Sunday, 22 July 2012

Hoata tells of when Ngaire became a leper (No. 56)

The continuing story of Ahu and Ahuahu her husband in a Maori village in Aotearoa before European settlement of New Zealand. (Missed an episode? Click on Ahu in the labels bar for previous posts.) 

Hoata came to see Ahu and Hatiti one afternoon to tell them that she had been told that the woman Ngaire had died at the Ngerengere settlement. Hatiti said “Why is it we are either crying with sadness or happiness these days?”

Ahu in her turn said, “Every time I saw her I wanted to hug her but I dared not. She gave much love and could always see the funny side to life despite her affliction. Did you know her before she became a leper, Hoata?”

Hoata shook her head. “No not really. I can remember being quite young and my mother warning me and my sister never to grow up like Ngaire. You see she loved life but she was such a naughty person too. Everything she did seemed to be so funny but bad too” At this Ahu nodded remembering the jokes that Ngaire told and of the funny things she said. “Was her leprosy blamed on her behaviour then?”

Hoata shook her head, “I do not think that our medicine man really thought that because many years ago there were several people that became lepers about the same time but Ngaire was the only one who misbehaved.”

“But how did she misbehave, Hoata? You have not mentioned this before.”

“I only heard from my mother and of course from Atahai who first took you in all those years ago when you fled with your baby when you first came to us. Well, did you know that Ngaire and Atahai were as thick as thieves? They were always playing games and tricks on the people in the village.”

“Why what did they do?”

“My mother told me as teenagers they would put one rotten fish amongst all the others drying on the racks. When it was found they had to throw the whole lot out. They were only teenagers but they should have known better.”

“When did Ngaire get leprosy then?”

At this Hoata, bent her head and whispered, “Ngaire was always after the boys and it is thought she may have made love to a man from another village that may have been afflicted. She couldn’t tell as she used to roam at night looking for fun. Atahai was not as bold as her but it was she that created such a fuss on the wedding night of a couple when she started scrabbling at the hut of the newly weds. The husband came out to see what was happening and Ngaire tripped him up and Atahai fell on him and started shouting that he was molesting her. His wife came running out and then Ngaire came up to “help” shouting why couldn’t she keep her husband in bed rather let him ravish her friend.”

Ahu laughed at this, but Hoata shook her head and went on. “There was a terrific row because the two of them were well known for their pranks. The old chief in those days called in the spirit man to quieten them both down. While he was examining them he discovered that Ngaire had the first signs of leprosy and she was sent to join the colony up there.” She pointed to the hills.

“What about Atahai, was she clean?”  asked Ahu. Hoata nodded in reply

“Well her parents were told they had to get her married as soon as possible which they did. Her husband was an older man who clearly was not up to Atahai’s desire and she was a widow within three years.” This made the other two women laugh.

“Not Atahai? But she was such a quiet and sensible woman, much respected in the village.” protested Ahu smiling.

“We all have a different story to tell, Ahu. Most of us quieten down eventually despite the wildness of our youth. She married again and had three children and I am quite sure she was quite content with her life despite its shaky start. And of course she didn’t have Ngaire urging her on anymore.”

“I wonder what they will say about the two of us. Will stories be told of Hatiti and me when we are long gone?”

Hoata looked up at Ahu than at Hatiti who had been working on a garment to wear and had remained silent. “Nobody really knows us do they? So much of our lives are hidden from the ones we love.”

Ahu nodded, as though she agreed, but in her heart she knew that in her marriage to Ahuahu and within their whole family they had no secrets. She could accept that they could and probably would all make mistakes in their lives but she treasured her family so much that she felt contented that this was always the case and forgivable.

Later when she and Hatiti were alone, Ahu asked her why she had been so quiet that afternoon.

“When Hoata came into our lives” Hatiti replied. “It was a burden lifted from us two girls, but we also saw that things would never be the same. Hoata is not my mother. She is Kamaka’s wife. I have got over grieving for my real mother but I have not got over the loss of Hinewai. My life now is so perfect and surrounded in love but I wanted her life to be happy too. How long will she last, trying to buy love with her body until nobody will even look at her?”

“Perhaps she has settled down now?”

Hatiti shook her head, “I am frightened that she will be hurt, really badly, as she seeks any attention. What she is searching is not love for but an end of her life that started when our mother Hinapouri died.”

“Do you think she will ever try to return here to see you or your father?”

“No, our happiness will be like a little death for her. We are surrounded by love and children and success. That would certainly kill her. She had a kind understanding man in Torangi. She didn’t want that, she wants to be a little girl again being hugged and sung to by her mother, what man can do that?”

With that Ahu burst into tears not knowing what to say.


  1. Society/the community can ostracise you in many ways...that's for sure..jae

  2. I'm with Jae. A small, close-knit community can be a blessing because people have a chance to truly know you instead of applying bureaucratic rules to your life. On the other hand, if you fail to fit in with your small group, where do you go? Where do you find your like-minded comrades?

  3. Much wisdom contained in this episode of your story, Old Egg. Indeed "we all have a different story to tell" and I suspect many of us have a more colorful past than the younger ones among us might imagine. ;-)

  4. sometimes society can be unforgiving. but you cant blame them too after what Ngaire had done when she was still young. But still, she is a human and deserved to be loved :-)

  5. Teenagers! Tut, tut! Nice one Rob.

  6. But you can't borrow trouble or there will be no end of it. Better to simply accept the blessings of life and get on with it.

  7. its terrible when people or society's rules don't let you be yourself.

  8. Wishing for what we had, or wishing for what we never had, or wishing for what we think we had - so much time spent wishing.

    Thank you.