Once Were Warriors is a film that portrays Māori people living in a New Zealand city in the 1980’s. Māori people are indigenous to the New Zealand islands and are said to have come from islands in the Eastern Pacific. The journey to New Zealand was made navigating by the stars of the night sky while traveling by canoes. The Māori were once a very proud culture with a family and community oriented focus with rich traditions and incredible legends that were passed down from previous generations. Māori warriors were known for their strength and bravery. Once Were Warriors is about a family, friends, and community of Māori people that are living lives much different from their ancestors. Alcoholism, partying, drugs, theft, poverty, and abuse are characteristics of the Māori’s portrayed in the film.
The cultural loss perceived in Once We Were Warriors is similar to the loss of culture here in Hawaii. Many years ago, Captain Cooke took over the culturally rich islands of modern day New Zealand followed by his takeover of the Hawaiian Islands. The indigenous people were pushed aside and the ‘white’ way of life was introduced. The indigenous people were abused, mistreated, became outcasts, their rights and land were taken away, and some were even made slaves. This movie captures this change in lifestyle in an incredible way. The stress of alcohol, abuse, and even suicide painted a picture of how time and colonialism have transformed vibrant cultures into ‘low-class’ citizens in today’s society.
The alcohol issue of Jake, the father, comes from his shame of Māori slaves that he descends from, whereas his wife, Beth, is proud of her ancestors. Jakes grudge, mixed with alcohol, drives his abusive nature over the top, and Beth pays for it. The beatings she receives for being ‘lippy’ are brutal. She gets beat so bad that she can’t show her face at her son, Boogie’s, court hearing the next morning. Boogie’s history of crime shows a lack of parental guidance. His family is unable to properly take care of him and he is sent to a correctional facility. Boogie’s inner anger and is converted to a more productive activity, the Hakka, that allows him to get in touch with his ancestor’s traditions. Boogie finds his inner Māori connection in these practices while his brother, Nig, tries to find his inner Māori by becoming apart of a street gang and getting tribal tattoos. The brother’s finds their connection to their heritage in a different ways and eventually come together in the end of the film at their sister’s burial ceremony. Grace, the sister, can’t cope after her uncle rapes her and she receives very little love from her family. Grace looked to be the families only hope until the night of the raping. She then turned to drugs and inevitably hung herself after one last meeting with her abusive father, Jake. After her death, Jake turned to boo’s as the rest of the immediate family came together to mourn the loss of Grace. Jake refused to go to the burial ceremony because of Beth’s decision to bury Grace on her homeland. Jake’s stubbornness, alcohol consumption, and abusive nature eventually land him a place in jail. The last we see of Jake is after he gets done beating his daughter’s rapist at a bar. The police sirens start going off while Jake awaits them on the sidewalk next to the bar.