Between the old world and the new.
It’s said that when the Tainui waka first arrived in Taamaki Makaurau (Auckland), the navigators on board were greeted by an unexpected sound.
As the waka drew close to the isthmus, a familiar voice was heard floating on the warm air of Hineraumati.
It must have been quite a shock after travelling so long, for across the waves came the call of Rakataura (Hape), a man they had not seen since departing the shores of their homeland.
With the now famous call Te Karanga-aa-Hape, Rakataura bid his relations welcome to this new land.
How had Hape beat the Tainui waka to Aotearoa? Had he managed to make the difficult journey alone?
The questions were many, but the karanga was a link connecting this unfamiliar place to a now distant home.
With his call, Rakataura opened a door between the old world and the new.
Joining the Zoom call for the second instalment of Kalisolaite ‘Uhila’s Kalanga at Performance Art Week Aotearoa 2021, I’m greeted by unexpected sounds of the ocean.
As the silt-ladened waters of Te Maanukanukatanga O Hoturoa fill the pixelated screen in front of me, a wave of recognition is followed by of moment of sadness.
I grew in Pukehuhu, west Auckland, where the murky brown waters of the Manukau Harbour are a familiar presence.
It’s been 6 months since I left Taamaki, but Wellington still doesn’t feel like home.
With the piles of the old Onehunga wharf stretching out behind him, ‘Uhila introduces himself to the faces, icons, and avatars of those who have joined the Zoom call.
This version of Kalanga, as ‘Uhila explains, is an improvised take on the performance he intended to give before the arrival of Delta forced the walls up around Taamaki Makaurau.
As the name suggests, Kalanga is a performance drawing inspiration from the practice of connecting people through a call of welcome.
In this instalment, ‘Uhila is calling from knee-deep in the waters of Te Maanukanukatanga O Hoturoa.
We’re also calling him, the five or so of us on the other end of the line from around the country.
“I’m really worried he’s going to drop his phone in the water”, says one caller.
‘Uhila has us in one hand and the other dunking a fangongo into the characteristically choppy waters of the Manukau.
The fangongo, explains ‘Uhila, is a traditional Tongan instrument to attract shark for fishing.
When dragged across the surface of the water, or dunked in an out, the line of dried coconut shells makes a sound that calls through the sea.
A kalanga for the many sharks of the harbour.
While we talk online, the conversation is broadcast live through the streets of Wellington.
A speaker connected to our call sits below Meanwhile Gallery on Willis Street, another is diligently carried through the streets of Pipitea and Te Aro.
“Kia ora! What are you up to?”
The conversations of Kalanga begin the way many do.
“How’s the weather been there?” Its spring in Aotearoa after all.
The format might be familiar, but no-one’s expecting an up close with the Manukau Harbour on their Zoom.
“Oh where ARE you!?”
Perhaps more than anything, people love the idea of calling sharks.
“Have you seen any yet? Is it dangerous?”
As some of the callers know, the Manukau Harbour is absolutely filled to the brim with them.
The story goes that after Rakataura’s call welcomed the Tainui waka to Taamaki, the young rangatira Taikehu was sent to scout a harbour to the west.
When Taikehu reached the Manukau harbour the fish were so abundant that they jumped right into his hands.
‘Uhila isn’t worried though.
As we talk through the performance, the history of the fangongo in Tonga, and make small talk about plans for the weekend, familiar scenery flashes across my screen.
Te Pane O Mataaoho (Maangere Mountain) rising above rows of single story residential.
The dark green bulwark of Ngaa Pae Maunga/Te Waonui a Tiriwa (Waitākere Ranges) in the distance.
It’s the first time I’ve seen that view in months and I’m more than a little homesick.
‘Uhila obliges my nostalgia and spins around to show the steep cliff faces of Pae-mohani (Lynnfield).
There’s something about this view.
Looking north across the harbour is always the first look home I get when driving up the north-western motorway from the airport.
Out on the street, the conversations of Kalanga drift through central Wellington.
The parts that really cut through are the laughs.
“Is it a protest?” someone wonders aloud.
“Well where’s the protest?”
The broken audio of our Zoom call greets passers-by with digital fragments and sounds of the sea.
Some fragments of conversation find their way to the surface through the clamour of the city.
“Where would the shark take you?”
“It would take you back to paradise.”
The sounds of Kalanga drift up Willis Street.
A call from Taamaki Makaurau, carried on the gale force winds of Wellington.
Home is still there.
And now a little bit of it is here too.
Written by Ben Leonard, you can follow him on twitter at @bnlnrd.
Between the old world and the new.