Freedom Is Behind My Breath

28 October, Blyth, HBAF18
By Tryphena Cracknell

Hiwa nui, Hiwa roa, Hiwa pūkenga, Hiwa wānanga! Hiwaiterangi tēnei e korou o te manawa koronga, tēnei te āwhero o te manako nui. Horahia nuitia mai ngā hua tuawhiti mātinitini o te tau. Purutia e au kia mau te angitū, tāwhia te mooho kia ita! Ka puta ki te whai ao, ki te ao mārama.

Hiwa-i-te-rangi is one of the nine visible stars of Matariki, and for many it is to Hiwa that hopes and wishes for the new year are sent. ‘Freedom is behind my Breath’ is a story of wishes, sent up to Hiwa, for the most basic of needs – for a family to be together, to have shelter and to be safe.

The production sprang from this family’s wish for their story to be told, for us to hear their story and understand it. In co-Director Puti Lancaster’s words, “…that wish was for you, because you are the ones who chose to come. Take care of this wish.”

The story is delivered in fragments – threads that never quite meet to form a narrative. We piece these together to understand that the family moved from country to country, living in homes where children played outside while adults partied within, where there was violence or a “mismatch” of rules, hot and cold, a home where a mother’s mind broke. And underpinning it all, the love, and unbreakable connections between a mother and her children.

Actor Manuel Solomon spreads out the threads, and his frenzied repetitions of movement evoke the trauma lived. Perēri King’s voice with gently strummed guitar cut across these frequently harrowing scenes to remind our hearts of all that is beautiful. He lays down a thematic framework that guides us from character to character and supports us to bring the strands narrative strands closer.

Hours could be spent unpacking the dense layers of symbolism. A pātiki/flounder, representative of whānau, ancestors and hospitality, is traced on the theatre window by Eru Heke in the opening scene, as he sneaks peeks into the theatre. A ball of red string unpacked from his backpack becomes a guiding and connecting line. The colour red, which is so important in Māori culture, as signified in the well-known story of the arrival of Te Arawa waka and mistaking the flowers of the rātā or pōhutukawa tree on the shore for the precious kura, or red feathers. In Hawke’s Bay communities, the colour red has taken on a darker meaning, a reminder that the area is a gang stronghold, ever-present in the streets and especially on the flat. The ball could also allude to the significance of red string in so many cultures: as an unbreakable thread of fate connecting those destined to meet or help one other, as a talisman to ward off evil, to retrace one’s steps, like Theseus using Ariadne’s gift to find his way out of the labyrinth.

A constellation of story and meaning some of which is clarified as co-Directors Lancaster and Owen McCarthy, with Ruby Reihana-Wilson and the cast come forward when the show ends to whakamārama, to elucidate this constellation. This is unusual within western theatre conventions, but there is a lot here that draws on Māori cultural paradigms, for example, the non-linear time scale that allows the story to flow in and out of then, now and to come, the waiata tautoko, or song of support that brings us back into now.

We, the audience, are reminded to look down from the hiwa, the hill we’re on, both metaphorically and literally, to see the flat and take note of what is happening on there and although the story is specifically centred in this place, connecting to the land we stand on, and its people and stories, the messages it brings are universal.

A woman stands to respond in karanga, acknowledging the story, the people who lived it, and those who brought it up the hill to us. After a standing ovation, we take the gift of the wish, and leave the theatre as we arrived, through artworks from Toimairangi artists, through strings of wishes left by earlier audiences, and to which we’re invited to add our own altruistic wish and through a magnificent archway of colour and kōrero placed outside the theatre.

Someone’s written wish stayed with me: “I wish that we continue telling our stories.”

I look forward to the continuation of this story – ‘Freedom is behind my Breath’ is the first part in a series of three which tell this story.


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