L o v e ,  W a r   a n d   L a s t   T h i n g s
   n z e p c



Rowley Habib / Rore Hapipi    (b.1933)


Rowley Habib



The Raw Men
(For the Maori Battalion.)

‘ . . . From where did they come then, these men'? This fine unit
that acquitted itself fourfold; the Maori Battalion.  I was under the
impression, from all reports, that anything fine in the Maori had
died with the advent of the Whiteman . . . ‘ Statement by an
Englishman newly arrived in the country.

This is where they came from, the Raw Men.
. . . And from the raw men they came. 
The dark men, the squat men,
the slope-shouldered, solid-built men,
neat in khaki.
This is where they came from, the brown men,
the dark-lipped, thick black-haired raw men,
born for the uniform.
Praised in the deserts of Tobruk,
hailed in the heats of Mersa Matruh,
gloried in Greece.
We salute you, sons of New Zealand, Maori Battalion. 
‘Kia ora koutou. Kia ora nga tamariki o Aotearoa’.
Yes, this is where they came from, the Raw Men,
the fearless marauders of the Middle East,
the ‘hard-doers’ with hearts of lions.
collecting medals like stones on Hill 209 Tebaga Gap, Tunisia.
From the pubs they came, drunk on a Saturday afternoon,
and the neighbour's house afterwards,
staggering, stumbling, stone-tripping homewards
through the half-light of dawn.
Yes, this is where they came from, the Raw Men.
From the crude-hewn, back-block, saw-screaming,
sweat-sapping timber mills, they came  
trudging to work in the early mornings,
their breaths rising in mists with the cold.
From the bush covered hill-slopes, they came,
plodding homewards down the snigging track
with axe slung on shoulder. Only the step is quicker
now. Not the 'Government Walk' of the morning,
going to work.  And then the voice in the evening,
loud & clear, carried on the throbbing air, now that
the mill is silent and the darkness is falling.  ‘Come
round to my hut after e hoa Tai. There's still
a couple of bottles left from last night.
We’ll clean them up’.
Yes, this is where they came from, the men in khaki,
Tigers of Tunisia, cursing in the rains of Cairo,
singing in the heats of Helwan . . .  With a rifle
in one hand and a guitar in the other. That's us!
. . . And a song ever ready on the tongue. That's us!
. . . Play hard and fight hard. That's us!
. . . ‘Real 'hard-doers' those boys’, they say,
‘But I’m glad I'm on their side. Good fighters’. That's us!
The guitars and the song. The work in the mornings
plagued by the dry horrors. That's us!  ‘Poor old Rangi’s
got the shakes. Ha! Ha! Where you been last night e hoa?’
That's us! The ‘No thanks, I don't drink. Just
pour it all over me, I like the smell of it’,
Ha! Ha!  That’s us!
Yes, this is where they came from, those men.
From the street fights, the bar fights, the party fights.
From sleeping with another man's wife.
From the hotel maid's room in the morning, climbing
out the window and whistling down the street,
happy and full contented, home-bound, to fall
into a deep, dreamless sleep.
But always there is the laughter,
the white teeth flashing against the thick dark lips,
The grating spit-bubbling, carefree laughter.
The conversation, coarse and harsh.
Yes, this is where they came from, the Maori Battalion. 
From the timber mill villages. deep-bushed.
From the back-block settlements fringing isolated roads
that make passers-by ask, ‘Don't you get lonely here?’
And chilblain-footed children with bare feet
walking to school on icy roads on frosty winter mornings.
From the shearing sheds they came. The Freezing Works.
The Wool Stores. The Power Board. The bush felling.
The scrub cutting. The post splitting. Truck driving. 
Bully driving. Cow spanking. Cattle mustering. 
The City Council, bare-torsoed with pick and shovel
and jack-hammer, breaking up the tar-sealed pavement. 
‘Gee! there was some beaut sheilas went past today’.
From the Hydro Works they came. The Construction Sites.
The coal mines. Naked muscles straining, pride
in pitting physical strength against work.
Sweat and dirt intermingled. The Public WorksDepartment,
with the children standing on the roadside, laughing
and teasing, repeating what they heard their parents say
‘P.W.D. . . . Poor Working Devils!’ as the truck
passed them along the road.
Yes, this is where they came from, those men. 
Knights of the Middle East.
From the prisons and the borstals they came.
From country school teaching and offices
in a Government Department. In a city office. The WelfareDept.
Maori Affairs. From lonely coastal farms, with the
sound of the surf ever lapping. From sulking, slouching,
lost and lonely, sullen in the alien city.
Open-neck shirted wharfies. Wild in a dance,
noisy in the films. Cigarette drooping-mouthed,
fish and chips eating from newspaper wrappings. 
Billiard room haunting. Hanging about.
Drunk on the street, annoying the passers-by.
But always there are the exceptions. The quiet ones.
The earnest ones. The deep-thinking, serious ones.
As it is with everything there are the exceptions.
Yes, this is where they came from, the Raw Men.
From singing in a bar led by a rich baritone voice,
‘ . . . Tomo mai e tama ma, ki roto, ki roto . . . ‘
All around they are singing. Everywhere there are mouths
opening and closing. Feet placed firmly apart,
heads thrown back, eyes opening and shutting, enraptured
in the singing.  Always there is the singing.
At the parties back home there was the singing.
In the deserts of Egypt there was the singing.
On the battlefields of Libya there was the singing.
In the streets of Rome there was the singing.
Going to the war and returning, there was the singing.
Always there is the song and the guitars.
Above it, beneath it, right through it all,
there is the singing and the dancing and the laughing.

The Raw Men: Selected Poems 1954-2005. Volume 1 (O-a-tia Publishers, 2006).
Recorded 2008 by Rowley Habib at Matahiwi Marae, Hastings.





Last updated 23 June, 2008