Born in Invercargill in 1961, Moana Maniapoto’s future entertainment career was influenced by a family tradition of hospitality and performance, including haka and waiata. At St Josephs’s Māori Girls School in Napier, she was taught by the influential Georgina Kingi, learning poi, harmonising and song composition (she talks about her school memories in this documentary).
In a 2007 NZ Herald interview Maniapoto reflected: “I thought there was a strong feminist streak going through the school… The nuns showed that girls can do anything. They used to fix the blimmin' trucks and zoom around.”
Maniapoto supported university legal studies via singing on the Auckland club circuit. She formed Moana and the Moahunters and in 1990, feminist anthem ‘Black Pearl’ climbed to rua in the charts; a further hit was 1991 te reo trailblazer ‘AEIOU’. (The video for the song was the first funded by NZ On Air.) Both songs were on 1993 album Tahi, and Rua followed in 1998.
In 2002 Maniapoto formed Moana and the Tribe, which went on to release albums Toru and Wha. Maniapoto has performed hundreds of international concerts. Her 2004 song ‘Moko’ beat 11,000 entries to win the Grand Jury Prize for the prestigious International Songwriting Competition. Fiercely politically conscious, Maniapoto’s music is acclaimed for its fusion of traditional Māori sounds and instruments with modern influences (including reggae, soul, classical and pop). In 2006 US magazine The Beat praised her as a “truly inspiring performing and recording artist”.
In 2004 Maniapoto was made a member of the NZ Order of Merit for services to Māori and music; in 2007 she received an Arts Foundation Laureate Award. Rima was released in 2014.
Alongside occasional writing for Mana magazine, Maniapoto had talkback hosting duties on the first national Māori radio station in 1990; other radio slots included a weekly night-time show on Radio Waatea, and music series Tribal Beats.
Maniapoto has accrued a bunch of onscreen credits in her kete. She acted on Shortland Street as Dr Te Aniwa Ryan in 1993-94, where she debated, stalked and courted Dr Hone Ropota (Temuera Morrison). She was credited as Moana Maniapoto-Jackson (from her relationship to broadcaster Willie Jackson).
In the mid-90s she hosted Saturday morning TV3 kids show, Yahoo. Maniapoto also provided political commentary on current affairs show The Ralston Group, and convened the panel (with Stacey Morrison and Temuera Morrison) for Māori Television’s praised 2005 election night special Taaria te Waa.
Director Stuart Page used a Bolex to film Maniapoto in her inner-city Auckland apartment and visiting her marae for My Home (2003); the short film was included on Moana and the Tribe DVD Live & Proud.
Behind the camera she has directed (and often narrated or presented) several documentaries dealing with aspects of Te Ao Māori. Typically these have been with filmmaking mentor, band member and partner Toby Mills, under the Tawera Productions and Black Pearl Productions banners.
Subjects of the pair’s documentaries range from profiles of activist Syd Jackson (Syd Jackson: Life & Times of a Fully Fledged Activist) and master carver Pakariki Harrison (He Tohunga Whakairo), to indigenous intellectual property (Guarding the Family Silver) and colonial encounters (The Russians are Coming).
The Island (2008) looked at a subject close to home for Maniapoto: the cultural and geological history of Motutaiko Island, Lake Taupō (Maniapoto’s marae — Waitetoko — is on the eastern rim on the lake).
The pair had teamed up for the first time on a TV production for an acclaimed collection of kaumatua stories (Nga Morehu: End of an Era). The first episode won Best Māori Programme at the 2000 TV Guide New Zealand Television Awards. At the 2003 NZ TV Awards the Syd Jackson profile won the same award. A later episode of the Nga Morehu series was nominated for Best Māori Language Programme at the same ceremony.
Their documentaries have screened at festivals internationally, including imagineNATIVE (Canada) and National Geographic All Roads.
On the couple's website they describe their production ambitions: “Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu: small but precious. Our passion is to film our people telling their own stories, and to capture it with integrity.”
‘Tawera Productions and Black Pearl Productions’, Moana website. Accessed 12 February 2015
Shelley Bridgeman, ‘Singing the Same Song’, - The NZ Herald, 4 November 2007
‘Moana Maniapoto - Musician’, Arts Foundation website. Accessed 12 February 2015