The first in Nga Reo (TV One, 10.05pm) - a series of seven documentaries made by "up-and-coming" Maori directors and producers - is Jah, a look at Rasta in Godzone. Four Maori who have embraced Rasta talk about their religion.

Why has Rasta found a faithful Maori following? Good question. Rasta has its roots in Ethiopia from whence Haile Selassie, the last emperor, hails. Orthodox Rastafarians claim Selassie as God Almighty.

It is a religion of rejection: of Orthodox Christianity, of colonialism as a weapon of oppression, of meat and alcohol. What Rasta does embrace are dreadlocks and dope. Its scripture is reggae music.


Our own favourite Rasta is Nandor Tanczos, who made it to Parliament in his dreadlocks and hemp suit. He has talked about smoking dope as a tool for meditation. Jah is almost coyly quiet on the position.

This is because, according to the doco's makers, for the four Maori interviewed Rasta is "so much more than good beats and high times".

Che Fu likes the freedom of the religion: "You are the Rasta man. You are the Rasta woman." No one dictates what being Rasta means.

His mother, Miriama Rauhihi-Ness, was an early convert, a member of the 12 Tribes of Israel who set up house in Ponsonby in the early 80s and held notoriously great parties.

There is footage of Bob Marley in concert in 1979. The documentary tells us: "When Marley came to New Zealand, Maori treated him like a prophet."

He sang "Stand up for your rights" to a Maori population setting out on the long land march of Treaty settlement claims.

Che Fu on why Maori have embraced Rasta: "It was poor people's religion. It looks like us."

Rauhihi-Ness: "People thought it was just smoking herb all day and just wearing generic dreadlocks. It wasn't like that at all".

Julie Ryland (aka reggae musician Jules Issa) says its about "one [Bible] chapter a day," and that Rasta for Maori has not been embraced as trendy but as a true mix of "Rasta and Maori culture".

It is, she says, "no longer this bunch of horis running around". And former rebel Issa is "no longer a freedom fighter. I was free".

The attraction appears in part to have been the adaptability. Nobody's going to excommunicate you if you break the dietary restrictions. Che Fu says he tries not to eat pork or shellfish. But if he goes to a house where they are on the table ... well, it would be rude not to.

And those dreadlocks? Rauhihi-Ness says she gets asked: "How do you wash them?" With Joico.

If Jah never quite gets to grips with the contradictions inherent in the cultural embrace that is Rasta and Maori, well, its subject is religion, a slippery and personal topic.

As Rauhihi-Ness says, it's all about interpretation. She went looking to reconcile the connection and discovered "many similarities been Rasta religion and early Maori religion".