by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
Looking up a word in another language is often a doorway into the past of its speakers. When I did a search for the Maori word for “warrior,” the answers were far more than just words:
ika a Whiro – veteran warrior
- ika – aquatic creature, slain warrior, prized possession
kaitoa – brave man, warrior
- toa – to win, courage, warrior
- tore kai huruhuru – young warrior kairākau or kai rākau – band of warriors
māia – bold, capable, confident, endurance, warrior
mumu – valiant warrior, boisterous wind
ngārahu – sooty black, charcoal, black pigment, commander, military leader, war dance: a haka in which the men are armed, jumping and stomping. A war party performs before battle, in front of elders and experienced warriors who judged by their performance whether they were ready to go into battle. Also called tūtū ngārehu, tūtū waewae and whakatū waewae.tētēkura – canoe figurehead – frond or shoot of a fern or plant, Prince of Wales Feathers, crape fern, Leptopteris superb, a native tufted ground fern – brave warrior, leader or chief
Within tribal and clan systems, wars are usually local and short-term. When a society in which warfare has become long term between whole nations expands into tribal territory, the result is almost always a loss for the tribes. But the warrior remains an archetype of tribal legend.
Hone Wiremu Heke Pokai was a highly influential 19th century chief of the Ngāpuhi tribe, and he was the leader of a Māori rebellion over treaty violations and economic hardship.
Hone Tuwhare (1922–2008) was given the same name as this Maori warrior, a leader of one of the tribes that is part of Tuware’s heritage. Tuwhare became an outspoken activist for trade unionism, civil rights, the environment, and against nuclear weapons, and New Zealand’s preeminent Maori poet.
At fifteen Tuwhare was apprenticed as a New Zealand Railways boilermaker. He became a qualified boilermaker and a member of the trade union movement, and passionate about human rights. He was an organizer of the first Maori Writers and Artists hui (assembly) and walked in the Maori Land March in 1975.
His later years brought awards and recognition, and his memory is now highly honored in New Zealand, but during his turbulent life, he was sometimes in hot water with the New Zealand government. In 1957, the Minister of Maori Affairs even censored one of his early poems because Tuwhare was a card-carrying Communist.
But in 1999, Hone Tuware was named New Zealand’s second Te Mata Poet Laureate. Administered by the National Library of New Zealand and funded by the New Zealand Government, the Poet Laureate is selected biennially and receives an award of $50,000 per year. At the end of his two year term, he published Piggy-Back Moon (2001)
Tuware’s poems cover everything from his fascination with water in all its forms, to Martin Luther King and the Vietnam war, South African apartheid, and the most sensual of love poetry.
The success of Tuwhare’s first published collection of poems, No Ordinary Sun, changed his life. Then he changed the lives of many others.
The title poem is a powerful warning about the dangers of the Nuclear Age.
NO ORDINARY SUN
Tree let your arms fall:
raise them not sharply in supplication
to the bright enhaloed cloud.
Let your arms lack toughness and
resiliance for this is no mere axe
to blunt nor fire to smother.
Your sap shall not rise again
to the moons pull.
No more incline a deferential head
to the wind’s talk, or stir
to the tickle of coursing rain.
Your former shaginess shall not be
wreathed with the delightful flight
of birds nor shield
nor cool the adour of unheeding
lovers from the monstrous sun.
Tree let your naked arms fall
nor extend vain entreaties to the radiant ball.
This is no gallant monsoon’s flash,
no dashing trade wind’s blast.
The fading green of your magic
emanations shall not make pure again
these polluted skies . . . for this
is no ordinary sun.
in the shadowless mountains
the white plains and
the drab sea floor
your end at last is written
“Hone came to our high school in the 70s as part of a travelling poetry show. He was this shambling, surly, larger-than-life bloke not at all like my image of the classic poets we were studying. He made poetry seem dangerous. When I first heard his poem To A Maori Figure Cast In Bronze Outside the Chief Post Office, Auckland – the one where the statue, dying for a drink, ogles passing mini-skirted girls and longs to be up on the marae where he can watch the ships come in, curling their white moustaches — I could feel a light going on. Someone was speaking directly to me, about my town — and it made me realise how powerful that could be. It was a great honour to be asked, a couple of years ago, to set a poem of his to music. He was one of my heroes.”
– Don McGlashan, New Zealand singer, songwriter, composer and writer
TO A MAORI FIGURE CAST IN BRONZE OUTSIDE THE CHIEF POST OFFICE, AUCKLAND
I hate being stuck up here, glaciated, hard all over
and with my guts removed: my old lady is not going
to like it
I’ve seen more efficient scare-crows in seed-bed
nurseries. Hell, I can’t even shoo the pigeons off
Me: all hollow inside with longing for the marae on
the cliff at Kohimarama, where you can watch the ships
come in curling their white moustaches
Why didn’t they stick me next to Mickey Savage?
‘Now then,’ he was a good bloke
Maybe it was a Tory City Council that put me here
They never consulted me about naming the square
It’s a wonder they never called it: Hori-in-the-gorge-at-
bottom-of-Hill. Because it is like that: a gorge,
with the sun blocked out, the wind whistling around
your balls (your balls mate) And at night, how I
feel for the beatle-girls with their long-haired
boy-friends licking their frozen finger-chippy lips
hopefully. And me again beetling
my tent eye-brows forever, like a brass monkey with
real worries: I mean, how the hell can you welcome
the Overseas Dollar, if you can’t open your mouth
to poke your tongue out, eh?
If I could only move from this bloody pedestal I’d
show the long-hairs how to knock out a tune on the
souped-up guitar, my mere quivering, my taiaha held
at the high port. And I’d fix the ripe kotiros too
with their mini-piupiu-ed bums twinkling: yeah!
Somebody give me a drink: I can’t stand it
A ‘taniwha’ is supernatural creature of Maori legend which lives in watery caves or rivers, and is strong enough to uproot trees —‘haeremai’ means welcome
Toroa ~ Albatross
Day and night endlessly you have flown effortless of wing
over chest-expanding oceans far from land.
Do you switch on an automatic pilot, close your eyes
in sleep, Toroa?
On your way to your homeground at Otakou Heads
you tried to rest briefly on the Wai-te-mata
but were shot at by ignorant people. Crippled.
You found a resting place at Whanga-nui-a-Tara;
found space at last to recompose yourself.
Now, without skin and flesh to hold you together
the division of your aerodynamic parts lies whitening,
licked clean by sun and air and water. Children will
discover narrow corridors of airiness between,
the suddenness of bulk. Naked, laugh in the gush
and ripple — the play of light on water.
You are not alone, Toroa. A taniwha once tried
to break out of the harbour for the open sea. He failed.
He is lonely. From the top of the mountain nearby he
calls to you: Haeremai, haeremai, welcome home, traveller.
Your head tilts, your eyes open to the world.
Hone Tuwhare’s poems open all your senses – wrapping the words around you, tickling your ears and your nose, teasing your tongue, and tapping rhythm with your heartbeat.
I can hear you making
small holes in the silence
If I were deaf
the pores of my skin
would open to you
And I should know you
by the lick of you
if I were blind:
the steady drum-roll
sound you make
when the wind drops
special smell of you
when the sun cakes
But if I should not
smell or feel or see you
You would still
wash over me
Hone Tuwhare, word-warrior, era i roto i te rangimarie.
(rest in peace)
One of the greatest joys of writing happens when a reader responds to something in your work, and then shares with you something from their own experience. I am deeply grateful to janis b, who was kind enough to introduce me to Hone Tuwhare.
- Small Holes in the Silence: Collected Poems (2011), Random House
- Oooooo…..!!! (2005), Steele Roberts publisher
- Piggy-Back Moon (2001), Godwit Publishing
- Shape-Shifter (1997), Steele Roberts publisher
- Deep River Talk: Collected Poems (1984), translated by Frank Stewart, University of Hawaii Press
- No Ordinary Sun (1964), Random House
- Hone Tuwhare
- Maori sun-moon
- Maori mask
- Toroa – sculpture by Maori artist Todd Couper
- Kārearea the rain bird – sculpture by Maori artist Todd Couper
- Maori Kiwi – national bird of New Zealand
Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud