All I want for my birthday is Maui

IN SEARCH OF MAUI: Laurel Barr, of Upper Hutt, with her son Te Pō Atarau Cormack, who wants someone to perform as Maui for his fourth birthday.
IN SEARCH OF MAUI: Laurel Barr, of Upper Hutt, with her son Te Pō Atarau Cormack, who wants someone to perform as Maui for his fourth birthday.

Children's birthday parties are becoming increasingly elaborate affairs and now a request from a Wellington boy for his hero, Maui, to perform at his fourth birthday party, has his parents stumped.

Te P o Atarau Cormack is such a fan of Maui, it was the first word he said. Now his parents have the unenviable task of finding a fit, muscular and outgoing young man to play the role for his party.

"We asked him what kind of party he wanted," his mother Laurel Barr said."He was like - a Maui party! Maui can come and do the haka with my friends and we can fish up the island and hit [sun god] Tama-nui-te-ra as a pinata sun."

Legend has it Maui fished up the North Island with the magical jawbone of his grandmother, and that he captured and beat the sun into submission to lengthen the hours in the day.

Barr put out a call on creative networking site The Big Idea and contacted performing arts schools at Toi Whakaari and Whitireia, offering $200 for two hours of singing, haka and games.

But after two weeks of advertising, and less than a week until Atarau's party on June 1, there have been no bites.

"We thought it would be of interest to young actors just wanting to get some experience, and high school students."

Maybe punters have been put off by the criteria - an athletic build to match the illustrations in Auckland author Peter Gossage's books.

Te Pō Atarau, or Atarau as he likes to be called, has hooked onto his Maori heritage after being casually introduced to cultural stories and legends at age two.

He runs around in traditional piupiu skirts, wears a tiki around his neck and spends much of his time watching Maori TV.

"He makes rakau sticks and patu out of plastic bowling pins to hit the sun [god Tama-nui-te-ra] and wears a piece of fabric as a headband," Barr said.

"He wears it to kindy. That's how he interacts with other kids, through putting on Maori shows."

Atarau's first word was even "Maui". "I guess it's because the story's magical, he can recite it word for word."

His parents think it's a "lost gene" coming out. "He's a little white boy."

Atarau's mother is American and his father is part Maori. Both parents wanted their sons to grow up knowing their cultures and language.

Barr was inspired by her native American friends to embrace traditional Maori culture - both of the couple's sons have Maori names, which her family can't pronounce, she jokes.

Te P o Atarau refers to the wartime song Now is the Hour which was sung as soldiers parted from their families. It's about travelling overseas and returning, speaking of Atarau's parents' heritage.

The name of their oldest son, Kahurangi, 6, translates as blue, referencing his eye colour.

But the family is big on all cultures, regularly incorporating Chinese New Year, Jewish holidays, and even traditions from Barr's hometown of Pittsburgh.

Sunday Star Times