A page of sheet music for the waiata E Pari Rā.

World Day for Audiovisual Heritage: E Pari Rā – The Tide Surges

30 Oct 2015
World War One commemorations have provided the impetus for a number of projects at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.

By Lawrence Wharerau

UNESCO’s World Day for Audiovisual Heritage gives us a moment to celebrate this work undertaken to ensure the preservation of, and access to, audiovisual materials relating to New Zealand’s experience of World War One.

In this blog post, the fourth in our World Day for Audiovisual Heritage series, the archive’s Taha Māori department reflects on a waiata composed during the war, E Pari Rā.

When I was asked to consider writing for the combined Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision and Australian Film and Sound Archive Anzac World War One online project, I was miffed and excited at the same time. Miffed because I wasn’t sure where to start with any of the briefs that might be sent my way, and excited by the same.

One of the items assigned to me was E Pari Rā, a waiata written by Paraire Tomoana in 1918.

Listen to E Pari Rā here

The tune was familiar, as were some of the lyrics, from my days serving in the New Zealand Territorial Forces. How many parades had I been a part of where this tune set the cadence, who really knows?

So I started first by listening to the sound files supplied by Sarah Johnston, part of the Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision sound archiving team. In the recordings the son of the composer Taanga Tomoana suggests the waiata was written for a friend of his father’s, Maku-i-te-Rangi Ellison, who asked Paraire to pen a lament for his son who fell during the WWI efforts to defend the Empire. This Paraire agreed to, with the view that the song lament all soldiers in all campaigns.

On listening to the audio file I gathered a deeper understanding and appreciation for the sentiment and meaning behind the waiata, how Paraire drew inspiration from the ebb and flow of the tides in and around Heretaunga and Ahuriri, and how this is a phenomena the soldiers in far off campaigns would have experienced while fighting in far off countries too.

Taanga gives a vivid picture of the story behind the penning of the waiata.

I conducted some further research by reacquainting my friendship with one of Paraire’s descendants, Ngātai Huata, daughter of the padre for the 28th Māori Battalion, Wi Te Tau Huata. It was Ngātai who confirmed for me that the waiata was indeed for all soldiers, and not written solely for Whakatomo Ellison, as has been mentioned in other places.

As I listened more and more to Taanga speaking about the song being written and the story behind it, the sadder I became at the sacrifice all men, women and children make in times of war and the futility of it all. It brought up the sadness and despair suffered by those left behind, not to mention the ultimate price paid by the fallen.

I found myself grieving the loss of the innocent and those just caught up in the whole mess that war is: the mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers, cousins, grandparents, uncles and aunts, who will never see, touch, smell, hear nor taste their beloved fallen heroes again. I found my mind wandering past the WWI and WWII experiences, and began reflecting on Māori-Pākehā confrontations, then further back to the musket campaigns of my tūpuna, and back further to pre-European contact.

I knew I couldn’t dwell on these things as per the brief given for the anzacsightsound.org site, but it moved me nonetheless. Another of the things I learned along the way was that the tune was adopted by the Royal New Zealand Navy.

From the intimacies shared by Ngātai and others I spoke to, to my own deep feelings for soldiers and war and despair, I now have an even deeper and personal attachment and appreciation for this waiata.

E pari rā ngā tai ki te akau…