Once were warriors is a film based on the novel of the same name written by Alan Duff. It was directed by Lee Tamahori in 1994. The movie depicts the everyday life of the Hekes, a poor Maori family. While Jack “the muss” gets drunk with his friends and often ends up fighting in several pubs, his wife Beth tries to feed their five children with what Jack leaves her. When she dares to complain, she is beaten by her husband. The two oldest sons are delinquents: Nig, who dislikes his father, is a member of the Toa gang and Boogy has been sent to a borstal by the judge. When their daughter Grace hangs herself after having been raped by one of her father’s friends, Beth realizes that she must change her way of living and decides to leave Jack.
Once were warriors also portrays several aspects of the Maori culture, a native population who came to New Zealand from the 8th century onwards. Nowadays they represent 10% of the population in New Zealand, which had been colonized by the British mostly. In the movie we can see that the Maori culture was influenced by this period of colonization. A first aspect is that they became Christian without abandoning their rites. This is illustrated by Grace’s funeral which is a mix of Maori and Christian tradition, performing the Haka dance during the Christian ceremony for instance.
A second aspect is that many people left their village to adopt the European way of life in the cities which lead them to poverty and alcoholism among other things. In the film the Heke family live poorly in the suburbs of a town. Their misery drove them to alcoholism, a third aspect which is very present in the movie when Jack and Beth get drunk at home with friends.
We can also see the violent aspect of the Maori culture. In fact they were already fierce and proud warriors and became even more violent by learning new war techniques from the Europeans. With regards to the film, there are a lot of fights, violent scenes and performances of the Haka.
Once were warriors is one of the only movies showing the real social status of the Maori that achieved such success. It won several prizes such as best film at the New Zealand Film & Television Awards, the Durban International Film Festival, the Montreal Film Festival and the Rotterdam Film Festival. Thanks to this worldwide success, people got interested in the Maori culture. The movie therefore became an icon of this antipodean culture.
We strongly recommend you this great movie, but don’t expect a good laugh but rather a good cry!
Hélène Vancompernolle and Martin Cugnon