Book Review: Ko Taranaki te Maunga, by Rachel Buchanan

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cv_ko_taranaki_te_maungaIn this short but powerful text, Rachel Buchanan uses the tools of an archivist to scale what she calls the paper mountain – the records and documents surrounding the events at Parihaka – to give new meaning to the echoes of invasion that still sound throughout Taranaki.

Buchanan describes the personal journey she undertook while her essay on beating shame began to take on a life of its own. The story, like Buchanan, her family, and her iwi, moves back and forth between Wellington and Taranaki. Taranaki the maunga, a misty presence on Wellington’s horizon; Taranaki the people, whose presence in the capital is seen not only in the odd selection of fringe lands returned to them, in street names that recall the lofty peak, but also in the people who say ‘we used to be here – this is our place’.

The story unfolds around the passing of the author’s father, Leo Buchanan, paediatrician, advocate for his people, and meticulous record-keeper. Working through the records of the brutality at Parihaka and a parent’s illness and death, Buchanan is guided by an enigmatic ancestor, who unexpectedly reveals himself to be a talented interlocutor between peoples at war, a man of traits Buchanan comes to recognise in herself and in her father.

A key symbol in this work is the koru, a metaphor gifted to the author by former MP and Parihaka descendant Mahara Okeroa to describe the proximity in the present of people and events in the past. Buchanan’s research traces this pattern, binding time, place and people, unravelling in an unexpected twist and then winding together again, in a spiral that expands and contracts.

Buchanan’s is a close, personal history of the events at Parihaka, of the impact of flawed apologies on those who give and those who receive them, and of the ripples that continue to radiate from the injustices of the past. It adds new colour to the landscape of wartime Taranaki and to portraits of well-known figures– Te Whiti o Rongomai, Tohu Kākahi, Tītokowaru, while also revealing new personalities, like the author’s translator tupuna, Charles Wallace.

Buchanan’s contribution to Parihaka is to resignify the legacy of invasion. By immersing herself in experiences of trauma conveyed through waiata and other first-hand accounts, Buchanan turns shame on its head and shows that the only result of disingenuous apologies for perpetrating past wrongs is to further compound the shame of those who truly bear it, who live with the pain and the consequences of this loss.

This is a tale of separation and return illuminated by experience. The experience of being a woman, a daughter, and a curator of a feminist great; of belief and disbelief in the official version of facts; of the burial of shame; and of the healing of the spirit and the rebirth of awareness, self-knowledge and pride.

As an archivist Buchanan asks what becomes of memory painstakingly shared and then reverently filed away? What does it matter if it is denied a living place in our national life and consigned to death by archive?

Buchanan’s answer is record-keeping as resistance. And, as is often happens when archives are opened, it is a discovery. A proudly cherished ancestor reveals how deep his influence runs, a daughter offers a poroporoaki to her father spanning more than a century, and the breath of life continues to flow, at Parihaka under the maunga.

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd

Ko Taranaki te Maunga
by Rachel Buchanan
Published by BWB Texts
ISBN 9781988545288