YIELDING TO THE NEW
And the restless fingers of the city beckoned and Marama went forth to learn a little more.
The parting was sad but her parents understood. “It is good that you go,” said father, “if you stay here you will end up like your cousins. All they can talk about is babies, babies—plenty of time for that. You are young. You have had a little education. Go to the city and learn a little more. Come home during the holidays to help us out. Don't you dare marry one of the village boys! Find someone who is worthy of your intelligence.”
“Find someone who'll look after you first! Brains aren't everything,” sniffed her mother.
In the New Year the service car was always crowded with exuberant youth on the way to the city: some already wearing the outward trimming of urban sophistication, apparent in the nonchalance of straight skirts, slick high heels and two-tone jackets of brilliant hue; some like
Marama, carsick already at the thought of travelling and a little fearful of what the city might hold.
Parents were there for the parting, and as usual some of them echoed what Marama's people said.
“Come home with good husbands. We're tired of paying your fares.” Others said, “Get married first before you get babies.” An uncle of Marama guffawed knowingly, “I'll give you two years, Marama, to find a husband.” Her father in haste bid her farewell and the service car pulled out before her uncle could say more.
The first year in the city was not so bad after all. Marama went to the university. She took a subject called Anthropology; a study in human relations. Marama was lost in the multitudinous flow of how man was first discovered, of the inevitable descent of man from the ape, and of the different ways of life of different peoples.
Now some of the students said that the subject was easy. But Marama understood little of what was said. She remembered only isolated phrases.…. ‘the Maori with lipstick on looks like the pukeko’ …. “Goodness,” thought Marama, “why does he say that? What connection has this with human relations?”.…. and the lecturer's voice droned on.…. “half-way down the page, underline the following statement.…. ‘we have to rely on the arboreal theory.….’ “Oh dear! I cannot follow what he is saying. I'll have to read it up tonight.”
And Marama was miserable and longed to go home to the security of the village where thinking was easy. In the city the Maori was being flayed by the Pakeha pen.
Marama was soon caught up in the whirlwind of speculation on the meaning of Maoritanga. She forgot her misery for she thought she could contribute to the controversy and enlighten the Pakeha on her rich cultural heritage. But alas! They asked her point-blank, “Can you tell us what Maoritanga is?” And she could not answer what it was.
“All my life I have lived in my village; I have eaten and slept on a raupo mat; I have been rubbed in mud to cure my sores; yet I cannot tell these Pakehas what Maoritanga is.”
And her misery within her grew strong for her ignorance was greater than she had dreamed and the raupo whispered, “Come home—Come home”.
A year went by and there were more Maori students. All were restless in the deep waters of learning and all insecure in a Pakeha world. They banded together for a little laughter and then felt a little better in the cold atmosphere of European learning.
One person had high ambition of educating her people. She took her studies seriously and did not waste time. Another was a lad from the back-blocks, breathing the scent of the native fern and was as rich in his cultural heritage as he was poor in the adaptation to a pakeha tradition. All had one thing in common and that was generosity.
“I'll lend you a few bob”, says a lucky member and there was no embarrassment at all.
Marama fitted in with the pleasant flow of Maori company and the university was a good place after all. The yearning to go home grew less and less and the Maoris at the university increased in number. Some were passing their exams, with flying colours; the majority joined with the fifty per cent of failures. Each one however acquired a little learning—one by accident and another by hard toil.
They were all concerned with keeping alive their Maoritanga. It was their strength at the university. Yet, no one could really say what it was. Many of the Pakehas felt that Maoritanga symbolized a picture of Maori characteristics of a century's standing … easy going—good natured—lacking in stability. But most of the Maoris felt that true Maoritanga was reflected in their own language. “If we lose our language we lose our culture.”
Perhaps that was the closest answer. But Marama had not made a decision. She had Maori friends in the city who spoke no Maori and yet were as much Maori as she although they differed just a little in that they were far more at home with Pakeha students. And yet, their home was just like any other Maori home.
Christmas was near and Marama came home.
The service-car was packed with expectant people who were excited about the prospect of spending a holiday at home. As you drew nearer the picture you envisaged of the waiting people proved right. Ah yes! There they were to greet the bus and to do their Christmas shopping. The shop was a great meeting place for the people. They were proud of it. It was a milestone in their history. On its concrete verandah, generous in size, nearly everyone gathered to meet and greet and a few just came to lick ice-cream till they well-nigh busted.
The city slickers descended from the bus to the quibs and quirks of Maori humour. “Tena koe! Kia ora! Kei te aha!” There was handshaking, nose-rubbing, and the modern greeting with the Pakeha kiss, and all went hand-in-hand in confusion.
“Good-day Heni. What have they been doing to you in the city? You been eating raw meat?” (in allusion to her painted lips).
“You shut up!” says Heni, feeling embarrassed.
“Kia ora Mate! What's that you are wearing?” Mate teeters out on her pointed high heels, wearing a skirt with slits on either side which reveals enough of her beautiful legs. “Why don't you tear them right up so we can see much better!” suggests one of the local boys.
Marama's father was there to greet her. In his slow, ponderous way he put her bags into a waiting taxi. “The boys are all home,” he says, “it is good to have you back. Mum and I could do with a hand in the garden.”
Yes, they were all home for the holidays. Her
nine brothers and two sisters filled the house with laughter over much exchange of news. “Your uncle's got a new contract”, says father, “he carts all the kumaras to town. We're selling them now you know. They're worth their weight in gold”.
“Old Ben's got a new house,” says her brother. “He got it under the Maori Affairs. Jim and I have just finished building it for him.”
The village was to all appearances as Marama had left it. There was the wide flowing river to the right of her home. The same green-brown-grey hill rested behind it, looking as though it were a whale resting its body in the placid flow. At night you could hear the swish swish swish of the corn outside her window. No, the place hadn't changed. Her mother was always growing corn outside her window. During the day people trekked to and from their gardens, weeding, weeding; just like the people of any of the other villages along the coast. Half asleep was her village except on Fridays. That was when her brothers dashed off to the public bar, as all the other men did, to drink away their sweat and to talk with friends. —“You hear everybody's business there,” said the local men.
Marama walked down the road to visit her numerous relations. It was the thing to do otherwise you were called a “whakahihi”. She noticed a lot of new houses along the way. Things were certainly looking up. Ah! There were a few changes. Here and there were a few neat lawns. Those of her relations who were a few of the proud owners said: “You know Marama, it was alright living in an old shack. Not so much work to do. But we're glad we've got a nice house with running water. No more going down to the river to wash clothes. It's alright when you're young. But when you start getting babies by the dozen. Not too good. Besides, our children can bring any of their friends home from the city and we're not ashamed of ourselves anymore.”
There were other new acquisitions in the village. There was electricity at the hall and a feature film every Friday. People were selling their kumaras to pay for their many commitments. And most of the young people were going to work in the freezing works because there wasn't enough land to hold them.
Marama forgot to ask her father for the meaning of Maoritanga. There was no need to ask once you got home. Besides, time was short and soon she would go back to the city. She listened to her father's tales about Maori heroes. She practised with him the tribal hakas.
“Listen to the pair of them”, her mother would say, “fancy being interested in those cannibal dances after her good education! That's all she can do when she comes out to weed kumaras with us. All I see is arms waving and little else.”
Everyone went to church on Sundays. Marama could not feel that fervent flow of faith any more. She had picked up some nonsensical ideas in the city. She had told her father in one of her preambles that part of her course in Anthropology had been the study of man's origin.
“You know dad,” she said, “man is said to be descended from the ape, but they can't find the missing link.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” replied father. “Man was made by God and that's that. Don't you come home with these Pakeha ideas. The Pakeha taught us that man was made by God and now he tells us that man descended from a monkey.”
Her father was a little afraid of what she was learning. She had some queer tales to tell. He was glad that she was still entranced by their tribal dances. ‘It will keep her sane,’ he thought.
But church was still a good place to go to. There were always babies to be christened. The mothers laughed at their numerous progeny. The singing of the hymns was always moving. The people sang lustily and the organ couldn't be heard. There was that old man. He was still part of the congregation. Marama was very fond of him. He sang heartily though out of key. Her brothers said he sang like an old tin can, and that he would never do well in a church choir because he hung on to his notes too long. Her mother excused him.
“He thinks he's still singing one of our waiatas. That's why he drags those last notes.”
Some of her relations would stand at the back to watch the congregation giving during the collection of money for the church.
“Now you watch Hori. He's sure to put only three pence in the plate.” Her father on his way round to take up the collection would glare at the miserable offering, but this would have no effect on the reluctant giver.
It was good to be home. It was easy to fit in with the flow of conversation. Besides, Marama's people had a deep respect for a little education. One didn't feel as ignorant as one did in the city. You knew tribal history. You could join in with the hakas. You could enjoy a waiata.
The other people home from the city were always restless for lots of entertainment. For Marama and a few others it wasn't as bad. They could always read books. But the trouble was you couldn't find anyone to talk to about some of your ideas, and this made Marama restless. All sorts of ideas went through her head. Some she had picked up during her studies … ‘What did it matter if girls got babies before they were married?’ ‘What did it matter if you didn't go to church on Sundays?’ ‘Why couldn't dad see that the Pakeha wasn't so bad?’ …
And the green house where Marama lived faded from sight, and she passed the red and yellow school and the red and yellow hall, and she saw the shop where the people waited. And the restless fingers of the city beckoned.
‘I am growing away from my parents. I am going back to the turbulent flow,’ thought Marama, and she grew very sad.