Book Review: Ngāti Kahu, Portrait of a Sovereign Nation, by Margaret Mutu et al.

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_ngati_kahu.pngThe summit of Rangikāpiti Pā in the Far North town of Mangōnui overlooks the wide expanse of Tokerau Moana (dubbed Doubtless Bay by a quickly convinced Cook) and a vast swathe of Ngāti Kahu’s rohe (territory). Similarly, Ngāti Kahu, Portrait of a Sovereign Nation, sure to become an equally imposing landmark on the northern landscape, is a sweeping overview of this iwi’s physical and emotional topography – its memories and heartaches, struggles and victories.

Just as Ngāti Kahu draws its strength from its many different hapū, so the Portrait is made richer by its wide range of sources. These include irreplaceable oral histories gathered by the project’s historians, documentary evidence of wrongful land purchases, maps, quotations from an extensive bibliography of other works, excerpts from letters, and testimonies presented during the settlement process. Each of these constituent parts come together to trace a remarkable hakapapa of resistance.

True to its title, the Portrait is a nation building exercise. In scope and reach, covering the long haerenga (journey) from distant beginnings to the challenges of the present, it is not unlike Ranginui Walker’s Ka whawhai tonu matou, Struggle without end. Similarly illustrating events with first-hand experience, and steeped in Ngāti Kahu’s understanding of itself and its place in the world, this work is a pou (a marking post), carved with pepehā (identifying sayings) and hakataukī (proverbs), and kōrero o mua (traditions).

This journey cannot be understood without an awareness of the values that have guided and sustained Ngāti Kahu along the way. The Portrait immerses the reader in this iwi’s worldview with a concise yet complete introduction to its stories of origin and to its unique understanding of principles such as mana, tikanga and rangatiratanga.

An aspect of this work I appreciate as a descendent of a northern iwi is its faithful reflection of the spoken language of the North, for example using hakapapa rather than whakapapa. This small choice makes the Portrait a waka huia (a carved box for the huia feather, a prized possession) for our northern language and an expression of our identity for the rest of the motu (nation).

The Portrait does not overlook the heke (rafters) that sustain the roof, the hapū that form Ngāti Kahu. The inhabitants of kāinga (settlements) nestled in valleys or dotted along the coast all have their time on the paepae (speakers bench). With the deep love of place that comes from generations of continuous occupation, stories of back country rivers and hills and the riches within are told, as only those who have kept the ahi kā (home fires) burning for so long can.

However, what of the stories told by others? The Portrait can at times seem dismissive of claims by neighbouring iwi over lands and resources Ngāti Kahu considers its own. However, it also acknowledges the long-standing kinship among the iwi of Muriwhenua before the borders and labels demanded by the settlement process were laid down. It considers these disputes part of a strategy by government to exacerbate and manipulate the minor quarrels that inevitably arise between close neighbours. How these will be resolved remains to be seen, but if other iwi in the North (including my own) replicate this Portrait to make their case, the compilation and the preservation of these stories will make us all the richer.

The Portrait’s collaborators include Margaret Mutu, leader and professor of Māori political practice, history and tikanga at Auckland University. Her influence can be felt not only in the text, but also in her photos of significant sites for the iwi. While these whakaahua (images) are stunning, in conjunction with the text they enable the reader to appreciate the true meaning of these places for the local people. In this way, we learn that the blindingly white sands of Karikari Peninsula are not just inviting beaches, but they are also wāhi tapu – resting places for the kōiwi (remains) of ancestors, we understand why the peaks along the backbone of Ngāti Kahu’s lands are known as Maungataniwha, and we discover that the dense bush on the slopes of these hills is in fact a veritable apothecary of rongoā Māori (Māori medicine).

These are timely reminders of what comes of short-sighted exploitation of these resources. The realm of Tangaroa has been emptied of its bountiful kaimoana – scallops, mussels, and fish; the realm of Tāne can no longer sustain the fat kukupa (kererū) in numbers able to sustain great feasts; and the realm of Tūmatauenga has been cleared of the fruit of human labour, the massive gardens that once fed the North with a rich variety of foods. As one kaumātua ruefully observes: “There were many gardens back in the day, but since the Pākehā came we now have PAK’n’SAVE instead.”

The portrait offers a tangata whenua perspective on the arrival of “our guests from England”. In a tone which would be bemused exasperation if not for the injustices that followed, the Portrait observes the difficulties of the first Pākehā in “living according to the laws of this land”. Despite its dispossession, Ngāti Kahu tells of the arrival of these guests not with anger, but with sadness at how the generous hospitality that was shown to the new arrivals was repaid.

Treaty settlements are generally accompanied by a Deed of Settlement, which sets out an official version of events and of the injustices that are partially remedied. In the absence of an agreed path towards settlement with government, Ngāti Kahu’s Portrait pre-empts this and presents its truth on its own terms. This act of self-determination denounces the failings of the settlement process in Muriwhenua, the flaws of an approach that seeks tidy outcomes within arbitrary deadlines, and the return of divide-and-rule tactics.

This Portrait is more than a testimony to Ngāti Kahu’s tenacious struggle to hold on to its home, it is also a defiant cry of independence, identity and love for the people and land, founded in a deep awareness of the past and hope for the future. It is a rewarding read for anyone with an interest in history, identity, and how memory shapes not only our sense of self, the landscape we live in and the way we imagine our future.

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd (Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Pāoa, Te Ātiawa)

Ngāti Kahu, Portrait of a Sovereign Nation
by Margaret Mutu, Lloyd Pōpata, Te Kani Williams, Ānahera Herbert-Graves, Reremoana Rēnata, JudyAnn Cooze, Zarrah Pineaha, Tania Thomas, Te Ikanui Kingi-Waiaua
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN  9781775503040

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Book Review: Awatea’s Treasure, by Fraser Smith

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_awateas_treasure.jpgThis book is a great delight to read.

Awatea, the main character, has been sent to stay with his grandparents and uncles in the country because his dad is not well. The story is set in the far north of New Zealand, and the atmosphere created by Fraser Smith’s writing is very credible and evocative of life in a reasonably remote area.

I was drawn in to this book from the outset. The uncles, prone to fairly rough practical joking, were scarily good and set the scene well for the development of the book.
It has everything – the already mentioned scary uncles, relaxed but firm grandparents, an empty – possibly haunted – house next door, and beaches and forests to explore, neighbours (a long way away) with a nutty parrot and an unseen son. Magic, adventure, what’s not to like?

It’s an excellent story and I don’t want to give away too much detail, but Awatea finds a tree house with some things which surely belonged to the boy who built it – but who is he? Where is he? Is the treasure really valuable? And where does the guy with the horse fit in?
Just read it! I am sure that like you won’t put it down till you have finished.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Awatea’s Treasure
by Fraser Smith
Huia Publishers 2016
ISBN 9781775502944

Book Review: The Marble Maker, by Sacha Cotter, Illustrations by Josh Morgan

 

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

the-marble-maker“Fire up the stoves! Wind up the cranks! Open the hatch! It’s marble-making time!” And what a marble-making session it is! The self-proclaimed Queen of the Marble Season is a girl on a mission – to be included as a marble-maker extraordinaire in the pages of The Book of Marbles. She has already created marbles following recipes in the book and her big dream is to join other Magnificent Marble Makers by coming up with her own creation.

But just what will be magnificent enough? Off she goes to her lab, joined by her trusty assistant Winston the sheep (because every inventor needs a sheep assistant!), and so begins a slightly chaotic and funny creative process. Readers will enjoy the crazy ingredients considered including: the teeth bling from a retired rapper, three pints of swooshy night air and one hefty snort from a yeti too tired to sleep. The colourful illustrations offer lots of action and details to giggle at, and the marble season scene under a pohutakawa tree evokes the author’s own childhood memories of school marble fun and magic – the inspiration for the story.

How brilliant! To see a young girl keen on invention and fully embracing her passion and dream. With concerns about the gender differential in STEM subjects (the number of girls continuing with science, technology, engineering and mathematics decreases as they progress through school), it is great to have an enthusiastic female inventor/scientist buzzing about her lab filled with beakers and cauldrons. Cotter and Morgan have shown that fun can be found in STEM fields and that it is cool to enjoy science – the Queen of Marbles displays her passion in the badge on her coat: an atomic whirl symbol containing a love heart.

Delivered with energetic and engaging text, there is a powerful positive message hiding within the fun language and crazy scenes:  a message of encouragement and of never giving up, even when you fail. Encouraging others to achieve, that they too may realise their dream is also a worthy message to pick up from Winston and also in the closing pages: “But there are lots of blank pages, too. That’s because there’s always room for more Magnificent Marble Makers. And you never know who might be next.”

This is the second collaboration by Cotter and Morgan; they have previously worked on the award winning Keys, also published by Huia and offered in Te Reo Maori and English. The Marble Maker is a fantastic creation; rich in detail, well written, fun and appealing – it’s sure to be a hit!

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The Marble Maker
by Sacha Cotter, Illustrations by Josh Morgan
Huia Publishers, 2016
ISBN: 9781775502241

Book Review: Tuna and Hiriwa, by Ripeka Takotowai Goddard, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tuna_and_hiriwaOne of the joys of reviewing books is that I get first look at some wonderful adaptations of old tales, and a chance to see our Aotearoa stories being presented to the next generation. Tuna and Hiriwa is a superb example of this.

Set on the banks of the Rangitikei River we meet Hiriwa, the sparkling dancing glow worm. In contrast we then discover Tuna, the eel. He watches and wants what she has. Their conversation suggests a solution to him but his attempts fail miserably. His actions bring about a change for both of them and give a good explanation as why things are as they are. Of course there are always consequences for actions, as Tuna discovers.

This is a simple tale, told in a clear sequential style. The illustrations match the text well, showing the muted colours of the river and the shimmering light of the moon and Hiriwa. I read it to my 10- and 11-year-olds, and they enjoyed the story, but also caught on to the moral of the tale. “Be careful what you wish for”.

Tuna and Hiriwa builds on the growing number of Maori myths and legends which have been produced for our next generation. It is heartening to see authors and illustrators working to ensure teachers and parents have access to good New Zealand picture books. Huia Publishers continue to play an important part in this process.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Tuna and Hiriwa
By Ripeka Takotowai Goddard, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502272

Book Review: Breaking Connections, by Albert Wendt

Available now in bookshops nationwide. 
cv_breaking_connections
I really enjoyed reading this new novel from Albert Wendt. It’s set mostly in New Zealand, and of course is steeped in Samoan and Maori references.

Daniel, the main character, is a university lecturer and poet. As a child, his Samoan parents moved to NZ so that Daniel could be successful – his mother was particular that he should be competent and comfortable in the palagi system, and she used every means she had including a remarkable acting ability, to make him do as she wished. She had largely turned her back on Samoa, although the family values remained strong.

At school, Daniel forms strong and lasting friendships with a disparate group of kids from other Maori and Pacific backgrounds. The Tribe are family, whanau, aiga to one another and remain loyal despite their differences

By university days, the Tribe is still together and the deliberate inclusion of Laura ( a pakeha) by Mere startles them for a time, but Mere is determined to have her friend be part of the Tribe and Laura is accepted. The connection which forms between Laura and Daniel is too strong for them to ignore – although they try! – and they marry. As things go, eventually they split up and Daniel ends up teaching in Hawaii, which is where the novel starts. Wendt then fills in the backstory.

The connections are many, varied and fascinating. They are made and broken inside and between families and family members, in relationships and marriages – but throughout the connections between members of the Tribe are maintained. Even though all of them are aware of Aaron’s criminal connections, they are never spoken about.

The novel deals powerfully with loyalty, love, and relationships. Wendt shows the great force of human emotion – damaging, dangerous, resilient, passionate, supportive – and just how difficult it can be to face up to unpleasant realities in ourselves and others. He is a superb storyteller and I found myself carried along with the characters, by turns truly irritated with Daniel, sorry for his father, angry with Aaron, in awe of Mere and Laura – in short, I was captivated and could not put this book down.

Read it!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Breaking Connections
by Albert Wendt
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502104

Book Review: Tamanui the Brave Kokako of Taranaki, by Rebecca Beyer & Linley Wellington

cv_tamanui_brave_kokakoAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

Rebecca Beyer and Linley Wellington are two New Plymouth authors helping to bring back the Kokako to Taranaki.

There was a time when Kokako had no predators and could fly freely, but then the rat and possum were introduced. Numbers were severely affected with this native bird species nearly being wiped out to the point of extinction.

This is a story of Tamanui, a Kokako who tries to fly to the top of the tallest tree and is always showing off. His brother Poutama defended him telling the others that Tamanui was clever and brave. The only time the young birds were still was when they were listening to Nanny Kokako. She would tell them stories of their heroic ancestors who came from far away to make their home in the Taranaki bush.

Rats and possums came to New Zealand on boats and as a result there were less and less birds. The Kokako numbers drastically declined because they couldn’t fly well and built their nests on low branches so they were easy prey. The rats ate the birds and possums ate the eggs. Both having sharp teeth and strong claws they made short work of the birds. The birdsong of the forest was quieted.

Further into the story, we learn of how man intervened to save this wonderful bird before it became lost forever.

Reading this to 4-year-old Abby I had lots of questions about why the rats and possums came to New Zealand and why they liked hunting and eating the Kokako. We had a long discussion on why we needed to protect native birds from predators. “What does predator mean Grandma?” My explanation seemed to satisfy her.

Royalties from this book will go towards the Tiaki Te Mauri o Parininihi Trust. This Trust was set up by Ngati Tama and aims to catch predators and re-establish the native bird in the White Cliffs area.

This is a great book to introduce young readers to the idea that as New Zealanders, we need to do everything in our power to protect our surviving native bird species. The illustrations by Andrew Burdan are wonderful and work well with the story.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Tamanui the Brave Kokako of Taranaki
by Rebecca Beyer & Linley Wellington
Illustrated by Andrew Burdan
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502067

Book Review: HAKA, by Patricia Grace, illustrated by Andrew Burdan

Available now in bookshops nationwide.cv_haka

Flicking through HAKA is like flicking through a picture book illustrated by C. F. Goldie. Andrew Burdan has used all of his considerable skill in bringing this story to life, sending the great Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha fleeing across the pages as you are drawn into Patricia Grace’s tale of the composition of ‘Ka Mate’.

While I will admit we don’t watch very much rugby in our house, we have watched a good number of haka on YouTube, as our children adore watching this display of fierce resistance, in whatever context. My 5-year-old, Dan, gets caught up in the theatricality of it, and both of my boys like to try and perform.

Reading this book with Dan has given me a way to talk with him about Maori traditions and the way that they are honoured in everyday life here; and how unique we are in having this rich history. While I was aware of the legacy of Te Rauparaha, I wasn’t aware that he was the inspiration for, and composer of ‘Ka Mate’. The story of him hiding in a friendly tribe’s vegetable pit was fascinating for both of us.

The build-up of the actions as Te Rauparaha returns to his tribe to tell them about his narrow escape is beautifully rendered; and shows clearly that every member of the tribe was involved, not just men, but women and children. The development of ‘Ka Mate’ into something we recognise now is simply portrayed by a series of shadows across the spread, with the simple words ‘They taught it to their children, who taught it to their children’ repeated across the pages.

This book is necessary, and pertinent, with the Rugby World Cup currently at the front of many people’s minds. Please buy this book for your whanau, and spend time with the younger members to teach them about this important part of their history.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

HAKA
by Patricia Grace, illustrated by Andrew Burdan
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502074

A version of this title is available in te reo Maori
Whiti Te Ra!
ISBN 9781775502098