Koiwi ki wiwi Koiwi ki wawa
Ko nga koiwi o oku tipuna,
Kei hea ra?
Bones over here
Bones over there
The bones of our ancestors
Where are they? ¹
She once called herself the reconstructed one, the Frankenstein taniwha of many. With the thin nose and hands of her maternal grandmother, me; the long, wide feet and ‘big-boned’ frame of my husband, her maternal grandfather; the Tuhoe whakapapa of her paternal grandparents; the hazel eyes and birth-certificated name of her father; and the inner fire of her mother. You may not see all this. You might see the hazel eyes behind spectacles that sit on a freckled nose. You might see the loops and swirls of her father’s name or that of her Italian husband. And if you listen very closely you might hear her recite her whakapapa with a voice – silent for far too long – that trembles to the sky like the wiriwiri of my hand when I last caressed her cheek.
I was with my moko when she moved to Germany a few years after the Berlin wall fell and the re-unification of East and West was still an edel-praline on the tongue of the world. She ignored me. I screamed and yelled and had temper tantrums as though I was her first-born. Still she ignored me. So I lay silent along her spine and watched as a strange ‘niggle’ emerged. I sat up as she learnt to play Mozart on the violin. I stretched my arms as she frequented theater and opera productions, and even squished in an accountancy degree (which she seemed to consider an appropriate, respectable vocation – even though she hasn’t used it since). And I rested my head on her shoulder as she swathed acrylic onto plywood and canvas like a person possessed, seemingly haunted by the phantom pains of an amputated limb; not an arm or a leg, but something else entirely.
Over a decade later, finally home, in the womb of Mahaki, enveloped by Toroa’s misty peaks, I trudged alongside my moko as she stumbled through a labyrinth of activities; Robert Harris coffee-making, sorting mail at NZ Post, home-based tutoring, voluntary social work, selling Avon, and data entry. Eventually, finally, shadows of me, shadows of her, shadows of our tipuna, our ancestors, crept into the worlds of Ihimaera, Grace, Mansfield and Frame, foraged through the landscapes of Kafka, Chekhov and Shakespeare, and swelled into the golden void of literary consciousness.
“Kua mate te marama,” I yell at my moko, “the moon is dead!”
In the space behind her eyes, in the bubble between the Twelve Heavens and Earth, I watch as my moko is reborn in te waiora-a-Tāne, the living waters of Tāne. She transforms into a pou, supporting the house of our whanau and rising, centre stage, with the bones of our ancestors strapped seamlessly to her back. She opens her eyes and I breathe ancient words across her blank computer screen, while the rest of her tipuna –
– guide her from the sidelines of her future. Remember, Moko, they whisper, the waning moon is gone and the new moon is on the rise.
1 Excerpt from The Salsano Family Haka, written and composed by Peter Akuhata, in 2007.