Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal

Story by Lisa Kiyomoto-Fink

School of English, Film, Theatre, and Media Studies, 2017

Whare Tapere

“Composer, researcher, arts organiser, teacher, thinker,” and thrice Victoria graduate Charles Royal (Marutūahu, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngā Puhi) is bringing the whare tapere into the twenty-first century.

“E te iwi, tēnā koutou katoa” - so begins Charles Royal’s 1998 PhD in Theatre and Film. This doctorate was where he first published the fragments we know about the historic whare tapere (performance house), and where he started imagining how this indigenous creativity could be brought into the future.

In 2004 he established Ōrotokare: Art, Story, Motion Trust which staged whare tapere in Hauraki between 2010 and 2015. So what happens at these houses?

“From about the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries, whare tapere were a feature of community life throughout New Zealand,” explains Charles on his website. Most villages had a space for the whare tapere, where various performing arts and plays occurred, such as storytelling, puppetry, stilt walking, and … ‘kokomo’?

“Kokomo is the game of placing red hot coals in your mouth,” says Charles, presenting his research at the University of London, where he was a visiting fellow from 2011 to 2014. “We still need to find a volunteer to test that out”.

A Renaissance Man

As well as at the University of London, Charles held a Professorship at Auckland University for five years and was a 2001 Fullbright Senior Scholar.

He was appointed Director, Ngā Manu Atarau, at Te Papa Museum last year. But directing research is just one strength of this multi-talented academic.

“Music is my first love,” he writes. He began at Victoria studying music, gaining both a BMus (Composition) and BMus (Hons) by 1989.

Charles has composed numerous works, including mōteatea, traditional Māori song poetry, and three CDs.”I greatly enjoy composing songs as they can tell stories powerfully and can move us in striking ways,” he writes.

Charles Performing at Auckland Museum

  • Charles Royal - LATE at the Museum

Māori Storytelling

Storytelling is how everything he does gets woven together. Māori storytelling especially, but that’s not an easy label to define.

“Māori storytelling, like all storytelling, should touch the heart and move people,” Charles blogged in 2016. “[But] sometimes it looks like the storyteller thinks …'this is a Māori character therefore there must be haka or something’ ... It's a falsity because it is not really connecting with what is actually happening in the experience of that character in that moment”.

Into the Future: Indigenous Creativity

“Indigenous creativity and innovation is about achieving new horizons and possibilities for indigenous knowledge and worldview,” writes Charles in 2016.

“The challenge before us is not just to articulate and express our history, but also to fully liberate our imaginations and to dream of new possibilities for our communities, for our people … We have much to do”.


83 Fairlie Terrace, Kelburn, Wellington 6021, New Zealand