Monday, August 03, 2020

Rekohu notes

In one day Rekohu/Chatham/Wharekauri gave us five rainbows. I kept thinking of the back cover of Binney's great biography of Te Kooti, which shows a rainbow over Te Whanga Lagoon. The prophet & his followers escaped from their prison here in 1868, crossing the 'Red Sea' back to Aotearoa.

I visited the statue of Tommy Solomon, who was falsely called the last Moriori. In the '80s Robin Morrison gathered three of Tommy's grandchildren in front of the statue, & made a famous photo, a symbol of continuity. The energy of the ancestor flows into living flesh and blood.

In 1835 Rekohu was colonised not by whites, but by two Taranaki iwi. I am used to hearing fellow Pakeha talk about divisive indigenous activists, about the virtues of assimilation. On this island I hear the same words in Ngati Mutunga mouths. I have entered an alternate reality.

I walked Petre Bay, between sandhills & surf. In 1919 HD Skinner found Maori material on the top dune layers & Moriori middens on the bottom. Thousands of shells still stick out of the sand: I imagine them as old tongues trying to speak over the ignorant roar of the sea.

The woman who guided me through a Moriori forest said trees can communicate thru roots: can thank, warn. Riding home thru a gale, I wondered: can these bent trees & phone poles talk, or have their tongues become mutually unintelligible, like those of long separated peoples?

The frail bookworm Jorge Luis Borges used to listen worshipfully while the knife fighters of his native Buenos Aires talked about their trade. I felt like Borges last night, when a man who dives for paua in the feral seas off Rekohu told me the best way to chase off sharks.

Floating above the tundra of the clouds on the way home from Rekohu, I both hope for & fear severe air turbulence. Only with such tumult could I align myself with the crew of Rangihoua & other waka of ancestors of the Moriori, craft that crossed the southern ocean on storm surges.


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