Creative Kupu

What is Creative Kupu?

It is a mātauranga Māori focused initiative that offers accessibility to creativity for kids. The kaupapa of Creative Kupu is therefore guided by tāmariki in what they’re interested in writing, and in developing through a series of workshops and wānanga.

Why am I interested in making this more accessible to kids here? 

In 2016 I was asked by my friend who was teaching at the time to write a play for their school in Papakura, South Tāmaki. They told me that their budget was small, and that the Ministry of Education asked for $1500 for the licencing rights to use the same old play that the kids didn’t know, and couldn’t relate to. I wrote Young Mana for a koha, so that the school could use the remaining pūtea to put on a cool production, rent out a theatre, have costumes and even a sound technician.

Young Mana was written from my own experience growing up as an urban Māori in Tūranga-nui-a-kiwa, in Elgin. Although locationally different, my observations spent in Papakura showed me that economically and demographically, we were exactly the same.

I pulled in elements that I considered exciting, and had hoped the kids acting the parts would too.

The genre of the play is fantasy, and utilises manu, kuri, taniwha, and the kiore to represent key characters. Mana endures a necessary journey in discovering his whakapapa, alongside the guidance of his Mum and a few friends.

Back in June I started 1-hour weekly workshops at my old primary school, Elgin. I wanted to bring the pilot of Creative Kupu, a series of creative writing workshops to Tūranga-nui-a-kiwa for my part in the ONO Project.

This seemed like a good opportunity for me to reconnect with the school where my creativity was first noticed.

Coming back into Elgin was nothing but a warm memory for me. This feeling was only continued when I was openly embraced by the Principal to come in and run these workshops.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t keen to develop a play with these kids. However, this time, I wanted to give the kids full autonomy over the story, and therefore over their creative pieces, so that the characters they would be ‘playing’ wouldn’t be from someone else’s perspective.

I also asked the kids what they wanted to focus on, because I wanted to make best use of a short time spent at the school. We all know that creative processes take adults weeks, months and sometimes even years. Having 5 weeks; 5 hours to take the kids to a space of creating with purpose is difficult, and I’m sure teachers can vouch for me on that.

When I introduced myself to these kids, I proposed that I really wanted to develop works with them, to keep in touch, and to see their mahi produced into something like the production shown above.

I wanted to see what they would focus on, and figuring that out required trialling one out of the two top options, Songs and a Play.

We started with songs, taking one kid’s suggestion to watch an exclusively PG video clip of their current favourite song, ‘Don’t Worry Baby’, covered by Tomorrow People.

I had to tell them that the original was actually sung by a group of American men in the 60’s.

They didn’t like that so much.

I asked them to respond to the song, how it made them feel.

And this one just cracked me up. This kid wanted to write their own song, but needed the teacher to write while they said the lyrics.

“Girl can you hear the drums

Girl can you hear the guitar?

Girl can you hear my heart?

Girl do you know that you make me bad.

Bad, bad, bad.

Girl do you need a Knight in shining


They later asked me if I could send these lyrics to Three Houses Down.

 This process was difficult because the song chosen didn’t interest the majority of the group. I would say 40% of the class actually enjoyed the song, while the remaining found it a bit lame. Creating their own lyrics would too prove a bit daunting, with many feeling whakamā around expectation.

Lyricism is time consuming, requiring time to reflect on personal feelings and experiences. Some of the kids opened up about their feelings, but were reluctant to put that down on a piece of paper. The kōrero was pretty special, and still counts as process.

I decided we’d give that a break, and trial something else the following week.

In the next session, I decided to push songs aside and trial the play workshop. I thought that something we could get out of an hour would be creating a character – how fun I thought. Turns out that this required a bit of unpacking too, and that agreeing to them using their chromebooks would benefit some, while distract the remaining. Creativity comes in many forms, I decided. 

One of the kids showing me the drawings they had done in their creative writing book. The drawings were incredibly detailed, and involved illustrations I’m dubious would be of interest to kids. I have a feeling that an older sibling drew them, but still this kid’s interest in drawing is obvious to me.

Anime seemed to be a huge theme here, with this kid showing me a character they had “made up”. The character is Todoroki, who has the catch phrase: “It’s not your fault, we’re just playing on different levels”.

Pre-existing or not, the character sounded sassy, which I like.

I thought for the longest time that these kids were super talented drawers, until I noticed them all folding their chromebook’s down so that they could trace pictures. Hei aha.

It was cool to learn that Dragon Ball Z was making a comeback.

This kid had traced a video game character. They were telling me all about how unspotabble the character was, and so I suggested they could create a character that would be able to defeat them. We ended up just talking about video games. 

“My character is a girl. She loves drawing her name is Lia. She’s pretty (<3) her hair is blonde and her teeth are bright and white. She is 38 years old and if she was in a movie she would go on an adventure with her drawing book and pencil, and whatever she drew would come to life.”

I was blown away by the imagination in the creation of this character. The idea that Lia could draw things to life excited me, and I wanted to understand how that would look.

This is clearly someone who loves creative writing, and a student who might be interested in continuing onward with this kaupapa.

The kids are on their school break currently, but when they return, we will pick up where we left off and continue developing characters, and moving on to placing the character into a scene.

Massive aroha to Elgin Primary School, to the Principal for entrusting me into this space, the teacher for their huge support and flexibility, and of course to these kids who willingly engage in their creative processes.

Ngā mihi aroha,

Jordan Walker, Creative Kupu