The Por­trait

The Northland Age - - Local Life / Opinion - Ana­hera Her­bert-Graves

Nga¯ti Kahu: Por­trait of a Sov­er­eign Na­tion was launched on Te Paatu Marae at Pama¯puria. This is an abridged review of it by Paul Moen­boyd (Te Aupo¯uri, Nga¯ti Pa¯ oa, Te A¯ tiawa).

‘The sum­mit of Rangika¯piti Pa¯, in the Far North town of Mango¯nui, over­looks the wide ex­panse of Tok­erau Moana (dubbed Doubt­less Bay by a quickly con­vinced Cook) and a vast swathe of Nga¯ti Kahu’s rohe. Sim­i­larly, Nga¯ ti Kahu, Por­trait of a Sov­er­eign Na­tion isa sweep­ing over­view of this iwi’s phys­i­cal and emo­tional to­pog­ra­phy, its mem­o­ries and heartaches, strug­gles and vic­to­ries.

‘Just as Nga¯ti Kahu draws its strength from its many dif­fer­ent hapu¯, so the Por­trait is made richer by its wide range of sources. Th­ese in­clude ir­re­place­able oral his­to­ries gath­ered by the project’s his­to­ri­ans, doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence of wrong­ful land pur­chases, maps, quo­ta­tions from an ex­ten­sive bib­li­og­ra­phy of other works, ex­cerpts from let­ters and tes­ti­monies . . . Each of th­ese con­stituent parts come to­gether to trace a re­mark­able haka­papa of re­sis­tance.

‘True to its ti­tle, the Por­trait is a na­tion-build­ing ex­er­cise. In scope and reach, cov­er­ing the long haerenga (jour­ney) from dis­tant be­gin­nings to the chal­lenges of the present . . . il­lus­trat­ing events with first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence and steeped in Nga¯ti Kahu’s un­der­stand­ing of it­self and its place in the world, this work is a pou (a mark­ing post), carved with pepeha¯ (iden­ti­fy­ing say­ings) and hakatauk¯ı (proverbs), and ko¯rero o mua (tra­di­tions) . . .

‘The Por­trait does not over­look the heke (rafters) that sus­tain the roof, the hapu¯ that form Nga¯ti Kahu. The in­hab­i­tants of ka¯inga (set­tle­ments) nes­tled in val­leys or dot­ted along the coast all have their time on the paepae (speak­ers’ bench). With the deep love of place that comes from gen­er­a­tions of con­tin­u­ous oc­cu­pa­tion, sto­ries of back coun­try rivers and hills and the riches within are told, as only those who have kept the ahi ka¯ (home fires) burn­ing for so long can.

‘ ... In a tone which would be be­mused ex­as­per­a­tion if not for the in­jus­tices that fol­lowed, the Por­trait ob­serves the dif­fi­cul­ties of the first Pa¯keha¯ in “liv­ing ac­cord­ing to the laws of this land.” De­spite its dis­pos­ses­sion, Nga¯ti Kahu tells of the ar­rival of th­ese guests not with anger, but with sad­ness at how the gen­er­ous hos­pi­tal­ity that was shown to the new ar­rivals was re­paid.

‘This Por­trait is more than a tes­ti­mony to Nga¯ti Kahu’s tena­cious strug­gle to hold on to its home. It is also a de­fi­ant cry of in­de­pen­dence, iden­tity and love for the peo­ple and land, founded in a deep aware­ness of the past and hope for the fu­ture. It is a re­ward­ing read for any­one with an in­ter­est in his­tory, iden­tity, and how mem­ory shapes not only our sense of self, [but also] the land­scape we live in and the way we imag­ine our fu­ture.’

Pub­lished by Huia, Por­trait is avail­able in book­shops na­tion­wide.

"This Por­trait is more than a tes­ti­mony to Nga¯ ti Kahu’s tena­cious strug­gle to hold on to its home. It is also a de­fi­ant cry of in­de­pen­dence, . . . "

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