Tāmati Rimene-Sproat, host of Hongi To Hāngī: And Everything In Between, tells Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes about the winning formula that made the show a hit.
Why do Māori do the hongi? What happens on the marae? Why do they eat hāngī? These are questions many New Zealanders may have, and they’ll find the answers in the TVNZ series Hongi to Hāngī: And Everything In Between.
It’s a topic to which one might expect some, however unreasonable, heavy backlash from the online trolls, but the show has been warmly received, says host Tāmati Rimene-Sproat (Rangitane ki Wairarapa, Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Ngāti Whakaue and Ngāi Tahu), with feedback overwhelmingly positive.
“We’ve had letters and phone calls to TVNZ, and a lot of online feedback as well. It’s all positive. Some of the best feedback we’ve had has been from whānau,” he says.
One of the biggest challenges in the development stages, says Rimene-Sproat, was to maintain the integrity of tikanga and the marae, while simplifying it in a way that makes it palatable to a non-Māori audience.
“I think we found that fine line between being entertaining and having fun, while not swaying too far to the taking the piss side of it,” says Rimene-Sproat.
This is ultimately the formula that made the two-part show successful – something that was well thought out and intentional rather than by chance. The goal wasn’t just to make entertaining Māori content but to educate and enlighten.
“We’ve all got that Māui inside of us, for shows like this it’s an important device. You can use humour to deliver a message in a way that makes it a lot easier to digest. If we were to do it in a serious way, I don’t think it would have had the same impact,” says Rimene-Sproat.
“The feedback we’ve had is that people watched it, they enjoyed it and at the end they realised they’d learnt something.”
The series was put together by acclaimed producer Annabelle Lee-Mather alongside te reo and tikanga expert Mahanga Pihama.
The creators wanted viewers to realise that te ao Māori is not a scary place and there’s a lot of beauty in it. Together they decided that using humour as a device to deliver that would be powerful.
A presenter on Sunday and Wild Kai Legends, Tāmati Rimene-Sproat is a product of kōhanga reo and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Mokopuna in Te Whanganui-a-Tara.
As a taiohi, he hosted his own segment on the Māori language children’s show Pūkana called “Tama Tū, Tama Ora, Tāmati”, which gave him a foundation in media and presenting.
Later in life, while working as a news reporter at Te Karere, he began attending kura reo, immersion Māori language workshops, that were being orchestrated through the Māori language revitalisation efforts in Ngāti Kahungunu lead by Sir Tīmoti Karetu and Tātere McLeod.
Through these interactions, Rimene-Sproat was identified as having a natural ability in te reo and invited to Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo – The School of Māori Language Excellence.
Set up by Sir Tīmoti Karetu, Sir Pou Temara and the late Te Wharehuia Milroy, the school’s purpose is to strengthen the many marae around the country by training Māori in whaikōrero and karanga to a standard of excellence.
The impact of that school has been tremendous and Rimene-Sproat himself is an exemplary graduate.
However, the ongoing impact of colonisation has resulted in the majority of people in this country, including many Māori, going through life without basic understanding of Māori protocols and cultural practices on the marae.
“There’s a lot of non-Māori who want to know this and that but the reality is, there are many of our whanaunga who don’t have that connection to their marae,” says Rimene-Sproat. “They want to have that connection but don’t know where to start.”
For Māori wanting to reconnect to their land, people and culture, as well as non-Māori who have an interest in learning and contributing to the cultural foundation of this nation, this is where the show comes in.
“It’s answering those burning questions like, why do Māori do this on the marae? Why do they take off their shoes when they go inside? Why is that the women karanga? Why is it that in some places, only the men stand to speak on the paepae? Why is it that they have this massive food operation at the back that is always bustling with workers?
“Based on the feedback, I know people have held on to those questions for a long time and now have the opportunity to have them answered,” says Rimene-Sproat.
While catering mainly to audiences who are largely unfamiliar with te ao Māori, the show acknowledges whānau who keep the home fires burning and maintain those important roles.
“We wanted our people who are the ones at the marae to watch it and see themselves represented authentically so it’s not this fake, cheesy take on what happens. We wanted this organic feel where, if you are Māori and you are connected and active, you will see parts where you can relate,” says Rimene-Sproat.
Hongi to Hāngī: And Everything In Between aired on TV1 during primetime last month. That’s a remarkable feat given how non-Māori content usually dominating that slot.
It’s available to watch now on TVNZ+.