Te Fare O Tamatoa
Tahitian Dancing & Drumming
History

Manio Radford, Founder/Director of Te Fare O Tamatoa

Lover of Tahitian Culture & Dance


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Merlyna Tahutini Mahuru ‘Manio’ Radford’s grandmother was Princess Popoa Mahuru, of royal Tapoa-Tamatoa lineage of Bora-Bora and Raiatea.  These northern islands of the Society Islands are both the traditional seat of Polynesian power and the starting point of transpacific migrations referenced in the earliest chants and songs of Tahitian and Maori oral history and  as written down by early European missionaries (and published with help from Honolulu’s Bishop Museum by Teuira Henry and Sir Peter ‘Te Rangi Hiroa’ Buck).

 

Manio Radford studied dance and theater with her aunts, Princess Mareta ‘Miri’ Rei and Protea Tahutini.  She has translated into dance the traditional songs and chants published by Tetuira Henry.  She has taught traditional Tahitian dance, choreography and costume design in the Seattle area since 1964, and has trained 3 generations of family and friends to appreciate and dance the authentic culture of her birth islands, known worldwide as Tahiti.  She created and involved family in several not for profit organizations, including Friends of Tahiti, Mana, and Te Fare o Tamatoa.  These organizations have assisted the islands with medical supplies and raised money and awareness for the education of youth both in the Seattle area and in Tahiti.  Manio is especially proud of her granddaughter Nanave Radford, who has become a fine instructor and choreographer of Tahitian dance.

Mama Manio's Story: Polynesian Culture


The cultural beliefs of the Hawaiians, Tahitians, Samoans, Tongans and Maori peoples of New Zealand are related under the banner of Polynesian culture.  Because of the vast ocean distances between tiny islands, they have evolved a little differently in each island archipelago.  But yet they have shared similar beliefs in demi-gods and goddesses that ruled the forces of nature with their stories taking form in song, chant, music and dance.  The life force that inspired these peoples to overcome great challenges is called mana.  Each person is considered a potential carrier and agent of mana.  Mana comes in many forms and flavors:  warriors, fishermen, taro farmers, great moms, navigators, entertainers, you name it.  Words can contain mana or not.  Religious chants and prayers are thought to be imbued/full of Mana.  In the songs and stories of the Polynesians, the kings and high priests were expected to have great mana;  but often they did not.  And commoners were expected not to have mana;  but sometimes they did, and when they did, they could make great things happen.   When commoners had great mana, it was supposed they were the product of some god or goddess and an earthling. That is the Tahitian belief.

 

Tahitian song and chant and dance began as a way for people with no written language to pass on the lessons they learned from their lives.  These lessons had rhythms and poetry easy for organized minds to hold onto.  Examples of the importance of mana in our lives was manifested by songs and stories of historic occasions:  the nature and genealogy of royal families, voyages, wars, athletic achievements, passion, great sacrifices and great achievenments.  The Polynesian people do not want to forget these  stories and lessons.  Often the examples were made into the stories of  demi-gods and goddesses.   Chants were mostly by the high priests and mostly around the sacred stone altars Polynesians call marae.  Marae were built to worship the different kinds of mana and the demi-gods and goddesses who represent that mana in the cultures.  In my village of  Paea, Tahiti, is the famous marae for royal funerals and burials.  There were marae also for archery, canoe builders, and oracles (seers of the future).  A famous marae of  the royal Tamatoa family on Raiatea island is also famous for being the point of prayerful departure for big double  canoes which sailed to New Zealand.  One is on exhibit in the museum in Aukland.  I heard chants of the royal families  traded between my Aunt Miri Rei  and the Maori Princess Rangi when I visited Rotorua Village, New Zealand with my aunt in 1956.

The Tahitians at the time of Captain James Cook’s visit to the Society Islands in 1776 had developed a royal entertainment of the local chiefs by touring interisland royal entertainers called Arioi.  They were in some disfavor among the people at that time, because they had begun to take themselves too seriously.  The people complained to Captain Cook and Doctor Banks that the Arioi were taking upon themselves the bad mana of certain kings and priests who claimed to own any land where their shadows fell, or any wives or any food.  All mana is not good.

 

I continue to research family and island history to find the right dances and songs, to translate and choreograph them as I was trained by my Aunt Princess Miri. Miri was one of the first Tahitian dancer to bring the traditional dance to the US.  She starred on Broadway in New York as a Ziegfield Follies performer and with Bing Crosby in early movies about the South Pacific.  She trained her sisters and my Christian youth group.  Thus the earliest written records of the songs and chants of the Tahitians can be mixed with the ancient dance as they were traditionally.

 

The songs and dances I do are based on not only my own mana, but on the Tamatoa family mana.   From my studies, stories are coming to me with their hand movements.  They are stories of the healing land, the gifts of the sea, the farms of the valleys and hills, the strengthening of youth into creative love, of overcoming disobedience and death to reach the next generations.  And that’s what we want to do:  Save the mana from the past for the next generations;  Create Trust, Faith, Contemplation, Concentration.       

 

When the Christian missionaries arrived in Polynesia, they did not understand God the way Tahitians or Hawaiians did.  Their God was not even the peace loving Jesus Christ they preached about but a strict and vengeful God, a God who took sides in wars and permitted them to call any one they did not agree with a blasphemer and heretic.  Whatever was new and strange to them, they called heathen, savages and worse.  The Spaniards used natives for target practice.  The American and British missionaries dressed them in heavy clothes to hide their bodies and burned and  destroyed their religious and historic artifacts.  The culture and history of Tahiti and all Polynesia was preserved as much as it has been by the songs and chants and dances that tell the stories of Polynesia.  I care about all Polynesia, but my message is about Tahiti, my birth home, who has very few people who remember and can tell its story.  I was trained to remember, respect and to be thankful for those who led Tahiti through the centuries.  So I do not teach the modern dance of Tahiti, except as it is evolving from the foundations of centuries of mana invested in it by those past leaders.

 

To dance from the heart is ‘the  way’.  To dance from the heart is to show love and respect for all who have made the seas and the palm trees and the clouds and our hands and hips so beautiful and practical and poetic.  The most important thing about Polynesian dance is the beat.  The beat actually comes from nature.  Some people, myself included, can tell where each song and dance is from because of the beat.  The beat reflects the sounds of the sea, of the winds, of the clouds, of the passions.

For me, the protocol of preparation is to hear in my heart the beat of the nature of the place.  That will be hard to teach some one from far away from Tahiti.  But because it is already captured in the music we bring to you, perhaps the best preparation is to truly hear that music and to visualize the waves pounding the reefs and the palm fronds slapping in the wind and the mana flowing from the heroes and heroines of  everyday lives into our own.

 

Now I believe in one God, and in my own ancestors, but not in  demi-gods and goddesses.   I respect and love what I have learned from  the mana passed to me, and I hope I can share that with you.

 

Mauruuru,

Manio

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