Waiariki: A Poem About Protecting Ancestral Land

Literature

03.10.2019

Waiariki: A Poem About Protecting Ancestral Land

In her recent essay about the significance of Ihumātao, Jade Kake writes, “hapū and whānau are constantly being bombarded with similar issues, all around the motu ... developing land of significance to Māori is seen as the path of least resistance.”

In 2013, the Crown attempted to confiscate Māori land in Waikanae for the Kāpiti Expressway, even though there were five other alignment options for this section of the road. The land – belonging to the Grace whānau – is the only remaining piece of what were the vast holdings in Waikanae of Wī Parata Te Kākākura, a benefactor who in his time gave generously to public works, including for a church, a school and the railway.

The Grace whānau successfully defended their land against the Crown in both the Māori Land Court and the Environment Court. The Māori Land Court recommended the ancestral land be given protective status, and the Environment Court found it wasn’t necessary to take their specific block of land. Nevertheless, despite being forced to make a slight realignment of their road, the Crown still used the Public Works Act to take other Māori land, wāhi tapu, including from neighbours and whānau.

This long, narrative poem is an acknowledgment of and for the poet’s partner, Waiariki Grace, one of Wī Parata’s descendents. Waiariki and others worked on their ancestral whenua for the duration of the construction, monitoring the earthworks to ensure the Crown observed full and proper protocol, including around findings of archaeological significance.

*

Waiariki

 

we came to visit you
at work

watched you walk
off the hill

your high-vis jacket
your waist-length dreds

and the mānuka stick
you’d been carving

with the names of
all the waterways

from Waikanae
to Paekākāriki

*

“it’s not carving”
you cringe

you don’t agree that
you’re an artist

“it’s just a stick”
that stands

as high as your shoulder
walks you

out of the hills
set forward

in the way
that you walk

*

ten hours a day
for two years

you monitor
their machinery

they use GPS
to cut the ground

but still can’t see
what’s plain in the dirt

on the days you spot
white shell in the earth

you signal
for the digging to stop

ring in
the archeologist

but there are earthworks
all over the site

you can only be
in one place at one time

*

it’s impressive, the way
they drill steel beams

into the bone
of the hill

fix them together
so they’ll never shift

they make this frame
for the concrete face

of a Wall that stops
the hill from falling

you’re a builder
their workmanship is moving

*

the workers are
wary of you

because you get paid
but don’t have to labour

because with your stick
and your stoop

you could be a prophet
or a homeless person

and one is as dire
as the other

they keep their
distance

a year before they let you
eat with them

but you have no beef
with the workers

you worry for them
you want them safe

half of them
are Māori

they’ve heard this place is
wāhi tapu

though do they have
a choice?

*

you take part in
morning exercises

you lead them
in your own strange yoga

“Breathe in!
Everyone say: Tuku.”

“Breathe out.
Everyone say: Rākau.”

“Tuku. Rākau.
Tuku. Rākau.

“Tuku Rākau!”
you don’t tell them

what it’s about
up to them to ask

for the name
of this place when

Wī Parata heard
change on the tide

gave ground
for the railroad

and moved
the village inland

to improve
the chance of trade

*

mud streams into
the Waimeha

cleanest river
on the coast

so clean the eels are
jet black

even the kōura
sixty years old

as black and slick
as motorbikes in rain

after every rain
you walk the site

you check for breaches
in the bunds

you track the silt
back to its source          

you tell them how
they could fix it

though they pay others
to do this

*

you spy a rare grey duck
and call the ecologists

at first they humour you
but when they see it

with their own eyes
they look at you sideways

they don’t see the boy
who climbed every tree
 
to steal one egg
from every nest

they don’t see his
collection in the attic

*

you’re drinking
in the garage

one eye fixed on history
one wandering

from your fifth
can of beer

I know why you’re drinking
I know you’re chasing

the tail of the same idea
around an inescapable maze

how can they do this?
how can we stop them?

how can they do this?
how can we stop them?

they are doing it
and you are stopping them

and you’re not
stopping them

the Wall – Te Kākākura –
protects the hill

and marks the hill
not fully protected

*

one man left
to clean Te Kākākura

before it’s blessed
on Saturday

“same old shit”
the old man says

not the Wall
he means the road

the Māori land
the wāhi tapu

the work he has to do
on their behalf

“he’s over sixty,” you tell me
“he’s black

“he has no teeth
“he’s still working

“for next to nothing”
you witness

and experience
the insult

*

last week a truck
ignored the briefing

got stuck
below the bridge

turning round
in the mud

“up to its bumpers!”
you laugh

and tears fall
from your eyes

you laugh and laugh
and stifle your laughter

it’s late
and the baby is asleep

in bed, you ask
in Māori:

who shall work
for nothing?

who shall inherit
the earth?

*

this morning you listened
to the last of the quiet

the last weeks
for the birds

to make themselves
clear

no karakia
no safety briefing

no morning exercises
no machinery

there’ll never again
be quiet on this hill

a four-lane
freeway

and noise
or the threat of noise

*

now the drive
from McKay’s Crossing

bypasses
Waikanae Village

and peters out
at Pekapeka

sometimes I’m surprised
to have missed Te Kākākura

perhaps I was looking
for the urupā

or the swamp where Pohe
lost her life

or the spring
where women went

to birth
their children

more likely
I missed the Wall

because I was
distracted

mind on where
we’re going

not on where
we’ve been

*

you did your job
and we’re proud

you are not giving them
what they want

fresh water
storm water

salt water
raupō filters it all

the tide is rising and as far
into our future

as Tuku Rākau
is into our past

the sea will reclaim
these sandhills

the road will sink
beneath the surface

even if it’s not yet
over

*

tonight you’re writing signs
for the riders

who’ll come upon
this place by surprise

every night you rewrite
your text by hand

you’re suspicious
of computers

half our table and the carpet
beneath your chair

disappears in a swamp
of paper

names, events
decisions

all turn soggy
in the peat water

everywhere around us
land is being washed away

even as the land
remains

the drive past Waikanae
is now so fast

but where are we going
and why?

 

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