Grad singer in tune with Māori women’s success

Ariana Tikao performing her waiata in Ceremony Two at Friday's graduation ceremony

Singer-songwriter Ariana Tikao missed her own graduation ceremony at Massey University in 1997. But last Friday she paid tribute to the high number of Māori women doctoral graduates at the November graduation with her spellbinding, multi-media performance.

Ms Tikao (Kai Tahu) – the first Māori student to graduate from the School of People, Environment and Planning with a Postgraduate Diploma in Museum Studies – says she was honoured to perform at Ceremonies Two and Three in celebrating the success of all graduates, and especially Māori women scholars.

The recording artist sang her waiata, Tuia, which translates as “to sew, to stitch, to bind”. It is an adaptation of a tauparapara – a formal speech often recited during a pôwhiri to signify a bringing together of various realms, and to celebrate ancestors.

“This in turn relates to our collective strength as a people,” she says. “Through one another's support, we are able to achieve our aspirations.” She also played a traditional carved Māori flute – a koauau – during her chant-based vocal with a backdrop of haunting video and dramatic lighting.

Seven of the 26 PhD graduates at Ceremony Two – for the Colleges of Health, and Humanities and Social Sciences – were Māori women, including three Doctors of Clinical Psychology. Two other PhDs were by non-Maori women who had researched Māori topics. Four Māori men – one each in Ceremonies One (College of Sciences) and Two (College of Health), and two in Ceremony Three (Massey Business School) – were also capped with doctoral degrees on Friday.

Altogether, eleven of a total 52 PhDs awarded at Friday’s graduation ceremonies were conferred to Māori scholars, including two written in Te Reo Māori, by Dr Hinurewa Poutu and Dr Agnes McFarland.

 Watch Ariana's performance


Ariana Tikao uses traditional Māori music forms and instruments in her performances

Family connection to graduation

Ms Tikao had a family connection to the day – her brother David Tikao graduated in Ceremony Three with a Master of Business Administration. She missed her own graduation ceremony 18 years ago as she had moved to Sydney after completing her diploma. She has since undertaken various study programmes at universities around New Zealand to pursue her interests in language and culture.

Ms Tikao currently works with Mâori archival collections at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington. Her music is inspired by traditional music and stories from Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island). She released her third album From Dust to Light in 2012 and a single, Kia Mataara, last November.  

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