Sunday, 31 March 2013

Houhia and her moko (No. 91)

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

 Hinewai and her moko

Tiemi the pakeha botanist was allowed to continue collecting specimens of plants. However Houhia’s attitude had changed. For some time she had thought about the pakeha and had been intrigued by their clothes and the different ways they spoke and had wanted to know more about them. She was at an age when even she would question the wisdom of her parents and their Maori way of life. She had liked the way Tiemi had looked, particularly the way he looked at her! But everything had changed as she saw now that there was a divide between them that was more than their skin colour and the colour of their eyes and their awkward way of speaking. They spoke in a cruel fashion not like their language which was like the song of the sea as it spoke to the sand in a gentle susurration. She knew too that none of the pakeha could be trusted to treat them or their country with respect. They were takers not givers.
It hurt that his looks had promised affection but his actions hid secrets or worse had disregarded their right to live in their own land. That night she lay on her mat waiting for sleep to collect her and she touched her face and her hair and ran her fingers over her body. She knew she was beautiful for the eyes of boys in the village followed her as she walked about. Also Ahu her mother and Hatiti praised her and touched her with love. But it was her father Ahuahu that despite his strength and wisdom would show in his eyes that he was proud of her. It was as she fell asleep that she said to herself, “I think will get a moko.”
The incident when Tiemi was told that he was stealing their land was a symbolic moment for the family. They knew they could not trust any white man no matter how friendly they were to them. This was not because they had weapons in the hands but because they thought differently to them.
In the morning Houhia spoke to Ahu. “I want to have a moko”.
Ahu nodded and asked “Did Hinewai suggest you get one?”
Houhia shook her head “No, I thought about it last night. I do not want a pakeha to look at me again and want to make me like them. I want our land here to be ours always. Everything that has happened since the pakeha came has seen them destroy our way of life.”
Ahu nodded at Houhia, “You are old enough to decide yourself, but did you want to discuss it with your father first?”
“We can tell him together; otherwise he will ask if I have spoken to you yet.” Houhia smiled.
“Old Hokaka’s daughter Arataki will do it,” suggested Ahu.
At this Houhia laughed, “Old Hokaka died long before I was born yet her name is still mentioned. What does Arataki think of that?”
“She is proud, Houhia. Our history is deep within us and when we speak of life today we can honour the people of the past by remembering them. If you say to her, your mother did the moko on Hauku’s face she will nod with pleasure that her mother is still alive in people’s memories.”
So after Ahuahu had given his approval Houhia and Hinewai went to see Arataki and arranged for her moko to be done. Arataki although they had not told her they were coming seemed to know why they were visiting. “So Houhia, you are to have a moko?”
Houhia nodded, I want it to tell my story.
Arataki glanced at Hinewai’s moko, “It will be different from Hinewai’s. Yours will tell of your father coming from a far island, and will show you are a daughter of a headman, and the rain will fall.”
At this Hinewai spoke, “You must plan the designs for people even before they ask for one as you have everyone’s history prepared.
Arataki grinned, “You should have come to me for yours, Hinewai, I could have told so much more about you.”
“Perhaps it was better I didn’t Arataki, otherwise people would know all my spicy secrets.”
At this Arataki burst out laughing.
Hinewai then held Houhia while Arataki used her pricking tools to puncture the skin and insert the dye. Houhia moaned quietly but did not struggle as Hinewai stoked her and whispered encouraging words to her. When the moko was done, Arataki then pricked Houhia’s lips with dye to make them look fuller and darker. Even though Houhia’s eyes were closed tears flowed freely and Hinewai wiped them gently away. When Arataki had finished she said quietly “Houhia is most surely the daughter of a great chieftain. Now look at yourself in this bowl of water.”
But Hinewai, shook her head, “No, look in this pakeha mirror I have Houhia. They do have some uses after all.” 
When Houhia had recovered sufficiently, they walked home slowly and slept for some time.

Houhia after getting her moko, she still has tears in her eyes.

Note: Arataki referred to rain on Houhia's moko as she had been born in the pouring rain. 

The grave man

Have I lost your love

After all these years is it over

Is it written in stone?


Tears fall like petals

As I ponder in sadness

And cry to the moon


In the pit of grief

The howling winter cold calls

And I am shut out


My peak of despair

Please free the locks on your heart

Else I’m a grave man


You may ask me what happened to the 12th word “Staff”. This word did not sit well with me after the grave man line which cried out “stop now!”  But if you insist the last verse is:


So I walk away

I strike my staff on the ground

My face to the wind





Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A streetcar named desire

Lame Verse


Constrained by time frame

The cursed words won’t cooperate

I’ll be put to shame


What’s worse than lame verse

That assaults all my senses

And makes me terse


So as an alternative I’ll talk about yesterday


A streetcar named desire


I had an early appointment in the city. So rose early and made my way the nearest tram stop. Even at eight in the morning parking was at a premium so I squeezed my way into a space unusable by larger cars and walked to the platform. It was only the second stop from the end of the line but already all seats were taken, so I validate my ticket and squeezed in between the other commuters with some measure of back support. I had a pole to hang onto and after the tram lurched away with at least fifteen stops to go I glanced at my fellow commuters. I could have been their grandfather, literally only, as I recognised none of them. I was the oldest traveller on the tram. I used to be a commuter twenty years ago. Lurching along, observing and noting the little activities that would one day be stories. It all came back. Yes, these were the same people I had travelled with before or perhaps they are their children. Some things had changed though. Within arms reach there were six people on their mobiles, two on their iPads, and a solitary one on her Kindle. All but one mobile was standing. One was listening to music as she was in another world connected by an earpiece and unspeaking.

Rain was forecast. But that was not heeded, bare legs and toes were on the menu. Closest to me were a couple, their words inaudible as they spoke the language of love. Her eyes never left him and her lips were in motion but not one was I privy to and I only saw the back of his head. It seemed that all eyes but mine were unseeing, none looked at me and all but the couple linked in love looked at each other.

The tramcar stopped frequently and soon even the driver knew we could take on no more and must have put the full sign up as he slowed at the stops but kept moving.

Not far from me was a ticket vending machine. It was busy and none but one used currency to pay their fare or to load credit to their ticket. So much had changed in the intervening two score years when the conductor with tickets and machine at the ready would walk the tram and ply his trade.

My attention was alerted to an incident, the couple had separated; he had made his way to the doors. Damn, I had missed their parting! I could have written a story of their silent gentle love, why hadn’t they co-operated and kissed lingeringly for me to see? Perhaps they argued as he wouldn’t set the wedding date? What lame excuse did he make?

The tram lurched around the bend we were approaching the centre of the city, the commuters were getting restless, talk was terse, the working day was starting. The rain was drizzling down as the tramcar reached my stop and as I got off I wondered whether any one else had been observing me.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Journey's end

I long for childhood again, doubting my own sanity, when jar in hand and with nothing in my mind I would scamper across the fields of my youth to the river’s bank in that country I still call home so many thousand miles away as if it were yesterday. There standing in the sand, barefoot, wriggling my toes in the cold water I would fish for creatures of another time, tiddlers, sticklebacks and other unknown beings whose world I had invaded. As the muddy bottom stirred up it would be as a crystal ball first hiding then gradually revealing secrets as my life too was but a mystery to me. I have not forgotten those days when hopes and dreams, some fulfilled and some not, cast aside the utter joy of being, that for some reason I washed away like some wound never realising then knowing what was true happiness. I like so many others was in a hurry to get on to real living and not cursed as now with memories best forgotten. The young have places to go the old have nowhere to go but that does not stop us from rushing to the end of the line. Last year I went back to that river’s bank but it heeded me not, nor did the ancient trees which were still there weeping into the water. They didn’t see me as I was now disguised with age and they took more notice of the squealing barefoot children that had taken my place dozens of times over. The river wound on to the sea and me? I too wound my way on to journeys end as well.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Be careful Ahuahu (No. 90)

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

Hinewai agreed to accompany Houhia as she showed Tiemi the pakeha botanist the forest so he could list the plants that were not known to the pakeha. Until Hinewai could make time to go with them Tiemi was permitted to visit rhe sea shore to note the plants and dunes there.
Hinewai meanwhile had spoken to Ahuahu about Tiemi. “Be careful, Ahuahu.  He may seem friendly but he too may be being used. The pakeha will send such men to assess each area to see if it is worthwhile for their use…for farmers and miners and the woodmen. Remember never, never accept pakeha money when they want to visit you or hunt in our land. There have been many Maori that find that by accepting pakeha coins they have given away their land for all time. Pakeha buy land by giving their money for it not by fighting for it like we do. They pay us to use the land but steal it as they have given you money. This laughing man may be innocent but it is not him who is the danger but the men who send him and want to take our land away from us.”
“Yes, Hinewai you are right we can trust none of them. But how can we get him to tell the other pakeha there is nothing here for them?”
“We must show him that there is nothing worthwhile here. Let him use all his energy in seeing what he has already seen.  The pakeha know already of the big trees where Torangi and Hauku live and have started to use them, we do not have big trees like that. They already know of our hot springs but they do not like them” she said with a smile. Maybe they are looking for metals in the ground and for precious stones. There is no secret about where agate is found but they are probably looking for gold that shiny yellow stone in the creek beds. The pakeha value that very highly.”
Ahuahu shook his head “No, I think they might be looking for good farming land. We are in the foothills of the mountain that catches fire. The soil is always good for growing here except by the beach. Young Tiemi will tell the authorities not only of the plants that grow here but of the soils they grow in. How can we stop him?”
Hinewai’s eyes laughed. “We do not have to stop him, Houhia will.”
Ahuaha looked doubtful, “She already looks at him with soft eyes. We cannot ask her to deceive him.”
“Houhia will laugh with him but she loves the forest, she will not let him see too much but will use all his energy looking for things that are not there.”
Later that evening Tiemi told of his walk along the beach and of the plants he found there. Houhia asked if he was looking for something in particular.
He nodded and said “Yes it is a plant we call Cook’s Scurvy Grass but I did not find any it is a yellow flowering plant on the shore whose leaves can be eaten to ward off scurvy which is a sickness that travellers by sea get if they do not eat vegetables. The sea journey to England lasts many months depending on the winds and the season and the seas currents. You can never take enough vegetables with you. You can get very sick indeed.”
Ahu eyes lit up but said nothing and when she noticed Hatiti looking at her she shook her head as if to say “Do not speak even though we know of it”.
When all the talk was over, Ahuahu spoke to Tiemi alone, “Hinewai will be able to go with you and Houhia tomorrow. Ahu notices the way she looks at you. I know that you make her smile but I also know that many pakeha have wives in their own country. Do not make the mistake in thinking that she is like the Maori girls at Big River who just want presents and to have a good time. You are in danger here, our law will protect her not you. If you have an accident we will return your body and all you belongings with great ceremony to your countrymen and say how much you were respected. Be careful on our land Tiemi and what you say to Houhia.”
“Houhia has already told me that I must be careful not to drown in the sea or be crushed by a falling tree. I do understand what she meant Ahuahu.”
“Good, but I was thinking that you might fall in the boiling water at the hot springs.”
So the next day Hinewai, Houhia and Tiemi set out to walk along the beach northwards then to head inland through the forest and make a big circle to see the various plants closer to the beach then climbing slowly up to the forested area where the trees grew large and the undergrowth dense and the light was dim. They each took cutting tools and bags to carry their finds. Houhia would know the names and properties of the plants they used and Tiemi would apply his botanic skills to work out what family each plant came from. Hinewai would watch and listen for danger in the forest and from Tiemi.
At one time Tiemi found himself alone with Hinewai. He looked around and then looked at her questioning her with his eyes.
“Are you worried Pakeha?”
“I was worried about Houhia.”
“She is at home in the forest. Don’t you feel at home pakeha?”
“Why do you not call me by my name, Hinewai?”
“Why remember your name when it needs to be forgotten? I do not think the forest here likes the look of you. Do you know how you can make the Maori happy…Tiemi?” She asked. Then before he could answer she said, “By sailing away and not coming back. You are killing us.”
Suddenly Houhia returned silently appearing through the bushes and stared at them both glaring at each other. She put her finger to her lips and motioned them to squat down in silence and pointed to a partially cleared area close to where she had come from. They stayed still for a few minutes and then a Kiwi nervously emerged and brought two chicks out with her. Houhia again held her fingers to her lips as they watched them pecking and scratching at the ground. Slowly the Kiwis moved through the clearing and back into the undergrowth and were gone.
Houhia looked at Tiemi and saw him writing in his book. “This is the land we love do not take it away from us. What have you collected so far?”
Tiemi showed them some of the plants he had collected and wrapped up. When Houhia saw them she shook her head. “This is wrong pakeha, you have the earth with the plants. That is our land. We said you could take the plants for they will grow again. But the land is ours and must not be taken. I wanted to like you but I see now that we are being used by you again. Will you take away everything I love and is ours even the ground we walk on?”
Tiemi looked from Houhia to Hinewai and in horror he saw she now had her dagger in her hand. “Houhia is right pakeha, from now on we will check everything you take. We so wanted to trust you” growled Hinewai.
Clearly Ahu had spoken to them both last night.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

I sat at the bar

I sat at the bar and was minding my own business.


I could see the room reflected in mirror behind the barman. He was edgy, observant, eyes all over; but me I was but a shadow.


The crowd hushed as she walked in, lithe like an iconic panther in black, laughing at her supplicants ignoring them all. 


She was looking for someone, somebody, some body to slake her thirst, to satisfy her hunger and to fill her need. She slid to the bar and sat by my side.


The barman lifted his eyes which was his way of saying “What will you have?” 


She cocked her head in my direction. I nodded and threw a twenty on the counter.


I sniffed in the air, “Keep you distance” I said, “You are spoiling my drink.”


“I’ll take it off for you. All of it.” There was a tiny smile on her lips.


I was still observing her in the mirror. She was a stunner. I liked her nose, her eyes and the lushness of the body. But she knew that already.


“I believe in charity, so give to the poor,” I then got up and left the room.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

My Sword

I hadn’t ridden on a train for many years. This was a spur of the moment decision, born out of boredom for my solitary life. Walking the street of a city where thirty years before I too rushed through life working and probably being watched by slower mortals like me now. No longer master of my fate; no longer creating waste like this seething horde around me. No, I was the waste now, wasted, wanting yet unwanted, and in my lonely wandering I passed a railway station and boarded a train with places to go, I was a passenger, but nowhere to go and sat grumbling, rumbling and screeching in my mind as the train’s wheels screeched too over points as I stretched out on my seat to see the head of the train stretch around the bends as it pulled up, up to wooded hills and the sea now but a faint line on the horizon and me faint with anticipation as I recognised the scenery of so many years ago. We had lived here once. The train‘s whistle called and we rushed into a tunnel’s darkness and then out again and that was the moment my memory took a flying leap backward, and the changes that were there now were unseen as I saw the scenery unchanged from when I walked the dog in those fields, explored those woods with my children and waded in that stream on adventures that had made me young again then but now only tore little pieces from my heart that I could ill afford. What words can express sorrow? There are none. The train crossed a creek it was here so many years ago I had walked with the youngest and we had discovered a dead woman’ body who chose the bed of that rivulet as her last resting place. Should I too die this way, away from all without fuss? And now we cross a paddock where one careless match had set a fire to frighten all those houses safely sitting there now still their windows all agog. It had stopped at the road and hearts beat normally again. But my heart will that beat normally again? Life is to be shared, and the worst thing in life is to be alone, unloved. The train pulls into the station at the end of the line. I have almost got to the end of the line too but not quite for I have words enough to keep me going they are my sword.

Tiemi laughs a lot (No. 89)

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

On their way back to Black Sands, Houhia explained to Tiemi (James the pakeha naturalist) what plants she had collected and the purpose they could be used for.
“Who taught you all this, Houhia?”
“My mother Ahu, who is our head man Ahuahu’s first wife,” she said. “I have five brothers and sisters, I am the youngest.”
“How old are you?”
“You should not ask me this, but if I told you I would be…” and here she showed one hand of fingers three times then added one more. “How long have you been here in our country? You are bold to talk to me this way; these are questions you would ask my father if you wanted me for wife.”
Tiemi coloured up with embarrassment. ”Forgive me Houhia, I did not mean to imply that, I am a scientist so I have an enquiring mind.”
They were silent for a while then Houhia said “We will make our way to the coast there is a good path for us to walk on there.”  Soon the breeze from the ocean could be felt and Houhia felt sorry for Tiemi as he had been silent now for some time. When they reached the coastal path she pointed out the shape of Gannet Island in the haze. “My parents came from the village close that island.” She pointed “It is out there that my mother’s parents were drowned in a storm while they were fishing but luckily she was saved. This is her story so the land here is very special for us. My grandparents sleep in those waters.”
Tiemi nodded, “Everything here is precious for you isn’t it, Houhia? You know the forest, you respect the sea. I even notice you talking to the insects in the forest. You must hate us changing your world.”
She didn’t answer him. What could she say? They walked on in silence past the rocky coves where the whales sheltered on their voyage north, and then along the black sand beach approaching the village.
Houhia finally spoke “This is our country pakeha, it is ours, here is our history” she said as she scooped up a handful of black sand and let it run out through her fingers. “I do not know why but I like you. However there are many who will not like you. My father is the headman here so you are protected. However be careful of what you say and to whom, there are many who may take offence.”
“I am on official business, I have been sent by the military governor” protested Tiemi.
“Be careful not to drown in the sea or get crushed by a falling tree then.” Houhia giggled.
“But that is unlikely” he laughed.
“No, but it might happen soon, if you continue to talk to me this way.”
When they entered the village Houhia took him straight to the meeting house and found Ahuahu there. “This pakeha, whose name is Tiemi, was looking for you father, he wants to visit the forest to see the trees and the wildlife. I met him on the way back from Gannet Island.”
“Does he speak our language, Houhia?”
Houhia nodded, “But can I stay as I can understand his pakeha words in case he does not make sense?”
“You do not have to do this Houhia. I can send for Hinewai.”
Houhia shook her head, “He wants to talk about plants so I think I should listen to what he wants.”
Ahuahu nodded his head doubtfully as he saw Houhia’s eyes pleading with him and beckoned Tiemi to sit and asked Houhia to get some refreshments for them.
Slowly Tiemi explained in Maori that the military governor there had agreed that scientists should catalogue the plants and wildlife in the colony and he had been assigned this area as it was untouched as yet by the British settlers.
Houhia came back with water and fruit and a little dried fish and set them down between them then sat close by Ahuahu’s side. So close in fact that Tiemi could not look at her in the eyes without Ahuahu noticing. So staring much of the time at Ahuahu or at the floor Tiemi slowly explained that whenever new places were settled by his people they listed the fauna and flora of the area and tried to determine how it was used by the local population and whether it could be useful for them too.
Ahuahu nodded and then said “You met the right person in coming here, Houhia knows much about the plants in the forest as she has been taught by her mother Ahu, my wife. However you must tell them we do utilise the land and need it all as we are now surrounded by the pakeha road, the port at Big River to the south and by the village of Rocky Outcrop to the north. We need all the land here to live on. It is not rich but we do survive.”
“You misunderstand Ahuahu, we need to know only how you use this land. It will not be taken from you.”
With that Houhia spoke up “May we know what you have found and put in your bag so we can tell you what it is and if it is useful?” So there in the meeting house, Tiemi emptied his bag onto the floor while Houhia looked first at the leaves and flowers and then at Ahuahu then back to Tiemi.
“There are a number of plants here that we do use in our medicine but in the main they are but the usual plants from the forest. However this one here is Rata we do not use the leaves but the bark we soak in water and it is applied to the body for skin disorders. This one here is the Manuka plant and is used to ease a fever and cure…” Here she paused and searched for the words. Finally she said, “Severe stomach pain and looseness of bowels.” She kept her eyes on the plants. She picked up one or two other plants and threw them back down again just giving their Maori name and saying ”We do not use this” or “The flowers of this one attract butterflies and this one grows tall and straight and the wood can be used for building. Another she said could be used for wood carving and making bowls”.
Then she bent down and picked up a flax plant, “This one is very useful, it is the Harakeke plant we make a cure for head and stomach aches from the roots and the fibre is used in childbirth to tie the umbilical cord.” With the nails of her fingers she deftly stripped a fine strip of bark from the twig to show him.
Tiemi looked at her and then back to Ahuahu. “We will list everything that we have not seen before. I need some help to do this.”
Ahuahu nodded “Houhia should not accompany you as she is too young and unmarried. Perhaps you can find the plants and Ahu and Houhia can identify them for you again later. How long will you stay here?”
“I will stay here for one month then go then to another area where the country and flora are different. But if I see a tree or a shrub that we have not seen before know we would like to know how you use it.”
“Then you have plenty of time, we will find someone to accompany you.”
“Father, plants and their use is women’s work. Perhaps Hinewai can come with me to help this pakeha…Tiemi.” She blushed as she said his name.
Ahuahu laughed, “Yes that is an answer. Then Tiemi will be in more danger than you then.” Houhia began to laugh too; then quickly bowed her head but kept her smile.
Tiemi looked puzzled and laughed too but he didn’t really understand what the joke was about. All he could think about was how proud and beautiful Houhia was when she had showed him Gannet Island.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

A close friendship

I must be careful

Not to hug you by mistake

For you would clout me


How many seasons

Have we two played at this game

Close but still distant


Winter when we met

I saw strength and confidence

We were unalike


In Spring you blossomed

Full of life and hope for love

Yet sad when his love went


You let me touch you

We talk and trust the other

In our joint sadness


You laughed as I flirt

With your affections in that

Autumn of my life


I must be careful

Not to hug you by mistake

You would still clout me

Sunday, 10 March 2013

At the Dog Pound

My body shook with fear

Locked in now at the dog pound 

Just an outsider

My master gone away

As I was seen barking there

At the front window


First  trapped, written up, and

Touched intimately over every part

Then caged, cruelly housed


By German Shepherds

Now snarling, snapping at me

Oh, for those old days


And bounding along

Over reserves and chasing

A ball on a spree


My picture painted

Now let me look in your eyes

Use me, choose me, please.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Houhia and the pakeha botanist (No. 88)

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

After Hoku’s and Aotea’s wedding at Rocky Outcrop, Hoku came back to live with Aotea at Black Sands. The plan was that they would eventually re-establish the village of Gannet Island which had remained largely deserted for years except as a base for the men from Rocky Outcrop to fish in the rich waters around the island. However the fishing there was shared between Rocky Outcrop and Black Sands now that the villages two head men had children that were married.
Hoku wasn’t sure that she wanted to go to Gannet Island as she wanted to stay with Aotea and his family at Black Sands. She loved them all. She had never experienced such a free life in a family that had so much love between them. However Ahuahu explained that it was their idea to try to preserve the country there from being taken of by the pakeha.
“We are lucky” he said, “The road from Big River misses us so we are cut off and ignored. We must be sure to use all the land that is ours so the white man does not come and steal it just by giving us some of their coins. That is just a trick to say the land belongs to them then.”
So the village was Gannet Island village was rebuilt and the remaining people from Fern Gully were invited to join the settlers from Black Sands and Rocky Outcrop to establish an effective and self sufficient community. The existing meeting house was repaired, new homes were built and safe storage for the fishing canoes was arranged in the wooded area clear of the high tide mark. It became a popular meeting place for the villagers from the villages to the north and south and soon the fish drying racks were full again.
Ahu and Houhia used to travel up to Gannet Island regularly. Although they went to visit Hoku and Aotea they also went through the forest to collect herbs and plants and Ahu taught Houhia all about their use for medicine. It was not long before Houhia went by herself into the forest with her bag slung over her shoulder and like Ahu before her she would relish her time in the forest talking to the trees and observing the wildlife there. One day on her way back to Black Sands she heard a noise in the forest. Her first instinct was to sit down and keep very still, listen and keep her eyes open wide to see what it was. She had heard the old stories of the pigs that had been set free many years ago by the pakeha and thought it may be one of them. She waited in silence hoping for whatever it was to go away.
Suddenly she heard a movement behind her. A man laughed “I thought that there was someone else in the woods here with me.” He said in pakeha talk. Immediately Houhia reached for her knife and spun round to see a young pakeha man with a floppy hat and like her had a satchel over his shoulder and stick in his hand.
“This is Maori land pakeha. You are not welcome without the approval of the head man,” she said.
The pakeha nodded his head. “I understand, but I have permission from the governor of the colony to record the wild life in this area.”
“This is the land that belongs to the villages of Black Sands and Gannet Island and as far as Rocky Outcrop, stranger.”
“All I am doing is noting what plants and animals and insects are here and what trees grow well. See, I have taken specimens.” With this he opened his satchel and showed his collection of samples.”
“Why would they want to go with you, you cannot use them, they belong here in the forest,” protested Houhia.
“Don’t you use the bark and the leaves and the flowers in your medicine? Some of the birds and the insects here we have never seen before, may we not look at them too to see if they can help us as they help you?”  At this he paused, “My name is Tiemi.”
“Good, that sounds better than James, I know a little of your language pakeha…Tiemi,” She smiled a small smile. “Do you want to see the head man’s son he is living over that way.” She pointed towards The Gannet Island settlement.
“Should I, now that I have spoken to you?” Tiemi smiled at her “All I am doing is seeing what lives and grows here.”
Houhia became serious “Don’t you realise Pakeha, your footprints on our land is just like kicking us, crushing us, hurting us?”
Tiemi looked at her, at her proud face and her brown arms and the way her toes wriggled slightly when she talked to him in anger. He particularly liked the way she was so strong and not afraid of him but he knew that she probably had a weapon and would kill him if he dared touch her.
Houhia knew she was being looked at but said nothing; she liked the way he looked. His face was kind not cruel, so she lowered her eyes lest he notice.
“What is your name?”
“My name is Houhia, daughter of Ahu, the headman a Black Sands,” she said staring at him again. “You should have spoken to him first before coming here.”
“I know. Yes, that is the name I was given but I was tempted to enter the forest first.” Tiemi paused then asked her, “What do you have in your bag?”
Houhia laughed outright. “You know you have done wrong, but now you want to see the herbs I have collected for our medicine. You are brave pakeha; my knife is itching to enter you. I do not know why, but I like you. We will walk back to Black Sands now and I will tell you what I have collected and then you can ask permission of my father to visit the forest. I will say you asked me first.” She then smiled a little shy smile at him.
“If I tell you that I think you are beautiful Houhia, you won’t kill me will you?
“No, not today Tiemi,” she said blushing,” But be careful there are many others that may.” 

Tiemi - James, Jimmy (borrowed word)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

It's Over

She rested in my arms her face so close to mine that her sweet breath transferred to me. The scent of her body enveloped me and my mental camera captured this scene. This moment should last for ever I mused but I knew that she was not sleeping she had something to say, but didn’t know how to say it. When we had met there was something missing, her eyes did not speak to me. So she lay there thinking and perhaps savouring this last moment of our lives together too.  Our affair had lasted some time, it was good because we laughed a lot and had a passion that was almost brutal in our eagerness to possess the other.  Foolishly we made impossible plans of a life together; impossible because of the difficulties involved, impossible because of the hurt that we would cause to so many others. How long had we played this game, this dream that was built on sand that shifted a little everyday as the winds of truth swirled all around us?  I stroked her arm and as if this was the sign, the signal that she needed she looked into my face sadly and groped for the words that I had known would come one day. “I am leaving you.”  Or perhaps, “This is not going to work”; no it would be “We cannot continue like this.” It is funny that all these years later I don’t remember the words. Why should I? I didn’t want to hear them. Already the realisation had put me in shock; she no longer belonged to me. It really was over.

At the foot of the Apennine hills

This piece was originally posted way back in 2009 without a prompt and has now found a home in Two Shoes Tuesday for the prompt Sacrifice.

The coach sped along the autostrada. Forty six contented tourists basked in the morning sun. Their tour of Italy was nearly at its end. The drive today would see them back in Rome in the afternoon with just a farewell dinner, a good night's rest and they would go their separate ways again.

What a great tour it had been. Ten days of sights sounds, food and friendship. Each one had a favourite city.

"I loved Venice."

"Oh. No Stresa and the Alps for me."

"Pisa was so spectacular."

"But what about Rome and it's history?"

"The romantic scenery of Capri, you can't beat that."

"Surely the remains at Pompeii?"

And so it went on, everyone's senses had been filled; not one disappointed. The attempts at the language, the fabulous food and wine, the irrepressible humour of the guide, what memories they would take back with them.

The coach slowed down and turned off the main road. The guide explained that the group would now pass the monastery of Monte Cassino. He was less buoyant now. He spoke slower. It was as though he something difficult to say.

"It was destroyed in the war by allied bombs and ground attack...the monastery buildings were rebuilt after the war...many thousands of soldiers died on both sides, attacking and defending it.

He looked away for a moment, then went on.

"Perhaps it was not necessary to do this. Cassino...Cassino, it was not so important." He shrugged his shoulders and sat down again.

As the coach approached the towering structure on the apex of the hill, the sun disappeared from view and the sad edifice cast its shadow over the coach. A village was passed, a turning taken and the coach drew up at a lay-by at the foot of some steps.

The passengers emerged into the sunlight again and were invited to view the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery, overlooked by the monastery so high above it. The coach party climbed the steps and were greeted by a crisp cut field of blinding white. There in front of them marked by countless rows of identical marble headstones were the many graves of the fallen allied soldiers who gave their lives in order to take the citadel from their enemy. Not far away we were told there were other cemeteries; American, German, Polish, all giving testament to those few weeks of the war.

But these were not some unkempt graveyards of neglect. This place was fresh and clean and alive with trees and flowers and sound of birdsong.

Tourists became mourners and without words being spoken, they separated and walked singly amongst the dead. It was as though the experience was too personal to share. Row upon row of young lives lost; sons of grieving mothers, husbands of stricken wives, fathers of orphaned children.

There they were, captain and corporal, private and padre, all equal in that part of Italy which was now their home.

Lance Corporal William Scott, Dorset Regiment, Aged 21
Private John Hughes, Middlesex Regiment, Aged 19

Captain Reginald Farrow, Royal Ulster Rifles, Aged 27

Pilot Officer James Riddle, Royal Air Force, Aged 25

On and on went the inscriptions, each one a wound to the heart. More than one tear was shed at this frequent inscription:

A soldier known only to God

Once strangers, they were made brothers and sisters as the names were read. Closer too were they to the guide whose own soil had been soaked by these warriors' blood.

In grieving perhaps all now could see the futility of war. If lives have to be lost in causes not of their own making, there could be no better place to rest in that beautiful and awe inspiring cemetery at the foot of the Apennine hills.

(Photo by the author, names invented for privacy)

Sunday, 3 March 2013

My Instant of Time

What is this life that

Slaps from the first gasp for air

That grinds us to dust


Do we deserve it

This ride of unbalanced fate

Win some, lose some too


Give me wings I plead

To escape this fickle fate

Snare of misfortune


And now looking up

I see the blessed blue sky

I see a chariot


This is my last ride

Life lived, loved and all adored

My instant of time

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Ahuahu and Ruaimoko seize the moment (No. 87)

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

The pakeha started building a road between Big River which now had a pakeha name and another town they had established further north that was a centre for the intensive farming that had been established there.  It replaced the old bridle trail they had used to ride their horses and to drive their cattle and sheep along. The road was intended to run parallel to the foothills of the smoking mountains to way past the settlement of Rocky outcrop.  The names of the towns did not sit well on the tongue so the Maori people continued to call them by their traditional names. The uniformed men from the pakeha army came to recruit the Maori men to work on this road. Only two men went from Black Sands but Hoku told Ahuahu that many men from Rocky Outcrop had gone.
Once Tui sisters had been informed of his wedding to Hekehoru, preparations were made for it to be held when the days were longest and a new whare was prepared for them by Ahu and Hatiti. Tui’s mother was ill as she still had not recovered from the shock of her first son Paikea’s death some years ago and could not get involved and was but a shadow of herself. She was not even excited at seeing her daughters and their families again after so many years. She had retreated into her memories and her sorrow and seemed not to understand what was happening.
The married couple's happiness was apparent to all and the village was full of Tui’s sisters’ family being introduced to everyone. As children and grandchildren of the old chief everyone wanted to speak to them and the young men of the village were making eyes at the visiting girls and the Black Sands girls slyly looking at the young men that had come as well. They dreamed of marrying into the respected family of the old chief.
Hoku from Rocky Outcrop had been permitted to come to the wedding and be with Aotea as they too would be married soon. She was accompanied by Ruaimoko her father who also came to discuss Hoku’s wedding to Aotea in a few moons time.
He and Ahuahu spent much time discussing the future of their villages in particular the new road that was clearly going to impact upon their lives.
“I have lost many men, seeking work on the pakeha road, Ahu” Ruaimoko said. “They like the idea of having coins to spend on pakeha goods and bringing presents for their girlfriends.”
Ahuahu smiled and shook his head “It is their way to control us. They do not like us but are happy that we should want to be like them so that the fighting between us stops. Don’t you think they could build that road better by themselves?”
“You are right, Ahuahu, they do not like us, so they pay our men to work and not to fight.”
“There is more than that,” responded Ahuahu “Already we have lost Paikea the old chief’s son to their ways. He liked their drink and died in a fight with the pakeha. They want the whole of Aotearoa for growing their crops, for keeping their animals and for mining the ground. Here in Black Sands we are ignored because we have just the hot springs, the black sandy beach and no harbour. We have nothing they want so we are left alone.”
“How can we be left alone at Rocky Outcrop, Ahuahu?”
“There is one more thing that they do respect, Ruaimoko.”
“What is that?”
“It is our sacred sites, places where we talk to our gods, where even we tread carefully or must not go and where we must show respect and behave with care. When they know of this they will record it their books and try not to offend us. They already know of our hot springs and have been told not to enter the forest on the way to Gannet Island because there is a sacred stone there.” At this Ruaimoko looked at Ahuahu quizzically. “Yes, the black stone that marks the boundary between Black Sands and Gannet Island.”
“The whole of the land between our village and Rocky Outcrop has many such places, now is the moment Ruaimoko to talk about these and be prepared to tell the pakeha if they visit you.”
“But I have not mentioned them before, Ahuahu.”
“No, of course not they are secret and sacred places. You wouldn’t tell the pakeha unless you were threatened, would you?”
“Knowing you, Ahuahu, you have already planned some more, haven’t you?”
“Ahu and I know of many sacred places. There is Gannet Island where the spirits of Ahu’s parents and many other fishermen are that the god Tangaroa kept for himself; there is Fern Gully where two young lovers met and escaped to freedom; then there is a great rock overhanging the ocean protecting the people that live in its shadow. This is where the god of the land and the god of the sea agreed they could live together but kept an eye on each other just case. You may know of this place yourself Ruaimoko. This is the moment to ensure our history is told, of what is sacred to us and we must keep safe for all time.”
Ruaimoko smiled “You have already decided that Hoku and Aotea will be the custodians of the secret at Gannet Island, haven’t you? Next you will tell me Tangaroa and Horowai are the custodians of the secret at your hot springs. Reluctantly you tell the pakeha the secret thus ensuring they will respect our right to be in possession of land they do not really need.”
“This will be our land and our children’s land, Ruaimoko.”
There was a shout outside the whare, “Ahuahu, Ahuahu!”
Then Houhia Ahuahu’s youngest child burst in, "Tui’s mother has died, father."
Ahuahu nodded. “She wanted to die Houhia; she needed to see her husband and her son Paikea again. She is happy now.”  He then turned smiling at Ruaimoko “Two weddings and now a funeral. I think we will bury her overlooking the sea on the way to Big River she will see the Black Sands beach for all time there I believe there is a marker at this place from many years ago.”
Houhia stared at Ruaimoko and couldn’t understand why he was laughing.