The Forgotten Soundtrack of Maoriland: Imagining the Nation Through Alfred Hill’s Songs for Rewi's Last Stand

by Melissa Cross

Institution: Victoria University of Wellington
Year: 2015
Keywords: New Zealand music; New Zealand film; Early twentieth-century New Zealand history
Record ID: 1317371
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10063/4199


Alfred Hill’s songs based on collected Māori musical materials and narrative themes are artefacts of cultural colonisation that represent individual identities and imagined communities. They are tangible evidence of the site of identity formation known as Maoriland within which Pākehā construct imaginings of ‘Māoriness’ to create their own sense of indigeneity and nationhood. Although early twentieth-century Maoriland has been discussed widely in the arts and literature, scholars have not addressed the music of Maoriland, perhaps because it is heard today as the cultural form that most clearly expresses racialised sentimentality and colonial hegemony. However, Maoriland music can tell us much about New Zealand society if it is recognised as inhabiting an ‘in-between’ place where Pākehā fascination for the racial other was often inseparable from an admiration for Māori promoted by a knowledgeable group of Māori and Pākehā cultural go-betweens. This thesis presents a critical cultural analysis of the ethnic, racial, gendered, and national identities represented in Hill’s ‘Māori’ songs, viewed through the lens of his use of these in his score for Rudall Hayward’s film Rewi’s Last Stand (1940). This analysis shows that these popular songs contributed, and continue to contribute, to the nexus of Māori, war, and music in Pākehā narrations of the nation. By applying a bicultural approach to the study of Hill’s Maoriland songs, this research also shows these ‘in-between’ songs represent individual, tribal, and national Māori identities too. While this work adds music to the discourse of Maoriland, and Maoriland to the discourse of New Zealand music and national identity, Hill’s ‘Māori’ music, early twentieth-century New Zealand music, and New Zealand film music all remain severely under-researched areas of New Zealand music studies.