunting sounds of the koauau and similar instruments provide an anchor to reality – the knowledge that I actually exist.

Here are a few Youtube video clips that convey the sound of the koauau. The first clip includes an accompanying guitar, which can be unpleasant depending on the nature of the migraine.

Traditional kōauau sound with accompanying guitar

I find this next clip absolutely beautiful. The koauau is accompanied unobtrusively by traditional percussion instruments, and if you listen carefully, you’ll also hear the purerehua (bullroarer).

koauau accompanied by purerehua and percussion instruments.

Finally, a video clip where taonga pūoro(taonga: Treasure, pūoro: sounds/vibrations of nature), Māori musical instruments, are combined through the magic of modern technology into my ideal “migraine music”. It’s doubtful that traditional musical instruments were played together as an ensemble. It seems to have been a single instrument played alone or accompanying the human voice.

Experience Jerome’s collection of around 40 unique and rare Māori musical instruments from Nguru (Whale tooth nose flute) to Pōrutu Pounamu (Greenstone long flute), Kōauau Toroa (albatross wing bone flute) to the unique Pūtōrino (a cocoon shaped bugle flute made from the mighty totara tree)


Leave a comment

Cliff Whiting

This post is a little different from my usual fare. It’s a documentary on the life of a specific person who was a peripheral influence in my youth. It’s more as a handy point of reference for myself than something I desire to share with the world. In particular it reminds me of the mana (personal and collective strength, pride, identity and humility) that is present in so many people that have been an inspiration to me over the years. Having said that, it does illustrate how aspects of Māori culture, and particularly Māori art are finding their way into mainstream life in Aotearoa New Zealand, and some of my readers may find it informative.

For a while, Cliff Whiting and my father were work colleagues. They shared adjacent offices, and while my father travelled the region teaching school teachers how to teach phys ed (sports, folk dancing, use of playground equipment, safety etc), Cliff taught teachers how to teach art.

The documentary below provides me with some of his background that I was unaware of and brings me up to date with what Cliff has been up to since my father’s retirement in the 1970s. The video is recorded in Te Reo (the Māori language) so I recommend turning on English language Closed Captions if you choose to watch. Some words have not been translated as they are well understood by all Kiwis, but are unlikely to be understood by others. I’ve included those of significance below the video


Iwi: extended kinship group, tribe, nation, people, nationality,
Kahawai: schooling coastal fish (Arripis trutta)
Kōrero: speech, narrative, story, news
Kōwhaiwhai: painted scroll ornamentation – commonly used on meeting house rafters
Kūmara: Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas)
Marae: the area in front of a meeting house where formal greetings and discussions are held; informally, it includes the complex of buildings around the marae
Māui: a mythical demi-god who, among his many other deeds, captured the sun in a net in order to slow it’s travel across the sky.
Nīkau: a NZ palm (Rhopalostylis sapida)
Pākehā: Non-Māori
Pōnga: silver tree fern – especially its tree-like trunk
Tāne, Tāne-mahuta; mythical guardian of the forest, a child of Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatūānuku (the earth mother), who separated them from their tight embrace to allow light into the world.
Te Reo: the (Māori) language
Waka huia: treasure box, also the name of a TV documentary series on Māori Television
Weka: several species of flightless birds endemic to NZ(Gallirallus australis greyiGallirallus australis australis) with a reputation for stealing objects, especially if they are shiny (cutlery, jewelry etc)
Whakapapa: genealogy, lineage, descent
Whānāu: extended family, family group




Leave a comment

Has the Treaty played a role in our Covid success?

Nicholas Agar, Professor of Ethics in the Philosophy programme at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, suggests that our handling of the pandemic could be partly down to our distinctive Treaty of Waitangi relationship, and Māori ideas that enabled us to make it through without tens of thousands of deaths.

Here’s a question. How should we explain our success against the pandemic? Clearly, there are a few factors. The virus arrived comparatively late, meaning we could learn from other nations’ successes and messes; we had inspirational and scientifically-informed leaders; we are an affluent island-based nation with a comparatively small population.

I offer as a conjecture that our success can be partly traced back to our defining Treaty of Waitangi relationship and the way it brings together two peoples with different ideas about the world and how to inhabit it.

Has the Treaty played a role in our Covid success? – Newsroom

Agar suggests that it is the blend of individualistic ideas of European settlers, mostly British, and the collectivist thinking of the Māori that has been the success story of the pandemic. Unlike the “don’t tread on me!” attitude of many in the West, the authorities in Aotearoa New Zealand have been able to introduce measures that we have, by in large, accepted as necessary under the circumstances.

Elsewhere similar measures have been implemented only where the draconian powers of an authoritarian state exist, such as in China. The means by which the Wuhan authorities suppressed community transmission of the virus would, I believe, have been no more acceptable here than in America. The concept of a “team of 5 million” is, I believe, a direct result of the way our two very different cultures with different world views are merging.

The opinion piece by Nicholas Agar can be found on the Newsroom website: Has the Treaty played a role in our Covid success?


Leave a comment

Update Aotearoa 18th April 2019

Recent news items I found of interest…

No capital gains tax

Aotearoa New Zealand is somewhat unique among OECD nations in that it has no payroll tax, gift tax, inheritance tax, or capital gains tax. We also have a relatively flat income tax regime, starting at 10% from the first dollar earned, and leveling out to 33% at around NZ$70,000 (US$50,000). The left of centre political parties have made much of the fact that our tax system places an unfair burden on those with lower incomes. The Labour party, and the Greens campaigned on reviewing our tax system, and on gaining power the Labour lead coalition set up a tax working group to review the current system and make recommendations on changes that would make the system more equitable.

One recommendation was the introduction of a capital gains tax (CGT). Unfortunately, the coalition minority party New Zealand First, lead by Winston Peters, would have none of this, whereas Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister and leader of the Labour party has long advocated a CGT. As say describes herself, she’s a “pragmatic idealist” and so for the foreseeable future CGT is off the table.
Capital gains tax abandoned by Government

Rights of Indigenous Peoples

New Zealand aims to be the first country in the world with an action plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in relation to Māori.

Minister for Māori Development Nanaia Mahuta is travelling to the United Nations in New York over Easter to speak on New Zealand’s indigenous rights record to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

It comes after a high-level UN delegation from the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples visited the country to give advice on how New Zealand can implement the Declaration, which the country signed up to in 2010.

Mahuta said the delegation had been introduced to Māori leaders and groups up and down the country and met with ministers.

New Zealand aims to be first with UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples plan

New Zealand’s environment in serious trouble

A bleak picture of the state of New Zealand’s environment has been painted by the Government’s official report, Environment Aotearoa 2019. The report is jointly produced by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand, and is a follow on from the last report in 2015. The report says the way New Zealanders live and make a living is having a serious impact on the environment, and the benefits New Zealanders get from being in nature, though not measured or quantified, could be lost.

Damning report warns New Zealand’s environment is in serious trouble

New Zealand’s geographical centre shifts

If you’re looking for the centre of New Zealand, it’s moved. And it’s not in the same island any more either.

The change is nothing to do with how the land has shifted as a result of the November 2016 Kaikōura quake.

GNS Science researcher Jenny Black has recalculated the country’s geographic focus, taking into account that the United Nations now recognises New Zealand covers about 6 million square kilometres, 95 per cent of it sea floor.

New Zealand’s geographical centre shifts east and hops islands


Leave a comment

Māori Action songs

Way back in the 1950s, learning, and participating in aspects of Māori culture and history was part of the curriculum of the primary school I attended. At that time, this was not so common, so I feel blessed that from an early age I understood that Māori culture was a rich part of the cultural heritage of Aotearoa New Zealand instead of something belonging to a pre-European stone age people that no longer had any relevance.

Unfortunately, even today, we find some Kiwis of non-Māori descent who see no value in the indigenous culture of this land, and object to Te Reo (the Māori language) being part of the education curriculum, and Māori culture as something outside what they consider “New Zealand culture”. In other words it has no place in a modern society. I hope I am correct in observing a decline in this type of thinking.

As some 95% of my reader are not from Aotearoa New Zealand, I want to occasionally blog about the indigenous culture that makes this country special, and is having an increasing influence within our society. I have posted a few articles relating to aspects of Māori culture and values in the past, particularly where they have some influence on myself or the wider population, including:
I am a mono-linguist (12 September 2018)
A Creation Myth (17 March 2018)
River gains personhood (24 July, 2017)
Treaty of Waitangi 101 (20 October 2015)
Animism is the established religion of Aotearoa New Zealand. Really? (15 October, 2015)
Our new flag? (1 September 2015)
Farewell Haka (6 August 2015)
Songs that move me (20 March 2015)

Until a back injury forced a early retirement, my father was a physical education adviser for what was then the Department of Education. One of his roles was “on the job” physical education training for primary school teachers, which meant we often saw him only on weekends. He was very passionate about developing a love for activity that challenged both the mind and body. With this in mind, he encouraged both folk dancing and Māori action songs alongside team sports, swimming, athletics and playground games that did not require direct adult supervision.

Māori action songs were traditionally an art form and used to improve various skills. For example, poi action songs improved strength and suppleness of the wrists. For women, this improved skills in weaving and basket making, while for men, it improved their skills in wielding weapons used in hand to hand combat. Rākau games and action songs improved hand/eye coordination.

Rākau are wooden sticks, typically between 40 cm and 60 cm in length ( approximately1.5 ft to 2 ft), while a poi is a weight attached to a string that is then swung in rhythmic patterns. Traditionally poi were made from harakeke (flax) and raupō (bulrush), but today can be made of almost any material.

As a performing art today, both poi and rākau are performed mostly by women. In play, many schools encourage rākau games for both genders and for both Māori and Pākehā alike. To a large extent, my father was responsible for their popularity in the Taranaki and Whanganui regions during the second half of the 20th century.

As a child, I had less coordination than most of my peers, probably related to my undiagnosed autism, and while I found the poi and rākau challenging, I found them enjoyable. I’m convinced that I am not as clumsy as I would have been had it not been for these and similar activities.

Although the video clip below is relatively recent, the chaos is similar to how I remember the activity as a child. Notice the use of rolled up magazines instead of wooden sticks. When learning, they are less painful ! The second video clip illustrates a somewhat more polished performance, followed by the poi.

There are two forms of the poi: the long and the short. The string on the long poi is the distance from finger tip to shoulder, and for the short poi it’s the distance from finger tip to wrist. They are both just as difficult to master, and I never did get the hang of twirling contra-rotating long poi in one hand. The next clips illustrate the short and long forms respectively. Enjoy


4 Comments

Treaty of Waitangi 101

This post is primarily for Kiwis who haven’t bothered to understand the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi / Te Tiriti o Waitangi. We Pakeha were guilty of ignoring the Treaty for more than a hundred years, and it is only in recent decades that an attempt has been made to redress some of the wrongs committed by the crown over many generations. We still have a long way to go, and it’s often a case of two steps forward and one step back.

Too many Pakeha have made no attempt to understand what the treaty means to Māori and to us as a nation, and in essence, want Māori to “integrate” by abandoning all that is sacred and unique about their culture and become “brown Pakeha”. They don’t want Te Reo (the Māori language) taught in schools, nor the preservation of customary rights, and especially not the partial restoration of land and and the payment of compensation for all that was confiscated from Māori after the Land Wars in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Understanding the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi is not really too difficult – it consists of three articles. Most of us understand understand Articles I and III, but for many Pakeha and for successive governments we have failed to honour Article II. It’s time this was redressed. The video clip below explains the basic principles of the three articles.

Now that wasn’t too difficult was it?