A Conversation With Mr ‘T’

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(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 leaf grin

dragging hot ‘cross 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