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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
By Robert Sullivan
Auckland University PressCopyright © 1999 Robert Sullivan
All rights reserved.
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 –
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.
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.
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
THE TRUTH IN CAPITAL LETTERS
(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?
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.
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
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
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
just look at it,
where are the women,
the crops, tools, material
hey they were paddling
round the ocean
when they bumped
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
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
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
Where does it end?
I am learning my history,
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.
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Table of Contents
He karakia timatanga,
iii About some of the crew,
v Honda Waka,
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,
xx a whakapapa construction,
xxi Te ao marama I,
xxii Te ao marama II,
xxiii Formats (1),
xxiv Formats (2),
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,
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 66 Hokule'a,
Waka 67 from We the Navigators,
Waka 69 Kupe,
Waka 72 Hawaikinui's 1985 journey,
Waka 73 Gone fishing,
Waka 74 Sea anchor,
Waka 75 A storm,
Waka 78 An historical line,
Waka 81 A cup of tea,
Waka 82 Te ao marama III,
Waka 90 Te ao marama IV,
Waka 91 A Feast,
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