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.