Sleeps Standing / Moetū by Witi Ihimaera

“E hoa, ka whawhaitonu mātou, ake, ake, ake!”

“Friend, I shall fight against you for ever, for ever!”

Sleeps Standing / Moetū (Witi Ihimaera and Hēmi Kelly)

CoverKia ora readers. What a coup for Te wiki o te Reo Māori this book is.

A bilingual text in Māori and English, Sleeps Standing / Moetū is written by Witi Ihimaera (Te Whānau a Kai, Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Rongowhakaata, Tuhoe, Whakatōhea, Ngāti Porou) and translated into Te Reo Māori by Hēmi Kelly (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Tahu-Ngāti Whaoa).

Sleeps Standing / Moetū tells the story of the last battle of the Waikato Wars; the Battle of Ōrākau, 30 March to 2 April 1864. Most New Zealanders know this story as Rewi’s Last Stand, immortalised in two films in the early twentieth century, and the later novel by A.W.Reed.

At Orākau on the banks of the Pūniu River in the Waikato, 300 Māori, defended the pa – an agreed place of safety – against 1700 armed British Soldiers, commanded by Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron.

A third of the defenders were women and children.

They came from the allied tribes of Waikato, Raukawa, Tuhoe, Taranaki, Kahungunu, and Ngati Porou to aid Ngāti Maniapoto, the Tangata Whenua (people of the land). They were led by the great nationalist leader Rewi Manga Maniapoto.

Acknowledging with respect the primary right of Maniapoto to tell this history, a fact that has often been been “trampled all over by historians” (p.87), Witi tells the tale from the point of view of an ancestor of his own Gisborne iwi of Rongowhakaata.

Descended from the great Chief Ruharuhi Rukupō, Moetū whakaaraara (the one who sleeps standing and sounds the alarm), came with other iwi to aid Ngāti Maniapoto against the British.

Many allies were prevented from gaining the pa by the British. The remaining 300 were cut off from water, food and ammunition while facing formidable odds – the British had big guns, they had peach stones and taiaha.

The philosophy of the allied Maori defenders was that if they were to die, it would be in battle. “It came as a forlorn hope with us; no one expected to escape, nor did we desire to; were we not all the children of one parent? Therefore, we all wished to die together.” Hiti Te Paerata, Ngati Te Koihera. p.12).

They lived and died by the warrior’s code; defending the land for future generations:

“Me mate te tangata, me mate mō te whenua.

The warrior’s death is to die for the land.” p.13.

Many question the presence of women and children. The character of Rua Papa explains this on p.87. Rangitira (or royal) families ‘travelled together, a sovereign with his court, wife or hoa rangatira and children. If there was a battle, the rangitira families would always be in it, leading from the front. You never saw them sitting on their horses watching from a nearby hillside.” (p.87)

Governor Grey promoted his war as ‘defensive,”  persuading Aucklanders to fear invasion and brutal murder.

The truth was the reverse. A prayer book found recently and traced back to Ruapekapeka Marae suggests that during the attack on this pa, the inhabitants had been at Sunday prayer.

As a nation, we have set a date to commemorate the New Zealand Land Wars, beginning 28 October 2017. This decision came directly from submissions to the government about the Battle of Ōrākau. This book acknowledges this decision.

A celebration of the bravery and tenacity of Maori, this wonderful book collects haka, waiata, personal accounts, photographs and maps, as well as Witi’s novella. The story is written in Te Reo Māori on the left page and English on the right, enabling the reader to choose to learn from the translated text.

Bilingual Māori language materials

Shifting Points of View : Fail Safe / Fail Better

One thing Fail Safe Fail Better did not do was fail to deliver. Six speakers gave candid, entertaining and unique accounts of both personal and professional failures in their lives.

Clementine Ford, Victor Rodger, and Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel at WORD Christchurch, Friday 1 September 2017

Not at all negative, the evening was filled with magic. Glenn Colquhoun invoked ghosts of poets past on the walls of the Christchurch Art Centre’s Great Hall and filled the empty space with poetry (Denis Glover’s The Magpies) and song: his own composition of the ill lucked couple in the poem calling to each other.

While Glenn suggested that sometimes words can fail, he didn’t fail at his task; reciting his performance from memory. I thought you were in great voice, Glenn, as was Witi Ihimaera, who as well as getting the audience to sing in rounds (we failed!) and telling us an alternative fairytale (The Ugly Princess) told us all that his incredible success was all somehow a glorious accident…

Witi’s new book, Sleeps Standing / Moetu, is by no means a failure. Written in bilingual form with Hemi Kelly, it is an outstanding account of the Battle of Orakau, during the New Zealand Land Wars. Witi does however claim to have failed along the way; the Trowenna Sea was not a huge success.

Victor Rodger regaled us with the fact that failure is in the eye of the beholder. Or is it that you can’t please everyone all the time? A hugely successful playwright (2017 Writer in Residence Victoria University, 2012 Pacific Artist in Residence at the MacMillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, 2009 Ursula Bethell Creative Writing Resident, Canterbury University), Victor’s use of another well-known F-Word in his work fails to impress the one person he wants to be proud of him – his Mother.

The nature of failure follows a pattern; as we say, when one door closes, another opens. Each lost opportunity leads to another, or a different path in life. A higher lesson in there, perhaps, on freedom and predestination.

This was an idea shared by Christchurch Mayor, Lianne Dalziel. Sometimes the timing just isn’t right; the universe has other plans. Our first shot at life and love may be an opportunity to reflect and refine. For her this manifested in a burn-out at Parliament after an exhausting inquiry into the Health Sector, which led to her standing down from Parliament. This left her in a good position to carry Christchurch through its transformation and rebirth.

These experiences are not without wounds. We’ve all been hit by failure, but it’s the resilience we gain that makes us stronger, says Hana O’Regan, Kai Tahu. It’s all in the way you look at it?

A champion of Te Reo, Hana turns life lessons into “rivers of words” writing her way through the experience to the learning on the other side. Each experience brings a lesson, says Hana; they turn up to say, we’ve been through this before, and we can get through it again.

Lastly, and certainly not least, Clementine Ford. Clementine shared a story of mislead youth and heartbreak. This lead us to two realisations: one: life isn’t a John Hughes movie (Pretty in Pink,The Breakfast Club), two: success is not marrying a wanker. Lol.

Fight Like A Girl author Clementine demonstrated her greatest weapon, her wit, in abundance; the lesson in her story being to hold your head high and laugh in the face of crushing (public) rejection.

Glenn Colquhoun, Witi Ihimaera (and Clementine Ford chasing offspring) WORD Christchurch Fail Safe Fail Better, Friday 1 September 2017

Some of the stories shared here were so candid that I chose not to share them. Those gems were for our ears only.

My failures? Well, I started the evening keeping to the theme. On a rainy spring night, I failed to find a car park close to the venue (ah the fun of driving around the CBD in circles) and didn’t make the venue on time. Miraculously the event started late. And the rest? Well thats Witi, Glenn and I…

Find out more

Treasures from Ihimaera

Witi IhimaeraI was talking with colleagues yesterday, when the question came up, “What is your favourite book?” The responses varied but I thought it was really interesting that four of us named titles by Witi Ihimaera.

I read his work Tangi for the first time when I was in the third form at High School. I found it incredibly moving and quite empowering. In Tangi, Ihimaera explores death, grief, loss, love and life through the eyes of a son whose father has just passed away. The story moves effectively between memories and the present to draw the reader into Tama’s personal experience. I think if I had to explain it now, I wonder if some of my initial reaction to how moving I found it wasn’t just based on the beauty of the story but also because I had wondrously discovered this man who was writing and telling stories about people like me. The characters, the language used, the way people spoke and the contexts and events were all things I understood or could relate to.

Story blanket display at RehuaOnce I had discovered him, I think I went on an Ihimaera rampage, devouring anything else written by him that I could get my hands on. I have a vivid recollection of my mother taking me to an event at the Dunedin Public Library where I got to hear him speak and he signed my very own copy of The Whale Rider (which I still have).

I recently reread Tangi and I found it just as evocative and moving the second time around. Actually if I’m honest, I was that weird lady reading my book on the bus while having a sniffle and trying to surreptitiously wipe away tears on my way to work. Rather than be embarrassed by this, I’ve decided to embrace the idea that the book must be really good if it can have you so engrossed that you cry while on public transport.

If you have read Tangi and enjoyed it, you might like to try The Rope of Man. This book picks up the events from Tangi and continues the story twenty years later. Pounamu Pounamu (a collection of short stories), and The Matriarch were both identified by colleagues yesterday as being their Ihimaera favourites, and another title of his that I enjoyed was The Dream Swimmer. I know his newest work, The Thrill of Falling has just come out but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

Does anybody else have an all-time Ihimaera favourite? Or have you read anything recently that you found so good it moved you to tears? Feel free to share.

Plagiarism?

The latest New Zealand Listener has a cover photograph of Witi Ihimaera and the lead story is his apology for his errors in using the writing of other people in his latest work The Trowenna Sea. It tells the story of Hohepa Te Umuroa, who was convicted of insurrection and transported as a convict to Tasmania with four other Maori in the 1840s. The similarities in passages of his work to the words of other writers was uncovered by reviewer Jolisa Gracewood.

Jolisa has a PhD in Comparative Literature from Cornell Universityand has taught non-fiction writing at Yale University.  She was named Reviewer of the Year at the 2006 New Zealand Book Awards and publishes regularly in the New Zealand Listener, the New Haven Advocate, and Landfall.  She  is an occasional contributor to the Public Address blog and has alluded to the controversy in her most recent post.

The Listener also has a back up article about famous examples of plagiarism and what it calls “a fine and ever-changing line between what’s allowable and what’s not.”

On the international stage Britain’s poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion is fighting his corner over vitriolic attacks on using other people’s work in an official Armistice Day poem he wrote.