Hei Tiki

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Hei Tiki
Directed by Alexander Markey
Produced by Alexander Markey
Written by Alexander Markey
Release dates
  • 1935 (1935)
Running time 7300 ft
121 minutes
Language English

Hei Tiki also known as Primitive Passions and Hei Tiki: A Saga of the Maoris was a 1935 American film made in New Zealand by the eccentric Alexander Markey, and released with sound added in America. The film gained notoriety in America by having scenes of nudity cut in various states.

Markey directed and produced the film, also writing the screenplay and the “native melodies”. His girlfriend Zoe Varney was credited as Associate Producer. Alfred Hill the original composer and Ted Coubray the original camerman were both fired and not credited; Coubray also lost his camera to Markey. The film also used unpaid Māori extras, and taonga or cherished tribal artefacts lent by the cast; Markey took the artefacts when he returned to America leaving unpaid bills behind him. Local investors had invested £10,000 in the film.

The film was shot in Waihi. The film was released in America with sound added; a symphonic score by Oscar Potoker was added using the RCA Photophone System and also "voice-over" narration which avoided problems of synchronisation.

It is one of four films (with The Devil's Pit, Down on the Farm and On the Friendly Road) which lay claim to be the first "New Zealand talkie", although dubious as the sound was added in America.


Mara the daughter of a chief is dedicated to the tribal war god and is isolated on the Island of Ghosts on a lake. Manui a young chief from an enemy tribe sees her and they fall in love. He pretendes to be the war god but the ruse is discovered, so her tribe attacks the other tribe. Then Mara persuades both tribes of the benefit of a peaceful alliance through marriage.


  • Nowara Kereti as Mara
  • Ben Biddle as Manui


  • New Zealand Film 1912-1996 by Helen Martin & Sam Edwards p46 (1997, Oxford University Press, Auckland) ISBN 019 558336 1

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