Kouka, Hone 1968-

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KOUKA, Hone 1968-


Born 1968, in Balcutha, New Zealand. Education: Otago University, Dunedin, B.A., 1988; Toi Whakaari o Aotearoa, New Zealand Drama School, 1990.


Agent—Playmarket, P.O. Box 9767, Te Aro, Wellington, New Zealand.


Dramatist, writer, journalist, actor, and director. Canterbury University, writer-in-residence, 1996; Taki Rua Productions, Wellington, New Zealand, artistic director. Also worked in a sawmill and as a forestry worker.


Chapman Tripp Theatre Award, 1991, for most promising newcomer, 1992, for most original play, and 1994, for best new New Zealand play; Bruce Mason Playwrighting Award, 1992, for most original play; Te Ha Drama award, 1993, for best New Zealand play.


(Editor) Ta matou mangai: Our Own Voice (Maori plays), Victoria University Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 1999.


Mauri Tu (produced in Dunedin, New Zealand), Aoraki Press (Christchurch, New Zealand), 1982.

(With Apirana Taylor and Erina Toi Paku) He waki, produced on Australian University tour, 1992.

(With Sue Morrison) Remembrance of Things to Come, produced in Taki Rua, New Zealand, 1992.

(With Hori Ahipene) Hide 'n' Seek, produced in Taki Rua, New Zealand, 1992.

Mokemoke, produced in Dunedin, New Zealand, 1993.

Five Angels, produced in Taki Rua, New Zealand, 1993.

Nga Tangata Toa (produced in Taki Rua, New Zealand, 1994), published as Ta matou mangai: Our Own Voice, Victoria University Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 1994.

Whakakotahi, produced in Berlin, German, 1994.

Tuakana, produced in Wellington, New Zealand, 1995.

King Hits, produced in Taki Rua, New Zealand, 1995.

Waiora (produced in Wellington, New Zealand, at the International Festival of the Arts, 1996), Hui Publishers (New Zealand), 1996.

Grey, produced in Taki Rua, New Zealand, 1997.

Peach and Terry, produced on New Zealand tour, 1997.

(With John Vakidis) Taiki E, produced on New Zealand tour, 1997.

Homefires, first produced in 1998; produced in Wellington, New Zealand, and in Hawaii, 2002.

Prophet, produced in Wellington, New Zealand, at the Downstage Theatre and at the International Festival of the Arts, 2004.

Also author of the radio play, Healing Arc.

Plays have also been produced in South Africa, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Caledonia. Kouka's plays have also been translated into French and Russian.


A play called Rivermouth (with John Vakidis), a novel called The Warmth of the Sun, and a screenplay based on the Witi Ihimaera novel Bulibasha.


In the early 1990s, with plays such as Mauri Tu, Hide 'n' Seek, and Five Angels, native Maori author Hone Kouka of New Zealand began achieving recognition and established his reputation as a playwright focusing on Maori themes and issues. In an interview with Cynthia Oi of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Kouka said, "My parents were staunch about things Maori. Both spoke Maori and we were brought up to be proud of our culture." Commenting on Kouka's plays, a Contemporary Dramatists contributor noted, "As the leading playwright to emerge within the context of Maori cultural self-determination, Hone Kouka has worked with specifically Maori philosophies of performance, identity, and personal interaction from the first." Despite his Maori themes, Kouka has had his plays produced throughout the world, including theaters in Hawaii, Great Britain, and Canada.

In his play Nga Tangata Toa, which first brought Kouka international recognition, the playwright targets the Maoris' "warrior" stereotype. Based on Henrik Ibsen's The Vikings at Helgeland, Nga Tangata Tao tells the story of returning war hero Taneatua, who goes to his father-in-law's meeting house. Looking to avenge her father, Rongomai also goes to the gathering and is undeniably attracted to Taneatua. "In the Ibsenite plot convolutions that follow, we are sucked in the maelstrom of Rongomai's revenge," explained Theatre Journal contributor David Carnegie, who went on to note, "The 1919 Maori society of this play is volatile in ways that resonate with contemporary political concerns: they are a people undergoing the stress of change." Taneatua, however, counters the typical "warrior" stereotype by seeking peace and forgiveness, a change of heart brought on by his conversion to Christianity and a friendship with a weak European. Carnegie noted, "Hone Kouka has achieved his aim of not simply adapting Ibsen, but of using him as the inspiration for a major new New Zealand play." Carnegie also felt that "Kouka has both extended the range of contemporary Maori drama, and avoided its two frequent pitfalls: tired Western televisual dramaturgy, and adaptation of traditional Maori song and dance into a merely ornamental alternative to substantial dramatic complexity."

In Waiora, the first of a trilogy by Kouka, the playwright continues to explore the "warrior" stereotype, drawing a careful line between brutality and being tough and resilient. First produced in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1996, Waiora looks at the Maoris' movement from a rural to an urban setting in the 1950s and 1960s. "There were so many of our young people lost," Kouka told Oi of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. "They couldn't trace their roots and lost touch with their culture." In the play, as the characters celebrate a birthday on the beach in 1965, they face family tensions brought on by their virtual displacement from their history. Furthermore, they have a family patriarch whose life is partly controlled by a European mill manager. Four Maori ancestors who speak for tradition are spirit characters in the play but are totally accepted by the present-day Maori community as being real.

Homefires is the second play in the trilogy. Noting that Waiora explored the Maoris' urban migration, Kouka told Linda Herrick of the New Zealand Herald that Homefires "is about those who stayed behind and ensured lots of the stories about the past were remembered." Although the play originally featured two women, Kouka reworked it for a 2002 production in Hawaii featuring two men. "I wanted to see the two men using quite lyrical dialogue and text, that's why we got a choreographer in," Kouka said to Herrick. "The piece is quite stylized. A lot of Maori work is really gritty and realistic—I want to move quietly away from the pigeon hole we've been pushed into."

The third play in Kouka's trilogy is The Prophet, a story about five teenage cousins who return home for a traditional unveiling (headstone ceremony) for another cousin. As they interact with each other and their family, they grapple with the new adult roles they are expected to pursue. The Prophet was produced as part of the 2004 International Festival of the Arts at Wellington and marked Kouka's fourth play to be produced at the festival, second in number only to the plays of William Shakespeare.



Contemporary Dramatists, sixth edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Dominion (New Zealand), September, 1991, Susan Budd, review of Mauri Tu, p. 24; June, 1992, Susan Budd, review of Remembrance of Things to Come, p. 19; October, 1992, Susan Budd, review of Hide 'n' Seek, p. 30.

Evening Post (New Zealand), September 5, 1991, Laurie Atkinson, review of Mauri Tu: A Short Play, p. 34; October, 1992, Laurie Atkinson, review of Hide 'n' Seek, p. 25.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 16, 1999, Cynthia Oi, "Maori Theatre Explores Social Injustice in Waiora."

Metro, July, 1997, Robert Sullivan, review of Waiora, pp. 114-116.

New Zealand Herald, October 14, 2002, Linda Herrick, review of Homefires.

Span, October, 1994, Mark Houlahan, review of Nga Tangata Toa, pp. 96-101.

Theatre Journal, May, 1995, David Carnegie, review of Nga Tangata Toa, p. 310.


Downstage Theatre Web site,http://www.downstage.co.nz/ (September 28, 2004), "The Prophet."

New Zealand Book Council Web site,http://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/ (September 28, 2004), "Kouka, Hone."

New Zealand Listener Web site,http://www.listener.co.nz/ (September 28, 2004), "Pride of Place."

Playmarket Web site,http://www.playmarket.org.nz/ (September 28, 2004), "Kouka, Hone."*