new zealand electronic poetry centre



W I T I   I H I M A E R A

Witi Ihimaera was born in Gisborne, New Zealand. He is a prizewinning novelist, short story writer, librettist, playwright and editor of numerous books. He is also Associate Professor of English at the University of Auckland, and a respected commentator on Maori and Pacific literature, art, film, education, culture and politics. Witi is one of only two New Zealand writers to have won the Wattie (now called the Montana) New Zealand Book of the Year Award three times: with his first novel, Tangi in 1973, with The Matriarch in 1986 and Bulibasha, King of the Gypsies in 1994.

Oh Numi Tutelar

(At the British Museum, London, 25 June 1998)

       3 in the morning
The streets deserted I had forgotten
only derelicts & prostitutes are abroad in the night
forsaken lovers locked out
       (and Maori attending dawn ceremonies)

       Make way, Britannia, Albion, Victoria Imperatrix,
       make way our putatara are braying to bring down
       your walls The dawn is coming and with it
       Magi, gift bearers from the South

       Piki mai, kake mai, homai te wai ora
       ki ahau

       We have come
from the utmost ends of the earth a tribe of travellers
with our own Queen, ministers & warrior escort
to the land of our Treaty partner where
our treasures have been plundered
       (and Roma & I halfway round the world
       to read in a stairwell)

       Make way, O Egypt, ancient Assyria, Greece, Rome
       make way our own Cleopatra comes amid you
       Semiramis, Te Arikinui, Imperatrix of Aotearoa
       Maori women, gift bearers from the South

       Haramai te toki, hui e, haumi e, taiki e

       So here we are
climbing upward     the Museum opening unwilling
to the dawn, the kai karanga calling, the warriors
pulling us in & Maramena asks, “How can our
culture so small survive in this treasure house
of many cultures?”
       (The answer is simple: Godzilla was wrong
       size does not matter)

       Oh antiquities of Asia, make way, lions of Judah
       bow down, Babylon, stela of Islam make way
       give space, Oh Nimrod, Horus, Mahomet
       we are iwi Maori, gift bearers from the South

       E taonga tū mai, tū mai, tū mai

       And in the great hall
for the first time we see the past before us
the treasures of our ancestors a Pharaonic ransom
of immense psychic power, indeed we live
with our past the ghosts among us
       (How can I explain? We have always walked
       backwards into our future)

       Oh, ancestors, stand forever! Stand for yesterday!
       Stand for today! Stand for tomorrow! Stand
       for always! Stand! Stand! Stand!

Take heed, O Gods of all other worlds, numi tutelar
We come chanting, we come singing, we come
proudly from Rangiātea, there our seed was sown
We come, still voyaging by star canoes
by aurora australis

We are from savage islands, far to the south
we move through your constellations
make way and where there is one
oh Gods, there are a thousand

We are Magi, bearing gifts
and our dawn is coming

       Ka Ao, ka Ao, ka awatea



Last updated 04 July, 2004