Waiata to Unite the Nations

Awakening a Nation

Rhonda Lee McIsaac

Songs are sacred and their messages can be universal. Waiata is the Maori word for song. This particular song is meaningful to the Maori Nation in Aotearoa and is used today to push back against the continuing marginalization and oppression of people.

There is a strong musical history in Aotearoa from clan songs to contemporary music. According to research by M. Higgins (2001), a producer for this bi-lingual song is a call out for the Maori people. Despite limited airplay when it was released, some say due to racism that existed in radio, this song reached number 34 on the top 50 music chart in Aotearoa despite being banned by radio stations for being “too political”.

This particular waiata is called Maranga ake ai, meaning “to wake up”. It was released in Aotearoa in 1985 as it was asking the Maori people to free themselves from oppression, to become politically aware, and to be proud of their culture. This was a time of increasing constitutional awareness, land settlements, court cases, and increased social activism by the Maori Nation against ongoing colonization and oppression.

An acoustic performance by Arthur Selwyn and members of the Ngati Toa- Maori Nation basketball team – who provided back up – at the closing ceremonies of the 2017 World Indigenous Basketball Challenge had the crowd clapping along.

The version of the song posted here is sung by Joe Williams, who was the youngest appointed Chief Judge of the Māori Land Court. “They were university students back then,” said Randall Hippolite, who was cultural support for the Ngati Toa- Maori Nation basketball team. “He fights within the system now,” Hippolite says about Williams. The song resonated with all the nationalities present at the War Memorial Gym at UBC and rang loud and clear to most people’s experience at the basketball challenge.

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