Thursday, February 17, 2011

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.

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