new zealand electronic poetry centre

 

Murray Edmond


essays
[Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, footnotes]

    

THEN IT WAS NOW AGAIN:
NEW ZEALAND POETRIES AND COLONIAL HISTORIES


continued

 

Taranaki, the area of land which bulges out on the west coast of the North Island, at the centre of which stands the conical mountain called Taranaki, is the home of eight major tribal groupings or iwi. Throughout the decade of the 1860s, Taranaki was the scene of prolonged fighting and the theatre of two major wars. After the wars, an extraordinary history of passive resistance and civil disobendience failed to stop land confiscations and peppercorn rents for Maori land. This history is now the basis for one of the major sets of claims before the Waitangi Tribunal. These claims have not yet been resolved. In 1996, the Waitangi Tribunal, commenting on the land claims in Taranaki, said: 'The Governor was the aggressor, not Maori. Initial military action against Maori was an unlawful attack by armed forces of the Government on Maori subjects', and further commented: 'If war was the absence of peace, then war still continued in Taranaki'. (39)

It was in Taranaki in 1862 that the first of the millenarian Maori religious movements began. Te Ua Haumene Tuwhakararo's visions gave rise to Pai Marire (literally 'Good and Peaceful'), an originating source for Te Kooti's Ringatu religion and Tawhiao's Tariao, both of which continue today, as well as providing inspiration for the later passive resistance campaign led by Te Whiti and Tohu in Taranaki:

The services [of Pai Marire] around the poles [niu] were . . . conducted in glossalalia, a mixture of tongues, filled with purposeful references. Recurrent ritual phrases were derived from English military jargon (seen as phrases of power) and Protestant and Catholic religious services. This was a form of Pentecostalism, which consciously rejected the 'religion of England' and its missionaries. (40)

James Cowan, in The New Zealand Wars (1922 - 23) provided a sample of this 'glossalalia,' taken from Te Ua's notebook, 'Ua Rongopai' ('The Gospel of Ua'), the single surviving textual source for Pai Marire:

Kira, wana, ti, tiri, wha – Teihana!
Rewa, piki rewa, rongo rewa, tone, piki tone – Teihana!
Rori, piki rori, rongo rori, puihi, piki puihi – Teihana!
Rongo puihi, rongo tone, hira, piki hira, rongo hira – Teihana!
Mauteni, piki mauteni, rongo mauteni, piki niu, rongo niu –Teihana!
Nota, no te pihi, no te hihi, noriti mino, noriti, koroni – Teihana!
Hai, kamu, te ti, oro te mene, rauna te niu – Teihana!
Hema, rura wini, tu mate wini, kamu te ti – Teihana!

And Cowan provided a 'translation' into English:

Kill, one, two, three four – Attention!
River, big river, long river, stone, big stone – Attention!
Road, big road, long road, bush, big bush – Attention!
Long bush, long stone, hill, big hill, long hill –- Attention!
Mountain, big mountain, long mountain, big staff, long staff – Attention!
North, north-by-east, nor'-nor'-east, nor'-east-by-north, north-east, colony – Attention!
Come to tea, all the men, round the niu – Attention!
Shem, rule the wind, too much wind, come to tea – Attention! (41)

The chant could as easily be 'translated' into Maori ('Patu, tahi, rua, toru, wha – E tu!/Awa, awa nui, awa roa, pohatu, pohatu nui . . .' ), because, although only Maori sounds are used, all the words are transliterated from English words (except for 'niu' which Cowan translates as 'staff' and then leaves to stand as niu, the mast-like pole used as centrepiece in Pai Marire ritual, although 'niu' could, in fact, be a transliteration of 'news', appropriating the 'good news' of the Bible to other ends) and, moreover, the word order is English rather than Maori. Glossalalia is often used to describe a divine babble (Babel) of incomprehensible sounds, whereas this chant of Te Ua's has a lot of rhyme (echoing of other sounds) and not a little reason. It is written in an amalgam language, a language of 'no such world', or perhaps, more accurately, one might say of 'a new world'.

Te Kahu-pukoro told Cowan that the chant above had been employed by the party of Taranaki Maori who attacked the redoubt at Te Morere, otherwise known as Sentry Hill, just south of Waitara and east of New Plymouth, on the morning of 30th April 1864: '[W]e all formed a ring round the niu . . . and we marched round and round the mast, chanting the incantations which the prophet had taught us, the Karakia [prayer] beginning, 'Piki rewa, rongo rewa, piki hira, rongo hira'. (42) The attack on Sentry Hill has been used as evidence of the insane fanaticism of the Hauhau followers, who apparently marched on the well-fortified redoubt in broad daylight, chanting Pai Marire chants, which they thought would render them invulnerable to bullets. However, Te Kahu-pukoro, who was only twelve years old at the time and was shot twice in the assault, makes it clear that the Pai Marire leader, Hepanaia wanted to make a sudden attack from the rear but was overruled by a number of rangatira (chiefs). Ruka Broughton, in Ngaa Mahi Whakaari a Titokowaru, points out that the Pai Marire followers were skilled fighters ('he iwi toa ki te pakanga') and quite familiar with the effect of bullets ('he iwi moohio ki te kaha o te mataa') and that the advance that was made was carried out stealthily ('e whakamoka haere ana ki Te Moorere'), when a rifle shot gave their position away, but that this version has been covered up ('ka hunaa te koorero tootika') (43) As Belich pointed out: 'historiographically the British won the New Zealand Wars hands down'. (44 ) To some extent the extremely negative press Pai Marire received from Pakeha must have arisen from the act of linguistic appropriation which Te Ua carried out when he created his 'strange language' by Maori-ising English religious, military and naval officialese. The chants in the strange language were a focus of Pakeha derision and incomprehension. While 'Kira, wana, tu, tiri, wha' is clearly a religious rather than a literary text, the poetry of this chant bears, in the seams of its very language, a history of resistance to colonisation.

Among those killed at Te Moorere were Tiopira, Te Kahu-pukoro's father, and his uncle, Hapeta. Te Kahu-pukoro's grandfather, Tamati Hone, father of Tiopira and Hapeta, composed a waiata tangi (song of lament), "E hiko e te uira i tai raa," for his sons (and for Kiingi Paarengarenga), which is still sung today. Here are the opening lines:

E hiko ra, e . . .
Te uira i tai ra,
kapo-taratahi ana
te tara i Taramoe: ko te tohu
o te mate i nunumi ake nei.
E tu, e Tiopira, i te ihu o te waka
Nga hae roroa
Te whatu taku, e Peta,
I maunu atu ai
te taniwha i te rua. (45)

This waiata, born out of the Hauhau struggle, has now reappeared inside the literary canon of New Zealand poetry in the form of a poem by contemporary Maori poet, Hone Tuwhare:

A random scrawl of lightning
  to the east is the jagged
  spear broken at Taramoe.

I saw you, Tiopira, take your
  place firmly and to the forepart
  of the canoe. Frail breath,
  alas, misting away, Hapeta.

From breast to knee-cap twin cuts
  long on myself inflict - THERE!
  And THERE! Aaha - haa!

Yes. Let it run.
  Grief is the monster uncoiling
  in the pit: blood-flow appease.

Tuwhare accompanies the printing of this poem in his collected poems, Deep River Talk, with the opening ten lines of Tamati Hone's 'Waiata tangi' and a note which says: 'My poem "Lament" is intended solely to provoke interest in the work by Tamati Hone. It is not a literal translation as such, but a salute to a fine poet, and the Taranaki people in their struggles'. (46)

The way that Tuwhare has brought this poem into the present shifts it clearly into the category 'New Zealand poetry'. He wants recognition for Tamati Hone as a fine poet and, implicitly, he wants recognition of that 'absence of peace' in Taranaki. Gently, the New Zealand canon, which has always sought in vain for a genuine nineteenth poet but failed to find him or her, is nudged in a new direction. A poet intervenes in history.

Continue...

 


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Last updated 10 July, 2001