Potiki Essay, Research Paper
June 16, 1999
Brigham Young University -Hawaii Campus
Land, to many of us, is a place of growth and development. When the Pakeha, or
white man, saw the fertile land of New Zealand, he saw opportunity and investment to
make more money. But did the Pakeha really know what land is to those who live as though
their land is everything they had? Of course, they must have known that land is precious to
them, but did they realize just how precious land was to the Maori?s? Land was life to the
Maori people, and if it was destroyed, it meant that the land needed to be renewed with new
life. The land and life was sacred and immortal.
The novel, Potiki, explained in different points of view what the land meant to the
Maori people. Roimata made it clear that, ?…the land does not belong to people, but that
people belong to the land? (110). She viewed the land as a sacred means of life renewal. She
even said that everything in time was a ?now-time?. The past and the present were only
named for convenience, but when all was one, and all had an influence on each other (39).
Toko said that his father, Hemi, explained that, ?the land and sea was our whole life, the
mans by which we survived and stayed together. Our whanau is the land and the sea.
Destroy the land and sea, we destroy ourselves? (98).
Immortality is an exemption from death, or everlasting life. In the Maori?s world,
nothing ever died. This was exemplified through the carvings of the wharekai, or meeting
house. When a person from the whanau, or family of the land, died, they were remembered
in the carvings of the wharekai. A good example of this is Toko, who was a crippled boy
that died inside the wharekai. His statue was one with an eye to the land and an eye to the
sky. The fish that was near him was another example of immortality in itself. When Toko
had caught the fish, after it was cleaned, the remains were buried under the passion fruit tree
whose vines grew enormously over the years afterwards. This symbolizes that the death of
the fish was not really a death, but a renewal of the life of the vine, and giving life to the
people whom would eat and share the gracious sea offering.
The Pakeha insistently bribed, then tried to destroy their competitor?s land and scare
them off. They thought it was a good opportunity for the Maori people. Of course, to the
Pakeha, the Maori?s were still just savages trying to make a living out of nothing. The
problem with the Maori people is that they were just too stubborn to share a part of their
land for the growth and development of a new facility that could make the people that own
that land a very large profit. What the Maori people did not understand was that land is
money, and to let that land go to waste is a waste on humanity. After all, the Pakeha were
offering to move their meeting place and cemetery, and fix the roads at no cost to them. To
the Pakeha, there was no reason for refusing this generous offer. So, because of their refusal,
and the desperate need for the land, the Pakeha decided to scare the Maoris off the land.
The Pakeha did not consider the fact that Maori land was Maori life. If they wanted to take
the land, they had to also take their lives.
The Pakeha did not fully understand the Maori belief of immortality of life. This is
why the people of Te Ope challenged the government endlessly for the repossession of their
lands after the World War II from Britain. Although the lands were not fully repossessed,
they had what they needed, and began to rebuild their life with the land. When the
dollarmen came again offering money for the growth of the land, it was obvious to the Maori
people why they could not sell it. When offered a price, the Maori boldly said about giving
up the land, ?We give it to you and we fall through. We?re slaves again when we?ve only
just begun to be free? (95).
To the Maoris, even in death, there is life. When there was a funeral, it was not a
sorrow for the dead; it was a celebration of life. An example of this came when the Pakeha
had made a channel for the water to the cemetery, flooding the graves of the dead. The
people of the whanau gathered, and Toko explained, ?as we began to tangi for all that had
happened, and for family long gone and recently gone, but who were amongst us still…we
had told our stories and said our dreams into the ground? (120). The damage was not the
most important factor to the Maoris, although some of them wanted utu (revenge) on the
Pakeha. What really mattered was to reconcile the land with life, and to worship and
acknowledge that there was no end to the living.
The land was not just to cultivate and use for the Maoris. The land was their sacred
obligation to preserve because of a ?now-time? or a time that the ancestors of the whanau
had an influence on them. Their ancestors were not of the past, they lived inside of the
whanau, and inside of the land. Roimata said, ?Good can come from what is not good, good
can come from sorrow, new life from old…all that we need is here…?(159). The Pakeha had a
plan to build the land to ??benefit? not only ourselves but everyone, all of you [the
Maoris] as well? (89). Because they were desperate for that land, they destroyed the cemetery
and the wharekai in hopes of scaring the Maori away. The Pakeha could not destroy the life
that was indestructible: the land. The Maori could always rebuild, and the land could regain
its fertility. The life that was everlasting will never be destroyed.
Reference: Grace, Patricia. Potiki. University of Hawai?i Press. Honolulu: 1986