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. 


  1. Although this was part of the series it had the power of a stand alone piece..the clever use of words and picture were very touching..

  2. Great writing, again. I'm getting hooked on your series.

  3. I've always been intrigued by the different ideas of beauty across the human race. Getting a moko would be a very special event to a Maori, but rather horrifying to a Westerner.

  4. I like this exposition of the differences that can exist among different ethnic groups. Your characters seem universal!

  5. I was not familiar with the moko, Robin, the tradition and the art, how it tells a story. It's beautiful, like a nice tattoo can be beautiful. But its real significance lies in the cultural tradition. This was a big statement for a young woman to make, a mature decision, I think. Loved it! Amy

  6. This is a lovely episode. I must say the 'moko' is much more attractive than some of the awful tattoos we see around these days. Emily is covered in the most grotesque designs - and hasn't finished yet!

  7. She could be considered the matriarch of the tattoo generation in America. All the youth are broke but have "Smart phones" and expensive tattoos...I ask one young lady who was sporting a full picture of a flying owl on her chest how much it cost...800 buck she said ...then ask me for a buck to buy some food...

    always enjoy the next episode

  8. What I love most about the idea of a moko is the symbolism and meaning.
    As gsb said above, you can often see youngsters these days sport some tat, sometimes in a different language without having a full understanding of its meaning. This is a result, I suppose of our growing global community, which is good. It is also, it seems to me, a sign that sometimes our young people are searching for some meaning in their lives that they don't feel they can achieve conventionally.
    This was a beautifully written piece.

  9. You've taught me something today! What an interesting read.

  10. forgive me if picture out some scenes in the whale rider while reading your story. hehehe :-)

    another great part *-) could stand as a separate story

  11. The moko is a good idea. It's going to be interesting to see how he reacts.

  12. I love this series and the great details you put in it.

  13. I love this story and I think Jae is right. This episode could well stand on its own. The pictures add to the richness, too.