Throwback Thursdays: Bob Marley Meets the Maoris

December 11, 2014

Words by Jesse Serwer


When Chronixx makes his New Zealand debut at this Sunday’s Raggamuffin Music Festival (after touching down in Australia today and tomorrow) he’ll be adding to a long history of reggae in Aotearoa. Central to that history, which includes homegrown bands like The Herbs, Unity Pacific and Fat Freddy’s Drop, is a connection between Jamaica and the indigenous Maori people solidified by a storied visit from Bob Marley. Marley’s lone trip to New Zealand in 1979 left such an imprint on Kiwi consciousness that, nearly 35 years later, it inspired by one of the country’s most popular domestic movies.

Marley was visiting New Zealand on his Babylon By Bus tour in April of ’79, when he was invited to meet with a group of Maori, who welcomed him with a powhiri, the traditional Maori ceremony which involves speeches, dancing, singing and the nose-to-nose hongi greeting. The ceremony, at Auckland’s Parnell Rose Gardens, was captured by journalist Dylan Taite as part of Come a Long Way, a documentary for local TV station, TVNZ, that also included a memorable interview with Marley, and footage of him playing soccer with the Maoris and film crew.

Years later, the re-discovery of that footage led Tearepa Kahi, a Maori writer and director, to create Mt. Zion, his 2013 movie about a group of young potato farmers vying for an opening slot on Marley’s Auckland show.ย “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on the VHS โ€” this was in the days before it was on YouTube, and honestly I was just so mesmerised,” said Kahi, who was working at TVNZ at the time when he encountered an old VHS tape with the footage. “I went, ‘Wow, imagine what it would’ve been like to be the person who did the wero to Bob Marley’, and then I realised, wait a minute, that’s actually quite a good question.” The footage didn’t just inspire the movieโ€”it was inserted into the film. Armed with modern technology and permission from Marley’s estate, Kahi was able to cut Marley into the actual story, giving the late singer a posthumous acting role of sorts in the film he inspired.

The movie, based on Golden Harvest, a real-life band which won a competition for the opening slot at Marley’s 1979 Auckland show, topped theย New Zealand box office on the week of its release.

Watch the footage that inspired the movie, and get a taste of Mt. Zion below: