Our river, our history

16 February 2018

Imagery from the Flowing Water production.

The ebb and flow of the Waikato River has been the navigational guide for Associate Professor Tom Roa, as he helped put together a new theatrical experience which charts the history of Aotearoa. Flowing Water is the creation of Witi Ihimaera and Dr Janet Jennings with Dr Roa bringing the country’s story to life through the history of the River itself.

A phone call from Ihimaera, and a request to do the Māori history of the country through to the present time caught Dr Roa’s imagination, and then his enthusiasm. “The River can be the conduit for many things, from the mountain to the sea, but it can also be the means of revisiting our history in an epic fashion. Witi is very very good with doing epic.”

Dr Roa says he is astounded by the number of people who are going to events where history is being retold or reframed in what he sees as a very important way. “I sense a real growth of interest in our histories. I deliberately use the plural because there is more than one truth, and exploring it in this way is dynamic.”

The production brings together opera, classical music, kapa haka, and taonga puoro (Māori musical instruments).  He says that as an educator, it is great to be able to present knowledge in a different way. “It is absolutely a real opportunity. It means I’m working not just with students of the University of Waikato, but with the wider University catchment, which extends and expands along the River.”

There is also a very real message about the Waikato River in the production. Dr Roa says the River is inherently connected to its people.  “If we - Maori and other-than-Māori - look after the River she will look after us. So we are honour-bound to look after her. Over the last 40 or 50 years we haven’t been doing that, so we have to up our game. And as the River regains its vitality, we the people of the River are also reinvigorated.”

Flowing Water launched as part of the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival,  on Friday 16 and Saturday 17 February, 2018. Tom Roa says there is interest in having it performed in other places nationally and internationally, but that will depending on further funding.

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