In the Foreword of Potiki, it is written that “…the story is never ‘told’ rather, and more subtly, we come to understand it as we read in another’s voice” (pg 9). The stories which make up this novel are more than mere memories, but they in fact represent a Māori way of life. Each story invites the reader to gain a better understanding of what is important to the Te Ope people. We see their love of the land—how it essential for their survival; their sense of community and spirituality which continuously unites a spread out people; and also the hardships they endure within their families and against foreigners. Through the stories each character is sharing a special part of themselves and of their people with the readers.
Grace’s writing is very subtle throughout Part I of Potiki when addressing the numerous problems the Te Ope people have faced over their history. We gain suspicion about the intrusive European presence in their community that disrupts a peaceful community. This is relevant, but never explicitly stated when Hemi falls in love with the white girl, Sue. He realizes that they can never be together because their people would never allow it. We see that the young teenager Mary becomes pregnant from a man named Joseph Williams, which is a very European name. Toko, her child is described as being “crooked” and different. Toko also possessed a special kind of “knowing” as shown during the eel-fish catch. Toko is a child that could be half European and half Māori, which would be seen as unusual during the time. This might explain why Toko is so special, maybe hinting at the compatibility between the two cultures in the future.Nevertheless, Roimata and Hemi have an unwavering love of the child nonetheless. And in the end we learn about the story of Reuben, who was sort of a peaceful martyr, who sacrificed himself to save the people. He was fighting to save their ancestral land, which represented the history of the Te Ope people, and therefore it also represented the Te Ope people as a whole because their histories, their stories, are everything.
The way Grace writes Potiki is also emblematic of the Māori emphasis on storytelling and history. It is made clear when Roimata has an epiphany discovering that all her ancestors, herself, and her children make up one single history which defines their people. There is no real past, present, or future; there is only the Māori way of life that is continuously passed on through each generation. In this way it is important that the different stories throughout the novel are not in chronological order because it proves that the Māori believe that whatever order they really happen doesn’t really make any difference. They still are one people who live off the land and tell stories which are their histories.
At the end of the story of the old carver who makes a forbidden poupou to represent himself, he he blows on the wood and is killed because the wood falls on top of him. He knew this would happen, but did it anyway This prologue is emblematic of the Māori way of life. A person’s history and stories are more important to him than anything else in the world and they are worth dying for. The old carver wanted desperately to be remembered. “End is always beginning. Death is life” (pg 68). The man knew that even though his life was over, he could never truly die because his stories would be told on through the generations. He would be remember because of the carvings he made and be omnipresent with the past present and future generations of the Māori people. Potiki wants readers to learn the Māori way of life, respect it, and realize why it is worth fighting for.