Gives viewers a rare and intimate insight into the creative processes and cultural significance of traditional artefacts in Australia, Rurutu, New Zealand and Hawaii.
Part 1: Yidaki
In Arnhem Land in the remote tropical north of Australia, the Gurruwiwi family of the Yolngu Aboriginal people, reveal the world of the ‘yidaki’, a sacred instrument better known to outsiders as the didgeridoo. Believing the yidaki can heal people, control the weather, and summon ancestral spirits, the Yolngu place great importance on the making and playing of this instrument. The yidaki is a key feature of local ceremonial life and is used to play ‘songlines’, the stories of ancestors that the Yolngu communicate through music and dance. Beginning with a ‘hunt’ for suitable stringybark trees, the tree is then hollowed out, shaped, and given sacred ceremonial paintings with ochres. The film culminates in a ‘bunggul’, a ceremonial dance where the yidaki is given its first outing. Many of the beliefs expressed by the Gurruwiwi family have remained unchanged for tens of thousands of years. Yet, the modern world has definitely arrived.
Part 2: Taupoo
Mama is one of the last traditional weavers from the South Seas island of Rurutu, French Polynesia, and one of the last to make the ‘taupoo’, the traditional ceremonial hats woven from dried pandanus tree leaves. Taking five weeks to make, these hats were originally introduced to the island by British missionaries in the early 1800s. Now, they’re worn to church and given as wedding gifts. But the knowledge of how to make them is dying out. For each hat, 30 or more long pandanus leaves have to be cut down, spliced together, hung, dried, rolled, sorted, dyed and bleached. And that’s all before the weaving actually begins. Without a template or stitches or any thread, Mama almost magically weaves the dried leaves into a hat. Touching upon the island’s Christian history, local myths and legends, and offering a unique sense of this island idyll in a moment of flux, this film is a rare visual treat and a chance to enjoy the last vestiges of an ancient tradition.
Part 3: Pou
Maori master carver Logan Okiwi Shipgood crafts a beautiful 6ft tall ‘pou’ statue from native New Zealand timber. With chainsaws, adzes, and around 30 chisels, Logan gradually reveals the figure of Hene Te Akiri, a Maori warrior princess, as he lovingly chips away at the wood. Inlaid with sacred shells and given a powerful facial tattoo to denote her social rank, the finished statue is finally revealed to the public. Logan explores the deep spiritual connection between Maori carvers and the objects they create, and the significance of his home – Rotorua – in the revival of Maori art and culture in the 20th century. For Maori today, carving remains a key way of telling stories and honouring ancestors, and Logan – an internationally famous sculptor and carver – is proud to be doing his bit to keep these traditions alive.
Part 4: Kapa
Indigenous Hawaiian artist Dalani Tanahy spends weeks beating tree bark into a sheets of fabric. This ancient Hawaiian artform known as ‘kapa’ was once the staple material of the islands. But after Captain Cook introduced cotton, and the Americans overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy, kapa-making disappeared. Dalani is one of a handful of practitioners who has spent her life bringing this artform back. Why? Because kapa-making has become integral to the nascent Hawaiian cultural nationalism that is taking hold in indigenous communities of Hawaii. Kapa-making has become a source of pride and identity, but it is a lot of work. Trees have to be planted and tended, cut, stripped, and the bark beaten and fermented.