The sound of Tukorehe is reverberating around the country through the hearts and minds of many Māori writers who had the privilege of attending a writing wānanga earlier in the year at Tukorehe Marae in Kuku. The result of their caring, sharing, deliberating and creating is a unique one-off journal entitled Te Whē ki Tukorehe.
The wānanga was initiated by Kuku local Anahera Gildea, who as part of her doctoral research into creative writing tried to figure out what exactly is meant by Māori literature. That presented her with a problem ... as she explains in the foreword to the book.
"… [Māori literature] was still predominantly being taught and analysed at academic institutions through a Eurocentric lens. I wanted to open the critical discourse space and invite a mātauranga Māori lens to both the creation and reading of literature.
"The path I set myself on was to employ a kaupapa Māori research methodology that entailed consulting with, and taking direction from, relevant Māori communities in order to both guide and answer my questions surrounding what constitutes Māori literature, what constitutes a mātauranga Māori lens, and how to approach the business of creative writing.
"From the outset of the project proper, Nadine Anne Hura and I have worked in concert every step of the way. Kāore e ārikarika ngā kupu mihi ki a ia. E hoa, kapohia ēnei kupu hei tohu aroha mōu. I have been incredibly humbled and fortunate to have co-created, and worked as kaihautū on this project with you.
"Te Whē is the emergence of that work into the world. It is one of the outcomes of a marae-based wānanga that took place at Tukorehe Marae, he uri ahau o reira, at Kuku in Ōhau."
"It was a massive job," she said about pulling together the wānanga and then the journal.
"We wanted to work as a collective and to wānanga at home at the marae."
And the honour fell to her marae in Kuku.
The result of both efforts was much more than she could possibly have envisaged, she said. And the response was equally phenomenal.
"From Māori, from writers, both Māori and others, from home … they were blown away by our work."
Other marae have already gotten a whiff of this and said they would love for writers to come and wānanga at their marae and anchor some of their literary work at their place too.
Participants for the wānanga came from all over the country and included long-established writers such as Patricia Grace, Joe Harawiti, Witi Ihimaera, Renée, Haare Williams, Mike Ross and John Huria.
"The absolute generosity and integrity with which these experts and leaders approached our queries cannot be overstated. Through the depth and breadth of these whakaaro we can ensure the health of the soil. It is here that the seeds of Māori literature can take root and grow."
"It was all about context. We had every range of te reo Māori there, every writing ability too, and we talked and talked about how to create our own literature, we talked and talked, we supported each other," said Anahera.
The story begins with three giant totara trees that were used to build the original Rangiatea Church in Ōtaki in 1851. Among whānau from Tukorehe the story about the pillars of that church goes like this:
"Three great tōtara trees were carefully cut from Pukeatua, one of the puke that surround and protect Tukorehe, and that were then floated along the Ōhau river until they reached the sea.
"It was an arduous process and was done by many hands over a long time. The logs, once they reached the sea, were escorted by runners along the coast until they reached Ōtaki where they were again floated up the river till they reached the location set aside for the church. They were then erected by hand and became the three central pillars of Rangiātea."
Thus, the book the writing wānanga produced has three pillars. For the participants the emphasis was on process:
"During the wānanga we discussed how the principles and values of manaakitanga, rangatiratanga, kotahitanga, pūkengatanga, ūkaipōtanga, wairuatanga, whanaungatanga, kaitiakitanga, whakapapa, and te reo Māori, be understood in relation to our work as writers and storymakers. We riffed off the guiding principles as expressed by Te Wānanga o Raukawa and our conversation dipped and wove through every literation of these that we could imagine.
"The writers responded with poetry, essay, mihimihi, karakia, patere, mōteatea, and heartswelling story. We organised the work into three 'Tōtara' to represent the pūrākau that the wānanga began with. Each 'Tōtara' was loosely organised using further whakataukī that called up the huge variety of 'birds' that arrived in story - as messengers of spirit, as warnings, as atua, as tohu, as all the things."
"We talked to our kaumatua, asked questions to help us form our thoughts. There were hours and hours of korero," Anahera said.
In the end the book Te Whē is not about the book or the publishing process.
"We tried to capture a moment in time and now we can start all over again somewhere else. For us the outcome was: going home, to the marae and stories from that place."
Journals, academic or otherwise, usually have someone pick a topic and then a call for submission along certain lines goes out and then someone decides who gets in and who doesn't.
"That often creates a work representing the vision of one person," said Anahera.
The wānanga she helped get off the ground was about having everyone participate in the editing process, "hence the different perspectives you find throughout the book".
"We have been asked to run similar wānanga at other marae, where we just start all over again.
"The journal we produce at the end is a gift to give to the locals, to give back to them, and that is why we only printed 200 copies of Te Whē ki Tukorehe and why it is available for free online."
You can find the journal and its kaupapa at: https://www.tewhe.nz/