Te tangi o te pipiwhararua. (The song of the shining cuckoo) from a poem by Tangirau Hotere.



Te tangi o te pipiwhararua by Colin McCahon.
Reproduction permission courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust.

Alternative Title

The song of the shining cuckoo.

Date Created



Hocken Pictorial Collections


This is one of McCahon's major works of the mid-1970s, along with the <em>Urewera Mural</em>, the <em>Blind</em> series, and the <em>Parihaka Triptych</em>. It has several motivations and triggers. The primary one is the shining cuckoo's song, spoken of in a Maori poem passed on to McCahon by Ralph Hotere who got it from his father. Such gifts often produced an 'answering hark' from McCahon. In this instance he combined the words of the song with several other strands of sign and image - Roman numerals, window frames, misted landscapes in white, gray and pale lemon, abstract panels a la Mark Rothko in his sombre phase. Other elelments come in to play through the talk around the painting. McCahon said he painted it as a memorial for three recently dead poet friends, R.A.K. Mason, Charles Brasch and James K. Baxter. Critics have pointed out the mixture of Maori, Classical and Christian elements, the latter being carried by the numbers 1 to 14, the number of stations of the cross in Catholic liturgy and a major McCahon motif, especially in the mid-1960s. Caselberg wrote an essay 'Colin mcCahon's Panels, "The Song of the Shining Cuckoo'", published in <em>Islands</em> 18 (1977), along with various texts and facsimiles. McCahon gave the work to the Hocken Library as a memorial to his poet friends. This is made explicit in a letter to John Caselberg: <br /> <em>It should be at Hocken. Could you see to this &amp; if Hocken should want to make it a gift, for gifts: to Baxter, Mason, Brasch, please, do. When I start painting for myself I'll die.</em>
Through image, panel 1 with brush: I II Tuia Tui; margin below panel 1 with brush: Tuia tui; through image, panel 2 with brush: II IV V VI Tahia, tahia, kotahi te manu i tau ki te tahuna; through image panel 3 with brush: VII VIII; u.c. panel 3 with brush: Te tangi o te pipiwhararua. Tangirau Hotere; margin below panel 3 with brush:Tau mai; through image panel 4 with brush: IX X XI; margin below panel 4 with brush: Tau mai; through image panel 5 with brush: XII XIII XIV; margin below panel 5 with brush: Tau mai. C. McC, Oct í74.


Hotere, Tangirau (Author in quotations or text extracts)


5 panels: 1752 x 901 mm, 1770 x 902 mm, 1740 x 905 mm, 1757 x 900 mm & 1758 x 903 mm; assembled to form ca: 1770 x 4710 mm


oil on unstretched canvas panels

Spatial Coverage


Given by Colin McCahon, Auckland, 1977.






McCahon, Colin, “Te tangi o te pipiwhararua. (The song of the shining cuckoo) from a poem by Tangirau Hotere.,” ourheritage.ac.nz | OUR Heritage, accessed April 18, 2024, https://ourheritage.ac.nz/items/show/5644.