A Maori community on the coast of New Zealand is threatened by a land developer who wants to purchase the community property, move the community meeting hall, and construct many new buildings, including an "underwater zoo." The story is told in several chapters that switch narrators. Sometimes, it is Hemi, a man who was laid off from his job and realizes that this situatioA Maori community on the coast of New Zealand is threatened by a land developer who wants to purchase the community property, move the community meeting hall, and construct many new buildings, including an "underwater zoo." The story is told in several chapters that switch narrators. Sometimes, it is Hemi, a man who was laid off from his job and realizes that this situation affords him the opportunity to reconnect with the land, his culture and his family. Other times, Toko is the narrator. Toko is Hemi's adopted son and is physically handicapped. However, he also has a sixth sense and can see events before they occur. Mostly, though, the story is told by Roimata, Hemi's wife and Toko's adoptive mother. She relates the growing concern the Maori have about developers coming into their land, and their quiet, concerted efforts to rebel. She details their successes and many painful failures in a sparse, simple prose. The book does not really have a true resolution; instead, Patricia Grace outlines the cultural differences that exist in New Zealand, and the uses and abuses of power, and how it can affect a people....more
Paperback, Talanoa : Contemporary Pacific Literature, 192 pages
Published June 1st 1995 by Univ of Hawaii Pr (first published October 7th 1986)
December 14, 1986| Michael Owen Jones | Director of the Folklore and Mythology Center at UCLA, Jones is editing a collection of essays on the "Kalevala" (the Finnish national epic of the 19th Century, based on folk poetry) and co-editing a volume on corporate culture and organizational symbolism. and
Most chapters bear the names of various family members, each of whom tells stories or remarks on stories. In the fifth chapter, called "Roimata," the woman describes some of her family's traditions, including one son's "school stories," a daughter's "book stories," her husband's "work stories" and Granny Tamihana's stories, "which were weavings of sorrow and joy, of land and tides, sickness, death, hunger and work." There were also the stories from newspapers, library books and television.
"And this train of stories defined our lives, curving out from points on the spiral in ever-widening circles from which neither beginnings nor endings could be defined," says Roimata.
There were ancient narratives too. "It was a new discovery to find that these stories were, after all, about our own lives, were not distant," says Roimata, "that there was no past or future, that all time is a now-time centred in the being."
The "centred being" reaches out toward the outer circles called "past" and "future." "So the 'now' is a giving and a receiving between the inner and outer reaches, but the enormous difficulty is to achieve refinement in reciprocity, because the wheel, the spiral, is balanced so exquisitely."
Herein lie some of the themes of Grace's narrative, such as the pervasiveness and significance of traditions in our lives and the need in the present to cherish the past and respect the future. The literary form itself brings to life the past and celebrates the Maori heritage, exploring contemporary issues of native/white relations through the style of myth and structure of storytelling.
"Potiki" focuses on the conflict between the development interests of some whites and the rights of natives to their ancestral land. The situation involving Roimata and fellow villagers is similar to that of another community earlier. The songs, language and customs of the Te Ope had been "rubbished or ignored," their homes taken from them. Relocated to the city, they "did not have anything that belonged to them any more except they had each other, scattered as they were, and they had their stories." Their traditions helped maintain the identity and integrity of the Te Ope, necessary in their struggle to regain their homes.
The representative of white development interests, Dolman (called "Dollarman" by the community) entices, cajoles and threatens Roimata's own family and other villagers to sell their land for a quick profit to be made from turning their coast, meeting house and ancestral cemetery into a water playground and amusement park. It is "a much-needed amenity," he repeats.
"You're looking back, looking back, all the time," says Dollarman when community members resist. "Wrong. We're looking to the future," they respond, remembering the Te Ope. "If we sold out to you, what would we be in future?"
The villagers would not relinquish their land, "no matter how often the gold man came with his anger and his different way of thinking in his head," says Roimata's adopted child Tokowaru-i-te-Marama. "A misshapen and cauled baby boy," who is destined not to survive youth (but to live in myth and legend), this child prophet can foresee the future. Toko is afraid "because of a special knowing. I did not call out in sleep as my brother did, and I did not call out in anger as my sister did, but I had a special knowing that gave me fear."
The pressure to sell their land will--does--disrupt community members' lives. Ultimately, strife brings destruction and death. But it also creates new beginnings, which are connected to the past.
With great sensitivity Grace portrays the vicissitudes faced by her people, weaving together Maori legends and beliefs with some of the white man's own myths. Her style captures the rhythms of the finest oral poetry. Her imagery is memorable and her observations are penetrating.
This novel--composed of stories in which "story" is a central metaphor--transcends place and time. "(O)ur child, our precious one, our potiki," Grace seems to be saying, is the stories we tell whether we be Maori or anyone else. Traditions communicate our perceptions and perpetuate our values, helping us cope in now-time and survive in future.