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.