Old McDonald dragged into 2018

‘Tane Mahuta’ gets a reading with Stanley Hunt, Torsen Anger, Rebecca Larsen, and Xavier Kelly. Photo: Nikki South.

The farmer has been written out of the children’s ditty ‘Old McDonald had a Farm’.

“Yes, it’s back to the forest,” says children’s author Rebecca Larsen of Papamoa. “And that’s the way it should be.”

Old McDonald has been superceded by characters Pukeko, Kiwi and Hoiho, and ‘Tane Matua has a Forest’ is sung to the tune of ‘Old McDonald’ in both English and Maori. Times have changed, and things have changed.

This is all about a book, a kids’ book, called ‘Tane Mahuta has a Forest’. It’s Rebecca’s secondary literary outing, coming on the back of her enormously successful ‘Row, Row, Row your Waka’.

That tale is on its third print run and made the Nielsen best seller list.

There’s no E-I-E-I-O, not in ‘Tane Mahuta has a Forest’. But there is an A-E-I-O-U – and when kids sing the action song from the book, it’s done so with Maori pronunciation of the vowels – are, ere, ee, or, oo.

And so the book and the accompanying goes: “With an ‘I’, ‘I’ here, and a takahia there, stamp around, on muddy ground, waewae, takahia, Tane Mahuta has a forest, A,E,I,O,U.”

The inspiration came from a bush walk, but not where the spirit of the giant kauri Tane Mahuta dwells, in the forest of Northland.

“One particular day we went into a forest near Opotiki, the Hukutaia Domain,” says Rebecca of the five-hectare remnant of an extensive native forest. “At the centre is a magnificent, 2000-year-old puriri tree. It’s a magical place because of all the beautiful bird song.”

It triggered the idea that wandering through a forest is all about waiata, or bird song. “And a good healthy forest should sound like that,” she says.

But when she sang her ‘Tane Mahuta’ song for kids and asked what creatures inhabited the forest, they said bears and tigers. “So the song is introducing our kids to a real New Zealand forest setting.”

She says they’re so used to Old McDonald and overseas songs, “but Tane Mahuta gives the tune a New Zealand context, while they learn some te reo and doing fun actions. They really enjoy learning it - it’s about the actions and the participation.”

Rebecca lived in Canada for eight years, where everyone’s teaching their kids French, to be bilingual. “It’s quite a big deal giving your child another language, and I naturally gravitated to Maori because it’s our other national language.

“I had that experience of growing up with all the songs we learned from Aunty Bea at school, and I would sing those songs to my babies.”

When she got home from Canada, she wrote ‘Row, Row, Row your Waka’ – the formula being to weave in te reo. “It was a hit because it had a pukana, a Maori game, a haka, a scream or squeal and the kids enjoyed singing along,” she explains.

‘Tane Mahuta’ is the sequel. The popular characters Pukeko, Kiwi and Hoiho get another outing and they wander through a New Zealand forest finding creatures and carrying out actions with them.

“It’s a stand-up song,” says Rebecca. “I sing and do the actions and they follow. There’s dancing and stamping and flying and calling and hide and seek. There’s lots going on and they love it.”

The book has been translated into te reo by Justin Kereama and Tania Solomona. There’s also a nice add-on - a CD of the song in English and Maori sung by Paul Inia, with music by Richard Larsen. The book was launched in Te Puke, where the author is marketing manager for EPIC Te Puke.

Next week, two or three classes from Arataki School will perform an excerpt from the book. “It’s the first school performance based on the book and I will be a guest in the audience,” she says.

“With an ‘A’ ‘A’ here, and a toro up there, stretch up high, towards the sky, Tane Mahuta has a forest, A,E,I,O,U.”

Old McDonald might even approve.