For many years after Ana Hato's death, an in memoriam notice was placed in the Rotorua Daily Post: 'The melody is ended but the memory lingers on ... '
From the 1920s until her death from cancer at 47, Ana was one of this country's most loved singers. Her voice was said to be instantly recognisable. It was characterised by 'trueness in purity and register' (1) and great flexibility. Her voice also had 'hotu' - like a heart beating, or sobbing without tears. With her cousin Deane Waretini (1905-67), Hato helped to popularise Maori music in New Zealand and to bring it to world attention.
Ana Matawhaura Hato was born at Ngapuna, Rotorua, on 30 December 1907, the daughter of Riripeta Te Opehooia Eparaima and Hato Mae Ngaamahirau. She grew up in nearby Whakarewarewa, where Maori culture, language and art flourished, and where waiata (song) was an essential part of life.
The Rotorua region was a tourist destination. This meant that throughout their youth Ana Hato and Deane Waretini came into contact with a wider world than that experienced by most New Zealand children in the first decades of the twentieth century. According to Waretini, 'It was . . . inevitable that the Maori children of the district had greater association with the European than the children of other areas. We, as children, were quick to appreciate the monetary advantages of the tourist trade, and besides diving for pennies and small coins thrown by the tourists into the various bathing pools and the stream . . . [we] performed impromptu entertainment clad not in not even a fig-leaf! (2)
Hato and Waretini took music lessons from Mrs Banks, the wife of the headmaster at Whakarewarewa School. But for the two cousins there was always singing - at home and in community gatherings, at the baths and bridge for tourists, and in the church choir. Rotorua was also where Maori had first set up their own concert parties - entertainment groups that performed a range of Maori songs and dances influenced by European musical forms and tastes.
In the opening years of the twentieth century, Ana Hato was given the opportunity to tour with one the most famous concert parties - Maggie Papakura's. With her remarkable voice, Hato quickly rose to local prominence. In 1925 she performed as a soloist with a small group led by the twin guides, Georgina and Eileen.
The following year, Hato and Waretini became two of the first New Zealand singers to record. When the Duke and Duchess of York visited this country, the Australian recording company Parlophone made eight acoustic recordings of performances for the royal couple in the Tunohopu wharenui (meeting house) at Ohinemutu. These featured Hato, accompanied in some songs by Waretini, a chorus (probably the Rotorua Maori Choir), and the pianist Te Mauri Meihana (Mollie Mason).
Hato and Waretini always sang 'as Maori, not Pakeha'.(3) Even when they sang in a modern style, as in these recordings, their harmonies and vocal teamwork drew on the music they grew up with. The recordings' success resulted in Parlophone arranging for a second recording session in Sydney two years later.
The most popular songs that they recorded were written by Alfred Hill, and included 'Waiata Poi'. Hill was a renowned composer of the time who worked in New Zealand and Australia, and wrote various Maori-themed works.
Hato became famous but was never rich. Her niece commented that probably the only thing she received money for was the concert performances - up to five shillings a night.(4) Hato made a living as a housemaid, in a laundry, and as a cook in the hospital kitchen. She also worked as a guide for European visitors whenever she was needed. However, she never stopped singing, and people never stopped appreciating her voice. When a friend, the noted Ngati Porou singer, Tuini Ngawai, visited her in Whakarewarewa, the waiata apparently went on till dawn, and none of the neighbours closed their windows. Hato also continued to perform at concerts and fundraising events. In 1933, she led the Tuhourangi Concert Party formed by Rangatira Mita Taupopoki. During World War II, Hato's husband, Pahau Raponi, died in a German POW camp, and Hato led hundreds of concerts to raise money for the war effort.
Waretini made further recordings, but the Parlophone records were the only ones published of Ana Hato, despite their success in New Zealand and overseas.
Sadly, when Ana Hato died in 1953, she left 'only a few records to commemorate the voice of one of Maoridom's great artists.'(5)
Kiwi Pacific Records and National Library of New Zealand (1995). Ana Hato raua ko Deane Waretini CD liner notes.
Armstrong, Alan. (1963). 'The Great Songs of Ana Hato and Deane Waretini.' Te Ao Hou. No. 48
Armstrong, Alan. (1963). 'The Great Songs of Ana Hato and Deane Waretini.' Te Ao Hou. No. 48.
Kiwi Pacific Records and National Library of New Zealand (1995). Ana Hato raua ko Deane Waretini. CD liner notes.
Dennan, Rangitiara, with Annabell, R. (1968). Guide Rangi of Rotorua. Christchurch: Whitcombe & Tombs
Ana Hato, 1930s Courtesy of Rotorua Museum of Art and History, Te Whare O Te Arawa