29 October 2007

Getting to the point

Tom Paki's fishing the point again
tying tackle on a raw day with
rain washing down the coast
but his mind's not on the job

he wonders why the sea took
his kids and whether his ancestors
had anything to do with it or even
whether he believes in Tangaroa

big fingers numb fumble knots
he thinks of his friend the pakeha girl
with green eyes and satellite boys
who circle hope and fret

she's seen the world but still
eats kina and hugs him for the present
'though when he gets home he gets it
in the neck

heck he says it's aroha don't you see
not the other he wants to say she's
the age that Sue would have been
but he's not that dumb

and thinks instead perhaps it's time
he got to the point where
the sea smells like fish heads or
the fresh shucked juice of kutai

but it's a cold day on the rocks as
the wrinkled sea slides and coils
around his feet and rain knocks
at his parka hood he wonders

where his kids are and if they're warm
and whether she's curled in front of a fire
and why it's so hard to tie knots
with the rain in your eyes.

1. None of the characters in this bear any intentional resemblance to real people, living or dead.
2. Tangaroa: god of the sea.
3. Pakeha: the definition is sometimes contentious, but it generally refers to people of European descent; however, the range of interpretations is broad and the word is considered by some to encompass New Zealanders who have no Maori whakapapa (loosely meaning genealogy). The origin of the word isn't known, although some interesting suggestions (as well as fanciful theories) have been put forward. The Wikipedia entry on 'pakeha' (accessed 31 October 2007) seems to offer a reasonable summary, but if you're keen to understand the concept better, I suggest Michael King's Being Pakeha Now (2004) (although I haven't read it).
4. Kina: the sea urchin (sea egg), Evechinus chloroticus. A delicacy (apparently), particularly for Maori.
5. Kutai: mussels, particularly the New Zealand greenshell mussel (Perna canaliculus), rock mussel (Mytilus edulis), and blue mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis).

Beach detail near Pencarrow Head, Eastern coast of Wellington harbour.

Update (31 October 2007): edited the note about the word "pakeha". (Thanks, Anne-Marie).

Photo and words © 2007 Pete McGregor


Emma said...

Beautiful, Pete.

christy said...

Pete: more gorgeousness from you, and more appreciation from me!

(a good exchange, isn't it? though I do think I am getting much the better part of the deal)

as always, thank you for throwing the world wide open with each small and exquisite detail.

Anonymous said...

Kia ora Pete. Another beautiful poem, just lovely.

I disagree with your definition of the word Pakeha though. :-)


Emma said...

Jumping back in for a sec... I thought that Pakeha was the Maori equivalent of "Gringo"? :)

Anonymous said...

As Pete said, it is a contentious word. Many Pakeha object to its use because they think its original meaning was insulting - like "white pig" or "white flea".

Truth is, no-one knows what it originally meant.

I define the word as a New Zealander of European descent.

To me the "non-Maori" definition is just too broad.

I'll stop there, before I really start rambling! I should be working :-(


Emma said...

Thanks, Anne-Marie! I knew it was potentially contentious but had no idea it was all that. Oh my. "Gringo" also has contentious roots, but I've yet to find anyone who can tell me exactly what it means. Perhaps it is simply that it's used in a contentious manner.
Er. I shall get back to work now as well. Pete, we'll let your blog get back to being your blog now.

pohanginapete said...

Emma, Christy, Anne-Marie: thanks for your affirmations :-) And yes, you're probably right Anne-Marie, and on reflection it'd feel strange to refer to, say, a New Zealander of Indian descent as a Pakeha. I know Ranginui Walker (someone always worth listening to) is scathing about those who try to assign derogatory derivations to the word. Moreover, I personally don't mind being called Pakeha (I suppose it would depend how it was said, and in what context, though). Getting back to the poem, however, in the sense I've used it, the word has no derogatory connotations at all. At least, that wasn't my intention. But now I'm getting perilously close to discussing the poem — time for me to shut up.

R.R. said...

What an evocation of place and personality within the most economical of frameworks. I know you claim that Tom Paki is not real, but he certainly seems to be.
A wonderful photo, too. Congratulations!

c'est moi said...

I think the exchange in the comments section was almost as interesting as the words in the original post. Well done everyone.

pohanginapete said...

r.r., perhaps Tom's more real than I realise? Anyway, I'm pleased he seems so real to you.

c'est moi — I agree! Always good to see a discussion forming.

Clare said...

Once again Pete your gift in crafting words is stupendous. Thanks for sharing with us.

A qallunaq (non-inuit) from the high Arctic.

pohanginapete said...

Thanks Clare! I wonder what sort of connotations "qallanaq" carries — to what degree it might have some of the contentiousness of "pakeha" or "gringo"? Curiously, just last night I was with friends in town, watching a documentary about Ali Farka Toure, and we talked a bit about Africa and the differing names used for travellers and tourists. "White man", perhaps the most accurate label (at least for the two of us who'd travelled there) was probably the most difficult to accept generously, demonstrating, I guess, that accuracy and precision are not always virtues for language.

Clare said...

For my understanding qallunaq is somewhat contentious itself. I've been told at various times that it means "non-inuit" and at other times "white".

I don't think that it is used in a negative sense. I certainly use it myself to describe myself. Like so many things about words it is often how the person listening feels about them that makes all the difference. Inuit prefer inuit, not eskimo, which they find (here) derogatory (at least mildly). At the same time I've often heard inuit call each other eskimo. Inuit means people which is what they call themselves (singular is inuk); Eskimo derives from the french esquimaux which in turn was derived from a native word meaning "raw meat eater". Husky also apparently derives from it Esquimaux to esky to husky.

peregrina said...

Tom seems very real to me, too, Pete. It seems easy to step into his shoes (or maybe that should be his waterproof boots.) I like the ambiguity of the poem's title.

As for the word pakeha. I have no problem with being called that and, when making a distinction in origins is relevant, comfortably use it of myself. I think you're right about context and manner of speaking, though. Once when I overheard two teenage Maori girls quarrelling, one spat out at the other, "You Pakeha!".

butuki said...

That photograph somehow evokes a strong sense of impending peril. Maybe it's because of sea caves that I've wandered through and the anxiety of rogue waves conjures up the sound of the backwash hissing through those round stones at the base of the wall. Goes so well with the poem.

I've been called a "gaijin" ("outsider" or "foreigner") all my life here in Japan and it carries various connotations for me. In general I don't feel that the Japanese use it with negative intentions, but there are times when just to be looked at as someone who doesn't belong here really makes me furious. There are always a few Japanese who carry this enormous grudge against non-Japanese and make their feelings known, even in public; four times in my life I've been physically attacked while the person shouted, "Go home Gaijin!" at me. And it's even more insulting when Japanese walk around in other countries calling everyone around them "gaijin". I realize that it's just a cultural misnomer that carries on into the general Japanese term for people who are not Japanese, but it also very strongly affects how they see the rest of the world. As long as anyone claims that they are in a different category from everyone else I will always strongly criticize them. There is not enough debate about this in Japan (unlike New Zealand, I'm pretty sure) and so the clich├ęs and stereotypes hold. To give an example of how bad it is, last spring a British woman was murdered by a young Japanese man near where I live. It was international news, but on the TV news here there were many criticisms of the woman, saying that surely, as a sexually depraved gaijin, she must have goaded the young man on and made him temporarily lose his sanity. What was unacceptable about one of the news programs is that while a rash of murders of foreigners and Japanese was going on daily at the time, three Japanese were abducted in Paraguay. The conclusion by the newscasters? "We would hope that travelers from other countries will not get the impression that Japan is a dangerous place. But to all our [ Japanese } viewers, please think twice about going abroad. The world is an awfully dangerous place out there."

butuki said...

Maybe I shouldn't have said anything.

pohanginapete said...

Clare, Peregrina, Butuki: thanks for the thoughts and the insights. It seems as if no matter what culture you live in, any label that distinguishes a group of people (pakeha, gringo, qallunaq, gaijin, etc.) can be used pejoratively despite its innocuous origin. I guess it pays to remember that language changes; words pick up baggage; they can adopt new meanings very quickly (although they're far slower to lose meanings). Even if, for example, "Pakeha" in most contexts has no derogatory connotations, that could change — perhaps quickly, if the tension arising from the recent police raids on alleged “terrorists” isn't resolved soon and satisfactorily.

Butuki, that's depressing. It reminds me how, when I flew back to Aotearoa via Los Angeles in 2004, I was fingerprinted and photographed — and I was only in transit (and no, it wasn't me in particular: everyone on the Air New Zealand 'plane was subjected to the same treatment.

robin andrea said...

Beautiful evocative poem, pete, and an interesting discussion here in the comments. The power of words is sometimes very surprising. There are some derogatory words in our country that we do not say out loud. We only refer to the word by its first letter. We say, "the 'n' word." There are some words that tear straight into the heart and hit with a thousand years of pain. I'd like to think that someday, we will be free of words that separate and intentionally demean, that those words will be disempowered by awakened consciousness. But I've always been a dreamer.

pohanginapete said...

robin andrea, dreamers are essential; a world without dreamers would be a world without hope. The trick, I suppose, is to dream for the unattainable but still enjoy the achievable.

vegetablej said...

I love the poem, and I understand it, having lived my early life in two small fishing villages, where loss at sea was a sad fact of life.

On the subject of words for people who don't "belong" to a place I have to say I hate them. The division of "us" and "other" just smacks of some sort of entitlement, and often it's used to justify different treatment. Historically this has been true in all cultures, but human rights' legislation has softened it a bit in the west. Here in Japan, as butuki said, it's impossible to go for a day(assuming you are meeting others(and not hear the word "gaijin" or the most widely used translation "foreigner"(sometimes many times). I have come to loathe those words, but one thing it has done is made me is more sensitive to all the shades of prejudice in language that I hadn't been so aware of before coming here.

In Japan we have no human rights legislation; yes, it's LEGAL to throw somebody out of your store based on the colour of his or her skin, though these cases are at least starting to be taken to court, albeit not usually getting positive outcomes.

The Japanese government has recently passed a law to institute the fingerprinting and photographing you talked about for all "foreign" people entering Japan, starting November 20th. That includes people who are residents and have already undergone serious processing to get their work visas and "foreign" resident cards and might have been living here for 10 or 12 or even 20 years. It includes permanent residents. I see this as the natural evolution of considering "others" different and therefore dangerous. Butuki is not exaggerating about the feelings of permanently being an outsider that this and other policies being instituted here can produce.

I guess I feel strongly about this but sorry my comment on your beautiful poem has turned into a rant. :(

pohanginapete said...

vegej, no need to apologise. Ranting's fine if it's constructive, and yours is; what's more, I agree. Being "other" can be enjoyable and enlightening; being considered a threat simply because you're "other" must hurt immensely. Japan is right up there on the list of places to which I'd love to return, but I'd find it difficult to feel welcomed back after being fingerprinted and photographed. Let's hope that this paranoia — which now seems rife and which does nothing other than foster resentment or chauvinism — is reaching its peak, and will begin to encourage more and more people to push hard for more open, trusting, and appreciative societies.

Thanks, v.j.