Roimata Toroa
Ngahina Hohaia


Ngahina Hohaia
Roimata Toroa
Production date:
Accession No:
2500 x 9000mm - approximate
woollen blanket, embroidery silk, ribbon

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth. Acquired with assistance from the Govett-Brewster Foundation.

In the installation Roimata Toroa (translated as ‘tears of the albatross’), Ngahina Hohaia embraces the ancient Taranaki tradition of poi manu associated with the Whanganui iwi to tell the story of Parihaka, the artist’s village and marae. Poi manu describes the ceremonial use of poi to maintain the rhythmic timing of complex recitations of whakapapa (genealogy) and karakia (ritual incantation). Here the manu is the female element, the messenger or storyteller, while the movement and rhythm of the poi reflects the development of a storyline.

Hohaia created each of the 392 hand-woven poi embroidered with symbols referencing the stories associated with the history of Parihaka — a pan-tribal Māori community that was established in the 19th century on the western side of Mount Taranaki and is known for its passive resistance movement over the New Zealand government land confiscation. Three albatross feathers, the iconic symbol of Parihaka, feature prominently in the embroidered narrative. This is one of 53 symbols that repeat throughout the composition, evoking a meditative flow of lyrics and beat of drums such is heard in poi manu action songs. Another 31 convey passages of text that form a speech made by Tohu Kākahi at Parihaka in 1895. Along with Te Whiti-o-Rongomai, he was responsible for making Parihaka a symbol of pacifist protest.

The poi, made of second-hand blankets of 100% New Zealand wool, refer to the transactions during colonial times, when woollen blankets, muskets, alcohol and tobacco were traded by settlers in exchange for Māori land. Thus, these poi symbolise the ongoing imbalance of wealth and power in New Zealand. The resulting cream-coloured objects, interspersed with pale blue and pink fragments of ribbon and silk, appear distinct from original poi made from natural plant fibres. Whereas poi are traditionally used by performers who swing them rapidly in circular patterns, in Hohaia’s static composition of poi pinned to the wall in eight rows that can be read both vertically and horizontally, movement and sound are inferred through the visual rhythm of the embroidered images.

Hohaia, of Ngāti Moeahu and Ngāti Haupoto descent, grew up in Taranaki and began learning poi manu from the elder Parihaka women when she was six years old. She is the daughter of the late Te Miringa Hohaia, a prominent musician, activist and historian. Roimata Toroa was created while she worked towards her bachelors degree in Māori Visual Arts at Massey University, Palmerston North, and was first exhibited at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery to coincide with the 2008 Parihaka Peace Festival.