National | Books

Bilingual Māori children's book retells legend of Manawatū Gorge's creation

Photo / RNZ.

By RNZ Māori issues reporter Pokere Paewai

A bilingual Māori children's book is bringing new eyes to the legend of the creation of the Manawatū Gorge.

The Legend of Okatia tells the story of a god who once dwelt within a giant tōtara in the primaeval forests east of the Ruahine ranges, and who carved out the path of the Manawatū river on the way to the ocean.

The book will also be accompanied by an orchestral work due to premiere at the Regent Theatre in Palmerston North this Saturday.

Kane Parsons, who is the composer of the orchestral piece and the kaihautū or producer for the book, first read the legend in an old local history book.

He described the project coming together as a series of "beautiful, serendipitous moments".

Growing up in Manawatū, Parsons always felt a strong connection to the river but had never heard the legend of its creation.

Inspiring children

He first read it in an old local history book, then learned more from talking to Rangitāne kaumātua Manu Kawana and Manahi Paewai. Finally, his wife suggested the story would make a great children's book.

Parsons hopes the project might inspire local children to care for the environment, learn the local Māori stories, and maybe inspire them to take up illustration or music.

"I hope that whoever the families that come along, that we can inspire some of those young ones to get into music, whether it's orchestra or whatever it is, that's the whole goal here."

Parsons works as a senior music lecturer at UCOL Te Pūkenga and says his mahi gave him the tools to tell the story through music.

"So it's taking a legend and trying to tell it orchestrally, so there's taonga puoro in there, there are soaring melodies, there are driving percussion and then, all put together, it has a choir as well, so that after Okatia has finally gone out to sea, we talk about how life flourishes afterwards."

The book will go out to all schools in Manawatū.

Spreading the music

The orchestra will also weave in a waiata Māori composed by Manahi Paewai about Okatia's unceasing journey to the sea.

The book will go out to schools in Manawatū as a free resource.

Parsons hopes that both the book and the orchestral piece will continue to have a life after this week's performance.

"It'll work well once we have the books in schools, then we can go in and take the music as well. It's a lot of work for one show, but I definitely want it to have some life afterwards as well."

The project is supported by Rangitāne o Manawatū and Rangitāne o Tamaki-Nui-a-Rua who are tangata whenua along the Manawatū River.