Thursday, February 17, 2011

People's Land, Land's People

In Potiki, there was the constant mention of the land, what the people could do for the land and what the land could do for the people. Whatever trials and tribulations the land went through, it reflected on the people because they were apart of the land, and even more they relied on that land to survive.

When I was growing up in Jamaica, we had land around our house. Our house was in the middle and to the left and right when you looked around, it was all green with an almond tree, a cherry tree and an ackee (Jamaican fruit) tree all positioned at random places around the yard. To me, this land was just something to play on when I came home form school or just to chase and catch grasshoppers with my cousins on the weekend. There were times when we would pick and eat cherries and almonds or my aunt would take the ackee off and cook it, but we never relied on it as our only source of food. When someone didn’t feel like cooking, it was off to a Chinese restaurant or a pizza place for dinner.

On the other hand, my mother had family who lived on the countryside of Jamaica that we would visit a couple times of year. Compared to our sporadic use of the land, my family in the country relied on the land for their daily survival. They had cows, goats, multiple chicken coops and various plants. I remember one time we visited, I was around six, and I had a couple candy wrappers from the car ride. I guess I couldn’t wait to get inside to throw it away, so I just dropped in the yard and continued to walk away like I didn’t do anything wrong. I thought I was off the hook, but my great aunt saw me and she snatched me up SO quickly and dragged me over to the wrappers and proceeded to yell at me saying “Tiffani, if you’re mean to my yard (land), then it will be mean to you!!!” among other things. I clearly didn’t understand what she meant by that and thought she was just being her usual dramatic self. However, after reading this I completely understand what she was saying. Like the Maori people, they had a relationship with the land and both parties had to be respectful to each other to bring about the best results for everyone. I don’t think that Grandma Tamihana would’ve taken the method that my great aunt took to make the children realize how important the land is, but the bottom line is still the same. The land becomes apart of the family and the family becomes a part of the land.

Reading the other stories and what I had previously thought of what a “home” or “homeland” is, this definitely made it a little more complex. Before, I just simply thought that home is where a person feels more comfortable, the place where you can be yourself without the pressures of the external/society. Reading “Potiki”, it brought me to the conclusion that the land, meaning Earth, in general is one’s home. Before we had actual houses and buildings and separate continents/countries, the Earth was one big place that took care of its inhabitants. In return the inhabitants took care of the land because of the benefits they got from it. Regardless of race, nationality, religion, we still live off the earth, however I don’t think that the Maori people would be too proud because we basically only use the land to benefit us. I don’t think that we take care of the earth as it should be taken care of.

Stories Within Stories Within...

What is a Home if not a place to discover yourself? When I return home, and even while I remain here at college, I contemplate the stories which compile my life. If we accept as true Rushdie and Kolvenbach’s claim in which language actively creates reality, I am immediately drawn to all the significant stories which I feel compose my time here on earth; or, all the roles I’ve assumed for all the various scripts which compile our cultural stories. And if we use the metaphor of our beings as composed of an actor playing a role in a larger script for an even larger story, on which level do I truly exist? Some roles in my life have been written—to keep with the metaphor—for me, while others I am constantly writing and creating. To some degree, discovering the difference between these two is a key into discovery. For example, I have been writing my own role as carpenter for a while but have been playing the role of son for even longer. What are the possible implications this holds for our lives; or more specifically, whose script are we playing for? Do we have a duty to act in our personal life’s script as well as acting in the scripts we didn’t chose to assume? In this way, recognizing our lives are entirely composed of stories gives me a certain peace because, no matter what I may do, my role is part of a greater story; a cultural story which is greater than my personal role in its script and yet isn’t because my personal role can expand our cultural story. I feel as though our lives simultaneously express our encompassing cultural stories as well as create our cultural stories; which in the final analysis, implies tremendous ability to create ourselves. Reading Potiki and seeing their way of perceiving relationships has given me insight into my own abilities to create and express stories in a positive manner.
The previous paragraph was inspired while reading and discovering the indigenous New Zealand way of perceiving the world. As an oral culture, they know themselves thoroughly through storytelling; and even more, they as a people see themselves constantly living for and expressing their cultural story. It seems as if the Maori people live through the cycles of their cultural story. For example, in a quote we discussed in class by Toko, “The seeds are a new beginning, but started from a death. Well everything is like that—that’s what my mother Roimata says. End is always beginning. Death is life…” Since they already perceive the natural cycles which all biological life cycles through, they realize their cultural cycle (the entire web of their cultural scripts) transcends the deaths and rebirths of the biological cycle through the art and gift of storytelling. To use a natural metaphor of earth and water, their individual stories resemble water; and the earth, which is shaped by and shapes the direction of the water, resembles their cultural stories. So, while the individual stories ebb and flow through the cultural stories, what remains important is the process of flowing and channeling. Each individual in their culture is a receptor of the cultural story, which defines the limits of their reality; however, each individual has the power to expand their culture’s limits of reality by creating their own powerful stories. In reflection of this perception of life, we should be excited in contributing to the stories which have defined the limits of our lives; in the hopes of one day expanding our cultural universe a little bit wider.

Home Is Where The People Are - Part 2

In my previous blog, I wrote about my view on home, that it is where the people are. This week, I plan on sticking to that theme, but I would like to portray it in a different way.

Home is where the people are – I was born on October 24th in South Korea to a mother and father who were unable to take care of me. As such, I was given to a foster mother immediately after my birth, and I stayed with her for thirteen months. Of course, I don’t remember living in the foster home, but from what I’ve heard I was very lucky. My foster mother cared for me very much, and even though I don’t remember anything about her or the home, I will always be grateful to her for taking care of me. However, she and the house I lived in for one year were not my real home.

Home is where the people are – On December 5th, following my first birthday, I was seated on a plane that was heading for a New York airport. I can’t remember if I landed at JFK or La Guardia, but I guess that doesn’t matter too much. What does matter is that there was a family waiting for me in the terminal: my mom, Debbie, my dad, Tom, my sister, Grace, and my grandparents on my mom’s side. They are my true home.

Home is where the people are – My parents told me early on that I was adopted; they didn’t keep secrets or lie about my heritage. I’ve always appreciated that. Then again, it wasn’t too hard to figure out that I looked absolutely nothing like my Scottish/Italian father or my Portuguese/English mother. Even though I’m not related to my parents by blood, I am absolutely their son and they are absolutely my mother and father. I honestly cannot recall a time when I’ve used the line, “You’re not my real parents”, because that statement is just not true. They are my real parents… they are my true home.

If my theory on home is true, that it is people who create this atmosphere of a home, then surely Toko must agree with me. In Patricia Grace’s Potiki, a mother, Roimata, and a father, Hemi, adopt a boy by the name of Toko. He is not their son by birth; in fact, he is the child of Mary, Hemi’s sister. Yet the boy is a part of Roimata and Hemi’s family; the mother even says, “We have four children, James, Tangimoana, Manu, and Tokowaru-i-te-Marama” (15). She considers this boy to be their son, and Toko considers her and Hemi to be his parents. He says, “My making father could be a ghost, or a tree, or a tin-can man, but it does not matter. I have Hemi who is father to me… then Roimata, who is a mother to me…” (42). Just as I belong to my adoptive family, so too does Toko belong to his adoptive family. It is in the boy’s accomplishments that he truly feels like a son—his capture of the big fish is one example. I feel a deep connection with my parents when they are proud of me. I enjoy seeing the proud looks on their faces when I accomplish something significant. I have a feeling Toko feels the same way.

Home is where the people are – it is hard to imagine the life I would have lived if I had not been adopted, or even if a different family had adopted me. There are so many “what ifs” that I could probably sit down for an entire day and write down only half of then. Both Toko and I live very different lives, but we share an extra-ordinary connection that not many others can relate to. We were both adopted into loving families, into a home where the people truly make a different.

Swapping Stories: The Power of Storytelling

In reading Potiki, I was immediately awakened to the role of storytelling in our world. Of course the other books the class has read, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Chandra’s Love and Longing in Bombay also share in the use of stories in reflecting the cultures presented in them; in Potiki storytelling is depicted as an art. In Potiki, storytelling is the device in which knowledge of the culture is passed on. The beginning of the book opens with what seems to be an ancient myth, a story that would have been passed on through the ages by word of mouth. It is the tale of a Maori carpenter, one who shapes totems (ancestors) and a house which he leaves for the people when he passes on: “He has given the people himself, and he has given the people his ancestors and their own. (8) Not only does the carpenter pass down his works, but a piece of himself as well, his own essence engraved in his hard work. Even more precious than a sacred artifact, stories are passed down through generations, but unlike any physical object, the story never breaks. Sometimes the minor details are changed, sometimes they will be applied to song, but the stories we love always survive. In the book this includes the stories and traditions of the Maori, and as the plot progresses it is clear that the traditions are still handed down, like the stories. In fact it can be said it is the stories themselves, and the act of telling them serves to preserve the culture itself. Like the carpenter’s craft, the stories are told for the young so that past may live in them as well: “In this way the ancestors are known and remembered.”(8)

The prologue to the book continues with the carpenter’s apprentice, one who has inherited his skills through passed knowledge. In the story the master craftsman gives to his pupil a mallet and instructs him to continue to work. This is a perfect metaphor for the power of stories, how they are passed to the next generation who then in turn become the storytellers to the people, the next chain of descendants. Through this knowledge the young apprentice then becomes a master as well, and more to the point, the text also describes him as a storyteller: “They came especially to listen to his stories, which were of living wood, his stories of the ancestors. He told also the histories of patterns and the meanings of the patterns to life.” (10) Again the text brings forth the idea of passing on cultures through stories, but why? What stories? In truth there are endless possibilities. Sometimes they are myths, used to express human nature and the world around us. Some stories can reflect the origin of a culture, and others bring forth religion. I can remember in my earlier youth crowding around with the other kindergartners to hear our sage-like teacher recite the epic tales of King David, the life of Christ, even the saints that make up my own Catholic culture. I’ m sure most children experience this, after all it was the only way to introduce the young who can’t read the bible yet. Stories are ageless, whether written or spoken, and they are loved by all. They are personal. Stories also have the power of preserving family life as well, a cultural aspect more unique to an individual. For me it was a ghost story. As a child I listened to my aunt tell of “Devil’s Curve” in which one of my grandfathers, a doctor, was riding an infamous stretch of road and disappeared in the mist. Perhaps it is true, perhaps not, but this stretch of lore gave me a small insight into my family’s past- not to mention our own love of storytelling (which is great). In a sense it also instilled in me a rooted desire to be storyteller myself, a writer of stories.

The power of stories goes beyond just families however, they transverse cultures and are shared with other people. Even though Potiki is infused with Maori culture and story there is also the presence the outside world. In the book it is stories that are told in school, of history, of mathematics, and at the same time they still retain their own native stories: “Some of these book stories of queens and kings, monsters, charmers, murderers, ghosts, orphans, demons, and saints. And we had our own heroes and heroines, enchanters, wrongdoers, outcasts and magicians to add to these stories from the books.” (40)

The true marvel of stories and of storytelling is that they have the power to both preserve a culture and share it among the world. They can bring other peoples together, just as they can bring a community to the hearth in order to share with them their heritage. At the heart of storytelling is giving to others, sharing the story that once was once told to another. As the book said, even with the death of one storyteller, another is reborn to take the story and tell it as their mentor had taught them, maybe adding their own aspect into the mix as well: “End is always beginning. Death is life.” (58) Thus stories make man immortal, they keep the traditions alive. As long as there are those who tell stories, the culture will last an eternity for their beliefs and lessons will continually be passed to a new age.

The Universal Wharenui

“It was good now to know new people and to feel their strength. It was good to have new skills and new ideas, and to listen to all the new stories told by all the people who came. It was good to have others to tell our own stories to, and to have them there sharing our land and our lives. Good had followed what was not good, on the circle of our days” (Grace, 145).

Patricia Grace’s Potikicompletely leveled any former understanding I had of the concept of “home.” It seems more than fitting, however, that her web of stories has helped me reconstruct an even stronger sense of what it means to truly belong to a certain place and time. Grace’s novel exposed to me just how sacred such a concept should be, and has made me much more appreciative of the environments in which I have felt such warmth. I have never been one to believe that a person only has one home. Sure, people may have a singular structure that provides shelter for their belongings, yet a house does not always serve as a home. Home is a place, a time, in which the person you are was formed from that which came before you. Home is where you are continuously taking shape, in preparation to help others grow for the future. Over the years I have been more than fortunate to find this comfort in locations all around the world. Home is the boisterous streets of the borough of Brooklyn. Home is the heather-ridden hills of Donegal. Home is the secluded suburbs of Melbourne. Home is eternal, even if you have re-located for the time being, because it will live on in you forever. Potiki came into my life at the perfect time, as the next few months will bring about the re-location from another home: Baltimore. My wharenui may not be burning down, however; soon I will need to gather the strength and courage to rebuild from the remains of my college career.

Potiki is ingeniously told through the separate accounts of a cohesive unit. Throughout the novel, Grace stresses the fact that the concept of home is instilled in the individual, yet can only come to fruition through the company of others, “It’s the land and people that are a person’s self, and to give to the land and to give to the people is the best taonga [treasure] of all” (Grace, 176). By providing numerous points of view, Grace proves to her reader that although we may only one person, the world needs us just as much as we need the world. The easiest road to joy is by making sure everyone else around you is happy first. Life is a continuous cycle of giving and receiving, and in order to instill a sense of balance everyone must cooperate for the greater good of the whole.

Each member of the Tamihana family has presented me with a lesson for finding home that (I hope) will remain with me for the rest of my life. Granny Tamihana, the eldest member of the community, has taught me that it is necessary to keep pushing forward in times of insurmountable grief. With the most extensive past, she has lost more loved ones than she can count. Granny’s actions prove that death may mark the end of time together, yet the presence of a loved one can never cease to exist. Their life lives on, in memories, in actions, and in the lessons handed down to those to come. Together, Hemi and Roimata seem to serve as the archetype for the perfect parents. As Hemi returns to work his land, he teaches us to live in the moment; to live for the present with little fear of failure in the future. If everyone does their share success should be imminent, yet if one is to suffer, surely all will be suffering. Roimata recognizes that all her children are different, and stresses individuality by pushing her kids to pursue only that which they are capable of. If everyone on Earth had the same story there would be nothing new to learn, therein ending the cycle. James has the honor of learning how to carve, and shows the reader just how important it is to study their history and honor it by passing the stories on to others. Although somewhat counterproductive, Tangimoana proves that the past is worth fighting for until the death, for without it, there would be no present. The timid Manu shows us how we should never hold doubt, for anything is possible. Finally, the characters of Mary and her prophetic son Toko present the most crucial lesson. Although mentally handicapped, Mary births the deformed yet brilliant Toko, arriving at the perfect time to bring redemption upon his people. Their mysterious case proves that the word of the young should never be dismissed, for they might be wise well past their years. This happens when the young begin to learn before the adults realize they are teaching. The lessons of their elders are what parents pass on to their children, sometimes subconsciously, allowing the spirits to find home within the generation of the future. Life is a continuous cycle of give and take, and we all have to cooperate if we want to enjoy it.


At this point in the semester I can hardly ignore the overarching topic of storytelling contained in the three major texts we have read. In Things Fall Apart, proverbs are part of the oral tradition, and are essentially lessons that members of the Igbo have learned and memorized. In Love and Longing in Bombay, the storytelling is done on a much larger scale, as the "main" character (although it's arguable to call him a main character) is actually more of a bookend inbetween long recited stories.

In Potiki, storytelling is equally present but perhaps a bit more ambiguous. I believe it's a bit more ambiguous because it is often the topic of storytelling that seems so important. Rather than in Things Fall Apart and Love and Longing in Bombay where the proverbs/stories are simply presented, in Potiki they are both presented but also talked about. That is to say, there is a definition created between what stories can and can't be remembered, and by whom. Some of the most important stories come from the grandmother, because she can remember what the land was like long ago. Toko is also presented as a character who knows things before they happen, and has a wisdom beyond his years.

Let us question now the importance of these stories. To the casual reader they can at times derail the central plot--but that's exactly the point: what is the central plot of Potiki? Told in shifting narratives and jumping backward and forward in time, Potiki may be a collection of stories surrounding one family. These stories are important to the members of Maori because they are what tie them to the earth and to their traditions. In a time when they are in political and social upheaval, evidenced by the moneymen's desire to seize their land and roads, it is imperative for them to hold on to their culture. By learning the stories of their people, nothing can be taken away from them. Even if, for example, all their land was seized and they were forced to move to a land not their own, if their stories still remained then they would at least still know who they are.

As I was realizing the importance of storytelling to the Maori, as well as the postcolonial Indians and Igbos in Nigeria, it struck me so easily how important it also is to my family. My mom grew up in Baltimore, but Baltimore back then was obviously very different than it is today. She is one of ten children, and when everyone is together it's a crazy time where one person tries to outdo the rest with a story, usually about growing up in Baltimore. My dad is one of seven, and he grew up in rural Ohio, so the stories his family tells are drastically different but no less impassioned. I, myself, am the middle of five, and although we are not middle aged or even elderly yet, we too like to tell stories. Since my two older brothers live out on their own now, one in Washington State and the other in Tokyo, my family is somewhat disjointed. Stories help us to remember the way it used to be, and to remind us that the past doesn't have to be the past if only we talk about it.

Million Dollar View

In Potiki, every action taken is to preserve the family and the people you love build your home. Reuben ‘s resistance to attend school is because all he learns in school is “that I’m not somebody, that my ancestors were rubbish and so I’m rubbish too” (74). School becomes a place where the home is torn down when an individual is different. School should be a place of growth in which a valuing of the self occurs, but when “othering” occurs because the home is not good enough for what society says an individual’s growth is stunted.

My home has always resisted on the supports of my family. Though my family is not very big, it is still “something to always remember” (55). There are five of us: one mom, one dad, two brothers, and one sister (me). My brother Kyle, who is four years older than me, was always a trouble maker in school. My mom constantly received phone calls from the principal, and Kyle constantly received pink slips. No matter what Kyle did, he was always in the wrong.

There was one boy in Kyle’s class whom Kyle could not tolerate. If Kyle was Batman, this boy was the Joker. And though I am now close with my brother, I never knew why he thoroughly disliked this individual—though I never asked, until a few years ago. I was reminiscing with my mother about the Pre-K through 8, Catholic school that my brothers and I all attended for ten years of our lives. I brought up the boy in Kyle’s class and my mom told me the story that shaped my brother’s experience:

When my brother was in first grade, this boy came up to Kyle and told my big brother that “his family didn’t belong at this school, because we are poor.” And from that moment on Kyle decided to fight him.

Hearing this story fifteen years after it happened sickened me. My brother spent his time at school defending his family, though the school setting was a place that told him he was “rubbish” (74). Kyle’s lack of interest in school is completely understandable now that I know the whole story. Children should not be in a place where their family and ancestors are devalued. What truly bothers me about my brother’s experience is not that my family was called poor, people can say whatever they want because I adore my family, what bothers me is that a child said those words. A child was judging people on their material possessions. Society’s failings are in the words that this seven year old boy spoke.

Grace writes “Yet poverty is not a good word. Poverty is destructive too. We didn’t not have real poverty. We had homes and enough good food, or nearly always enough. We had people and land and a good spirit, and work that was important to us all” (108). We cannot define people by money. We cannot take away an individual’s human qualities and replace them with financial wealth. We cannot turn the land and the sea into a “million dollar view” (92). When we begin to define people by money, like the Dollarman, we devalue the human that inside of the individual. We look at people who are materially poor as “a broken race” (102), we see a person who is “decrepit, deranged, deformed” (102). When that boy looked into my brother’s face all he saw was a deformed individual. Grace warns us against writing off a person because they define wealth differently. Grace states that there is “nothing wrong with money as long as we remember it’s food not God. You eat it, not worship it…” (94). The stories an individual tells defines his or her character.

In Potiki, the Mr. Dolman completely disregards “the warmth of past gatherings, and of people that had come and gone, and who gathered now in memory” (88) because when Mr. Dolman looks at Toko and his family all he sees is “a broken race” (102) destroyed by poverty. Mr. Dolman devalues the love of a family because the family is not rich by Dolman’s own materialistic standards. Mr. Dolman ends up removing the identity of a culture and clumping everyone under the category of poor. To Mr. Dolman everyone is “you people” (93), and no one deserve respect.

Grace shows the reader that money leads to a loss of value in an individual’s life. People who are others, and appear to be “broken” aren’t seen as equals but as people to be pitied. When in reality the homes that are created through love are richer than anything money can buy.

The Importance of Land in Potiki

Some of the most vivid memories from my childhood take place at my old house, the house I grew up in until the age of thirteen when my family moved into a new development in town. Our old house sat on an acre of land, and neighboring our backyard was a forest that covered miles. My two younger brothers and I often played in the forest, imagining ourselves as discoverers, exploring distant lands and discovering new and exciting plant and animal species. We would sometimes take our dog Tanner along with us, and he would sit in for the imaginary jaguars we found in the lush jungles of a foreign place. The natural landscape around us fueled our imaginations and allowed us to think outside the normal limits of our environment. The vast expanse of mostly uncultivated land was an escape from our trimmed lawn and perfectly positioned flowerbeds, and every wandering became an opportunity to discover something new. We never followed the same path twice, mostly because there were no paths of which to speak. When my family moved to our new house in town, I was thirteen and certainly past the age of going on adventures in the forest. However, I missed the forest and the unruliness of it and the imagination it stimulated. I have always loved the environment, and I think a part of that comes from my childhood home. As someone who has not spent my entire life in a city or a suburb, I appreciate the unique experiences one can have in a place relatively isolated from man. Moreover, while we certainly had neighbors, some of whom had children, my brothers and I spent most of our time with each other, partly because we did not have many other options. I cherish that because I have valued my family’s companionship from a young age.

I connected with Potiki because of the importance it places on family and nature and the interplay between the two. Hemi and Roimata constantly say to one another, “Everything is here. We learn what we need and want to learn, and all of it is here” (38). The ways in which Hemi and his family relate to their land is admittedly different than my childhood experiences living in a somewhat secluded (secluded, I mean, from any real suburban or urban setting) back country road. Hemi prizes his ancestral heritage, and this pride certainly becomes a driving force behind his motivation to keep the land. The land and family are inexplicably connected in Hemi’s ancestral tradition of which Roimata becomes a part when she marries him. This connection between land and people actually gives life to the land, and Roimata reflects, “At the same time we could not help but remember that land does not belong to people, but that people belong to the land. We could not forget that it was land who, in the beginning, held the secret, who contained our very beginnings within herself” (110). They commune with the land not just as their surrounding, but also, in a sense, as their very life force, the land in which human life began. Their relationship with the land is a symbiotic one. Hemi wants to live off the land as earlier generations in his family did, even as his father did before his death when Hemi was fifteen. From his father he learned how to farm the land, and Hemi considers this a gift, one which is important as a family tradition and as a way of relating to the land. The land has the ability to provide physical sustenance and also to bring together families. Therefore, when Hemi loses his job, he actually is happy because “[f]or him, being out of a job meant that he would be able to get on with his real work, and that he’d be able to pass on what he’d been given” (61). Hemi finds his real calling in the land and passing on the secrets of that work to his posterity.

The yard of the old home and the forest almost overrunning it were not lands passed down through my family; we did not have that sense of pride on the land. And we certainly did not make our living off the land; my dad would go to work during the day and sometimes bring Pizza Hut pizza home for dinner, and my mom was a regular shopper at the grocery store in town. The point is though, that I connected to the sentiment “Everything is here” because, in a sense, most everything I valued was there, and that “everything” was (and still is) my family. Our isolation from town did not make my brothers and me social outcasts as we certainly had many friends. But we could never just run down the street or hop on our bikes to go play with those friends. Play dates always required a twenty-minute drive into town and therefore some advanced planning. It was in that old house and in that forest that my brothers became my best friends. That strong connection to family is something I share with Hemi and Roimata. Moreover, I learned to respect the natural world and everything it could bring to my experiences. My childhood surroundings shaped who I am today in the sense that they made me more conscious of the world around me and the toll human beings take on the land. In Potiki, I truly mourned for the loss of Hemi’s family’s land because I know that, in reality, this happens every day around the world. Global expansion is making it difficult for families to keep their ancestral lands, and even more simply than that, less and less children are able to have similar experiences to mine as a child, and it is this loss of connection to the natural world that worries me most about future generations.

The People's Land; The Land's People

In her work, Potiki, Patricia Grace focuses a great deal on the intertwining fates of Maori land and the Maori people. The home of this group is directly and absolutely tied to the territory on which they built their houses and meeting place, planted their gardens, and buried their dead. The soil that this all takes place on is their home. No other locality earns that designation, especially not the rented homes of the Te Ope villagers. The Maoris’ powerful attachment to land and home is evident throughout the story.

At the very start of the story, we learn that Mary has mysteriously given birth to a baby boy. Although the people place the blame on a strange man who visits now and again, the highly sexualized description of Mary’s encounter with the carved man suggests otherwise. Mary’s bond with the land is so powerful that it yielded life. Through Mary and the carved man, Toko becomes the physical product of the people joining with the earth as well as a symbol of the intimate connection between the Maori people and their homeland.

Toko’s recollection of the people in Te Ope opens his eyes to the extreme significance that a people’s land has on the life of the group. Rueben chooses to protest the park-builders not only because their land has essentially been stolen from them, but also because the people did not have “their own marea, a common place, a good way of connecting the past to the future, they themselves were just blowing in the wind” (79). Their lack of a central living and gathering place keeps them “scattered” with nothing to hold them together. The land acted as the adhesive for those people in Te Ope, uniting them with their homeland and with each other. It is a crucial element of their way of life and of who they are as a people.

The people of the village seem to possess this inexplicably pure love for their land. We see earlier in the novel that Hemi is not deflated by the loss of his job. On the contrary, he is delighted that he is receiving the opportunity to work his land, a chance he was reluctant to give up when he took on his profession. He believes that having their land, working it and reaping its fruits “is something to feel good about” (60). This same intrinsic enthusiasm for land is found in Roimata as well. While out at sea bringing in the fishing nets, Roimata observes, “Even after a day of heavy work there is strength to pull a small boat out over the sea. There is joy in it” (111). As “shore-dwellers,” as Roimata refers to them, their bond with the land extends also to the sea. Although their labor over the land is a task, it could never be exhausting enough to eliminate the contentment of feeling the ocean’s salty spray as you pull in the day’s catch. Her appreciation for such moments and for her work in general reveals the depth of her love for the earth that is her home.

Their work, of course, is for the purpose of providing to the family and the village. I found it interesting that the people-land relationship rises to another level because the people have once again become dependent on the land for life. The Maori people’s homeland becomes their physical life-force in addition to their spiritual one. At one moment, Roimata states, “At the same time we could not help but remember that land does not belong to people, but that people belong to the land. We could not forget that it was the land who, in the beginning, held the secret, who contained our very beings within herself” (110). This thought explains that the land is not simply “their land” or “Maori land.” The people are “the land’s people,” and their devotion to the land is reciprocated by the land’s devotion to them. The land and the people are in a mutually caring relationship. The land holds no significance without the people, and the people have nothing without the land. They belong together—they are home to each other.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I have to admit that I was nervous the first time I drove up to Guilford Elementary Middle. Not only was I running late because I had gotten lost and then trapped in the parking lot between unmoving cars waiting for their children to come out but I was in a whole new environment. Which is strange to think about, really. The school’s proximity to York Road is about equal to that of my house in Rahner Village. The difference, however, is that Guilford is not teaming with Loyola Campus Police or college students roaming around. There is a different feeling. You can almost feel the pop of the bubble as you step outside and every time I feel that I feel like I am getting closer to Kolvenbach’s idea of the conversion of our global society.

The pop of the bubble that I felt walking up to Guilford was like a child’s bubble bursting on a wand compared to how I felt crossing North Ave. and approaching the Caroline Center. The building down in East Baltimore is on the end of York Road that no bar would lure Loyola students to. Stepping out of the car felt more like having dozens of balloons popped in my face than bubbles but what an awakening feeling that is! Although Guilford and Caroline Center are completely different institutions they share so much in common.

The first thing I noticed upon stepping over the threshold of these two unique schools was that everybody was overwhelmingly friendly and personable, from one woman telling me I shouldn’t stay outside too long in the cold while I was waiting for school to let out to the women at the Caroline Center, both the students and the instructors, immediately accepting me as one of their own. While Guilford is for children and the Caroline Center is for women their goals are the same, and really the same as our goals as an institution of higher education: to obtain the tools, attitudes, knowledge and proficiencies necessary to succeed in the 21st century. The visions of both centers say a variation of just that. All of us are students and we are eager to learn. The 6th graders want to memorize Newton’s Laws just as badly as the women want to learn verb forms exactly how we want to understand the main themes and ideas in a novel to make a coherent argument. We all have a similar goal in mind and we are all lucky enough to have the opportunity to take the steps toward it. It is with all these ideas that Kolvenbach’s reference to the Pope’s call to educate the whole person of solidarity through contact rather than through concepts becomes most obviously relevant and connects directly to what the speaker in the video that we watched in class says about reading (34). Through contact with others, be it through direct volunteer work or through the arts, it makes the lives of others more real to you and increases your own sense of personal destiny (video). I don’t feel that I am going in to these schools to help them; we are really all there to serve each other and realize our individual destinies.

Binding Power of Stories

When I was younger, one of my favorite times was story time before bed. My father tells the story of how every night, when I was very little, I would make him recite the Three Little Pigs to me. Sometimes he would be tired and so would try to skip through, thinking I wouldn’t notice, but I always caught on and told him to go back. And sometimes he would get sick of telling it, but I would always insist on hearing that one story. As I got a bit older, I became more open to other stories, occasionally ones that my parents would make up, but most often ones from books. In our family room, there was a large bookshelf packed with books. There were Sesame Street books, Disney books, the Bernstein Bears, and many other books that we acquired over the years. I loved all of them. My parents would read me Cinderella so much that the first page ripped out. Sometimes I would “read” the books back to them, really only having memorized them since I was still too young to read. They realized this when I read the whole nonexistent first page of Cinderella one night. These stories took me to places that I loved, and I developed a fondness for the characters that has remained with me to this day.

Books and stories have always held an important role in my family. At family parties, even at a young age, I enjoyed sitting with the adults because their talk, rather than being boring adult banter, was full of lively stories of their experiences or their friends’ experiences or of their childhood, their aunts and uncles, and their growing up. Their childhood stories fascinated me, and I developed clear images of the houses they played in and the people they encountered such as the old, one-armed man on the hill named Snibbs or the rowdy Hauckenberry kids that threw apples at them. At Christmas time someone would always tell a story by the fireplace, or when we would go camping yearly stories around the bonfire were one of the best parts. Stories shaped who I am, what I love, and inevitably even my relationships with my family. Sharing stories, fictional or true, became how we related to one another, how we grew to be so close, and how my upbringing was defined.

I cannot say, however, that the stories I encountered and the amount of storytelling was quite as substantial as that of the stories in Potiki by Patricia Grace. From the beginning it seems that Toko’s entire existence is based upon stories. His name comes from his Granny’s brother, a fact he learns from the story which juxtaposes his own. He and his brother Manu develop their inseparable bond through staying at home and learning through stories with Roimata. Nearly every chapter from Toko’s perspective begins with a sentence announcing that he is about to tell a story. From this we can see how truly important they are to him, and how they shape him. His story lives on in the poupou that Mary pulls from the fire when he is ultimately carved into it.

Yet his stories all seem to come from the present. His chapters, or stories, connect those of each one of his family members. They weave together each of the tales, connecting them with a retelling of the story, or of a connection to another story. And weaving imagery becomes very important in the novel as well with the making of baskets, the carving of designs, or the rebuilding of the ancestral house. Stories created are often described as “woven.” Similarly, they are woven into every aspect of Maori life. Just as Toko stays in the present in his stories and gives them life, so are the stories a very present thing. They shift and change, which Toko reminds us constantly. Even from beyond the grave he is able to tell us a story. But it is a new story, very different from the story of his birth that he recounted at the beginning of the novel. His stories shift, and they come full circle. They begin with birth and end with death, but in that death, a new life. His stories are a living being, and they continue beyond the grave, just as he does.

In the second last chapter, each character has a chance to tell a story. They all tell the same story. It is the story of Toko and the troubles they had faced that ended with his death. They each tell it in their own way: Roimata uses the sea, Hemi the land, James his carving, Tangi her poetry, Manu his dreams, Granny her long life, and Mary her song. We see clearly here how important the stories are to this family, a family which extends well beyond blood. But we also see how a story can have life; every story is drastically different, but every story really is the same. And they can tell a lot about the storyteller. I have always felt closer to people, especially my family, through stories. It gives me a sense of connection and safety. I’ve found that it doesn’t matter if the story is true or fiction, of one’s own invention or someone else’s. The expression of the story is individual, alive, and binding. Maori culture embodies this, and Toko helps us see it.

Land and People in Potiki

In Potiki, Patricia Grace puts forth a universal connection showing that relationships and group effort create one’s homeland because of the ties between land and people. Land brings people together because working on the land as a group forms bonds. For instance, Grace writes, “They [people from all over the country] understood that the house of the people is a great taonga and a great strength. They understood that the little money that was finally awarded to us could not give back the life and love that go into the making of a place” (143). She explains that due to the connection between people and land, one finds great strength within oneself amongst the relationships that are formed (especially relationships formed during a group project) and the effort one makes to benefit one’s homeland.

As shown in Potiki, the importance of relationships and group effort is seen on Loyola’s campus (my home away from home), as well. As a Jesuit institution, Loyola promotes service. Not only is it a way to benefit others, but also one learns more about oneself. As Kolvenbach explains, education is more than just concepts, but about contact; when one is able to apply what was taught in class, to outside experiences. For instance, I have been a part of Habitat for Humanity since freshman year, and cannot even describe how much of an amazing experience it is. By building a house as a group, relationships and memories form and a bond is shared. As I have learned in Habitat for Humanity, “we are not building houses, but building homes.” It is not the physical house that is important, but what the house symbolizes for the new homeowner and the volunteers; for instance, signifying the union of a community and the beginning of a new chapter in one’s life with new friends and the memory of the work that went into creating this new home. Grace writes, “They [our visitors] stayed because they knew what it meant to the spirit and upliftment of people to be housed in a house which expressed and defined them” (152). This directly relates to my experience with habitat for humanity for this new home defines the new homeowner who was able to pick the color paint and furnishings in her house. She picked a rather daring pink door because she said, “It shows my fun personality,” and that fun personality really shined through as we built, making our day go by very quickly, and gaining insight into what makes a home truly important.

At the end of the project, it is amazing to see the transformation of the house along with us as volunteers. It is an extremely rewarding experience for both parties involved. As Hemi explains, in Potiki, “They’d seen the fruits of their work, and that the fruit they got was their own. . .It all came back to people. . .They’d all pulled together and the house was being rebuilt because of that. You had to reach out for the branch you knew would hold you when you were drowning” (146-149). One sees the support that Toko and Manu provide for each another, and how Roimata treated Mary when they first became friends, and later became family. The characters in Love and Longing in Bombay, for instance the interaction between Shiv and Shant, also show that our homelands are shaped by the people in our lives.

Grace shows the importance of one’s homeland through the relationships between her main characters and the visitors from Te Ope who help them to rebuild their home. Although the “dollarmen” were building on the Maori land, the Maori stuck together and others joined, understanding the significance of one’s homeland. This demolition described in Potiki is not the basis of creating a good homeland. Grace writes, “They have become just like machines” (151), making me wonder, as stated in class, how much technology rules our lives. Grace explains, “We were able to find ourselves in books. . .[However,] it [television] did not define us. . .There was little on television that we could take to our hearts” (104,105). This is extremely true, as Dana Gioia and Kolvenbach explain, because through education and by reading, one is able to understand others and his/herself better because reading opens doors into other homelands. With education we can choose to use what we have learned to visit other homelands and form relationships with others in which we will learn more about ourselves. In America, we have a homeland that is surrounded by technology, but is our homeland based on the technology we have (television, video games, facebook), or the people we surround ourselves with, and the memories we share with each other during a communal task?


In Potiki, Patricia Grace portrays New Zealand natives as their lives change due to colonization. For the Maori people, their homeland is surrounded around nature – the water, hills, and mountains. Their survival and happiness are both based on nature, so when that is threatened by the “Dollarman”, they do everything they can to fight for their land. The Maori in this story are a close-knit group of people, and we see that in the way they interact and the stories that some of the characters tell describing their love for one another. In this story, Grace creates strong, resolute characters to show how important it is to save what you believe most in and value the relationships between loved ones.
Grace does an excellent job setting up the first part of the novel as an introduction to Maori culture and allows the reader to place themselves within the community of Maori natives and get a taste of life in New Zealand. This opens the readers’ eyes to the beauty of Maori life, traditions, and the importance of community. One way that the relationships between the people represent their homeland is through storytelling. The Maori appreciated and cherished their stories that were passed down through the generations and it truly defined their lifestyle. Roimata explains about the importance of storytelling in chapter 5:
“And although the stories all had different voices, and came from different times and places and understandings, though some were shown, enacted or written rather than told, each one was like a puzzle piece which tongued or grooved neatly to another. And this train of stories defined out lives, curving out from points on the spiral in ever-widening circles from which neither beginnings nor endings could be defined.” (41).
Roimata describes here the significance that stories had upon their community: they wove together and connected people to one another because they all had something to relate to. Many of the stories were related to or about nature, which shows their appreciation and love for their land. Storytelling was a significant part of their homeland, and although their lives are threatened to change in the second part of the novel, they will always have their stories. Their stories change based on their experiences, but it is comforting for the reader to realize that despite what the outcome of the Maori is, they will always have this part of their homeland to hold on to.
The second half of the novel is dedicated to the timeframe in which their land is threatened – with the introduction of the Dollarman to the bulldozers approaching the hills prepared to destroy them. The emotions of the family truly come out within Part Two and the reader is able to connect to their strong feelings and sympathize with their imminent loss. For example, in chapter 14, Toko explains how his family feels after speaking to the men. “Right then I saw what the man saw as he turned and looked at the three of us and as my eyes met his eyes. I saw what he saw. What he saw was brokenness, a broken race. He saw in my Granny, my Mary and me, a whole people, decrepit, deranged, deformed.” (Grace, 102) Grace uses imagery of crumbling and decaying, which is a perfect way to express their internal feelings and place an image in the reader’s mind.
I was able to view this novel through an ethical lens asking the question of whether or not it is ethical to steal and destroy land from its original inhabitants. When I first considered this question, I disagreed with it, but as I continued to read, I felt stronger for their cause of saving their land. As the book moved, I felt a stronger understanding for their feelings and supported their beliefs. When the men purposely drowned the land with water to break the people, I grew angry for them. When the men deliberately lit the wharenui on fire, I was disgraced and could not believe the depths that the men would go to for money. The characters and their emotions truly made me sympathize for the people: not only the loss that they physically experienced, but the loss that they felt internally. I also looked more closely at their spirituality and their fear of having those that have passed on disturbed while the ground is destroyed by the men. Grace showed in the first part how important the burial process is to the Maori people, so along with my own beliefs, I could not imagine disturbing the peace of the dead for the sake of commercialism. I respect the priest, Hoani for having such a calm and tranquil outlook on the movement of the earth, especially in chapter 19. “We must put the hurt aside, and we must approach the burial ground of the wharenui without anger.” (130). This is a very mature statement, and I understand his purpose of trying to preserve their faith and happiness. I also respect other Maoris who wisely responded to the fire saying “you build from people and you build from the ground” (137) when they learned that they lost the entire building.
This story gives light to the difficulties that native people face due to colonization. The Maori cherished nature because it was what they were most internally connected to, and when it was taken away, it hurt them deeply inside. Although their physical homeland was stolen from them, they do recognize that they have their internal homelands as well: their stories. Even at the very end of the book as James is narrating, he states that they still told their stories of all the emotions that they experienced throughout the novel. “And the stories were also of the land and sea, sky and fire, life and death, love and anger and pain.” (173). The reassurance of storytelling helps them hold on to something that they were always able to keep, which comforts them. It is interesting how James separates love, anger and pain by the word “and” to emphasize the distinct emotions they felt continually throughout the novel: the love for one another and their land, the anger they felt towards the Dollarman and the pain they felt as their way of life was significantly altered. Potiki was an excellent portrayal of the destructive effects of colonization on a group of people, yet sheds light on the importance of always keeping an internal homeland.

A Place We Call Home

Patricia Grace’s novel Potiki introduces a whole new dynamic to the idea of what homelands truly are. It is clear from the beginning of the novel that the stories the Maori’s tell about their pasts are what connect all of them and give them a sense of home. But when you look closely at the Maori people and how they live, you can see that their homeland also lies within the actual land they live on.

There has been much discussion in our class on the idea that we carry our homelands with us wherever we go in life. While I agree with this I found that my perspective on this idea was altered a bit after reading Potiki. In the prologue it is explained that the carver’s used wood to make the commemorative statues of the Maori’s ancestors, but it also explained that this same wood is used to make houses. Since the wood is being used to build houses and ancestral statues, it seems as though it is representing the past, present and future. For houses are where past memories are held and where present and future ones are made. Considering the crucial part the wood plays in making these memories, the Maori’s land from which the wood came from becomes an essential part in identifying what their homeland is.

I recognized this connection between land and homelands more when I read the quote “The hills did not belong to us any more. At the same time we could not help but remember that the land does not belong to people, but that people belong to the land.”(110) Here I saw that Grace was recognizing that the land the Maori people lived on was not there for them to own, but rather it was there to shape a place where they could form connections. Furthermore she explains that “We could not forget that it was the land who, in the beginning, held the secret, who contained our very beginnings within herself.” (110) I found this quote to be very intriguing because of the way Grace refers to the land as “who”. In doing so she personifies the land as if it was a living breathing being, one that exists solely to help people form homelands.

It seems as though Grace is explaining that land or rather nature is meant to provide us with a sense of home. We begin there and that is where we create our homelands. When forced to move on, like the Maori people were by the developers, nature stays, and as a result a new homeland is created in its place.
This is a lot like moving in the modern world. What I mean is that when we are born, we are often raised in a house in one area. Since we have spent our whole lives there it is only natural that we associate our homeland to be that place. But when we grow up and move away, our old homelands do not just sit there empty. Instead they become a place for a new potential homeland for new beginners. Essentially our loss not only creates a new beginning for ourselves, but for others as well.