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    Home And Away stars share Māori culture with soap’s Australian viewer

    Home And Away storyline has helped two of the drama’s Māori stars literally come to grips with an aspect of their own culture they haven’t previously explored.

    The show’s Parata family – Ari (Rob Kipa-Williams), Tane (Ethan Browne) and Nikau (Kawakawa Fox-Reo) – are ripped apart when Ari is sent to prison.

    Uncle Tane takes Nikau camping in the bush to teach him how to use his late father’s Yamaha, as Nikau struggles to cope with his uncle’s absence (a long-handled weapon used in close combat).

    Both men had to learn new skills. “I obviously knew what it was because I’m Mori,” says Browne, an accomplished martial artist, “but I never really did taiaha itself.”

    “In high school, we did a little bit of mau rakau (weapon-based Mori martial arts), so when the storyline came up, I had to reach out to a few friends, and they helped me out.”

    However, due to Covid restrictions in Sydney at the time, Yamaha lessons had to be taken over the internet.

    “I’d watch the videos and try to copy the moves,” the actor says, adding that he also connected with a Sydney man who runs a kapa haka group through Facebook.

    “We’d meet up over FaceTime, and he’d help me with the dialogue, making sure I was saying the right things at the right times.” Over FaceTime, he even double-checked my movements, asking questions like, “Is this hand position correct?” and so on. That’s how we went about it.”

    Fox-Reo (Ngati Kahungunu), a Hawke’s Bay native, attended kohanga reo as a child and also has kapa haka experience, but claims to be new to Yamaha.

    “I did kapa haka in high school, but I’m not a professional or an expert,” he says, adding that when he learned about the taiaha storyline, he enlisted the help of his Australian relatives.

    “We did our best to incorporate some basic movements into the show, but it’s nowhere near as good as what people back home can do.” Don’t get me wrong: I’m proud of it, but it’s at a very basic level.”

    Fox-Reo is extremely proud of his Mori ancestry, but he admits that he still has a lot to learn.

    “That’s who I am and something I’m very proud of,” he says, “but I’m definitely guilty of not upholding a certain standard that I know I’m capable of in terms of language and Tikanga.”

    “I grew up spending a lot of time at the marae, and I’m always eager to learn more, but there will never be a point where I know everything.” I’ve only recently discovered the Mori community here, and it’s wonderful.”

    Both actors are relishing the chance to introduce aspects of Mori culture to viewers in Australia and the many other countries where the show airs, thanks to their Home And Away roles.

    Browne hopes that viewers will have as much fun watching the taiaha scenes as he and Fox-Reo had to film them.

    “Anything cultural we do has always gotten a great response. “(Viewers) love it because it’s different from what they’ve seen before – it’s not the same old running on the beach stuff,” he says.

    “I hope we do justice to our fellow Mori.” There are probably some subtleties that I missed, or really well-trained guys watching it might be like, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ Perhaps not, but hopefully not.”

    The couple is aware that for some viewers, this will be their first exposure to Mori culture.

    “I’m grateful to be a part of it because it’s many people’s first contact with what it’s like to be Mori.” “However, this is only the tip of the iceberg,” Fox-Reo adds. “I want to be clear that there are so many more things that are just as rich, and there is so much to offer that we haven’t shown on the show,” she says.

    When the Parata family was introduced at the start of 2020, the show’s producers stated that they wanted to incorporate as much Mori culture as possible into the show – a promise the Kiwi stars have kept.

    “They’re all for it,” Browne says. “They encourage any sort of cultural ideas we have. We sort of pitch it and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’ll work there’. There’s more coming up and we will keep it alive.

    “It’s something really important to me and it just feels like I’m helping spread awareness about our culture which feels really nice.”

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