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‘Our practice is connected to wellbeing’: Creativity in Te Ao Māori

Illustration / Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho

This story is part of the Creative Wellbeing series, a partnership between Creative New Zealand and All Right? that shines a light on the transformative wellbeing and hauora benefits that arts, culture and creativity provide. You can read the whole series here.

Ruby Solly is many things. At only 26-years-old, she’s a published author, writer, poet, musician, music therapist, PHD student and visual artist. She’s also a taonga pūoro practitioner - playing a crucial role in the revival of a traditional Māori art form that was once in danger of becoming extinct.

“We're at a point now where we are saying the revival of the taonga pūoro is over and it's now the renaissance, which is really beautiful,” Solly says. 

Taonga pūoro are traditional Māori musical instruments that use the sounds of the environment to create music for ceremony, communication and rongoā. The passing of the Tohunga Suppression Act in 1907 meant the tradition almost fell away. It was revived by Hirini Melbourne, Richard Nunns and Brian Flintoff in the late 20th century. 

Solly has been a huge part of the movement and this year will go on tour with her band Tararua, an art music quartet based in Wellington. She plays the taonga pūoro, double bass and cello in the band with members Al Fraser, Ariana Tikao and Phil Boniface who also play the taonga pūoro. The show features music from their album ‘Bird like men’. 

The creative is from Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha and grew up in Whakapapa Village at the foot of Mount Ruapehu. She lived in places like Turangi and Rotorua which she says were “epicentres for Māoridom”.’ Solly first picked up the kōauau, a traditional Maori mouth flute, in primary school. 

“We had a teacher called Maria Kappa who played the kōauau in the classroom and told us some of the pūrakau [stories] around the use of the kōauau and the love story between Tūtānekai and Hinemoa.” 

Ruby Solly says, "Taonga pūoro has changed the way I think about music in relation to whakapapa and in relation to the self." Photo / Ebony Lamb

A classically trained cellist, Solly has played both the cello and taonga pūoro for over 20 years. She says there is a huge difference in both the way she plays each instrument, with pūoro connecting her to her whakapapa. 

“With the cello, I don't have a shared whakapapa. But when we play taonga pūoro we learn about the whakapapa from the crafting of the instrument. Looking around the room now I can see an albatross bone, a kōauau that I know is from Rakiura that a friend of mine found and I know the history of the toroa bird and how they cry saltwater tears over the ocean because they mate for life and how the bone sounds sad and has a tear shape within their bone. ” 

“My tupuna Māori often drives a lot of my thinking and taonga pūoro has changed the way I think about music in relation to whakapapa and in relation to the self. I think a lot of western music can be in relation to the self, with a focus on one person doing this one task of performing, when pūoro is in harmony with a whole range of different parts of our lives.” 

Solly is also an advocate for health and wellbeing. She’s 16 months away from completing her PHD, specialising in the use of taonga pūoro in hauora. As someone who lives with bipolar type 2, Solly says taonga pūoro is a source of healing. 

“Ngā taonga pūoro is something that affects our whole te whare tapa wha,” she says. “It is another reo Māori we can express ourselves in. It's something that combines the physical with the spiritual and with how we think about the world, and how we create things. I really saw that when I was working in psychiatric care, it was a way people could express their identity without being scrutinised, or without worrying about making a mistake. I've been gifted from taonga pūoro a worldview that I can take into every part of my life.” 

As someone who lives with bipolar type 2, Solly says taonga pūoro is a source of healing. Photo/ Ebony Lamb

Like Ruby, Kahu Kutia juggles many hats. Kutia hails from Ngāi Tūhoe and is a multimedia storyteller, artist, activist, writer, and producer. This year she is busy finishing her creative writing Master's at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. 

Kutia’s storytelling is fueled by her activism - inspired by Tuia, a life changing leadership programme she undertook at 19-years-old - which developed her passion to empower rangatahi Māori. 

“As a wāhine Māori and takatāpui, I think about the way colonisation has stripped and erased and hidden our mātaraunga and these narratives around who we really are. I want to counter that and create new narratives by looking at history and sometimes innovating and telling new things about our people as well because we're not static, we're not one thing we're not this antiquated version of what a Māori is but trying to find new ways to iterate identity as well.” 

Kutia was raised in Te Urewera, with both te reo Māori and Pākehā. Her dad went to a native school and spoke fluently, but like many from his generation, he was beaten for speaking te reo Māori. Kutia ‘lost’ her reo through mainstream schooling but got it back at university. 

Her podcast series He Kākano Ahau is storytelling at its finest, bringing te ao Māori to life and winning best Podcast at the 2020 Voyager Media Awards. 

“During the first lockdown I'd come out of this heavy kaupapa from petitioning governments and talking about climate change. It was so heavy that I actually had no direction for what I wanted to do activism wise. He Kākano ahau came out of a desire to realign my visions for the future. 

“I realised the mahi wasn't sustainable if I didn't have hope. I don't think you can ever do any of this mahi if you're not looking after yourself. ‘He Kākano ahau’ was a way for me to talk to other Māori about visions for the future. What do you think it will look like in the future? What will happen to the prison system? What would hauora look like? How would we change these narratives around suicide? It was really healing in the sense of wanting to hold space and talk about some more hopeful stuff in the face of scary challenges.” 

Kahu Kutia’s storytelling is fueled by her activism. Photo/ Dylan Cook

Hauora is a crucial part of Kutia’s creative process. As wāhine Māori, Kutia says she and other Māori creatives often deal with difficult and heavy subject matters. 

“I often see Māori creatives suffering from burnout,” she says.

“We're just expected to make and make and make stuff. We expect indigenous creatives to produce in such high quantities but I wish there was more funding for indigenous creatives to focus on wellness, and more pathways to wellbeing for our people, whether it's access to counselling or a kaupapa that will support networks for Māori creatives. That should be built into funding because it's such a crucial part of our processes. How can we build the wellbeing of practitioners, but also of our wider people into Creative NZ funding? Our practice is connected to wellbeing.” 

Kutia credits the late Nancy Brunning - a renowned storyteller and mentor to Kutia - for teaching her ways to look after her wairua through the creative process. 

“She never saw her creative practice as separate from wairua work or from hauora,” Kutia says. 

“When she was directing shows, there'd be a real awareness of what tupuna you might bring into the room or how topics that you're performing might relate to personal trauma or to the trauma of audiences in the room. She really showed me practices like kai, whakanoa (removing tapu) or karakia and how to go into spaces of heavy topics and making sure you don't hold that on yourself. 

“It’s having an awareness that whether you're doing really personal creative mahi or interviewing someone, there's so much more in the room than just the two of you. I'll try to start anything with a karakia especially if I'm doing a heavy interview.” 

By nurturing and protecting their own hauora, both Solly and Kutia have been able to create impact with their mahi. For Kutia, storytelling is a powerful way that can heal, inform and bring hope to other Māori. 

“In my media work, when I'm writing something or telling a story, I think about a young Māori person and what they need to hear. I try to speak to them because how much of the media speaks directly to the worldview of a young Māori person?”

For Solly, using taonga pūoro and working with Māori has been healing. “When I was working in psychiatric care, ngā tāonga puoro was a way people could express their identity without being scrutinised, or without worrying about making a mistake, or without other pressures,” Solly says. “It was amazing just having tohu Māori around a really non-Māori space.”

This story is part of the Creative Wellbeing series, a partnership between Creative New Zealand and All Right? that shines a light on the transformative wellbeing and hauora benefits that arts, culture and creativity provide. You can read the whole series here.

No items found.
Illustration / Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho

This story is part of the Creative Wellbeing series, a partnership between Creative New Zealand and All Right? that shines a light on the transformative wellbeing and hauora benefits that arts, culture and creativity provide. You can read the whole series here.

Ruby Solly is many things. At only 26-years-old, she’s a published author, writer, poet, musician, music therapist, PHD student and visual artist. She’s also a taonga pūoro practitioner - playing a crucial role in the revival of a traditional Māori art form that was once in danger of becoming extinct.

“We're at a point now where we are saying the revival of the taonga pūoro is over and it's now the renaissance, which is really beautiful,” Solly says. 

Taonga pūoro are traditional Māori musical instruments that use the sounds of the environment to create music for ceremony, communication and rongoā. The passing of the Tohunga Suppression Act in 1907 meant the tradition almost fell away. It was revived by Hirini Melbourne, Richard Nunns and Brian Flintoff in the late 20th century. 

Solly has been a huge part of the movement and this year will go on tour with her band Tararua, an art music quartet based in Wellington. She plays the taonga pūoro, double bass and cello in the band with members Al Fraser, Ariana Tikao and Phil Boniface who also play the taonga pūoro. The show features music from their album ‘Bird like men’. 

The creative is from Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha and grew up in Whakapapa Village at the foot of Mount Ruapehu. She lived in places like Turangi and Rotorua which she says were “epicentres for Māoridom”.’ Solly first picked up the kōauau, a traditional Maori mouth flute, in primary school. 

“We had a teacher called Maria Kappa who played the kōauau in the classroom and told us some of the pūrakau [stories] around the use of the kōauau and the love story between Tūtānekai and Hinemoa.” 

Ruby Solly says, "Taonga pūoro has changed the way I think about music in relation to whakapapa and in relation to the self." Photo / Ebony Lamb

A classically trained cellist, Solly has played both the cello and taonga pūoro for over 20 years. She says there is a huge difference in both the way she plays each instrument, with pūoro connecting her to her whakapapa. 

“With the cello, I don't have a shared whakapapa. But when we play taonga pūoro we learn about the whakapapa from the crafting of the instrument. Looking around the room now I can see an albatross bone, a kōauau that I know is from Rakiura that a friend of mine found and I know the history of the toroa bird and how they cry saltwater tears over the ocean because they mate for life and how the bone sounds sad and has a tear shape within their bone. ” 

“My tupuna Māori often drives a lot of my thinking and taonga pūoro has changed the way I think about music in relation to whakapapa and in relation to the self. I think a lot of western music can be in relation to the self, with a focus on one person doing this one task of performing, when pūoro is in harmony with a whole range of different parts of our lives.” 

Solly is also an advocate for health and wellbeing. She’s 16 months away from completing her PHD, specialising in the use of taonga pūoro in hauora. As someone who lives with bipolar type 2, Solly says taonga pūoro is a source of healing. 

“Ngā taonga pūoro is something that affects our whole te whare tapa wha,” she says. “It is another reo Māori we can express ourselves in. It's something that combines the physical with the spiritual and with how we think about the world, and how we create things. I really saw that when I was working in psychiatric care, it was a way people could express their identity without being scrutinised, or without worrying about making a mistake. I've been gifted from taonga pūoro a worldview that I can take into every part of my life.” 

As someone who lives with bipolar type 2, Solly says taonga pūoro is a source of healing. Photo/ Ebony Lamb

Like Ruby, Kahu Kutia juggles many hats. Kutia hails from Ngāi Tūhoe and is a multimedia storyteller, artist, activist, writer, and producer. This year she is busy finishing her creative writing Master's at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. 

Kutia’s storytelling is fueled by her activism - inspired by Tuia, a life changing leadership programme she undertook at 19-years-old - which developed her passion to empower rangatahi Māori. 

“As a wāhine Māori and takatāpui, I think about the way colonisation has stripped and erased and hidden our mātaraunga and these narratives around who we really are. I want to counter that and create new narratives by looking at history and sometimes innovating and telling new things about our people as well because we're not static, we're not one thing we're not this antiquated version of what a Māori is but trying to find new ways to iterate identity as well.” 

Kutia was raised in Te Urewera, with both te reo Māori and Pākehā. Her dad went to a native school and spoke fluently, but like many from his generation, he was beaten for speaking te reo Māori. Kutia ‘lost’ her reo through mainstream schooling but got it back at university. 

Her podcast series He Kākano Ahau is storytelling at its finest, bringing te ao Māori to life and winning best Podcast at the 2020 Voyager Media Awards. 

“During the first lockdown I'd come out of this heavy kaupapa from petitioning governments and talking about climate change. It was so heavy that I actually had no direction for what I wanted to do activism wise. He Kākano ahau came out of a desire to realign my visions for the future. 

“I realised the mahi wasn't sustainable if I didn't have hope. I don't think you can ever do any of this mahi if you're not looking after yourself. ‘He Kākano ahau’ was a way for me to talk to other Māori about visions for the future. What do you think it will look like in the future? What will happen to the prison system? What would hauora look like? How would we change these narratives around suicide? It was really healing in the sense of wanting to hold space and talk about some more hopeful stuff in the face of scary challenges.” 

Kahu Kutia’s storytelling is fueled by her activism. Photo/ Dylan Cook

Hauora is a crucial part of Kutia’s creative process. As wāhine Māori, Kutia says she and other Māori creatives often deal with difficult and heavy subject matters. 

“I often see Māori creatives suffering from burnout,” she says.

“We're just expected to make and make and make stuff. We expect indigenous creatives to produce in such high quantities but I wish there was more funding for indigenous creatives to focus on wellness, and more pathways to wellbeing for our people, whether it's access to counselling or a kaupapa that will support networks for Māori creatives. That should be built into funding because it's such a crucial part of our processes. How can we build the wellbeing of practitioners, but also of our wider people into Creative NZ funding? Our practice is connected to wellbeing.” 

Kutia credits the late Nancy Brunning - a renowned storyteller and mentor to Kutia - for teaching her ways to look after her wairua through the creative process. 

“She never saw her creative practice as separate from wairua work or from hauora,” Kutia says. 

“When she was directing shows, there'd be a real awareness of what tupuna you might bring into the room or how topics that you're performing might relate to personal trauma or to the trauma of audiences in the room. She really showed me practices like kai, whakanoa (removing tapu) or karakia and how to go into spaces of heavy topics and making sure you don't hold that on yourself. 

“It’s having an awareness that whether you're doing really personal creative mahi or interviewing someone, there's so much more in the room than just the two of you. I'll try to start anything with a karakia especially if I'm doing a heavy interview.” 

By nurturing and protecting their own hauora, both Solly and Kutia have been able to create impact with their mahi. For Kutia, storytelling is a powerful way that can heal, inform and bring hope to other Māori. 

“In my media work, when I'm writing something or telling a story, I think about a young Māori person and what they need to hear. I try to speak to them because how much of the media speaks directly to the worldview of a young Māori person?”

For Solly, using taonga pūoro and working with Māori has been healing. “When I was working in psychiatric care, ngā tāonga puoro was a way people could express their identity without being scrutinised, or without worrying about making a mistake, or without other pressures,” Solly says. “It was amazing just having tohu Māori around a really non-Māori space.”

This story is part of the Creative Wellbeing series, a partnership between Creative New Zealand and All Right? that shines a light on the transformative wellbeing and hauora benefits that arts, culture and creativity provide. You can read the whole series here.

Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
No items found.

‘Our practice is connected to wellbeing’: Creativity in Te Ao Māori

Illustration / Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho

This story is part of the Creative Wellbeing series, a partnership between Creative New Zealand and All Right? that shines a light on the transformative wellbeing and hauora benefits that arts, culture and creativity provide. You can read the whole series here.

Ruby Solly is many things. At only 26-years-old, she’s a published author, writer, poet, musician, music therapist, PHD student and visual artist. She’s also a taonga pūoro practitioner - playing a crucial role in the revival of a traditional Māori art form that was once in danger of becoming extinct.

“We're at a point now where we are saying the revival of the taonga pūoro is over and it's now the renaissance, which is really beautiful,” Solly says. 

Taonga pūoro are traditional Māori musical instruments that use the sounds of the environment to create music for ceremony, communication and rongoā. The passing of the Tohunga Suppression Act in 1907 meant the tradition almost fell away. It was revived by Hirini Melbourne, Richard Nunns and Brian Flintoff in the late 20th century. 

Solly has been a huge part of the movement and this year will go on tour with her band Tararua, an art music quartet based in Wellington. She plays the taonga pūoro, double bass and cello in the band with members Al Fraser, Ariana Tikao and Phil Boniface who also play the taonga pūoro. The show features music from their album ‘Bird like men’. 

The creative is from Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha and grew up in Whakapapa Village at the foot of Mount Ruapehu. She lived in places like Turangi and Rotorua which she says were “epicentres for Māoridom”.’ Solly first picked up the kōauau, a traditional Maori mouth flute, in primary school. 

“We had a teacher called Maria Kappa who played the kōauau in the classroom and told us some of the pūrakau [stories] around the use of the kōauau and the love story between Tūtānekai and Hinemoa.” 

Ruby Solly says, "Taonga pūoro has changed the way I think about music in relation to whakapapa and in relation to the self." Photo / Ebony Lamb

A classically trained cellist, Solly has played both the cello and taonga pūoro for over 20 years. She says there is a huge difference in both the way she plays each instrument, with pūoro connecting her to her whakapapa. 

“With the cello, I don't have a shared whakapapa. But when we play taonga pūoro we learn about the whakapapa from the crafting of the instrument. Looking around the room now I can see an albatross bone, a kōauau that I know is from Rakiura that a friend of mine found and I know the history of the toroa bird and how they cry saltwater tears over the ocean because they mate for life and how the bone sounds sad and has a tear shape within their bone. ” 

“My tupuna Māori often drives a lot of my thinking and taonga pūoro has changed the way I think about music in relation to whakapapa and in relation to the self. I think a lot of western music can be in relation to the self, with a focus on one person doing this one task of performing, when pūoro is in harmony with a whole range of different parts of our lives.” 

Solly is also an advocate for health and wellbeing. She’s 16 months away from completing her PHD, specialising in the use of taonga pūoro in hauora. As someone who lives with bipolar type 2, Solly says taonga pūoro is a source of healing. 

“Ngā taonga pūoro is something that affects our whole te whare tapa wha,” she says. “It is another reo Māori we can express ourselves in. It's something that combines the physical with the spiritual and with how we think about the world, and how we create things. I really saw that when I was working in psychiatric care, it was a way people could express their identity without being scrutinised, or without worrying about making a mistake. I've been gifted from taonga pūoro a worldview that I can take into every part of my life.” 

As someone who lives with bipolar type 2, Solly says taonga pūoro is a source of healing. Photo/ Ebony Lamb

Like Ruby, Kahu Kutia juggles many hats. Kutia hails from Ngāi Tūhoe and is a multimedia storyteller, artist, activist, writer, and producer. This year she is busy finishing her creative writing Master's at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. 

Kutia’s storytelling is fueled by her activism - inspired by Tuia, a life changing leadership programme she undertook at 19-years-old - which developed her passion to empower rangatahi Māori. 

“As a wāhine Māori and takatāpui, I think about the way colonisation has stripped and erased and hidden our mātaraunga and these narratives around who we really are. I want to counter that and create new narratives by looking at history and sometimes innovating and telling new things about our people as well because we're not static, we're not one thing we're not this antiquated version of what a Māori is but trying to find new ways to iterate identity as well.” 

Kutia was raised in Te Urewera, with both te reo Māori and Pākehā. Her dad went to a native school and spoke fluently, but like many from his generation, he was beaten for speaking te reo Māori. Kutia ‘lost’ her reo through mainstream schooling but got it back at university. 

Her podcast series He Kākano Ahau is storytelling at its finest, bringing te ao Māori to life and winning best Podcast at the 2020 Voyager Media Awards. 

“During the first lockdown I'd come out of this heavy kaupapa from petitioning governments and talking about climate change. It was so heavy that I actually had no direction for what I wanted to do activism wise. He Kākano ahau came out of a desire to realign my visions for the future. 

“I realised the mahi wasn't sustainable if I didn't have hope. I don't think you can ever do any of this mahi if you're not looking after yourself. ‘He Kākano ahau’ was a way for me to talk to other Māori about visions for the future. What do you think it will look like in the future? What will happen to the prison system? What would hauora look like? How would we change these narratives around suicide? It was really healing in the sense of wanting to hold space and talk about some more hopeful stuff in the face of scary challenges.” 

Kahu Kutia’s storytelling is fueled by her activism. Photo/ Dylan Cook

Hauora is a crucial part of Kutia’s creative process. As wāhine Māori, Kutia says she and other Māori creatives often deal with difficult and heavy subject matters. 

“I often see Māori creatives suffering from burnout,” she says.

“We're just expected to make and make and make stuff. We expect indigenous creatives to produce in such high quantities but I wish there was more funding for indigenous creatives to focus on wellness, and more pathways to wellbeing for our people, whether it's access to counselling or a kaupapa that will support networks for Māori creatives. That should be built into funding because it's such a crucial part of our processes. How can we build the wellbeing of practitioners, but also of our wider people into Creative NZ funding? Our practice is connected to wellbeing.” 

Kutia credits the late Nancy Brunning - a renowned storyteller and mentor to Kutia - for teaching her ways to look after her wairua through the creative process. 

“She never saw her creative practice as separate from wairua work or from hauora,” Kutia says. 

“When she was directing shows, there'd be a real awareness of what tupuna you might bring into the room or how topics that you're performing might relate to personal trauma or to the trauma of audiences in the room. She really showed me practices like kai, whakanoa (removing tapu) or karakia and how to go into spaces of heavy topics and making sure you don't hold that on yourself. 

“It’s having an awareness that whether you're doing really personal creative mahi or interviewing someone, there's so much more in the room than just the two of you. I'll try to start anything with a karakia especially if I'm doing a heavy interview.” 

By nurturing and protecting their own hauora, both Solly and Kutia have been able to create impact with their mahi. For Kutia, storytelling is a powerful way that can heal, inform and bring hope to other Māori. 

“In my media work, when I'm writing something or telling a story, I think about a young Māori person and what they need to hear. I try to speak to them because how much of the media speaks directly to the worldview of a young Māori person?”

For Solly, using taonga pūoro and working with Māori has been healing. “When I was working in psychiatric care, ngā tāonga puoro was a way people could express their identity without being scrutinised, or without worrying about making a mistake, or without other pressures,” Solly says. “It was amazing just having tohu Māori around a really non-Māori space.”

This story is part of the Creative Wellbeing series, a partnership between Creative New Zealand and All Right? that shines a light on the transformative wellbeing and hauora benefits that arts, culture and creativity provide. You can read the whole series here.

No items found.
Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program

‘Our practice is connected to wellbeing’: Creativity in Te Ao Māori

Illustration / Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho

This story is part of the Creative Wellbeing series, a partnership between Creative New Zealand and All Right? that shines a light on the transformative wellbeing and hauora benefits that arts, culture and creativity provide. You can read the whole series here.

Ruby Solly is many things. At only 26-years-old, she’s a published author, writer, poet, musician, music therapist, PHD student and visual artist. She’s also a taonga pūoro practitioner - playing a crucial role in the revival of a traditional Māori art form that was once in danger of becoming extinct.

“We're at a point now where we are saying the revival of the taonga pūoro is over and it's now the renaissance, which is really beautiful,” Solly says. 

Taonga pūoro are traditional Māori musical instruments that use the sounds of the environment to create music for ceremony, communication and rongoā. The passing of the Tohunga Suppression Act in 1907 meant the tradition almost fell away. It was revived by Hirini Melbourne, Richard Nunns and Brian Flintoff in the late 20th century. 

Solly has been a huge part of the movement and this year will go on tour with her band Tararua, an art music quartet based in Wellington. She plays the taonga pūoro, double bass and cello in the band with members Al Fraser, Ariana Tikao and Phil Boniface who also play the taonga pūoro. The show features music from their album ‘Bird like men’. 

The creative is from Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha and grew up in Whakapapa Village at the foot of Mount Ruapehu. She lived in places like Turangi and Rotorua which she says were “epicentres for Māoridom”.’ Solly first picked up the kōauau, a traditional Maori mouth flute, in primary school. 

“We had a teacher called Maria Kappa who played the kōauau in the classroom and told us some of the pūrakau [stories] around the use of the kōauau and the love story between Tūtānekai and Hinemoa.” 

Ruby Solly says, "Taonga pūoro has changed the way I think about music in relation to whakapapa and in relation to the self." Photo / Ebony Lamb

A classically trained cellist, Solly has played both the cello and taonga pūoro for over 20 years. She says there is a huge difference in both the way she plays each instrument, with pūoro connecting her to her whakapapa. 

“With the cello, I don't have a shared whakapapa. But when we play taonga pūoro we learn about the whakapapa from the crafting of the instrument. Looking around the room now I can see an albatross bone, a kōauau that I know is from Rakiura that a friend of mine found and I know the history of the toroa bird and how they cry saltwater tears over the ocean because they mate for life and how the bone sounds sad and has a tear shape within their bone. ” 

“My tupuna Māori often drives a lot of my thinking and taonga pūoro has changed the way I think about music in relation to whakapapa and in relation to the self. I think a lot of western music can be in relation to the self, with a focus on one person doing this one task of performing, when pūoro is in harmony with a whole range of different parts of our lives.” 

Solly is also an advocate for health and wellbeing. She’s 16 months away from completing her PHD, specialising in the use of taonga pūoro in hauora. As someone who lives with bipolar type 2, Solly says taonga pūoro is a source of healing. 

“Ngā taonga pūoro is something that affects our whole te whare tapa wha,” she says. “It is another reo Māori we can express ourselves in. It's something that combines the physical with the spiritual and with how we think about the world, and how we create things. I really saw that when I was working in psychiatric care, it was a way people could express their identity without being scrutinised, or without worrying about making a mistake. I've been gifted from taonga pūoro a worldview that I can take into every part of my life.” 

As someone who lives with bipolar type 2, Solly says taonga pūoro is a source of healing. Photo/ Ebony Lamb

Like Ruby, Kahu Kutia juggles many hats. Kutia hails from Ngāi Tūhoe and is a multimedia storyteller, artist, activist, writer, and producer. This year she is busy finishing her creative writing Master's at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. 

Kutia’s storytelling is fueled by her activism - inspired by Tuia, a life changing leadership programme she undertook at 19-years-old - which developed her passion to empower rangatahi Māori. 

“As a wāhine Māori and takatāpui, I think about the way colonisation has stripped and erased and hidden our mātaraunga and these narratives around who we really are. I want to counter that and create new narratives by looking at history and sometimes innovating and telling new things about our people as well because we're not static, we're not one thing we're not this antiquated version of what a Māori is but trying to find new ways to iterate identity as well.” 

Kutia was raised in Te Urewera, with both te reo Māori and Pākehā. Her dad went to a native school and spoke fluently, but like many from his generation, he was beaten for speaking te reo Māori. Kutia ‘lost’ her reo through mainstream schooling but got it back at university. 

Her podcast series He Kākano Ahau is storytelling at its finest, bringing te ao Māori to life and winning best Podcast at the 2020 Voyager Media Awards. 

“During the first lockdown I'd come out of this heavy kaupapa from petitioning governments and talking about climate change. It was so heavy that I actually had no direction for what I wanted to do activism wise. He Kākano ahau came out of a desire to realign my visions for the future. 

“I realised the mahi wasn't sustainable if I didn't have hope. I don't think you can ever do any of this mahi if you're not looking after yourself. ‘He Kākano ahau’ was a way for me to talk to other Māori about visions for the future. What do you think it will look like in the future? What will happen to the prison system? What would hauora look like? How would we change these narratives around suicide? It was really healing in the sense of wanting to hold space and talk about some more hopeful stuff in the face of scary challenges.” 

Kahu Kutia’s storytelling is fueled by her activism. Photo/ Dylan Cook

Hauora is a crucial part of Kutia’s creative process. As wāhine Māori, Kutia says she and other Māori creatives often deal with difficult and heavy subject matters. 

“I often see Māori creatives suffering from burnout,” she says.

“We're just expected to make and make and make stuff. We expect indigenous creatives to produce in such high quantities but I wish there was more funding for indigenous creatives to focus on wellness, and more pathways to wellbeing for our people, whether it's access to counselling or a kaupapa that will support networks for Māori creatives. That should be built into funding because it's such a crucial part of our processes. How can we build the wellbeing of practitioners, but also of our wider people into Creative NZ funding? Our practice is connected to wellbeing.” 

Kutia credits the late Nancy Brunning - a renowned storyteller and mentor to Kutia - for teaching her ways to look after her wairua through the creative process. 

“She never saw her creative practice as separate from wairua work or from hauora,” Kutia says. 

“When she was directing shows, there'd be a real awareness of what tupuna you might bring into the room or how topics that you're performing might relate to personal trauma or to the trauma of audiences in the room. She really showed me practices like kai, whakanoa (removing tapu) or karakia and how to go into spaces of heavy topics and making sure you don't hold that on yourself. 

“It’s having an awareness that whether you're doing really personal creative mahi or interviewing someone, there's so much more in the room than just the two of you. I'll try to start anything with a karakia especially if I'm doing a heavy interview.” 

By nurturing and protecting their own hauora, both Solly and Kutia have been able to create impact with their mahi. For Kutia, storytelling is a powerful way that can heal, inform and bring hope to other Māori. 

“In my media work, when I'm writing something or telling a story, I think about a young Māori person and what they need to hear. I try to speak to them because how much of the media speaks directly to the worldview of a young Māori person?”

For Solly, using taonga pūoro and working with Māori has been healing. “When I was working in psychiatric care, ngā tāonga puoro was a way people could express their identity without being scrutinised, or without worrying about making a mistake, or without other pressures,” Solly says. “It was amazing just having tohu Māori around a really non-Māori space.”

This story is part of the Creative Wellbeing series, a partnership between Creative New Zealand and All Right? that shines a light on the transformative wellbeing and hauora benefits that arts, culture and creativity provide. You can read the whole series here.

Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
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Illustration / Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho

This story is part of the Creative Wellbeing series, a partnership between Creative New Zealand and All Right? that shines a light on the transformative wellbeing and hauora benefits that arts, culture and creativity provide. You can read the whole series here.

Ruby Solly is many things. At only 26-years-old, she’s a published author, writer, poet, musician, music therapist, PHD student and visual artist. She’s also a taonga pūoro practitioner - playing a crucial role in the revival of a traditional Māori art form that was once in danger of becoming extinct.

“We're at a point now where we are saying the revival of the taonga pūoro is over and it's now the renaissance, which is really beautiful,” Solly says. 

Taonga pūoro are traditional Māori musical instruments that use the sounds of the environment to create music for ceremony, communication and rongoā. The passing of the Tohunga Suppression Act in 1907 meant the tradition almost fell away. It was revived by Hirini Melbourne, Richard Nunns and Brian Flintoff in the late 20th century. 

Solly has been a huge part of the movement and this year will go on tour with her band Tararua, an art music quartet based in Wellington. She plays the taonga pūoro, double bass and cello in the band with members Al Fraser, Ariana Tikao and Phil Boniface who also play the taonga pūoro. The show features music from their album ‘Bird like men’. 

The creative is from Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha and grew up in Whakapapa Village at the foot of Mount Ruapehu. She lived in places like Turangi and Rotorua which she says were “epicentres for Māoridom”.’ Solly first picked up the kōauau, a traditional Maori mouth flute, in primary school. 

“We had a teacher called Maria Kappa who played the kōauau in the classroom and told us some of the pūrakau [stories] around the use of the kōauau and the love story between Tūtānekai and Hinemoa.” 

Ruby Solly says, "Taonga pūoro has changed the way I think about music in relation to whakapapa and in relation to the self." Photo / Ebony Lamb

A classically trained cellist, Solly has played both the cello and taonga pūoro for over 20 years. She says there is a huge difference in both the way she plays each instrument, with pūoro connecting her to her whakapapa. 

“With the cello, I don't have a shared whakapapa. But when we play taonga pūoro we learn about the whakapapa from the crafting of the instrument. Looking around the room now I can see an albatross bone, a kōauau that I know is from Rakiura that a friend of mine found and I know the history of the toroa bird and how they cry saltwater tears over the ocean because they mate for life and how the bone sounds sad and has a tear shape within their bone. ” 

“My tupuna Māori often drives a lot of my thinking and taonga pūoro has changed the way I think about music in relation to whakapapa and in relation to the self. I think a lot of western music can be in relation to the self, with a focus on one person doing this one task of performing, when pūoro is in harmony with a whole range of different parts of our lives.” 

Solly is also an advocate for health and wellbeing. She’s 16 months away from completing her PHD, specialising in the use of taonga pūoro in hauora. As someone who lives with bipolar type 2, Solly says taonga pūoro is a source of healing. 

“Ngā taonga pūoro is something that affects our whole te whare tapa wha,” she says. “It is another reo Māori we can express ourselves in. It's something that combines the physical with the spiritual and with how we think about the world, and how we create things. I really saw that when I was working in psychiatric care, it was a way people could express their identity without being scrutinised, or without worrying about making a mistake. I've been gifted from taonga pūoro a worldview that I can take into every part of my life.” 

As someone who lives with bipolar type 2, Solly says taonga pūoro is a source of healing. Photo/ Ebony Lamb

Like Ruby, Kahu Kutia juggles many hats. Kutia hails from Ngāi Tūhoe and is a multimedia storyteller, artist, activist, writer, and producer. This year she is busy finishing her creative writing Master's at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. 

Kutia’s storytelling is fueled by her activism - inspired by Tuia, a life changing leadership programme she undertook at 19-years-old - which developed her passion to empower rangatahi Māori. 

“As a wāhine Māori and takatāpui, I think about the way colonisation has stripped and erased and hidden our mātaraunga and these narratives around who we really are. I want to counter that and create new narratives by looking at history and sometimes innovating and telling new things about our people as well because we're not static, we're not one thing we're not this antiquated version of what a Māori is but trying to find new ways to iterate identity as well.” 

Kutia was raised in Te Urewera, with both te reo Māori and Pākehā. Her dad went to a native school and spoke fluently, but like many from his generation, he was beaten for speaking te reo Māori. Kutia ‘lost’ her reo through mainstream schooling but got it back at university. 

Her podcast series He Kākano Ahau is storytelling at its finest, bringing te ao Māori to life and winning best Podcast at the 2020 Voyager Media Awards. 

“During the first lockdown I'd come out of this heavy kaupapa from petitioning governments and talking about climate change. It was so heavy that I actually had no direction for what I wanted to do activism wise. He Kākano ahau came out of a desire to realign my visions for the future. 

“I realised the mahi wasn't sustainable if I didn't have hope. I don't think you can ever do any of this mahi if you're not looking after yourself. ‘He Kākano ahau’ was a way for me to talk to other Māori about visions for the future. What do you think it will look like in the future? What will happen to the prison system? What would hauora look like? How would we change these narratives around suicide? It was really healing in the sense of wanting to hold space and talk about some more hopeful stuff in the face of scary challenges.” 

Kahu Kutia’s storytelling is fueled by her activism. Photo/ Dylan Cook

Hauora is a crucial part of Kutia’s creative process. As wāhine Māori, Kutia says she and other Māori creatives often deal with difficult and heavy subject matters. 

“I often see Māori creatives suffering from burnout,” she says.

“We're just expected to make and make and make stuff. We expect indigenous creatives to produce in such high quantities but I wish there was more funding for indigenous creatives to focus on wellness, and more pathways to wellbeing for our people, whether it's access to counselling or a kaupapa that will support networks for Māori creatives. That should be built into funding because it's such a crucial part of our processes. How can we build the wellbeing of practitioners, but also of our wider people into Creative NZ funding? Our practice is connected to wellbeing.” 

Kutia credits the late Nancy Brunning - a renowned storyteller and mentor to Kutia - for teaching her ways to look after her wairua through the creative process. 

“She never saw her creative practice as separate from wairua work or from hauora,” Kutia says. 

“When she was directing shows, there'd be a real awareness of what tupuna you might bring into the room or how topics that you're performing might relate to personal trauma or to the trauma of audiences in the room. She really showed me practices like kai, whakanoa (removing tapu) or karakia and how to go into spaces of heavy topics and making sure you don't hold that on yourself. 

“It’s having an awareness that whether you're doing really personal creative mahi or interviewing someone, there's so much more in the room than just the two of you. I'll try to start anything with a karakia especially if I'm doing a heavy interview.” 

By nurturing and protecting their own hauora, both Solly and Kutia have been able to create impact with their mahi. For Kutia, storytelling is a powerful way that can heal, inform and bring hope to other Māori. 

“In my media work, when I'm writing something or telling a story, I think about a young Māori person and what they need to hear. I try to speak to them because how much of the media speaks directly to the worldview of a young Māori person?”

For Solly, using taonga pūoro and working with Māori has been healing. “When I was working in psychiatric care, ngā tāonga puoro was a way people could express their identity without being scrutinised, or without worrying about making a mistake, or without other pressures,” Solly says. “It was amazing just having tohu Māori around a really non-Māori space.”

This story is part of the Creative Wellbeing series, a partnership between Creative New Zealand and All Right? that shines a light on the transformative wellbeing and hauora benefits that arts, culture and creativity provide. You can read the whole series here.

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Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program

‘Our practice is connected to wellbeing’: Creativity in Te Ao Māori

Illustration / Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho

This story is part of the Creative Wellbeing series, a partnership between Creative New Zealand and All Right? that shines a light on the transformative wellbeing and hauora benefits that arts, culture and creativity provide. You can read the whole series here.

Ruby Solly is many things. At only 26-years-old, she’s a published author, writer, poet, musician, music therapist, PHD student and visual artist. She’s also a taonga pūoro practitioner - playing a crucial role in the revival of a traditional Māori art form that was once in danger of becoming extinct.

“We're at a point now where we are saying the revival of the taonga pūoro is over and it's now the renaissance, which is really beautiful,” Solly says. 

Taonga pūoro are traditional Māori musical instruments that use the sounds of the environment to create music for ceremony, communication and rongoā. The passing of the Tohunga Suppression Act in 1907 meant the tradition almost fell away. It was revived by Hirini Melbourne, Richard Nunns and Brian Flintoff in the late 20th century. 

Solly has been a huge part of the movement and this year will go on tour with her band Tararua, an art music quartet based in Wellington. She plays the taonga pūoro, double bass and cello in the band with members Al Fraser, Ariana Tikao and Phil Boniface who also play the taonga pūoro. The show features music from their album ‘Bird like men’. 

The creative is from Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha and grew up in Whakapapa Village at the foot of Mount Ruapehu. She lived in places like Turangi and Rotorua which she says were “epicentres for Māoridom”.’ Solly first picked up the kōauau, a traditional Maori mouth flute, in primary school. 

“We had a teacher called Maria Kappa who played the kōauau in the classroom and told us some of the pūrakau [stories] around the use of the kōauau and the love story between Tūtānekai and Hinemoa.” 

Ruby Solly says, "Taonga pūoro has changed the way I think about music in relation to whakapapa and in relation to the self." Photo / Ebony Lamb

A classically trained cellist, Solly has played both the cello and taonga pūoro for over 20 years. She says there is a huge difference in both the way she plays each instrument, with pūoro connecting her to her whakapapa. 

“With the cello, I don't have a shared whakapapa. But when we play taonga pūoro we learn about the whakapapa from the crafting of the instrument. Looking around the room now I can see an albatross bone, a kōauau that I know is from Rakiura that a friend of mine found and I know the history of the toroa bird and how they cry saltwater tears over the ocean because they mate for life and how the bone sounds sad and has a tear shape within their bone. ” 

“My tupuna Māori often drives a lot of my thinking and taonga pūoro has changed the way I think about music in relation to whakapapa and in relation to the self. I think a lot of western music can be in relation to the self, with a focus on one person doing this one task of performing, when pūoro is in harmony with a whole range of different parts of our lives.” 

Solly is also an advocate for health and wellbeing. She’s 16 months away from completing her PHD, specialising in the use of taonga pūoro in hauora. As someone who lives with bipolar type 2, Solly says taonga pūoro is a source of healing. 

“Ngā taonga pūoro is something that affects our whole te whare tapa wha,” she says. “It is another reo Māori we can express ourselves in. It's something that combines the physical with the spiritual and with how we think about the world, and how we create things. I really saw that when I was working in psychiatric care, it was a way people could express their identity without being scrutinised, or without worrying about making a mistake. I've been gifted from taonga pūoro a worldview that I can take into every part of my life.” 

As someone who lives with bipolar type 2, Solly says taonga pūoro is a source of healing. Photo/ Ebony Lamb

Like Ruby, Kahu Kutia juggles many hats. Kutia hails from Ngāi Tūhoe and is a multimedia storyteller, artist, activist, writer, and producer. This year she is busy finishing her creative writing Master's at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. 

Kutia’s storytelling is fueled by her activism - inspired by Tuia, a life changing leadership programme she undertook at 19-years-old - which developed her passion to empower rangatahi Māori. 

“As a wāhine Māori and takatāpui, I think about the way colonisation has stripped and erased and hidden our mātaraunga and these narratives around who we really are. I want to counter that and create new narratives by looking at history and sometimes innovating and telling new things about our people as well because we're not static, we're not one thing we're not this antiquated version of what a Māori is but trying to find new ways to iterate identity as well.” 

Kutia was raised in Te Urewera, with both te reo Māori and Pākehā. Her dad went to a native school and spoke fluently, but like many from his generation, he was beaten for speaking te reo Māori. Kutia ‘lost’ her reo through mainstream schooling but got it back at university. 

Her podcast series He Kākano Ahau is storytelling at its finest, bringing te ao Māori to life and winning best Podcast at the 2020 Voyager Media Awards. 

“During the first lockdown I'd come out of this heavy kaupapa from petitioning governments and talking about climate change. It was so heavy that I actually had no direction for what I wanted to do activism wise. He Kākano ahau came out of a desire to realign my visions for the future. 

“I realised the mahi wasn't sustainable if I didn't have hope. I don't think you can ever do any of this mahi if you're not looking after yourself. ‘He Kākano ahau’ was a way for me to talk to other Māori about visions for the future. What do you think it will look like in the future? What will happen to the prison system? What would hauora look like? How would we change these narratives around suicide? It was really healing in the sense of wanting to hold space and talk about some more hopeful stuff in the face of scary challenges.” 

Kahu Kutia’s storytelling is fueled by her activism. Photo/ Dylan Cook

Hauora is a crucial part of Kutia’s creative process. As wāhine Māori, Kutia says she and other Māori creatives often deal with difficult and heavy subject matters. 

“I often see Māori creatives suffering from burnout,” she says.

“We're just expected to make and make and make stuff. We expect indigenous creatives to produce in such high quantities but I wish there was more funding for indigenous creatives to focus on wellness, and more pathways to wellbeing for our people, whether it's access to counselling or a kaupapa that will support networks for Māori creatives. That should be built into funding because it's such a crucial part of our processes. How can we build the wellbeing of practitioners, but also of our wider people into Creative NZ funding? Our practice is connected to wellbeing.” 

Kutia credits the late Nancy Brunning - a renowned storyteller and mentor to Kutia - for teaching her ways to look after her wairua through the creative process. 

“She never saw her creative practice as separate from wairua work or from hauora,” Kutia says. 

“When she was directing shows, there'd be a real awareness of what tupuna you might bring into the room or how topics that you're performing might relate to personal trauma or to the trauma of audiences in the room. She really showed me practices like kai, whakanoa (removing tapu) or karakia and how to go into spaces of heavy topics and making sure you don't hold that on yourself. 

“It’s having an awareness that whether you're doing really personal creative mahi or interviewing someone, there's so much more in the room than just the two of you. I'll try to start anything with a karakia especially if I'm doing a heavy interview.” 

By nurturing and protecting their own hauora, both Solly and Kutia have been able to create impact with their mahi. For Kutia, storytelling is a powerful way that can heal, inform and bring hope to other Māori. 

“In my media work, when I'm writing something or telling a story, I think about a young Māori person and what they need to hear. I try to speak to them because how much of the media speaks directly to the worldview of a young Māori person?”

For Solly, using taonga pūoro and working with Māori has been healing. “When I was working in psychiatric care, ngā tāonga puoro was a way people could express their identity without being scrutinised, or without worrying about making a mistake, or without other pressures,” Solly says. “It was amazing just having tohu Māori around a really non-Māori space.”

This story is part of the Creative Wellbeing series, a partnership between Creative New Zealand and All Right? that shines a light on the transformative wellbeing and hauora benefits that arts, culture and creativity provide. You can read the whole series here.

Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
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