A Conversation With Mr ‘T’

© Rangihīroa Panoho, 2020/2021. No part of this document (text or imagery) is free to be copied, plagiarised or shared for publication or for uses neither intended nor agreed on by the author without his express permission. The opinions expressed are those of Dr Panoho and not those of former employers or industry colleagues. Details for writing to the author are as follows: blueskypanoho@icloud.com          

(revised)

rangihīroa, Tī ‘cabbage tree’ with kāroro circling, Te Atatū, 10 June 2018

I was told

kākaho was the proud one

spurning the love of pingao

as she wistfully sought his plumes

waving in the wind

exalted above the sandy ridge

and with her rich toothy, green grin

dragging her vines ‘cross hot sand

not an introduction she’d planned

but that wānanga is wrong

isn’t it Mr Tī?

the light that reaches over Ōwairaka, Maungawhau and me

casts long shadows where we stand

and you demanded I shoot you, not kākaho, early afternoon

‘the light is more flattering’

a rustle in your messy top

broad, bright fluttering green leaves

as you casually explained

heroic

I want frontal, central, imposing

and if the shoot doesn’t give it

use Photoshop

you know, more than the Nor-Western motorway

I am Te Atatū

Don’t worry Mr Tī, I replied nervously,

there will be no rivals – not even kākaho

rangihīroa, kākaho, Te Atatū waterfront, 2018

I have followed your client brief to the t…

harakeke sits at your feet submissively

and proud kākaho (toetoe stem) has been banished

to the edge of Waitematā’s cloak

outside the shot

oh and one more thing: a small detail I must confide

I squinted up his textured trunk towards the sun radiating

behind his crown

him looking down murmuring a deep single syllable ‘ae’

and then softly, so softly one could barely hear it

above the chirp of matata and the squeeky toy twittering of the tōrea

rangihīroa, Matata ‘fernbird’, Te Atatū waterfront

a shake began

leaves clattering nor-wester

and around his trunk

a ghost hand massaging wīwī and coercing marshland grasses

I cleared my throat, perhaps a little self-consciously now

if you look closely at the photo

there are kāroro moving around your crown

they were squawking and laughing at me trying to get the shot

He said, no

they are admirers singling me out.

S O M E N O T E S

rangihīroa, Te Atatū shore line looking north-east towards Northcote

This is a revised post from 10 June 2018 and concerns two things – conservation and conceit against a backdrop of images taken on one of a couple of waterfront walks at Te Atatū ‘sunrise’. The dialogue is based on quite a different indigenous story concerning the native plants kākaho and pingao which similarly occupy the threshold domain between Tangaroa (the sea) and of Tāne (the forest). There are no sand dunes in the tidal mudflats of Te Atatū so I have singled out the most prominent native on location – tī, the native cabbage tree – for a more narcissistic version of the role kākaho demonstrates in the traditional story of unrequited love.

The setting is suitable for love but perhaps not self-love. The Waitematā tide was in and there was a view across to Chelsea Sugarworks, Northcote and further to East – the Viaduct and to the three Tāmaki maunga (ko Maungawhau, Maungakiekie and Ōwairaka) rising in the distance behind the rumbling nortwestern motorway as it heads towards the Rosebank, Avondale turnoff and further on the Te Atatū turnoffs.

My short dialogue involving Mr Tī had been brewing for quite a while since I first encountered the delightful story of pingao and kākaho in a publication produced by weavers who harvest the native fibre for their mahi ringa (tukutuku, kete and whāriki) and who also belonged to Ngā Puna Waihanga during the 1980s. I once accompanied a ranger in the Kaipara to gather the material for a meetinghouse, involving tukutuku utilising pingao, called Ihenga in Rotorua that celebrated the legendary travellers connection to the large northern harbour. Weavers who use the material, as with those utilising harakeke, are intimately involved with the maintenance and care of the sedge and its surrounding ecosystem. It is important to note here that this plant continues to exist in an increasingly fragile state on New Zealand coastal sand dunes. As I understood it these weavers were exemplary kaitiaki, truly practitioners of the whakataukī:

Manaakitia nga tukemata o Tane ‘caring for the eyebrows of Tane’

rangihīroa, pingao, Whāngarei Heads, 2020

The following account of kākaho and pingao is one of a number that tell the compelling love story:

From her home she [i.e. ko Pingao] looked up to the land and saw the young and handsome kakaho dancing on the sand dunes. Each time the kakaho made his appearance Pingao became more and more enamoured. Finally she asked permission from Tangaroa to leave the sea to meet her lover. Tangaroa granted her permission with words of warning that she would never make it.

However driven by blind love, she left the seaweed and crawled across the hot sand. As she struggled up she began to call to the kakaho – but he was interested only in himself. He was in love with his own shape and did not answer pingao’s calls. In desperation she called back to Tangaroa, who could do nothing but shower her with spray. And there on the sand dunes, the pingao remains to this day.Rangitane wānanga

For those sceptical regarding nature speaking. It’s not so much that nature talks perhaps more that we should listen. In my version singling out the tī is appropriate as it is a special tree whose name is contained within that of my Te Uriroroi affiliation with Porotī. It was there (outside Whāngārei on the way to Kaikohe) that a special ceremony was held to marry our ancestors with Waikato women and the cutting of the tī was the sign of the tomo ‘marriage negotiations’. This may relate to the raids of southern tribes on Whāngārei (Ōparakau, Parihaka, 1828) in retaliation for the raupatu conducted by Hika and our ancestral leaders who accompanied him in Tāmaki, Waikato and in Hauraki. So my choice of images is, as with any tribally based Māori, biased. Murua mai āku hara ne!

rangihīroa, tī flowering, Ōwairaka, 2019

I Drank the Water

© Rangihīroa Panoho, 2018-2021. No part of this document (text or imagery) is free to be copied, plagiarised or shared for publication or for uses neither intended nor agreed on by the author without his express permission. Details for writing to the author are as follows: blueskypanoho@icloud.com The opinions expressed are those of Dr Panoho and not those of former employers or industry colleagues

Photograph featured: Mark Adams, Ko Kawanui te puna, Whatitiri Springs, 26 October 1998, illustrated in MAORI ART, chapter 6 ‘Raruraru ki te Puna’, Batemans, 2015/2018: 139


I DRANK THE WATER

10 pm, Sunday 6 January 2018


Do you remember?

the stream we camped beside

when our families were huddled together

around the patriarch

and the dirty white canvas tent

that spouted waterfalls when it rained too hard

when your proudest boast was

how you hung off the Duke’s nose

we would put our heads under

and watch:

koeke ‘fresh water shrimps’ scuttle and dart

around smooth orange pebbles and

kōkopu flit to soft overhangs

nervous

as wind

ruffled the bracken dusted surface

even down under

we could still hear muffled

the branches of the mānuka

creak and laugh at our headless bodies

clattering they were

fondly against one another

as the clouds covered the holes in their canopy



rangihīroa, he uru manuka, Lake Rototoa, Kaipara ki Tonga, 2008

and like Narcissus

touching  the mirror

we drank from that wellspring

and drew in its purity

as if it had been struck from a rock

as if it was the air

that caressed the sheer rock cliffs

where the gannets dive



as if it was the birthright of

every New Zealander

And in case

you scoff as you wade our rivers

and dare not

practice baptism

or bring to your lips what you cannot boil

and in case you don’t recall

I drank that water



rangihīroa, Threatened Waikoropupū Springs, Golden Bay, Te Wai Pounamu, 2018


MAORI ART, the koru and 2019

rangihīroa, rauponga, pitau huruwhenua, morning 30 December 2018

© Rangihīroa Panoho 2020/2021. No part of this document (text or imagery) is free to be copied, plagiarised or shared for publication or for uses neither intended nor agreed on by the author's express permission. Details for writing to author are as follows: blueskypanoho@icloud.com   The opinions expressed those of the author and not those of former employers or industry colleagues.
        Ka mate he tete kura ka tupu he tete kura
'When one red fern frond falls, another takes its place.'

                      he whakataukī

It’s New Year’s eve 2019 tonight. Aucklanders have fled the City for the beaches. They have escaped to the Northland and to the Coromandel coastlines. This place is a ghost town. Driving around feels a little like going back to the empty suburban roads of the 1980s during other periods of vacation. Many indigenous cultures have different concepts regarding the arrival of the New Year. For our tūpuna it was the months of winter (late May/early June) and the appearance of the star cluster Matariki  ‘Pleiades constellation’ that signalled the change. While June 10 was celebrated this year there was traditionally a longer, natural cyclic rhythm that brought cosmos and people together in celebration throughout tribal Aotearoa. Matariki was a time for the harvesting of natural resources, a time of reflection and a time of planning for the future.

While the heavens are a natural place to turn to this time of year (i.e. Bethlehem – the morning star and the Christian narrative) I am a Māori art historian and Māori art is full of natural cyclic symbols that may prove useful to this discussion. My book MAORI ART looks at the metaphor of rivers in our ancestral thinking as a way of considering the flow of history in our artforms. It may have been a short essay I wrote recently on kōwhaiwhai based artist Sandy Adsett that made me more aware of a rauponga fern sending out pitau shoots over the last couple of weeks. Photographing the fern immediately brings to mind one of the key design modules in Māori art – the koru and it is this motif, its history and its natural origins, that is the focus for the remainder of this short essay. The koru, I suggest, is actually a good metaphor for acknowledging the New Year.

There are many natural sources for the koru. While the spiral is commonly used by many cultures throughout the world the koru and its particular usage by New Zealand Māori is unique for a range of reasons. Firstly, it represents an aesthetic shift in Polynesian design history. The koru, and its many different manifestations in te toi whakairo ‘Māori woodcarving’ and kōwhaiwhai ‘Māori rafter painting’, constitutes a deliberate movement away from the angular forms and patterns that were part of the proto Polynesian aesthetic (particularly present in pottery, tapa and tātau) to a uniquely curvilinear form. The koru developed and flourished here in Aotearoa as our ancestors became increasingly isolated from their Hawaiki (i.e. their various Pacific homelands).

Sandy Adsett, Ngāti Pahaurewa and New Zealand Historic Places Trust restoration, HINERINGA meetinghouse, Raupunga mārae. Photography: Haruhiko Sameshima (commissioned by author) 19 January 1994, destroyed by fire 2007.

Secondly, the koru is a response to the equally unique natural environment found here in Aotearoa. The shape of the previously described unfurling fern frond is one commonly referred to as a source of inspiration for the koru. The pitau is embryonic and full of potential and that is what probably attracted our ancestors to the architecture of its growth. It suggests in its coil that life involves all sorts of possibilities. Life is potential. Tomorrow is another day that will unfold in a way that may be completely different from today. The unfolding fern frond also suggests a point of return in its circularity. It speaks of natural cycles, continuum and a returning…

Just the right motif, I say, to introduce the new year that so many around the world celebrate.

Nā reira, e ngā whāea, e ngā mātua, e ngā tamariki, e ngā kaipānui o ēnei rangataki. Hari tau hou, Happy New Year!

MaC V HEADLANDS: unpublished responses

HEADLANDS essay ‘MAORI AT THE CENTRE: ON THE MARGINS’

‘First published by the Museum of Contemporary Art Ltd, Sydney, Australia in 1992 in Headlands: Thinking though New Zealand Art, exhibition publication page 122’ MCA

© Rangihīroa Panoho, 2018-2021. No part of this document (text or imagery) is free to be copied, plagiarised or shared for publication or for uses neither intended nor agreed on by Dr Rangihīroa Panoho without his express permission. The opinions expressed are the authour's and not those of former employers or industry colleagues. Details for writing to the author are as follows: blueskypanoho@icloud.com 

 

rangihīroa, The Ineluctable Centre, 2017

 

rangihiroa, Pōkākā ‘storm’, 2017
Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.

Voltaire, letter to M. le Riche, 6 February 1770

Headlands is such an exquisitely uncomfortable exhibition that it may not prove popular. But it should be seen, both for the quality of the works and for the way it reveals a darker but more interesting side to our nearest neighbours.

Joanna Mendelssohn, New Views of NZ, The Bulletin, 21 April 1992: 104

Black music has very often been stolen and co-opted by white people. But there is a complexity to the story of the blues. Early blues records had vanished by the 1950s. They were disposable things on their way to being forgotten completely. And it was a coterie of white collectors who rescued them from oblivion. Now there are problems with the white taste for the authentic, and the patronizing way that some of the old bluesmen were dug up and exhibited as authentic primitives.

Hari Kunzru interview with Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson ‘Sjón’, BOMB, 15 May 2017

White man, hear me! History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations. And it is with great pain and terror one begins to realize this. In great pain and terror one begins to assess the history which has placed one where one is and formed one’s point of view. In great pain and terror because, therefore, one enters into battle with that historical creation, Oneself, and attempts to recreate oneself according to a principle more humane and more liberating; one begins the attempt to achieve a level of personal maturity and freedom which robs history of its tyrannical power, and also changes history. But, obviously, I am speaking as an historical creation which has had bitterly to contest its history, to wrestle with it, and finally accept it in order to bring myself out of it.’ 

 James Baldwin, ‘White Man’s Guilt’, Ebony, August 1965

Headlands aimed to present an overview of New Zealand art which opened up ways of thinking, extended knowledge, and shifted this knowledge into new possibilities of awareness. By building on pre-existing notions of the culture and art of New Zealand, this exhibition reflected and reconsidered those judgements, presenting new ideas, and re-presenting the familiar in a new context. 

Museum of Contemporary Art statement, MCA, Sydney web site, accessed 20 December 2017

 

rangihīroa, ‘Wīwī, wāwā ‘scattered localities‘, 2017

 

I have been thinking through Baldwin’s comments. With the past everpresent, musing over HEADLANDS, its many responses, over the decades, means contesting less helpful frames of history many critics have sought to impose and reiterate but seldom to revise. American writer Susan Sontag once confided, ‘Reading criticism clogs conduits through which one gets new ideas: cultural cholesterol. For me various reactions to, not so much my 1992 essay (‘Maori at the Centre, On the Margins…’ for HEADLANDS, MCA, Sydney) but rather to, its authorship, constitute ongoing cultural constriction. Too much has been written, is still being written about me rather than the eleven paragraphs (of a more broadly positioned essay) I penned.

Reading criticism clogs conduits through which one gets new ideas: cultural cholesterol. 

Susan Sontag diary 1964

It would be difficult, unnecessary even, to fractionally respond to these critiques when references to arguments in my HEADLANDS essay have become something of a diversion. Like ‘true north’ its’ position exists in that direction over there: like the angle that one might point one’s house to capture the sun. Immediately after my PhD examination, 2003 novelist Witi Ihimaera (part of the examination panel) breezily described this compass point as a pragmatic reference. The essay he said was one of his points of bearing, out there, on the periphery. For me the edginess of Ihimaera’s remark has deeper resonance. ‘Maori at the Centre…’ has been impaled, muted and neutered. It doesn’t argue back. It mostly offers up a couple of oft-quoted phrases obediently receiving endless re-inscription. If anyone has difficulty understanding this controversial treatment ask the text it saw it all: monologues not discussions, soliloquy not dialogue and silence from, not debate with, the protagonists.

DEBATE: ‘A formal discussion on a particular matter in a public meeting...in which opposing arguments are put forward...’ Oxford Dictionary

So after a quarter of a century…

Continue reading “MaC V HEADLANDS: unpublished responses”