In no way do I presume to be any kind of expert on Maoridom. I live in Aotearoa and try to respect our native culture but I still have much to learn. One concept however has always resonated with me and that is the concept of Koha.

I have always understood Koha to be more than a donation. I’ve heard it described as a gift from the heart. Traditionally it was the gift of food and treasures brought to a marae by visitors to help with the upkeep of having them stay. In modern times it is cash that is given to help with the cost of a hui; venue, food etc. I have taken this on in my own practise as a theatre artist, putting on shows and workshops for koha, meaning pay what you can afford and what you think the event is worth, keeping in mind cost of putting on that event. Arts and culture should be available to everyone.

This year my collaborators and I are putting on the show Madame Blavatsky and the Astral Light as part of the NZ Fringe Festival. We registered our show as Koha/ Free in the registration form. On opening night we put out our jug with Koha written on it and waited.

We had around 30 people crowded around our tent, but from opening night we had less than $20 in our jug. With such a small amount of koha, how are we to cover the cost of our show?

The problem seems to be one not just of language but of culture. Koha is not a form of payment but a cultural exchange. I will share my heart, knowledge and culture with you and you will agree that these are things of value and give a gift from your heart.

If you don’t have money to give, give your thanks. Discuss the work with the artists and with others in your community. If you do have money, give generously. Either way, make sure to acknowledge the gift you have been given.

It is challenging to work in the arts in Aotearoa, because of the economic value placed on culture. Artists must qualify why their art has value to funding bodies rather than to their communities. I am not saying that this problem is geographically bound to our country, but here we have a built in alternative provided by our Tangata Whenua.

Koha does not mean free. You are not paying, you are giving a gift and getting one in return. Thank your local artists for their hospitality and give what you can.


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