Star Waka

Star Waka

by Robert Sullivan

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781775581598
Publisher: Auckland University Press
Publication date: 05/29/1999
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 120
File size: 452 KB

About the Author

Robert Sullivan is the author of a number of books of poetry, a graphic novel, and a prize-winning book of Māori legends for children. He co-edited, with Albert Wendt and Reina Whaitiri, the anthologies of Polynesian poetry in English Whetu Moana and Mauri Ola. In 1998 he was the Literary Fellow at the University of Auckland and in 2001 he was the Distinguished Visiting Writer at the University of Hawai‘i Manoa, where he taught creative writing for some years. He now teaches creative writing at Manukau Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand.

Read an Excerpt

Star Waka

By Robert Sullivan

Auckland University Press

Copyright © 1999 Robert Sullivan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77558-159-8



    Men rest their oars at night –
    sailing into paua, plump fowl, sweet
    water, miracles of earth, land rolling
    from hills into skies, land large enough
    for lakes, enough to gather people in,
    a feast for a forest of gods hitting sky.

    Star waka is a knife through time. Crews
    change, language of each crew changes,
    as fast as sun burns ground, and tongues curse him.
    Crews take longer, yet learn less about makers
    of waka, meanings of star. Inheritors
    of body, watched by spirits watching star.

    Star hangs on ears of night, defining light.
    Hear sounds of waka knifing time – aue, again,
    what belongs to water belongs to blood. Crews leap aboard
    leap out, with songs of relations and care
    to send them. Whole families have journeyed here,
    they continue the line. The bottom line

    is to know where to go – star points.
    Kaituki counts stroke. Tohunga,
    who dwells beyond law, finds star.
    System is always there for waka.
    Star rises and falls with night.
    So guidance system attached.

    Belief system of heart. And tide.
    In ancient days navigators sent waka between.
    Now, our speakers send us on waka. Their memories,
    memory of people in us, invite, spirit,
    compel us aboard, to home government, to centre:
    Savai'i, Avaiki, Havaiki, Hawaiiki, from where we peopled

    Kiwa's Great Sea. We left home by a thousand
    different stars, but just one waka takes us back.
    Let us regroup. We have never travelled further –
    just one star stays familiar in the heavens now.
    Tamanui sun dribbles from sky. How will we ever settle
    this cold place? Makariri. Will our high magic work here?


    And when waka reaches Aotearoa again,
    empty, we know it has come for more –

    and when waka reaches Europe
    we know it has lost some more –

    and when craft work on waka
    descends into varnish and paint it has lost some more –

    more times the waka leaves full
    we lose more –

    and more

    iii About some of the crew

    He takes notes about his history and culture, even his own family
    he takes notes about. He tries to hit the right ones
    every time he speaks about them – he does his best
    to compliment and complement their abilities,
    the way they looked and what they looked at.
    Sometimes a few cracks appear in the waka:
    someone was a murderer, or someone was not all
    that they seemed. To the interested, cracks appear on
    the same scale, are worthy of same judgement.
    To hide these judgements in little letters is their fate.

    iv 2140AD

    Waka reaches for stars – mission control clears us for launch
    and we are off to check the guidance system
    personally. Some gods are Greek to us Polynesians,
    who have lost touch with the Aryan mythology,
    but we recognise ours and others – Ranginui and his cloak,
    and those of us who have seen Fantasia know Diana
    and the host of beautiful satyrs and fauns.

    We are off to consult with the top boss,
    to ask for sovereignty and how to get this
    from policy into action back home.
    Just then the rocket runs out of fuel –
    we didn't have enough cash for a full tank –
    so we drift into an orbit we cannot escape from
    until a police escort vessel tows us back

    and fines us the equivalent of the fiscal envelope
    signed a hundred and fifty years ago.

    They confiscate the rocket ship, the only thing
    all the iwi agreed to purchase with the last down payment.

    v Honda Waka

    Today I surrendered the life
    of my Honda City
    to a wrecker in Penrose for $30.

    I bought it seven years ago for $6000.
    It has rust in the lower sills,
    rust around the side windows –
    on the WOF inspection sheet it says:
    'this car has bad and a lot of rust ...'

    That car took me to Uncle Pat's tangi in Bluff.
    We stopped and gazed at Moeraki,
    the dream sky, on the way.

    A friend followed us in it on the way
    to National Women's for Temuera's birth
    (we were in her huge Citroen).

    We went to Otaki, and Wellington,
    in the Honda to visit family.

    The Honda took me to Library School
    perched next to Victoria Uni.

    I drove Grandad across the creek in the Honda
    at night after the family reunion bash.

    Temuera's first car seat was in the Honda.
    That Honda has seen a high percentage

    of my poetry.
    Now I have left it behind.

    vi Feelings

    Shooting pains, or are they growing,
    how does one enumerate and describe
    a feeling? – should one resort to the military
    analogy as outlined in Colonel Bridge's
    journal (there he goes again, referring
    to the massacre as if he doesn't talk about it
    enough – let the event lie boy, don't bore
    the reader with the petty tale – it's all
    in the Turnbull Library anyway, I'm sure
    they'd want to read it when they're in
    the mood) OR SHOULD ONE TELL
    (cut it sic) or should one concentrate
    on the beauty of the waka slicing
    through concentration, through the vision
    of the mind, lighting the architecture
    of every dwelling, beauty of physical story,
    water worn lines of brown bodies
    sliding close to one another,
    dipping and rising toward shore?

    vii Reconnaissance

    Highlights of the forest of the Lord Tane
    were logged for the fleet. Fleet transport
    and weaponry, food baskets and ancestors,
    technology and carving: a greatness of hulls

    and sails – ships for the mission – settlers going
    to ground thousands of miles south-west, taking
    their divinities, agriculture, animals, to inhabit
    the strangeness of climate and soil reported

    by the first expedition. The waka represent ancestors
    in name and form. Their names are invoked today
    and bind Maori people. Waka fight for yesterday
    like it is tomorrow; war cries of orators line marae

    with subjective recollections. Speakers
    point out borders of land, which waka went
    where, who guard harbours – voices modelling
    land into history and lineage, driving up

    highways of legend – much art is visual:
    displays of beauty accessible to all
    but the symbolism remains Maori
    and will always be for Maori.

    viii No

    I cannot make this like maker of waka –
    reach into my heart
    heal wood of its rough cuts

    take what isn't mine to take

    whittling and whittling


    lines decked with paua


    wooden crowns turned to warriors' bowels

    dreaming of the beauty of the vessel

    fleets filling lakes and harbours

    riding rivers in judgement

    waka everywhere –

    taking their contents to the settlements

    what did they carry?
    how can I tell you in confidence?

    why is it that each time I stand
    I sway? and the crew sways too?

    star waka is in every waka –
    land fell a thousand years ago

    yet waka still searches for star
    among all people
    who have become stars

    made stars in patterns on wood
    and the justice of heaven

    (which is black



    and he tries to remember
    but remembering is for things
    of experience

    these things he hasn't experienced:

    the timing of a hundred

    following birds across an Ocean
    diving into the Ocean

    and coming back up

    how huge an Ocean is

    composing chants

    to move people

    across the Ocean

    to set out from Hawaiiki

    knowing the return is death

    x Goldie (1)

    he pads around downtown

    spots the Toi Tamaki
    Heritage Gallery's picture

    of the starving lost waka crew –
    so realistic, 'on the spot' –

    proof of early
    anthropological puddings

    just look at it,
    where are the women,
    the crops, tools, material
    for settlement?

    hey they were paddling
    round the ocean

    when they bumped
    into Aotearoa
    and were canvassed –

    must be their account


    he and I suggest ways of narrating a story of waves

    a billion billion of them to borrow a phrase
    borrowed from the infinite numbers available

    in telling an infinite story lapping the shapes
    formed round land – a set of keys on a lap

    landing there by mistake – a slip
    and it all piles into the ocean mistook

    for a reclamation declaimed by the tumbling
    mumbling tongues of salinity

    at a beach which heads for a context
    a breach into the canon of beaches

    writing in sand obscured by puffs
    and gulls and tide's own cursive

    curling lickity ups and lollipop downs
    through the otherwise metronomic

    glassiness then swelling then rough
    to high waves and back down

    to the ground or to the rocks again
    and again the saline solution

    xii Independence Day

    We hear a lot in Auckland these days
    about the cost of the viaduct basin

    the benefits accrued from the Cup challenge
    various economic analyses: tourists

    property exposure capital: the Americans
    are really doing their homework

    before they decide to colonise us
    (but this time I really mean most kiwis

    i.e. 85.1% of the population according
    to the 1996 census) it doesn't mean

    much to the rest it's still going to be
    a colony

    xiii Rough Cuts

    the strokes slow, start cutting the drink

    becalmed by tired arms

    billowing at a tangent

    we need a flying fox to new land

    hook our mast and glide

    like our descendants in skies

    who have histories

    backwards and forwards

    our descendants who will secure

    discoveries and communicate

    to their descendants the value

    of wonders they will find

    allowing us – the ancestors –

    to navigate our history

    down lines

    xiv Ka huri ahau ki te reo o te ao pouri

    And morning yields to the purpose of the day.

    Bright blood, the sun a clot tying darkness.

    Waka of death duels death's waka.

    The event chokes blood lines –

    to civilized time and lex romanum.

    The threats, curses, fingers pointing
    at me, descendant of the crew
    of one death waka,

    pinch every nerve,
    make me sad and proud

    that I am an ambassador,
    representative of all they surveyed.

    And confused, very confused.

    Why did these things happen?

    Why are these things put
    on me?

    Where does it end?
    At least

    I am learning my history,
    the people

    who lie within me.

    Let anyone challenge
    our place again.

    xv Sullivan Whanau

    The grass at Te Kaaretu was renowned
    for its softness – our ancestors would line
    their whare with it for bedding. Today we are
    gathered up like clumps of Kaaretu grass,
    made soft by the gathering, and we line
    the whare nui at Pihareinga, Te Kaaretu,
    with our bedding once again.

    I learn Arapeta's song, e tuwhera atu nei,
    te awa o Taumarere
... our ancestral river
    of Taumarere opens here, although of course
    we had settlements at Matauwhi and Kororareka –
    the first New Zealand capital – we were
    one of the first tribes to be affected
    by westernisation. Today we are following

    the river, tracing the paths of our people,
    the great names and the previously unknown,
    trying to find the first Sullivan who gave us
    his name early last century. What was his
    first name? who did he marry? why did he stay here?
    was he marooned? was it a woman?
    what was his waka? These questions remain to date.

    But there are tears at this reunion.
    The speeches are from everyone here,
    we introduce ourselves as the special branches
    of the whanau. We move around
    like the four winds, but when we gather
    at Te Kaaretu, we are anchored
    and hold fast to one another.


Excerpted from Star Waka by Robert Sullivan. Copyright © 1999 Robert Sullivan. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
He karakia timatanga,
iii About some of the crew,
iv 2140AD,
v Honda Waka,
vi Feelings,
vii Reconnaissance,
viii No,
x Goldie (1),
xii Independence Day,
xiii Rough Cuts,
xiv Ka huri ahau ki te reo o te ao pouri,
xv Sullivan Whanau,
Waka 16 Kua wheturangitia koe,
xvii Some definitions and a note on orthography,
xviii Similitude,
xx a whakapapa construction,
xxi Te ao marama I,
xxii Te ao marama II,
xxiii Formats (1),
xxiv Formats (2),
xxv power/powerlessness,
xxviii Hooked,
Waka 29 waka taua,
xxxii herenga waka,
xxxiv Goldie (2),
38 fleurs de lis,
39 A wave,
48 (Bright 1),
49 (environment 1),
54 waka rorohiko,
55 Araiteuru,
Waka 56 A Double-Hulled Waka,
Waka 57 El Nino Waka,
Waka 58 Waitangi Day,
Waka 59 Elsdon Best,
Waka 60 Dead Reckoning,
Waka 61 Fragment,
Waka 62 A narrator's note,
Waka 63 Venus,
Waka 64,
Waka 65,
Waka 66 Hokule'a,
Waka 67 from We the Navigators,
Waka 68,
Waka 69 Kupe,
Waka 70,
Waka 71,
Waka 72 Hawaikinui's 1985 journey,
Waka 73 Gone fishing,
Waka 74 Sea anchor,
Waka 75 A storm,
Waka 76,
Waka 77,
Waka 78 An historical line,
Waka 79,
Waka 80,
Waka 81 A cup of tea,
Waka 82 Te ao marama III,
Waka 83,
Waka 84,
Waka 85,
Waka 86,
Waka 87,
Waka 88,
Waka 89,
Waka 90 Te ao marama IV,
Waka 91 A Feast,
Waka 92,
Waka 93,
Waka 94,
Waka 95,
Waka 96,
Waka 97,
Waka 98,
Waka 99,
Waka 100,
Also by Robert Sullivan,

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